In 2013 I opened a little line at Kirk Falls. It was only the third line I have ever opened and so the prospect of another first ascent caught my attention. It’s a steep little 23, the crux being particularly unforgiving if not read well. I’ve watched people duff attempts with angry thrashing. The holds are reminiscent of the sloping holds of our long-gone Wave Cave, but, the angle is a little gentler and it doesn’t quite make that exact part of your forearms burn that the Cave does. You won’t forget the crux move easily if this grade is a bit above your normal crushing level.
Roger (Nattrass), myself and Mikey (Van Der Ham) had done a fair amount of bug weed bashing the weekend before to clear a usable path through the stinging nettle. At that stage the access to the crag involved abandoning your car in the safety of the sugar cane and finding a break in the cliff line to wind your way steeply down to the Kirk Falls crag. My first impression of the cave was: it’s like Wave Cave but better. (Note: the new path seems to have a safer parking spot – best find a local who knows the beta. It’s not the easiest crag to source info on and the wiki list is not comprehensive)
Bolting routes is a challenging thing for anyone. Using a drill for the first time was of course a practical part of wanting to make sport FAs and very little to do with my domestic DIY desires. When I opened the Magic Faraway Tree at Umgeni a few years prior to that, I hadn’t even picked up a drill. I had to learn where to switch it on and that spinning the drill in the wrong direction doesn’t achieve much save from blunting your drill bit. Abbing into Kirk Falls the day I bolted Wagon Train was another learning curve, by that stage I was feeling a little more drilling-fit having recently built a gym, but that wall is still steep and my core took a beating. Roger was the ever-present mentor. Being my actual employer at the time, he knew my work schedule and it was practically contractual that one of the staff members would be available on a Thursday to go climbing with him. With a new crag on the cards, we were rearing to go when Thursday arrived.
We were testing a new batch of glue-ins that RAM Mountaineering had given us at landed cost along with some awesome new glue that dries ridiculously quickly and rock hard. The guys in Cape Town had switched to them and we thought they made sense from a longevity perspective. Our corrosion rates were perhaps not quite what is experienced by the Cape peninsula South Easter but it was a good call given the generally humid conditions of the area. Giving us the bolts at the rate that RAM did is a kind of community service that should be commended – a corporate social responsibility like that goes a long way to making me spend a little extra on a chalk-bag next time around.
So the drill-wielding began. The good doctor bolted the line next door to mine in much the same time as it took me to put the chains in. He is a bolting machine. He even placed the last few bolts near the ground for me just so we had enough time to let the glue set before climbing.
I named my route Wagon Train to the Stars, a slightly far fetched name and one that requires some explaining. Roger decided that since the waterfall (Kirk Falls) already had a Trekky theme, we would name the routes at the crag accordingly. Bearing in mind that I still have to google the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, you’ll understand that I had to do some research before coming up with something fitting. What I discovered was that when proposing the name of the series to the broadcasters, the writer pitched the series as a western in the sky, comparing it to the popular western show of the time Wagon Train. It later became the title of Diane Carey’s fiction series Wagon Train to the Stars. But this name is also particularly fitting considering the nature of the crag perched above the railway. The sound of trains racing through the hillside tunnel reverberates across the amphitheater every forty minutes or so and is such a distinct feature of the crag.
Both of these lines were gems in the end and I recommend them on your next trip to the East Coast of Mzansi. They both went at around grade 23 and make for fun warm ups for the rest of the steep cave or an excellent project for your first 23.