The Americans I met at the climbing gym last week organized a trip to Roc Rally in Boven. It’s a big climbing competition, hosted at Waterval Boven, in Mpumalanga Province. The climbing area has over 700 bolted routes. It was gorgeous; and the climbing was amazing.
The event received a lot of talk among my South African and American climbing friends who went last year. I expected the Woodstock of climbing. But, while there were some interesting and unwashed characters, it was actually pretty mellow. The climbing community, both in the US and in SA, is a very welcoming group. Almost everyone is happy to share their knowledge and gear. I enjoyed the atmosphere.
Friday was a day of firsts for me. A group of us took Friday off from work and left Pretoria around 6:30, getting us to Boven three hours later, in time for a full day of climbing. I decided I wanted to lead climb a grade 15 route, which is relatively easy in the grand scheme of things, but would be a bit of a challenge for me. I was then going to clean the route. I had never led or cleaned a route before.
So, “Chick’s for Free,” as the route is named, was a bit of a struggle at the crux. I froze up several times and stared down at the last bolt thinking, “This is going to suck when I fall.” But, I didn’t fall, I didn’t rest on the rope, my belayer helped me only with encouragement and ideas. Then I cleaned the route. And this was all before the competition began.
Team America took third in mixed team competition (largely due to our amazing handicap). We took home some cool climbing gear. However, despite receiving an award for mixed male-female team, the organizers decided to award us with two women’s, fleece, v-neck vests. The one for me was colored “Bright Peach.” Team South Africa strikes back. Touché.
For the climbing uninitiated. Grading: Climbing grading systems never make sense to me. The South African grading system starts at 5 and goes to 36. I guess it dates back to when mountaineering, hiking and rock climbing were all the same sport. One through 4 were a walk in the woods up to a scramble. Actual rock climbing thus starts at 5. A grade 36 is only accomplished with suction cups attached to your hands. The American and French systems make even less sense.
Aseiling is literally hurling yourself off the top of a cliff. You belay yourself as you rappel down the face. “Don’t worry,” they told me, “Jumping off the top is the worst part.” Oh. Really.
Lead climbing: How to scare yourself. This is when the climber clips in his own rope as he ascends. This means that you can be as much as 2 or 3 meters about your last clip point, potentially allowing you to fall twice that distance. It’s safe, but scary.
Cleaning is taking all the equipment down when the group has finished climbing a certain route. It involves untying and retying yourself at the top of the route while dangling from the chains.