Culture of South African Alpinism
Does one exist? This was a questioned posed to a South African Mountain Guides Association (SAMGA) representative by a member of a very respected international climbing authority in recent times.
I can’t help but admit that I was a bit thrown aback by this question but I soon realised that as a community, there is not much information out there capturing what we Saffa’s have been up to. This is hopefully a small start in capturing what South Africans have been out doing in the world of Alpinism and winter climbing during the past season (as I am writing this in July, I have arbitrarily chosen July to July), and hopefully it will galvanise more people into this fantastic and exciting element of the climbing world.
Starting off with a local KZN activist, Tristan Firman. In between scaring himself silly doing speed wing descents and steep skiing, Tristan managed to do a very fast ascent of the Frendo Spur on the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi in 8 hours. He has been up to a bit of mixed climbing too, managing an M8 onsight (hard!!) in Allgau, Germany.
Back at home and getting up to mischief, Tristan managed to dodge the Lesotho and SA border police and skinned up Sani Pass to do a full ski descent of the pass, his logic being that he’d only be in trouble if the police could catch him on his skis. They obviously didn’t.
Tristan must have lucked into some great ice conditions in July 2012, as he managed to open a new route at Makhaza, Culture Scene, WI 5 (I watched this route collapse this July 13, as it is fully in the sun).
There was a bit of a South African invasion to Scotland in February this year, with Colin McCoy, Paul Henderson, Jeremy Colenso, me and my Belgian climbing partner Nic, making a trip at the same time. Timing was perfect as we lucked into what can only be described as the best weather ever in Scotland - seven days of perfect weather with amazing sunshine.
Nic and I had arrived a day earlier and climbed “Morwind” IV/4 at Aonach Mor. The next day we went back and Paul and Colin did it too. Things turned exciting as it was now quite warm and the ice was melting fast, causing both our teams to vary from our chosen routes quite high up. Lots of anxious moments and drytooling followed. Scary day!
Colder days followed. Colin & Paul and Nic & I walked into “the Ben” and quickly dispatched the 1000m “Tower Ridge” IV/3 in 5½ hours, climbing as two separate teams. The next day, Colin and Paul went drinking whiskey and we lucked out by getting to the base of Point Five Gulley literally seconds before the next team. Definitely worth the reputation as one of the best gullies around.
Nic headed back to work and I hooked up with Colin & Paul to climb “Hadrian’s Wall”. Someone who shall be named Paul - sorry, Paul :-) forgot the second rope so I bailed but fortunately hooked up with some chaps we'd met previously, and climbed “Green Gully” IV/4 with them while Colin & Paul did Point 5 on one rope. Paul bought the beers!
Jeremy and I did some guiding work with a client, climbing “Chute Route” V/5 in the Cairngorms and “Hadrian’s Wall” V/5 on the Ben.
Back at home: Colin has gone on to do a bunch of ice back home too, climbing a bunch of times at Makhaza and Sani Pass.
Gavin Raubinheimer has been a busy chap; between being meet leader for the KZN MCSA Ice Meets, he has managed to climb and guide a fair amount at Sani Pass and Giants Castle. Gavin is also actively involved in teaching mountaineering skills and instruction.
Jeremy Colenso and I have managed to escape our wives (both of them climb so this is not easy!) and do some really fun stuff in the Alps. We both skied the Valley Blanche numerous times this year. The VB is arguably the most famous backcountry descent in the world, descending from the Aiguille du Midi to Chamonix, the total run being about 20 kilometres long. On one occasion we skinned up the Leschiox Glacier to have a look at the approach to the Grande Jorasse but couldn’t access the Leschoix hut due to a huge icefall, and had to endure a rather unpleasant night on a snow ledge under a cliff, sheltering from avalanches. I must say that being woken up by the sound of an avalanche in pitch black is a trouser filling experience. Our next trip was much more successful; we skied in and set up camp at the bottom of Mont Blanc du Tacul where we stayed for 5 nights. During this stay, we managed to do what was likely the first accept for the year of the Grand Capucin (ED), the Gabarou Albinoni Route on Tacul (TD+) and the Contamine Route on Pont Lachenal (TD). All three routes being uber classic. Our skiing back to the Midi proved challenging, as we'd run out of food a day and a half earlier.
I managed to get a bit more than Jeremy, and, climbing with my Belgian mate Nic, sent “Chere Couloir” (WI4) and Supercouloir on Tacul (ED1), the latter being an 800m challenging and quite serious route. We managed to 'tuck under' an avalanche whilst on the route.
Again with Nic and another partner in crime, Steve Arnold (UK), we did various trips to Cogne in Italy chasing ice lines, and managed to send some fantastic routes including the famous routes: “Tuborg”, “Candelabro del Coyote”, “Stella Artice” “Stalacitto del Cristalio”, Monday Money and many more. None too keen for a rest, we headed off to the Zoo and the Spa (both drytooling venues) in France, with Nic and I managing to get up an M9, both our hardest drytooling route to date.
Wales had a brilliant season, with climbing and skiing all the way into late March. Together with my wife, we got “Idwal Stream” III/3 and “The Ramp” III/4 done. Through a friend from my local climbing centre, David Barlow (UK), I met another South African ice climber from KZN, Megan Beaumont. We climbed as a three, with Megan leading the “The Devils Kitchen” V/5 all too easily. In the same day, we also did “Chicane Gulley” IV/4 and “The Screen” IV/4. Steve managed to make it out and we got “South Gulley” IV/5 as a consolation, as the “Devils Appendix” VI/6 was not quite formed.
Finally, I made my first pilgrimage to Giants Castle to sample what SA Ice has to offer. I have heard lots of moans from all the local guys about how bad the season is but I was pretty surprised with the ice we found. Alard Hufner, Shelly Hufner and I climbed a bunch of routes at Makhaza but unfortunately the other routes weren’t in great condition. I can’t wait to see SA in a good season. It’s also a uniquely South African experience, walking in for seven hours with 25-kilo backpacks, sleeping in a dusty cave, climbing ice without a hint of snow.
Crossing over the Alpine Climbing/Bigwalling threshold, Alard Hufner, Douard Le Roux, Shelly Hufner, Adam Liebenberg, Carter Jenson (USA) and I were lucky enough to go on a trip to Trango Tower in Pakistan in August 2012, doing battle with stacks of mixed climbing and two solid ice pitches on our way to the summit.
I have definitely left people out, and for that I apologise. If you have been up to some winter or alpine climbing in recent time or will be in the future, please could you drop me a personal message on climb.co.za username “Rob P” and I will include this in the next article.
About the author: Rob Powell is a DEAT Registered Mountain Guide offering guiding and instruction in South Africa and the UK.
Email: [email protected]
Source: Climb ZA