My ou Bunny tuned me I should hit the crag with him on Saturday. Problem was there were other plans cooking too. Broke is an understatement, so I’d already bailed on the vaalies who had trekked for some klippiestoei at Rocklands. Staying local was defs on the cards for me.
Dilemma! I wasn’t quite sure where to head but missions were necessary, otherwise my fresh skin would be wasted. Then there was the issue of graft. Not the kind that earns you money but the kind that scores you cred, and not street cred either. Varsity vibes, feck. I heard there was this rad plastic jol at Shitty Wok. Other crushers were tweeting it all over the interwebs. I thought it might be a chance to score some stash and work on my guns. I could klap two birds here and graft in isolation while the laaities were seshioning. Score, I sent that one! Comps cost geld though- real live moolah. Although it might be a long time until we have this much UV in these parts…
But then Bunny said TM was mint. I started getting amped for some epic missions on the hill again. Then I read the bull with the passes for traddies on The Forum and it seemed like admin. We’re not pebble wrestlers squishing the veg and we don’t have drills stashed in our boxers. Please, we only have half-ropes! WE need permits!!?? Angaz’! What about the noncs that can’t even scramble an 8 and have to get the blades to airlift them. We’re TEA drinkers who can handle ourselves when shit hits the fan! Plus, someone has to entertain the tourists above Arrow Final! Anyway, I was not keen for office work or forking out for Cape Nature to piss on our access. But I don’t rate the pressure of making final plans. I did some number crunching and decided to skip the plastic. This was until Bunny started chucking shit like ‘You better show. Three strikes and you’re out! ’ bra- wtf!?? It was almost like he thinks he’s the only belay bunny this side of The Mountain. He forgets I live in a house with Squeaky whose ticklist is far superior and am getting laid by the Pom- his most important belay bitch. Bru, I have queues of okes lined up and your threats don’t even make me want to chalk up. Plus he knows I will pick a decent rack and a softer catch over phuka when given half the chance so I’m not sure why he thinks I will run after him. How can the force be with me when you’re crushing my psyche dude?? Whatever happened to positive vibes!? Go solo that shit if you’re the shiz.
So I bailed. I wanted another kind of crushing and it involved tops FOR DAYS!! Yip, I’m a big flake. Lank Capetonian of me, I know. But even us Durban laanis have to ebb and flow sometimes. So I found a horsefly from school-days who helped me fork out for entry. Legend! Shot! We missioned to the Wok with his wheels cos my battery was as dead as a newb soloing Jeopardy.
The Wok was chokkers with newbs. Luckily, psych arrived with Brit when I saw there was another girl amped for legit sendage. I get a bit tired of competing against myself and noncs. The tuks and wits crew would have been keen but since its season they were ticking projects elsewhere and, well, Durbs’ chicks don’t coin it enough for roadtrips to the gym. All the laydies with real jobs have swopped redpoints for breastfeeding or draws for downhill. Luckily there are a few wombs to spare and Julia, Brit and I smaak plastic more than we care to admit. But the Jem mos popped her pinkie and is down and out. Just the two of us then.
So the crushing began. The problems were far sicker than the last comp I did (which was in K-land). They weren’t quite as special as the ones at Worlds in Arco but they were pretty darn epic with some kick-ass volumes and techy moves. There were spans of problems too. I rate the setters must have been zonked after all of that tweaking. The format was a little different to usual. Bonuses were marked but there were close to 36 boulders and only your top 10 sends counted. It was all about managing your steam and skin. There was no iso and groms and ballies had the same problems but flashing gave extra points. The temps were sky high and the schlork factor was pretty intense with all the newbs around. But the setters had done a job by spreading things out nicely. Brit and I kept it chilled to begin with but I could see by the last two hours that both of us had started to dig deep. It’s not like we hadn’t been trying earlier but in the last while we both worked the quality lines- the ones we wanted to do but hadn’t flashed. We eeked in as many attempts as possible. It was a real sauna in there near the end and chalkbag was spaar so I had to keep schnaaing from other okes to stop the schlork. I was keeping an eye on my scorecard but far more interested in tops. Brit and I swapped beta and suggested problems and bonuses to go for. It was rad to see each other climbing and how my easy send was her anti-style or her cruise-easy was my 9B.
In the end I scored some downturns and Brit got a hangdog. Pretty decent loot for a day on plastic. And we got a sick power-endurance sesh too. Sometimes being a flake is more about the story than the choice. I am stoked with the problems I sent near the end and feel ready for my projects. Best I put aside those nuts for a while and dust off my spongebob- Pandemonium here I come!
Engagement is probably the ultimate fantasy. To be completely immersed in something to the point that it consumes more mental tenacity than the sum of everything else going on in your neural network. It is what drives escapist pursuits and climbing is no exception.
When completely engaged we wrestle with just enough fear to keep us on edge and enough comfort to keep us wanting more. Occasionally we push ourselves to the point where the triple beam balance of fear, comfort and mental engagement are thrown off.
Sometimes we grow complacent if the familiar state of affairs becomes too convenient to leave in our wake for something greater. There are so many levels to how we can become complacent. Whether it is buying into the training ideology of those we climb with just because it seems like it is the right option, despite knowing full well we are not making progress. Or doing the same tired old warm-up routes because we know them and they make us happy. My personal favourite is sticking to a single genre of climbing because we ‘are’ this or that kind of climber without giving value to how another type (rock type, boldness factor, bolts or trad, boulder or big wall) might grow us as a climber in the broadest sense of the word.
Finally the mental engagement will often teeter over the edge of interest to the pit of obsession. Our talk, our thoughts, the way we plan every weekend, every squeezed in training session will be part of this. Creating other kinds of balance will feel necessary to those around us. But is balance possible while pursuing the ultimate engagement? Creating social networks of those just as obsessed as us is natural and we feed each other’s desire to pursue these obsessive haunts. These connections seem necessary to allow the obsession to feel healthy.
We may become scared to the point where we can no longer continue. Being scared is ok. Being irrationally scared or limiting yourself because of fear is not ok in this game. It may be ok in selecting a new brand of toothpaste (do I hear complacency knocking?). Self-preservation is important but self-limitation is uncalled for. There is real fear and there are times when we bite off more than we can chew and somehow manage to eat it anyway, swallowing it down with a heavy dose of chalk and deep breathing. We try hard because there is no other option. If there weren’t a great big ledge for you to step back down onto, would you have committed to that move on no gear? Of course, you had no option! You would have had no energy to think about it. But no, you stepped right back down onto that ledge and waited for the winds to change. Commit!
To be engaged though, fully engaged, requires enough of a step up from your realm of complacency- and I mean your current realm, not the realm of that wild-hearted dirtbagger of 5 years ago, into the glow of fear (of the unknown, of the big lead out, of the next level…) and dedication. Cue the inevitable obsession.
I touched down in Cape Town to see the city alight. It was burning not only with the vibrancy I have come to know it by but also quite literally with flames of the biggest fire the city has seen in decades. Even through the flames, Table mountain’s presence was as spectacular as I remembered it and the roaring fynbos provided a distinctive scent of something majestic. It was however a good reminder of the fallibility of the human race in the greater scheme of things. The 40+ temps were more than a bit of a warm welcome to the city and somewhat pleasant after the icy weather of the northern hemisphere.
Amidst the smoky scene I cycled up the hill and began to settle into UCTs campus at the foot of the safer side of the mountain. Returning to the world of syntax trees and measuring vowels has been the mental injection I needed. The challenge of the academic world and topics that get me excited to go to lectures and write papers is invigorating.
The real satisfaction came when I rolled into the Cederberg for my first weekend of climbing. The orange glow of the looming quartzite formations was overwhelming. As the sun kissed the hundreds of boulders in the valley I dusted off the cobwebs that had collected on my climbing gear while in Korea. In the past year I have had some memorable times in the Korean mountains: pitches of technical granite, hard overhanging limestone and short sandstone routes accessible by subway. I did however definitely make the decision to focus on other elements of my life and remained on easier lines and only went climbing irregularly.
Driving through the Niewoudt pass I saw hundreds of meters of bullet hard quartzite cresting the hills; Krakadouw, Tafelberg and Wolfberg were like pieces of fudge placed atop the surrounding mountains. They are waiting to be tasted but their sweetness is so overwhelming that only a bit at a time could possibly be had. A little further along, Truitjieskraal showed off its stone gargoyles and blocks like a giant’s toy box that had been emptied amidst the hardy foliage.
Soon, I felt the limitations and delights of starting all over again. On a Friday afternoon at Sandrift Crag, a sport crag in the shadow of the mighty Wolfberg, I squeezed my feet back into their contorted, downturned shape and enjoyed the gentle clink of metal on metal hanging from my harness. I was shakier than I should have been and my endurance wasn’t what it had been before my hiatus but the feeling of moving over rock and trusting my body on the wall was an absolute spiritual indulgence. I worked through the initial jitters and laughed at my weakened upper body and moments of unnecessary panic above protection. I relished in my ability to read sequences and enjoy movement. A week later I was able to venture up the mountain where the sweeping lines up Wolfberg got me into a very beautiful headspace of flow, internal smallness, natural high and simultaneous groundedness.
Returning to the city and the demands of scholarly life, the accessible gym within cycling distance of my new home gives me somewhere to go when the city becomes a little wet or dark. An abundance of old friends and new friends mean I haven’t struggled for climbing partners.
This year is going to be the best yet, I have no doubt.