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words by Charles Edelstein
pic by Chris Weidner
Two South African trad exchange meets with the UK have taken place to date. The first took place almost 20 years ago, and last year the event was repeated. A group of 10 talented UK climbers from the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) visited South Africa for about 12 days, and then a group of South Africans returned the visit in May.
It was now time to move on from the Imperialists to one of the (ex-) colonies. After consultation with various experts in exchange programmes, i.e. Dave Turnbull, the local MCSA team, and Margaret, my wife, the consensus was to test out the Americans. Americans, as you may know, are usually very well equipped and funded by companies like Patagonia, The North Face, National Geographic, Black Diamond, and Petzl, and all too often have a power drill in hand and camera crew in tow. By their blogging, Vimeo clips and publications, American climbing celebs ensure that otherwise arbitrary destinations in the Third World become dramatized and romanticized, and become the ‘go-to’ places . . . and people tend to flock there. So, in the local context, I had the world-famous Rocklands bouldering and Boven sport climbing to compete with as destinations. (BTW, both are pretty damn good and definitely not shitholes!)
So, it was time to put the matter to rest as to what is really world class with regards to rock climbing in South Africa with the following observations in mind: My good friend Greg Child just celebrated his 60th birthday, and he has been around. I mean a lot! He has climbed K2 and Everest. He has done no less than two ‘trad’ first ascents on El Cap in Yosemite; climbed the sandstone in Australia and in the USA. Was a world class Alpinist, high altitude mountaineer, sport and trad climber. He was so impressed with South African sandstone trad, and particularly Blouberg, that he came twice, the second time with the climber/photographer, Jimmy Chin.
Greg in Out There Magazine, 2004:
‘Here’s what I found on that first trip: Yosemite may rule for big walls, Pakistan for vertical faces, and Thailand for beach cliffs, but South African climbing is singular. It has something to do with the tangerine stone, the big-sky sunsets, the way the rock has settled into a dawn-of-time landscape. By the end of my stay, I’d sampled the best climbing on earth.’
But was this enough? Nay! I climbed Prime Time at Yellowwood Amphitheatre (23), and Dog Day in Heaven (25) at Blouberg in 1998 with Ged Desforges. So, what did he have to say?