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Rocklands Trip

I grew up watching “The Endless Summer” as a kid. The idea of being the first person to carve your mark on history in some exotic land captivated me.  The film has heavily influenced my passion for establishing first ascents and exploring new climbing areas.  Ever since first watching that film, I have dreamed of being able to see Africa,  however, the idea of going to the other side of the globe to climb seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream.

That is, until I summoned the courage to finally take the leap and click the “purchase tickets” link.  With cold sweats, the reality that I was finally going to be able to check Africa, specifically the Rocklands, off my bucket list began to sink in.  “The hardest part of the Rocklands, is just getting there,” I remember hearing from friends who had gone 4 years prior and who had helped to convince me that I should go with them on this trip.  The logistics of traveling that far by myself to meet friends in a place I had only seen in videos and photos was a bit daunting.  

In preparation for the trip, The Sierra Climbing Team, of which I am the Head Coach, held a gear drive for our sister climbing team in the De Pakhuys area of the Rocklands.  “The Rocklands Rangers,” as they are known, is a small team of local farm kids from the area who gather under the direction of a local land owner JP Du Plessis.  Thanks to the generosity of the local climbing community and a donation from the Whitney Peak Hotel, we were able to bring three huge duffel bags filled with climbing shoes, approach shoes, backpacks, shirts, and jackets to the Rangers.

With the gear in tow, I found myself on a landing approach to Cape Town International Airport.  After making my way through customs and a quick battle learning the intricacies of the choke on my right-hand drive manual VW Citi Golf rental car in the airport parking lot, I was rocketing down the freeway towards the Rocklands.  Palms sweaty with anticipation, or maybe it was from the terror of driving on the wrong side of the road while praying my car didn’t stall again on the highway.  Either way, I soon found myself in the breath takingly beautiful playground that is the Rocklands; with its gold and black streaked, griptape textured, overhanging, and heavily featured boulders as far as the eye can see.  

The scenery while driving around South Africa felt oddly reminiscent to the hills of Northern California, but then I would  pass a baboon or springbok on the side of the road, and become acutely aware that I  was  indeed on another continent across the globe.  It is such a vast area that in the month I spent climbing in the area, I was not even able to see half of the climbs I had on my “must see” list.  I could drone on about how great the scenery, food, wine, and climbing are, but it is one of those places  you need to see to believe.

Once settled into the pace of life in the Rocklands, we spent one Saturday with the Rangers.  We then gave them as much gear as they could take and spent the afternoon climbing and coaching them on the boulders surrounding the farm, known as The “Plateau” area, which has climbs ranging from 4a to 8a+ (V0-V13).  At most, the Ranges have about 15 kids at a time, so the amount of gear that we brought to donate was simply too much for them to handle.

JP, always thinking of ways to better his community, had the genius idea to donate the gear to the local primary school nearby called, Elizabethfontein.  This school, as we came to find out, was home to about 60 kids and is located near “Travelers Rest,” a spot which is rumored to be the lodging choice of “the pros.”  And indeed, you may just find yourself elbow to elbow with the likes of Dave Graham and Nalle Hukkataival while snacking on their delicious Chicken Curry and drinking a “Black Label” lager.  Climbers have to drive past the Primary School in order to access nearby areas such as “The Sassies,” which, is home to Fred Nicole’s “Shosholoza”.  These kids literally have world class rock climbing in their backyard.

With the help of our gear and climbing program knowledge, we helped them to start a climbing program at the school itself.   Elizabethfontein even went so far as to let us bolt a few chunks of rock on the side of the building to traverse (another one of JP’s ideas that he envisions eventually going all the way around the school).

During our visit we came to learn more about the struggles that these kids face everyday.   The economic and social ramifications of Apartheid are still ever present in South Africa, especially in such a rural farming area.  “Today, South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, a place where poverty breaks down largely along racial lines. 1  One of the most glaring issues that most visiting climbers don't realize, or choose to ignore, are the substance abuse issues that come along with such economic disparity.  Under Apartheid’s Dop system, “Farmers would pay their workers in the form of wine.”  “You got kids being born alcoholic … This system and culture of inebriation reproduces itself. 2  which has resulted in, not surprisingly, extreme Featal Alchohol Syndrom (FAS) rates.  “The rate of FAS found in (the) study (are) the highest yet reported in any overall community in the world, 65.2-74.2 per 1,000 children in the first grade population. These rates are 33-148 times greater than U.S. estimates. 3”  

A large majority of the kids in the area have FAS and come from dysfunctional alcoholic homes.  So, for these kids, simply having an option other than drinking as an after school activity is massive.  The Rangers, for example, have formed a little crew of climbing kids who look out for each other and have kicked trouble making kids off of the team.  They are a shining example of how a positive group of likeminded people can help improve a community by simply being stoked on climbing and wanting to focus on a healthy obsession, rather than drinking or other forms of substance abuse.

To have walking access to some of the best rock climbing in the world is a huge opportunity.  Unfortunately, the prospect of obtaining proper climbing gear to enable them to play on these climbs is entirely unrealistic when the median estimated income is $91 USD a month in the area 4".  So, having climbing shoes of all different sizes will enable the school and these kids to not only get out and enjoy the mecca in their backyards, but will give them all the social, mental, and physical benefits of rock climbing.

Eventually, our trip had to come to an end and we had to return home.  As of our leaving the Rocklands, a local South African climber by the name of, Unio Joubert is running the Elizabethfontein’s climbing program and has since built a “Gia ball” and is in the process of building another wall on the school grounds.

(photo courtesy of Unio)

(photo courtesy of Unio)

I am incredibly humbled to have had the opportunity to help these great kids in any way I could, let alone help set up a climbing program at the local school.  If you would like to see how you can help, please direct inquiries to the Principal of the school; Mrs. A. C Dames at Elizabethfonteinps@gmail.com.

Citations

1.       The Atlantic. 2016. Serino. 21 September 2016. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/09/south-africa-apartheid-mandela-born-free-university/500747/>

2.        News 24. 2014. Web. 27 January 2014. <http://www.news24.com/Archives/City-Press/Twisted-tale-of-alcohol-and-apartheid-20150429>

3.        J Stud Alcohol. 2005 Sep;66(5):593-604. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16331845>

4.https://wazimap.co.za/profiles/municipality-WC012-cederberg/

 

Sierra Climbing Team Crag Clean Up

Rock Climbing is exploding in popularity and with this ever-expanding user group, comes the inherent problems of threatened access and educating new users in socially accepted behaviors. 

Black Diamond, in their partnership with the Access Fund, put it very nicely in describing their belief that "...in order to ensure the future of climbing access in America, we must inspire climbers to embrace responsible habits and behaviors that will keep climbing areas open and conserve the climbing environment."

As a community, we all recognize that the rapid expansion of our sport needs to be addressed in order to ensure the sustainability of our pursuit. You’d be hard pressed to find someone to argue otherwise.

The problem becomes a question of how to educate new climbers in these responsible habits and behaviors. Certainly, going out to the crag and yelling at everyone how to behave is not a successful strategy. So, how do we educate these new climbers effectively? Black Diamond and the Access Fund are doing it through "exclusive, multi-day events, including climbing clinics, presentations, stewardship projects and parties." But, as a normal person with a job(s), those methods of education are far outside of my means and scope. And, to be perfectly selfish, I am far more concerned with protecting access to local areas that I call home; than protecting some area I’ve only seen in magazines. So then, how do I, as a individual person, help to educate my local community of upcoming climbers?

As the Head Coach of the Sierra Climbing Team, I find myself thinking about that question a lot. After all, it is my responsibility to teach them not only how to climb, but how to be good stewards of our community. My worst fear is that these kids turn out to be that classic idiot that makes the "Unbelayvable" news feed. The method of education that I keep returning to is, as Gandhi so eloquently put it; "be the change you want to see in the world."

So, in that spirit, we rallied the climbing team kids and their parents to do our very own crag clean up day at a local boulder. This boulder has a long history as a local crag.

John Bachar soloing the off-width on the Truckee Boulder

John Bachar soloing the off-width on the Truckee Boulder

Unfortunately, due to its proximity to the town, this once pristine circuit has become a party spot for wannabe taggers and people who apparently really enjoy breaking beer bottles.

But, thanks to the help of Sierra Climbing Team climbers, their selfless parents, a few hauling skills, and some serious trickery with generators, pumps, and a pressure washer; we staged a full force crag clean up and graffiti removal.

To remove the paint we used and amazing product to remove the paint called "Elephant Snot," which is biodegradable and as non-caustic a product as we could find. In case you were wondering, it looks exactly like one might imagine elephant snot to look. We simply scrubbed it on and sprayed it off. I can’t explain the addictive satisfaction of watching the paint wash off to reveal the stone below and yet still leave the lichen.

All and all the boulder took 3 passes to get everything off and the difference is staggering. Along with the graffiti removal, we also picked up a bunch of trash and about 5lbs of broken glass.

Before and After

Before and After

After we finished the clean up there was only one thing left to do; CLIMB! After all, what better way to instill a love for an activity than to do it. And as you can see from the photos, everyone gets so much joy out of off-width climbing...

Everyone had such a good time and felt so much satisfaction from cleaning up this one little crag, that the question begged: "What’s next?" The kids were visibly excited to have taken responsibility over an area and make a positive impact.

I am convinced that through modeling behavior and taking the time to educate others, we can greatly impact our local community. We all are capable of making a positive impact in our communities. You don’t have to rely on an organization or big event to do something. Responsible habits and the simple act of picking up someone else’s trash is enough to positively impact our areas and community.

Squamish List

I like lists. To-do lists. Book lists. Shopping Lists. Bucket Lists. Check lists. Wish lists.  You could say that being list-less would make me listless. Recently, a friend asked me to recommend my favourite Squamish boulder problems from a variety of grades. Sounds to me like she wants a LIST! Now, I’m not normally one to get hung up on grades.  Everyone knows they are completely subjective and what feels like a v2 to you might feel much harder to me and vice versa.  In fact, I’ve recently been petitioning to change all the grades in Squamish to v4 -  we could call it the Fourrest! This has yet to catch on, so if I must make a grade based list…well here goes!

V0 – 28th Place

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Scot Ellis

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Scot Ellis

                Disclaimer: this one may have jumped the queue because I only recently discovered it.  Everyone’s favourite problem is the one they just did.  It’s got comfy holds and feet right where ya want ‘em.  It also features a nice flat landing – a real rarity in Squamish.

V1 – Bob Barker Cut My Dog’s Nuts Off

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Scot Ellis

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Scot Ellis

                As Squamish Local Andrea Smith once said to me “V1 in Squamish is a total bullshit grade”.  I’ve travelled for climbing a lot and have thoroughly enjoyed the V0s and V1s I’ve encountered in places like Hueco, Joes Valley, and Stone Fort.  V1 outside in those areas feels like V1 does in the gym. V1 = VFun! That’s not the case in Squamish. More often than not when I venture up a new V1 in Squamish I find myself cruxing out on an awkward mantle or frantically looking down into a death trap landing as I yell for anyone to please bring over a pad. Bob Barker is just like that, but at least it’s fun.  This one comes with the added bonus of having jugs like a milkman and feet like a clown. It’s my favourite of many gems on the Black Dyke boulder.

V2 – Slingshot

Climber: Scot Ellis. Photo by Michelle Yalowega

Climber: Scot Ellis. Photo by Michelle Yalowega

                Overhanging with actual holds and an easy top out? Not your typical Squamish boulder! This rock lies close to the main trail, so it’s easy to swing by for a quick lap.

V3 – Tyler’s Dihedral

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Gerry Chow

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Gerry Chow

                This one is found in the North walls slightly off the beaten path, but is worth seeking out.  I think it’s pretty rare to find a boulder problem that people of all heights will love, but Tyler’s is a total crowd pleaser.  Added bonus for the  5’2” and under crowd: double clutch dyno for the win.  What’s not to love about that?

V4 – Skin Graft

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Mike Chapman

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Mike Chapman

                Techy, subtle, and smooth – it has everything I like in a boulder (also, everything I like in my peanut butter, but that’s for another list).  It’s often said that there is nothing harder than Squamish V4. Skin Graft will show you why.

V5 – Space Monkey

Climber: Derrick Vnuk. Photo by Eli Dusenbury

Climber: Derrick Vnuk. Photo by Eli Dusenbury

                Good holds, fun movement, and just the right amount of thuggy.  This was the hardest one for me to choose – Squamish has a lot of really good fives!  Ultimately, Space Monkey won out for the double heel hook.  Ya gotta full body bear hug that boulder! (Just like a monkey would if it were on the outside of a spaceship without a suit.)

V6 – Minor Threat

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Thomas Burden

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Thomas Burden

                Maybe the only v6 is Squamish that isn’t sand bagged? I think there isn’t a single move on this harder than v4, but also not a single one that’s easier. Sustained climbing and located right next to my favourite warm up circuit -  It’s my go-to next level warm up.

V7 – Ramen Raw.

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Nika Michalak

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Nika Michalak

                That pinch, tho! In the land of lip traverses Ramen Raw is a real stand out. What can I say? I like fat pinches and I cannot lie.

V8 – Tatonka

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Scot Ellis

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Scot Ellis

                Pre break this was a great problem. Post break it’s fucking fantastic.  You aren’t gonna thug your way through this one anymore – it’s got technique for days. Toe hooks, knee-bars, and drop knees, oh my!

V9 – Resurrection

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by David Horn

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by David Horn

                Great movement, good landing , and just tall enough to be exciting. The victory jugs at the top are also a welcome change of scenery from the usual pant-pooping mantle Squamish is known for. This is my absolute favourite on the list.

V10 – No Troublems

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Selena Wong

Climber: Michelle Yalowega. Photo by Selena Wong

                I used to call this My Never Ending Troublems. Climbing like a gym problem it is my anti-style, but is sooooo much fun.  Plus, I got to learn how to fist-jam.

That’s it for my list. If you are in Squamish this summer I’ll join you on any one of these. Now I wanna see your list!