words & pic by Hilton Davies
If you cast your gaze up onto Table Mountain from the centre of Cape Town, the climber’s eye will naturally settle on the biggest and most beautiful rock face near the top right side of the mountain. This mighty bowl of steep rock is Africa Amphitheatre. Drop your gaze a little to the ravine below and you will see that the valley – Africa Ravine – resembles the outline of the shape of the African continent. This is the origin of the ‘Africa’ route names – names that are encoded into the DNA of my pal Tinie Versfeld and I.
Africa Amphitheatre has had a magnetic attraction for climbers for more than a century. In 1914, Bill Cobern and party opened Africa Face, a route that mostly climbs the right side of the amphitheatre. In 1925, the heroic George Londt and team established Gardener Crag on the left side. In 1945 Shipley, Schaff and co. established a route called Gardener Wall that combined the left and the right sides by a very long walking traverse on a ledge. And, in 1959, Paul White and party established the wiggly Avernus on the left.
In 50 years of development, all the routes had avoided the steep and daunting centre of Africa Amphitheatre. But this changed in 1969 when the immensely talented 25-year-old Keith Fletcher turned his attention to the steep stuff. On the third outing, Keith, with Don Hartley (20) and Rick Williams (30), made the first direct ascent of this wall. They named their 18-pitch route Africa Amphitheatre. It is brilliant and commands respect to this day.
Keith Fletcher has had two fantastic adventure careers – one in climbing and the other sailing. In Cape climbing, he is known for his routes Exposure in F Major, Du Toit’s Peak Column, Africa Amphitheatre, Oscillation, and North by North West. I’ve climbed these routes and they are fantastic! Keith’s brother Barry is equally legendary in Cape climbing circles (Touch and Go, etc.). In the last 10 years, I have been corresponding with Keith, now 75, while he and his wife Marian have been sailing the seas (two circumnavigations) and climbing tropical peaks. In 2011 he wrote to me: ‘Hilton, a good line exists between Africa Amphitheatre and Gardener Wall … do me a favour, climb it and let me know how it went.’