Confessions of a Dirtbag


Confessions of a Dirtbag 2023
Photo Tristan vd Merwe

by Tristan van der Merwe

I’m a man. I’m a flawed man. Often driven by my many vices. I’m gripped by them, feeding them until I walk away injured, heartbroken or distressed. Some would say it’s a hedonistic compulsion of impulse and spontaneity.
A pursuit of ego-driven self-indulgence. I mean, what more could a year-long climbing trip possibly be?

Rock climbing has me in its grip, and, with every moment spent at the base of, on, or falling from a cliff it clenches tighter and tighter. What this has resulted in is a one-dimensional man, who has about seven minutes of interesting dialog at parties. I wake up and scroll through the ‘ascents’ tab on 8a.nu. Refresh the forum pages on several websites. Scroll through a YouTube and Instagram feed that is dominated by worldwide climbing media. And during the World Cup circuit, devote around 4 to 5 hours watching semi-finals and finals live streams of IFSC boulder and sport climbing competitions.
Lockdowns are not good for climbing fiends looking for their next fix. My ‘weekend warrior’ fix was confiscated by the government for months. I was restless. I spent months working inside a tiny apartment and crimping face-brick on the exterior of the building. There is only so much hang-boarding one can do on a door frame before you start losing your mind. I needed another fix, but what we planned seemed to be more like an overdose.
My friend, Dale (Gathercole), and I had independently and simultaneously come up with this idea whilst at the base of a crag. Imagine a cartoon strip where two characters share the same speech bubble. We combed through guidebooks, websites, and magazines deciding on where we wanted to go and how long we wanted to be there. One day I cross-referenced all of the 4 and 5-star climbs I could find with their 8a.nu logs, reading what climbers had to say about them. Compiling a list of every route in the country I’d like to try. I narrowed it down to 520 routes at 30 venues.
We created a budget based on fuel prices (R16/litre . . . little did we know), what we thought we would eat and how much it would cost to camp as close to the crags as possible. We wanted to be real dirtbags. And we wanted to suffer. Generations of young men who came before went through extreme struggles . . . and well, we wanted our own.

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