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words and pic by Gavin Raubenheimer
When, in May this year, the news came out that César de Carvalho was leaving his job in Pietermaritzburg and heading for Portugal, his country of birth, it sent shockwaves of sadness though the KZN climbing community. The tones of conversation were akin to hearing of the death of a close friend. I, for one, gave a tribute to César at a special farewell evening held at the local pub, which felt more like a eulogy than a goodbye party.
César immigrated to South Africa as a young boy with his parents and brother in the 1960s. After high school he went back to Portugal for a short time but soon returned to Africa. He studied fine art at the University of Natal and later became a partner at Outdoor Center in Pietermaritzburg. Then, in the late 1990s, he joined Bush & Bundu, the main outdoor and climbing retailer in KZN. In his early years, he played bass guitar in a rock band and also became an accomplished long distance athlete during the ’80s, culminating with finishing just short of a gold medal in the Comrades Marathon. His love of fine art and music brings him much pleasure still, and his paintings have attracted critical acclaim.
César or ‘Ces’ or ‘Squeezer’ or ‘The Portugreksican’ as his friends know him, came to be one of the pillars of KZN climbing, especially in the ice climbing arena. A character and master story teller, he has been frequenting the crags of the KZN region, Free State and Drakensberg for more than 30 years. By his own admission, he has never been one of the ‘hard men’, pushing the upper limits of climbing, but rather a solid trad climber holding it together on Monteseel classics such as Republic Left Break (17) – which made the cover photo on a early edition of SA Mountain magazine, and Sizzle (20). Indeed, one of his favourite things to do over the past years was to leave Pietermaritzburg in the early hours of Sunday morning to arrive at Monteseel and watch the sunrise from the first pitch. In the Free State he was on the opening ascent of Long Bolt to Freedom where he and I spent a night tied to a ledge sipping beer and watching satellites go past. However, it was the ice climbs of the Giant’s Castle area where César made his mark. Not in opening routes, but in making an annual pilgrimage to this high and lonely wilderness of ice, rock and sky. Many a new and old ice climber has sat around César’s tent listening to tales of fun and thrills on South African ice.
He was involved in Mountain Rescue for about 20 years, rising to Assistant Rescue Organiser, and participating in some epic search and rescues in the ’Berg and other areas.