By Hans-Peter Bakker
Featured in Issue 7 (December 2003) of SA Mountain.
For me the best trips have always been the “let’s-go-for-it-anyway” kind.
Francie Bührmann, Dirk Versfeld, Tessa Cousins and I were having a roof-wetting braai at my place. Whisky and wine flowed freely and someone suggested climbing Slangolie on TM the next day.
Dirk muttered something about his brother Tinie saying it would rain, but he didn’t look very convinced and we didn’t want to hear, so we agreed to meet early and to “go for it-anyway”.
The next morning was windy with high clouds. The spectacular drop-offs of Slangolie Ravine and the natural forest through which the path snakes over the river and on up to the foot of the imposing buttress set our resolve to have a fun day in the mountains.
As we approached the arête the strong, icy-cold northwesterly winds should have made us reconsider. Nobody wanted to be Dr Killjoy, so we headed upwards. Climbing in two parties and alternating leads we progressed quickly enough for the first few pitches.
The near gale-force and buffeting winds blowing in ever more strongly from the Atlantic made it virtually impossible to hear one another and threatened to blow us off our feet. We continued up as wisps of cloud started racing in over and under us. Still no one suggested turning around. Visibility was OK and Ross Suter’s new RD, recently published in SA Mountain Mag, made sense.
Three pitches later the temperature had plummeted dramatically, visibility was down to a few metres and the rock was getting wet, very wet. We were only four pitches from the top, with the crux just ahead. Retreat? No way!
I started with only a few metres visible and struggled to counter balance against the force of the wind. Fortunately the route is quite logical and I ended up below the crux quite easily, but it was wet and slippery and I took extra time to get more gear out before having the bottle to go for it, followed by an anxious and shivering Francie. When Dirk got to the crux the wet rock was slippery as hell. He started worrying about his bond repayments, and employed his formidable voice in yelling for a rope from above.
Having surmounted this hurdle by means fair and foul, we joined forces, not wanting to lose each other in the mist and to reduce the lead risks by having only one person on the sharp end.
On wet rock you can’t trust your feet anymore. Friction, smearing and even much of the smaller edging that you may have done quite comfortably on dry rock is out of the question. You have to concentrate harder, you have to keep more of your body on the rock, you have to hold on more tightly to positive grips and you have to step much higher to get the larger foot grips.
We splashed up the remaining three normally easy pitches with wind howling, rain pelting down and spirits barely hanging on. Topping out brought a sense of relief and achievement and we hugged each other like surviving sailors.
Then the walk down. My thoughts: “should be easy enough: follow the crest of the buttress, turn right at the first path, right again at the second and we will be back in the forests in a flash…no problem”. I felt even more confident when Dirk produced a compass, unused since his trip to Scotland in 1986. So, “visibility…no problem either”.
We proceeded down the ‘vague’ path of the route description until we reached what seemed like a bigger path. Confidently, I took a right, only to be stopped by a compass-wielding Dirk declaring that we were 180 degrees off route. After some persuasion we headed off in my direction only to find that the path fizzled out. Dirk was suitably chaffed and couldn’t quite keep the “I told you so” tone out of his voice …or maybe, my injured pride was imagining it.
We walked around in circles for a while trying one vague path after another with Dirk pointing out in turn where the Cable Station and Cape Point lay in the thick cloud. It was getting dark fast and after some more passionate debate with finger drawings in the mud and a compass waved around in the rain, we agreed to retrace our steps and stay on well-trodden paths until we got to the Cable Station or to Cape Point – which ever came first.
After a while we reached a T-junction. We stopped again, the compass came out again, I started getting ready to draw in the mud again… Imagine the ignominy of spending a night out having an epic wandering around on Table Mountain!!!
Then Tessa suggested that we should all have a turn at being right and that this was her turn. Francie concurred and Dirk and I, secretly relieved, agreed with the compelling logic and followed meekly.
After some fast walking, with the darkness setting in, we soon realised that we were going down in what began to feel like the right direction, and happy to be heading home to hot baths, more whisky, mixed feelings about compasses and ever more respect for Table Mountain, not to mention Tinie-the-weatherman.