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words & pics by TONY LOURENS
On February the 25th I found myself, along with four of my close climbing buddies – Willie Koen, Rex Quick, Alessandro Gelmetti and Errol Flint (nearly 300 years between us), trudging up the familiar approach route to Barrier Buttress on Table Mountain. We were on our way to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the first ascent of a real old TM classic – Barrier Frontal.
Now by current standards the old Frontal route is by no means taxing to the present-day cragsmen, who with modern gear, sticky shoes, chalk and the like, are scaling routes waaay more difficult, and steeper. But 100 years ago, this route was at the cutting edge. To J. W. Fraser, F. Humphries and K. White, all respected climbers of that era, Barrier Buttress was a formidable wall of sheer rock that had not yet had a clean ascent. And with the equipment at the time, which was basically non-existent, save for a hemp rope, which I wouldn’t swing a cat on, and perhaps a sling or two, putting a new route up a steep, unclimbed wall was a daunting and fearsome task; one which only the top climbers of the day would contemplate. And remember, in those days, the leader NEVER fell, as the system was too archaic to hold leader falls, so basically anyone who led was in fact soloing the route. The leader would then safeguard the rest of the party with a rope from above, which wasn’t an ideal belay anyway, and in this manner, they would forge their way up their chosen route.
And so, the three of them climbed what we all now know as Barrier Frontal, which takes a somewhat weaving line up an impressive wall, but today many skip the original direct line of the Shaly Crack corner by scuttling across to the left along an easy traverse, and then moving back right along a ledge to regain the route above the steep layback. But if included, this is one of the best, and by far the hardest pitch on the route, going at a respectable grade 16.