It's hard work, battling up these sandy giants, but it's worth every drop of sweat as you drink in the views from the top - wind sculpted parabolas burning red under the unforgiving desert sun, ridges stretching hundreds of miles in every direction, and everything almost totally lifeless with the exception of beetles than you can bury under a foot of sand before watching them dig their way out again. From the dunes we will take the short drive south (once we hitched a lift with a bush pilot) past Hammerstein farm. The tame zebra, the pool and brilliant bar provide enough reason to visit, but there is also some awesome bouldering and climbing just behind the farm. We opened up the area in 1999, and there is lots of potential for new routes on these compact granite crags.
Continuing south, we will spend a beautiful night bush camping under the stars in the middle of the very deserted desert, before making an early start in order to get to Fish River Canyon for sunrise. Fish River Canyon, the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon, cuts a deep 86 km-long trench though the desert floor. The rock is bad but the views are stupendous, and we’ll enjoy a few hours exploring the fringes of the canyon before heading continuing towards our last stop in Namibia. Camped up next to the Orange River, which forms the border with South Africa, we will spend our last afternoon in Namibia splashing about in the open canoes that can be hired cheaply.
South Africa: We then enter South Africa, and the final country on this amazing ten-month odyssey through Africa. Without doubt, South Africa is home to some of the best climbing in the world and, since the end of the apartheid, is fast becoming a leading climbing destination. Henceforth, we may find the crags a little crowded compared to what we're used to - there may be two or three other people there. Once in South Africa we will waste little time before undertaking a three day drive to the east of the country, where we will climb for some time before slowly making our way back west to finish in Cape Town. Doing this means we catch the best of the dry weather at the eastern crags, and the best of the warmer weather in the Western Cape.
Our first climbing stop will be at the quaintly named Mt. Everest Game Reserve (where you can even buy the 'I've climbed Mt. Everest' T-shirt). Near Harrismith, this safari lodge is a small private reserve with some lovely and scenic climbing. Based in a secluded hilltop campsite, we are perfectly situated to spend a few days climbing on the hard sandstone crags as we watch gazelle roam the Savannah below. There are trad routes and sport routes, single-pitch routes and multi-pitch routes, easy routes and hard routes, and if that isn’t enough for you then there’s space and scope to put up a few of your own routes too!
After a few days here we’ll head south a short way, and drive into the Drakensberg Mountains. The Drakensberg (meaning 'dragon mountains') are a dramatic basalt escarpment that has been inhabited for thousands of years as can be seen by the ancient rock paintings. The Zulu called the escarpment 'The Battlement of Spears', as the steep faces rise sheer from the foothills. Early climbing activity was undertaken by the Reverend Stocker who climbed Champagne Castle (3,375 m) in 1888, but many of the peaks, previously thought of as impregnable and unclimbable, were not scaled until the later half of the last century, with outstanding climbs to be found on the Sentinel and Devils Tooth. We will have a few days here to attempt these peaks as well as to trek, explore the valleys and maybe even find a little bouldering.
From the Drax, we’ll head north to South Africa's premier sports climbing venue, 'The Restaurant at the end of the Universe' where we will spend the next week in climbing heaven. Can you imagine a better situation than this for the road-trip weary climber? 400 climbs, all unique, on highly featured rock with something to suit you whatever you feel like, a slab for breakfast, crimpy wall for lunch and obscene overhang for supper. Staying in the climbers' hostel, we'll be able to chat to climbers of many different nationalities and dream of and plan future expeditions.
The guidebook covers the seven main crag areas including 'The Foundry' (no, not that one), 'He-Man Wall,' 'The Beach,' ‘The Waterfall,’ 'Wonderland' and 'Sports Valley'. The climbs spread throughout the grades with class acts at any difficulty. Try 'Visions of Cosmic Doom’ a bolted 9 (f2-3!) or ‘Jump in the Fire' at E2 or the desperately daft 'Jaberwocky' (33 or French 8b-ish). Again there is still plenty of potential so we can add our own lines before we leave. On a previous trip, all 25 climbers stayed with a local climber in his house and developed a new crag.
Whatever grade you climb 'the Restaurant' is a truly memorable place to climb for the week with all the lines having distinctly different characters. Whilst here, anybody that wants to can head to the nearby Kruger game park for a couple of days safari. Africa's biggest park, it boasts all the big 5 in large quantities. Then we'll be heading to Magaliesberg. Magaliesberg lies to the North of Johannesburg and the climbing is situated in a series of Kloofs or gorges. Stephen Venables described one:
"Tonquani kloof was a magical world of crystal rock pools and dappled light with red and gold cliffs soaring nearby a hundred meters on either side ... I have rarely had such a good days climbing in such great surroundings. "
After so many days climbing, it’s time to put the rockboots away, just for a few days, as we head to the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho. There are beautiful villages to wander around. You’ll walk through them with two local children hanging on each arm, so excited they’ll be to see you! Pony trekking is the ‘thing to do’ in Lesotho, and we can organize single or multi-day pony treks that will take you through rivers, up over ridges and mountains, through forests and deep into the hills to tribal villages where you can spend the evening chatting around a fire talking before retiring to your mud-hut to sleep. There are waterfalls to visit and mountains to trek up, and for those of you that really can’t leave the rock behind for 2 days, a crag! A single-pitch escarpment with 30-odd established routes on it, and room for more, this crag kept us busy and entertained for a couple of days on a previous trip.
Now its time to turn the stereo up, and lean out the windows letting the wind blow through our hair as we undertake the 2 day drive down to Cape Town. As Table Mountain comes into view and we simply cannot drive any further south, after 13 countries, 9 months and countless routes, we reach our southernmost point. But the expedition isn't over yet. We'll head to the centre of town, go and enjoy a cold Castle or two and plan the next week in Cape Town, before heading off again for a 4-week tour of the very best that South Africa has to offer – Western Cape Rock!
Cape Town offers so much climbing, and so much more than just Table Mountain. We will base ourselves on the South coast where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian. There are many routes at crags including Silvermine, The Hole, Peers Cave, Lakeside Pinnacle and The Mine. Ranging from the very easy to the super hard, all routes are very well bolted and on the excellent hard sandstone, with the climbing on generally positive and crimpy holds. There are also two major trad crags to explore, Elsies Peak and Muizenberg, both of which offer routes at all grades and up to 6 pitches long. But Table Mountain is the true daddy of climbing in South Africa. A long walk-in (or cheeky cable car ride!) take you way way up to where the routes start – and you’re already high, exposed and looking at the stupendous panorama of the Cape Peninsula with disappearing views across the ocean, and the occasional fishing boat or yacht sailing by to complete the picture.
And when the climbing begins, life only gets better. At all grades (V Diff to about E8) the climbing is super steep and massively juggy. Climbing solid rock in super-exposed positions for pitch after pitch, before topping out on a sunny terrace to be greeted by a cold beer and the hero-worship of the cable-car tourists who just don’t understand climbing! Does life get any better?
Some time should be spent enjoying Cape Town's cultural delights. A day spent chilling out at the V&A waterfront cafes, bars and restaurants is highly recommended. There is the District 6 museum, telling stories of slavery and apartheid horror. Also, a thought provoking trip to Robben Island, site of the prison that held Nelson Mandela and so many other political prisoners for so long. There are more light-hearted entertainments also, such as a trip down to the very southern tip of the cape to see the point where two oceans meet, and a drive back up via Boulders Beach, the home of a population of cape penguins.
Climbing, surfing, sky-diving and mountain biking, shark dives, bars, restaurants and museums. With its painful history and turbulent politics, but undeniable atmosphere of optimism, growing tolerance and vitality, Cape Town will assault all your senses. And as some fly home, the rest of us will be looking forward to a final 4-week tour of Western Cape rock...
Prices include food, accommodation, transport and most national park fees throughout Africa. You need to add visas, insurance, flights and beer! I can provide further info on all this on request.
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