words by MARIJUS ŠMIGELSKIS
pic by JULIA CHEN
The 2nd ascent of one of the hardest trad routes on the African continent
My climbing career had a somewhat unorthodox start. As a teenager, fresh out of primary school, I got hold of a how-to book on climbing, written in the 1950s – before sit harnesses and belay devices were the norm. I would spend hours paging through this book and thinking of creative ways to replicate the gear pictured on its pages. I had ‘carabiners’ made of loops of cord protected by a piece of garden hose to prevent rope on rope friction, swami belts made of clothes line, and stoppers from standard machine nuts. My rope was a 25-metre plastic/nylon cord that was repurposed from the mundane life of a swimming pool lane marker at my school’s pool, to a life of adventure on the small buttresses above Constantia Nek.
My DIY gear collection grew, and eventually evolved to include harnesses made from the back seat belts harvested off the family car prior it its sale to an unsuspecting victim, makeshift but much improved ‘carabiners’ made of steel rings we bent and welded shut in metalwork class at school. We used the single link of a chain as a belay plate, but eventually got hold of a small sheet of two-centimetre-thick aluminium from which we fashioned better belay devices and nuts.
We spent our weekends bivvying in random caves and overhangs on the back slopes of Table Mountain, and climbing whatever cliff face we happened to wander past, not caring or knowing anything about rock quality or grades. Eventually in grade 11, I got a job at the then recently opened X-Cape Climbing Wall in Cavendish Mall, bought actual climbing shoes, and started meeting real climbers and learning about other disciplines like bouldering and sport climbing. I also met Donovan Burls, who took me under his wing and introduced me to ‘performance’ climbing and even made a little training programme for me to follow.