words Tony Lourens and pic by Ashleigh De VIlliers
On 1 January our brother, friend and fellow climber, mountaineer and seaman; our lovable and loyal vagabond of the hills and the oceans, Ian Christopher Slatem was sadly and cruelly taken from us in a freak climbing accident on the historically famous Arrow Final, an easy rock climb on Table Mountain – the 60-metre-high grey slab directly beneath the upper cableway station, which was first climbed over 100 years ago.
It was a day like any other for Ian, who, as a retired geologist, decided to become a climbing guide, and on New Year’s Day, had two clients who wanted to climb Table Mountain. They set off up the mountain and made their way to the base of the route to prepare for their ascent. Ian was a hugely experienced climber, who had been practicing his passion for over 40 years, and was a stickler for safety.
It is not absolutely clear what happened, but according to WSAR (Wilderness Search and Rescue), Ian was leading his clients up the route, when he either accidentally pulled a loose block, or a block fell from above and hit him. This caused him to lose purchase with the rock and take a leader fall. At the same time, the block plummeted, and hit one of his clients, killing her instantly. Unfortunately, this client was also the one belaying Ian, so with no one to block the rope through the belay device, Ian fell from high up on the route to practically the very bottom – a fall of some 50 metres, which proved fatal.
WSAR were called out immediately, and over the course of the afternoon and evening, the rescue team, with the aid of the Cableway Company, who, without hesitation, allowed the team full access to the cable car to aid in the recovery of the sole survivor and retrieval of the two deceased climbers, went about their job, which took most of the night.