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The origins of this trip go back some 2 years. It all started with the idea of doing a quick outing to Cape Town for some nice looking multi-pitch climbing on Table Mountain with the added possibility of side trips to other Western Cape crags documented in a handful of climbing guidebooks. A nice, easy climbing vacation near a city renowned for its beauty and food options – a resort climbing experience. Then we stumbled onto Ross’s old climbing web page and things quickly evolved into something entirely different…
Up until that point, we had been ignorant as to what was available around the Western Cape climbing wise. I had always thought that the biggest multi-pitch lines in South Africa were either in the famous Drakensberg Mountains or on the walls of Blouberg. I had no idea that there were 500 meter tall walls hosting 20 pitch climbs in the mountains of the Western Cape Province. This got us pretty excited. Ross’s “Country Route Classics” webpage (from 2006) was clearly calling out to us. And so we called it back by emailing Ross with the idea of hiring him as our “enabler” – put together a complete trip for us but let us climb on our own. And then we waited…and waited. Ross eventually checked his email and together we ironed out an itinerary in the course of a few months.
A Bit On How-To
Climbing of long, backcountry trad routes (“country routes”) is not a popular, modern day activity around the Western Cape. Good portion of the routes we’ve done have not seen climbers in a decade according to Ross (judging by the vegetation, we believe it) and the quantity of proud looking, virgin faces is staggering considering the proximity to Cape Town. This likely explains the lack of guidebooks and hence my ignorance; dissemination of information on such routes being limited to the relatively obscure Mountain Club of South Africa Journals.
A climbing trip to the Western Cape that focuses on Table Mountain, Paarl Rocks, Tafelberg and a few other published crags is as easy to pull off as trip to Western Europe. You fly in (no visas needed for many countries), rent a car, reserve some motel rooms and you’re set. Driving is easy, there’s obviously no language barrier for English speakers and the guidebooks seem well put together.
Venturing beyond those crags – a trip focused on “country routes” along the lines of what we have done – seems almost impossible to pull off for an outsider without some local help. For starters, the route beta is available only through the Mountain Club Of South Africa journals which are not available in electronic form (2017). Furthermore, in many cases it seems that access is guarded by private land and entry permits are required. The bureaucracy seems overwhelming to the outsider’s eye. You’d also miss out on being able to stay in MCSA mountain huts which – if not essential – is certainly helpful and a very nice experience. It was for those reasons that we ended up hiring Ross as our “enabler” – we thought we’d get a lot more out of such a trip and we feel that we have. Lastly, if you’re interested in some first ascents – huge, virgin faces seem to abound (many with reasonable looking access) – Ross would be the guy to ping as well.