On the Edge: Terror and heat exhaustion on a vertical wall can be fun!!

By Adele McCann

Featured in Issue 5 (June 2003) of SA Mountain.

Despite the dictionary definition, memory is not merely the recalling of facts. It is actually the discriminatory recall of experience and perception. Most of what I remember about the trad climbs I have done over the years have been washed with a feeling of glowing well being. In hind sight, at times this was more a feeling of relief than anything else. But, very soon, even the day after the climb, any danger or discomfort were forgotten and the sense of achievement and memory of wide open spaces and pleasure remained in their purity.
The birth of our child, Josie, has made sport climbing and bouldering an easier climbing alternative in the last few years. Trad climbing can only be done on those few special occasions when domestic arrangements permit. So when Linda Antoncich, an old trad climbing friend, came over from Australia on holiday, we decided to do a climb on Table Mountain together, as a special occasion and for old times sake. When we started climbing together in the mid eighties, we had spent most of our time ticking off easier routes on Table Mountain accumulating epic stories and also contributing to the first female ascent of routes.
On the day of our climb we caught the cable car up to the top of the mountain, keeping in mind that all time saved was less time away from our families. Walking around to Fountain Ledge, Linda noted that the path was pretty precipitous in places, something we hadn’t given much thought to before. After having children one sees paths from a safety point of view.
After discussion we agreed to do a mix of routes on Fountain ledge, starting with Cableway Crag, moving onto Farewell to Arms and finishing on either Touch and Go or Cableway. I led off on the first grade 14 pitch up a ramp type of feature, noting that this was my first trad lead in over two years. Linda, fortunately, had had more exposure in the last few years and ably led the grade 21 pitch of Farewell to Arms that followed, stancing on the arête of Cableway Crag. I followed with some grunting on the small roof and exclamations that the jam was not as secure as I had remembered it.
After a brief break and discussion on the way forward, I led through across the remainder of the Cableway traverse getting rather pumped trying to put gear in, despite the technicalities of the climbing itself being very basic. Part of my difficulty stemmed from the fact that Linda had all the mid range friends back at the stance (the safety of which I was very grateful). However the security of the stance did not assist me with my task and after some fiddling and stuffing in what was definitely an over-cammed friend I bolted for the end and flung a sling over a horn, clipped it into my rope and took a deep breath. After some untangling of ropes on Linda’s side she made her way across the traverse, coming to an abrupt halt at the over cammed friend.
By this time the sun was beating down on us, and I, ensconced in the Barbers Chair, was beginning to wilt. After an exemplary effort Linda freed the friend and reached the stance. Since occasions like this didn’t happen very frequently, we had a small photo shoot, Linda retracing her steps back across the traverse and myself leaning out from the barber’s chair to take some snaps.
Once all this had been completed Linda climbed up the last pitch of Cableway Crag, both of us anxious to complete the climb. We had not remembered how long these climbs usually take and had not brought any water or snacks. I reached the hanging stance below a small roof where Linda had set up a stance, unsure of how to proceed. I plugged in a big friend as a further backup and put Linda on belay while she scoped out the route. She had an idea to investigate what lay directly above but then decided to move leftwards to what appeared to be a wider ledge further over. All of a sudden I heard a shout ROOOCCCKKK… and the whoosh of Linda falling over me and landing up a few metres below. The jerk onto the belay gear was a heart wrenching moment, during which I expected to hit the scree below. The prospect of our kids being left as orphans was somewhat horrific. Fortunately none of this transpired and we were left rather shaken but intact, or so we thought.
Only later after scrambling out up to the cableway station did Linda realise that her one ankle was pretty damaged and she was having trouble walking. Added to our woes was the fact that the toilets had no water and so, desperate, we approached the restaurant for a glass of water, speaking through parched and thick tongues. They pointed to the fridge with the commercial bottled water which was useless, neither of us having a brass bean. We found a very large ice bucket with some smart bottles of wine in it and proceeded to help ourselves, dipping the wine glasses into the bucket, all this amidst polite enquires from tourists. We made quite a sight – Linda’s long hair, now freed from a day under a helmet, stood out at right angles and mine looked even worse.
After I had fetched the packs, and we had both made some recovery we made our way to the cable way station. We caught the cable car down again in order to save time away from our families. Once down at the car park, we limped our way down the road towards our car only to be
greeted by the lady car guard who said “Eventually!!!” We were very glad her side kick, who had had a lot to say earlier on had left.
Now, a few days later, all I can remember is the splendour of the climb and how much of a joke it was staggering into the restaurant. But then of course, climbing isn’t anything to do with the recall of facts at all.

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