The charred remains of last summers fire stab me in the leg. We’re on the way to a brand new cliff in Biedouw Valley, and brand new cliff means no path! It’s a simple thing we take for granted, but when you are forced to hike through virgin brush, you realize just how much we rely on the work of those that have come before us. Each turn needs to be calculated, each choice balanced against the other. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s just another day.
Today is my turn to climb; I took my belay duty yesterday whilst Caroline climbed a beautiful new pitch. Trad climbing is normally slow, but when you are new-routing things move on to a whole new level. Finding the access to the top, installing the fixed lines, brushing, cleaning, trying… it all takes time and the days just disappear. I don’t know if this makes the experience more complete, but you sure feel like you have worked hard by the end of the day, and you certainly remember the routes for many years.
The sunrise casts a golden light over the impressive Eastern overhang. My line of choice takes the easiest way through this orange belly of rock, but don’t be deceived – easiest doesn’t necessarily mean easy. When the rock is steep, it has also a tendency to be featureless. Finding a line of holds or breaks that link all the way to the top is rare to say the least, and so the moment just before starting a climb like this is a special moment indeed. It’s a delicate moment when the line sits somewhere between a route and a rock. You’re still not sure if you can do it, but you are already emotionally involved in the process and want to see it through to the end.
The “path” I walk gets steeper, the sand beneath my feet turns to stone, and my shoes soaked from the morning dew start to slip. My line is waiting, beckoning, calling, yet my eyes must rest at my feet. It’s easy to forget where you are – the middle of nowhere; a slip from one of the narrow ledges would not be advised. On this side of the Cederberg there is no phone reception as the local towns, ancient Moravian Missionary’s, have refused to install cell towers. One of the local climbers lent us a handheld radio – “turn it to channel 9” he said, “and someone might hear you”. It’s small comfort! Better than nothing, yet we prefer to rely on good old common caution and look after one another.
That might sound odd when we spend every day searching out “dangerous” new rock climbs. It would be a lot safer to drill bolts, or even just go bouldering, and sometimes I find myself asking what is the point? Why do we insist on making life so difficult, just to do something new? It’s an answer that I don’t really have, and perhaps never will. All I know is when you stop questioning and just live in the moment, when perhaps you top out a new route, or even watch a sunrise, from a new place, then somehow it all makes sense.
Text: James Pearson
Photos: Richard Felderer