words & pic by Gustav Janse van Rensburg
Marrying into a French family has had its obvious advantages – not having to queue at the embassy for costly visas to enter Europe, and getting a handle on the language making for less embarrassing moments on trips to the Alps, to name a few. The MCSA 1996 Exchange Trip to climb in the Mont Blanc range with the Belgian Alpine Club comes to mind, when I still had to tell many lies and forge bank statements for visa applications. I was travelling through Europe on my own before meeting up with some less stinky members of the Magaliesberg section, and simply had to ask directions from people in the ‘friendly’ French village of Chamonix to Le Gîte-totally-unpronounceable-for-a-boertjie-from-Pretoria! It was epic. I was not prepared at all. I tried to pronounce all the letters in every word and managed to bump into folk who had not had their croissants buttered that day. Only after embarrassingly handing over the piece of paper, did they point me closer to the place of our rendezvous.
This privilege of flashing a passport for ease of travel is thankfully also extended to the French DOM-TOM (French-administered territories outside the European continent) and includes the adventure island of La Réunion. For many years we hosted the youth climbing team from Réunion Island and always felt inspired by their fierce attitude whilst using Waterval Boven as their training ground, where we have been living for the last 19 years. We would witness crazy sends like a 13-year-old girl climbing routes of grade 30 on the second try! Alex, my wife, would cook up a storm for them, and slowly over the years our son, Mel, would resist his disinterest in climbing and socialize with the young crowd visiting his back yard.
In 2015 Mel went to high school, boarding in Pretoria, which meant less interaction with the cool climbing kids from Réunion Island because of the different times of the school holidays. Also, being a boarder, not every weekend was free for him to return to the famous land of orange rock where Mel grew up. On the flip side, the rock-climbing club at his school was in a period of transformation and, although he spent endless days of his youth with us at the crags reading everything from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings and more, one could say that climbing was in his blood. That is Dad’s story and I am sticking to it. Back at high school, after realizing that his cricket career would never get off the ground . . . if you had to say that he took to rock climbing like a monkey up a tree, it would be a gross understatement.
By March 2017, Mel had been a committed climber for little over two years, grabbing every possible opportunity to train at the local indoor gyms that Pretoria could offer, and spending weekends out on rock to the point where he managed to lead his first route of the magical grade 30/8a. His progression on the competition circuits had equal success with podium positions in some national events.