White knuckles and adrenaline – or a fantastic mountain escape
that works both body and mind? Set yourself free on one of these
fine rock climbing routes. By MARK JOHNSTON for YOU/Pulse magazine.
Taken your kids to an indoor climbing gym recently? You really should try it. More and more families are discovering that far from being a dangerous, daredevil pursuit, rock climbing is a wonderfully rewarding sport that works not only your body but also your brain.
That’s right – sheer brute force isn’t enough to haul your body up a route, you also need to use your noggin to read the sequence of handholds, work out when to push it and when to grab a rest. It’s all about
strategy, much like a game of chess.
Climbing is an excellent full-body workout. You call on every muscle group to help you pull,
push, reach and stretch to get to the next hand- or foothold. Research has shown that even
limited exposure to climbing leads to a noticeable improvement in muscle strength, flexibility
and cardiovascular endurance.
There are three types of climbing. In traditional climbing the leader places specially
designed pieces of equipment into cracks and other features in the rock face to secure the
belay or safety rope. The going is sometimes slow and can be dangerous if you can’t find a
suitable fissure in the rock.
When a cliff is too steep or blank for traditional gear, climbers use
bolts drilled into the rock as anchors. This climbing is much quicker and generally safer and is
therefore known as sport climbing. Finally there’s bouldering, where climbers test their finger
strength on small rock outcrops and boulders. The routes are short – often only a few moves
long – but the climbing is physically very challenging.
Indoor climbing gyms provide a safe, controlled environment to learn the ropes as well as
improve your strength. Some also offer training courses for beginners.
But there’s more to climbing than pulling on plastic grips. The real adventure starts outdoors.
In the mountains. On proper rock. And here in southern Africa we’re blessed with some
of the most interesting and varied rock formations in the world, from the sheer basalt cliff s of
the Drakensberg to the glorious orange sandstone of the Cederberg. Here’s our pick of the
best local routes.
1. CEDERBERG: TAFELBERG, STANDARD ROUTE
How fit should you
be? While the climbing
section is short and easy,
the hike in to Tafelberg is
quite steep so a good level of
hiking fitness is recommended.
Where? Cederberg Mountains, near Citrusdal
in the Western Cape.
Why climb it? Although the Tafelberg
is not the highest peak in the Cederberg
(that’s the Sneeuberg, visible on the other
side of the valley), its distinctive fl at top and
the fact that you need to do some dinkum
scrambling to reach the summit make it a
Time Budget a full day from the Welbedacht
parking lot to the summit and back,
although many parties make a weekend of
it, overnighting in Spout Cave at the base
Route description From the oak trees
at Welbedacht, follow the path over the
river and up the valley to Welbedacht
cave. A short but welcome section of fl at
on the shale band leads to another steep
path, which leads up to the neck between
Tafelberg and the Spout (the prominent
rock tower that makes the peak look like a
teapot from certain angles). From here the
path traverses beneath dramatic red cliff s
to a rocky gully, which leads steeply to the
summit. The scrambling section is right at
the end of the gully.
Guidebook: Peter Slingsby’s Cederberg: the
Map (www.themaps.co.za) is a good general
reference but for a more detailed description
get Tony Lourens’ new guidebook, Tafelberg
& Spout, Central Cederberg, Western Cape: a
Climber’s Guide, available in climbing shops.
Access You need a permit to visit Tafelberg.
These can be purchased through
CapeNature. Discounts are available for
Wild Card holders.
2. TABLE MOUNTAIN, RIGHT FACE-ARROW FACE TRAVERSE
How fit should you be? Fairly fit. If you hike regularly
you won’t have a problem at all.
Where? The route traverses Africa Amphitheatre on the
front side of Table Mountain.
Why climb it? This is a true Table Mountain classic,
with fantastic exposure and great views of the city and
Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Time Approximately five hours round trip from the
lower cable station on Tafelberg Road.
Route description From the lower cable station
ascend the popular India Venster path right up to the
base of the upper rock cliffs (note that this route has
some exposed scrambling sections so take care here).
Where the path begins to head right towards Camps
Bay, turn left, taking the lower of three prominent bushy
ledges cutting across the face. The route follows this
ledge, taking you on an unlikely obstacle course over
boulders and through a series of narrow cracks to exit
on the other side in Union Ravine.
Guidebook Adventure Walks & Scrambles in the Cape
Peninsula by Karen Watkins, available from Mountain Mail
Order, 021-790-6026, www.mountainmailorder.co.za.
Access No permit required.
Contact Table Mountain National Park. Find them
at ww.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain, or phone
3. WATERVAL BOVEN, SPORTS CLIMBING
How fit should you be? Because of the wide
choice of routes available, everybody from beginners
to honed rock jocks will find something to climb here.
Where? The climbing is situated just outside the
town of Waterval Boven, Mpumalanga, about two
hours’ drive from Gauteng.
Why climb there? Boven is the weekend/holiday
climbing destination for work-weary Gautengers
– the vibe is fantastic, the choice of routes truly boggling
and the red sandstone cliffs offer some of the
finest climbing in the country.
Time You choose. Climb a couple of routes and
head back to camp or spend a full day hanging out
at the crag.
Route description For full route descriptions check
out the Boven guidebook (details below). Beginners
should start out at the Flying is Fun and Hallucinogen
walls. The Crèche (on Tranquilitas wall) also has a
pleasing spread of easy grades. For more challenging
routes visit the Superbowl and God No! walls.
Guidebook The Restaurant (At the End of the
Universe Crags) by Gustav Janse van Rensburg is the
definitive guide to climbing in the area.
Access Rock up and climb!
Contact Roc ’n Rope Adventures are the area specialists,
offering accommodation, guiding as well as gear
rental and sales. www.rocrope.com, 013-257-0363.
4. SENTINEL PEAK, ANGUS LEPPAN ROUTE
How fit should you
be? Fairly fit. Except for the
crux pitch, the climbing is
generally pretty easy.
Where? Sentinel Peak,
Why climb it? The Angus Leppan is a Berg
classic that weaves up the dauntingly sheer
north face of the Sentinel with surprising
ease. The rock is generally good quality,
and while many Drakensberg climbs have
painfully long approach hikes, the start of the
route is an easy one to two hours from the
Witsieshoek car park.
Time Six to seven hours round trip.
Route description From the car park
follow the well-established path that leads
up towards the Chain Ladders and Mont-Aux-
Sources. This path cuts directly beneath the
north face of the Sentinel, then ducks around
the corner to the right towards the back side
of the peak. From here a deep, grassy gully
can be seen running up between the main
summit and a subsidiary pinnacle on the left.
The rock climbing starts at the top of this
gully on the right.
Guidebook There are currently no climbing
guidebooks for this area, but an excellent
route description can be downloaded from
the Mountain Club of South Africa website,
Access Permits must be bought from the
warden at the backpackers’ lodge at the
Witsieshoek car park.
Contact The Sentinel is part of the Ukhahlamba
Drakensberg Park. Find them at
www.drakensberg.kzn.org.za or phone
036-438-6310. For guided climbing on the Sentinel and
other Drakensberg peaks contact Peak High
Mountaineering on 082-990-5876 or visit
5. SPITZKOPPE, NORMAL ROUTE
How fit should you
be? Very fit. The ascent
includes some steep hiking,
exposed scrambles and several
pitches of roped climbing.
Where? In the middle of the
vast Namib Desert, about 300 km northwest
Why climb it?
Time According to the guidebook it
should take you around six hours from
the campsite to the summit and back
to the campsite but this is if everything
goes smoothly. Finding the route is quite
involved and it’s not unheard of for climbing
parties to spend a full day on the
mountain. Start as early as possible
(before dawn!) to avoid baking under the
Route description This is a true adventure
climb, involving some tricky scrambling,
squeezing through narrow chimneys and
even a compulsory abseil. The route starts
on the east face of the mountain and follows
stone cairns through a series of gullies and
chutes leading on to the northern side of the
peak, where the true climbing begins. Five
roped pitches lead to the summit.
Guidebook Spitzkoppe & Pontoks –
Namibia: A Climber’s Guide by Eckhard
Haber, available from Mountain Mail Order,
Access The Spitzkoppe area is open to all –
no bookings required. However, permits must
be bought at the entrance to the reserve.
Contact Namibian Section of the Mountain
Club of South Africa, nam.mcsa.org.za/.
GET THE KIT
Shoes Rock climbers use snug-fitting shoes with special high-friction rubber
soles for extra grip on the rock.
Rope Mom’s washing line doesn’t cut it! Proper climbing ropes have abrasionresistant
sheaths and are designed to stretch slightly to absorb some of the force
if you fall.
Harness Old-style climbers used to simply tie the rope around their waists
but today padded harnesses provide much more comfort and safety.
Chalk bag Like gymnasts, climbers use powdered chalk on their hands and
fingers to absorb the sweat for a better grip.
Belay device Instead of using their hands to hold the rope if their partner
falls, climbers rely on something called a belay device, which uses friction to lock
Carabiners These are strong metal clips used to fix your rope to the bolts or
any other protection that you place in the rock.
JOIN THE MOUNTAIN CLUB
Want to meet other climbers? Not sure
how to get out into the mountains? The
Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) is
a nationwide organisation of active hikers,
rock climbers and mountaineers and
has a regular programme of climbing
meets, training programmes and other
mountain-related activities. To find out
more about the MCSA or how to join, call
021-465-3412 or visit www.mcsa.org.za.
INDOOR CLIMBING GYMS
For more on rock-climbing and other climbing, click here.
Wonder Wall 011-708-6467,
Pretoria: The Climbing Barn
Cape Town: CityRock 021-447-1326,
Durban: The Rock 031-570-9200
[This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the Summer 2008/2009 edition of YOU Pulse / Huisgenoot-POLS. The current edition is on sale now.]