Sleep on a wall. Climbing for breakfast. It must be big.
Tucked away in the Du Toit's Kloof mountain pass (Western Cape) is the alluring Yellowwood Amphitheater. She offers an enticing 250 meters of protected climbing up solid sandstone and has given traditional climbers a good run for their money since the 1950s. Between all the lines is a single line of shiny bolts extending all the way to the tippy top, Newborn. It is hard, steep, has a halfway ledge and is possibly the best modern multi-pitch sport route in the country.
Sarel Janse van Rensburg, Alex Bester, Wesley Black, and yours truly.
The cliff is north facing and starts baking in the sun from about midday. It is January and life is mostly hot with temperatures reaching well into the 40s. The erratic south easter can decide the day and cause conditions to get "baltic".
Alex: That's perfect, we can have an alpine start and climb mostly in the shade. I'll take my tarp system which we can rig for cover on the halfway ledge.
So then, sunscreen, hat, sleeping bag and some warm socks should help with morale if conditions turn baltic.
Yellowwood does provide her visitors with a natural hydration option by means of a drip located near the base. This is seasonal (winter rainfall) and with the current dry spell it is safe to assume that the last drop has dripped.
Wes: Let's just hike in enough water. I don't ever want to not have enough water again, I'm a big guy, do you know how much water I need to hydrate this body ... I'll add 10 liters to my pack. Like, how much do we need - how long are we going to be there for?
We want to be at the base before sunrise, climb, spend the night on the ledge, climb, top out, find the descent, walk out. We also need water for coffee and I guess to make food with ... wait, what food are we taking?
And of course then there's the hiking to consider. The hike is said to be uphill for two hours. We are going to be heavy and with Michelle's kneemoania it's probably best we add some - so let's say three and a half. Temps will be low for the walk-in, I would like to have 3 liters for that ... climbing ... sun ... five liters per day per person, it's not going to be enough guys.
Me: Just uphill hey, surely there would be some even ground?
Alex: Nope, straight off the bat uphill. We will have to start hiking at 2:30am to start climbing at sunrise ... or we can hike in late afternoon the day before, sleep at the base, climb ... like we have time right? It does however mean more water.
Wes: Mmmh we still want to go to Montagu. Let's stop by Yellowwood on the way, make a quick mission to hike up some water, come down and go climb in Montagu for a couple of days and then ... Newborn pappie! With no gear I'll carry 20 liters which I won't drink on the hike up.
Alex: Yeah we can also check if the drip is going, maybe we don't have to hike-in much water on the second run. See! What did I tell you Michelle, Wes is a mule, he can carry - why do you think I always phone Wes?
Okay so sleep at the base, climb for breakfast, sleep on the wall, repeat. Great - motivated - yes!
On Sunday the 24th of January a sweltering 36 degrees (in the shade) could not halt the quick three man mission up to Yellowwood which saw 40 liters of water deposited at the base - go team!
The dynamics of 'Team Aquarius' did go through some alterations and it is important to note the addition of a helping hand, Javier the Mexican.
Flying solo and curious to see what South African climbing has to offer Javier made his way to Cape Town - where we were based at the time. South Africa has a small climbing community and it did not take Javier long to get hooked up with his kind. On Saturday around midnight and in the middle of packing chaos Alex received a phone call. I heard him convey our mission for the next couple of days in nonchalant bullet point format and afterward turned to announce, "we have a Mexican psyched to climb in Montagu, I told him to send me his location and we can pick him up on the way."
Being replace by a more reliable pack mule (Javier), I headed straight for camp Montagu to put some 'post-workout' on ice. When the guys arrived from mission Water Drop, I barely introduced myself to Javier before Team Aquarius laid bare the misunderstanding while standing in the road, looking up at Yellowwood.
Wes: He only had one bag and I though damn, this guy travels light!
Following the phone call to Alex the previous evening, Javier jotted down; Yellowwood tomorrow, quick up-down, traditional climbing area, possible mission to Montagu sometime later. With all his belongings on his back and ready to hike up to Yellowwood and go trad climbing for the day, Javier discovered the true agenda. Yellowwood had now morphed into a week long dirt bagging trip - equipped with the clothes on his back and nothing but trad gear for protection Javier, or now called 'Gawie', was sure in for a fun week of sport climbing with Klein Pretoria.
With hundreds of sport climbing routes on the solid Cape Fold Belt, Montagu has something for everyone. When word got out that we are heading here our Cape Town friends did not need much persuasion to navigate 200km east and join in for a week of climbing and catching up. Gawie was in luck - all friends come with benefits and in his case this meant camping gear.
Well aware that Montagu's folded, buckled and bent rock yields a matchless style of climbing, routes here were still compared to possible pitches of Newborn. What we knew of Newborn was little and we could only but compare it to what was in front of us. 'Imagine' was the word of the week and was used in every possible scenario. A great 'big wall conditioning' tip from Alex was to stay in your climbing shoes for an extended period after each climb.
Sarel and myself ready to hike up to Yellowwood Amphitheater.
From here on it was head down and keep on keepin'on - best advice ever, thanks Joe Dirt. Once we arrived at the base, headlamps and coffee were the first order of business followed by dinner and plenty pillow talk, minus the pillow of course. Sleep did not come easy and before the first bird could go chirp it was time to swing into action.
Three pitches up and I am finally awake. Breakfast climbing - definitely a first for me. Sarel and I made good ground up Newborn and below Alex and Wes gained some vital hands-on experience in the fine art of hauling gear up a wall (as well as retrieving those dropped items). We arrived at our ledge of refuge shortly after lunch and besides its just perfect size, it was also the perfect microwave. Rigging of the tarp system had to commence at once.
"Where did we pack the tarp again?"
Ledge life was hot but we felt like the coolest kids on the block. We were stuck here for the rest of the day and that was just perfect. Making good water preservations was well worth the effort and was greatly applauded after each satisfying swig. There was no breeze for the tarp system to block and might be partly responsible for the creative dialogs which transpired from the high life sauna ledge.
Close to sunset and one pitch up, and in in full golden glory, the crux pitch posed. Time spend speculating about this section of the wall - from the ledge and prior to this venture - was ample but once the sun hinted towards the horizon, speculation was finally laid to rest and the crux pitch was surveyed and prepped for tomorrow.
Best night of sleep ever! So good that we all overslept. The plan was to be on the wall by now but hey, coffee first. The tranquility of this b-e-a-utifil morning was just impossible to break and with the added promise of some cloud cover, a second cup of joe was the natural next step.
Once all the gear was packed it was time to climb one pitch up and get everybody into position. The second day of climbing were in the hands - and feet - of Alex & Wesley while Sarel & myself made sure to follow along with the gear and remaining water. Fixing a rope from which I can dangle formed part of the previous day's prepping and all I had to do now was get up it and wait for the crux pitch action to unfold beneath me.
Between Alex and Wesley there were three close calls but on Wesley's second attempt he stood tall and committed fully to latch the hold and not let go (image above). Access granted and up we go!
From here it took us close to seven hours of climbing, bird watching, jumaring, cheering and hauling gear before reaching the top.
I was the last to top out and with my feet on solid ground I followed the discarded gear trail to some team high-fives and an already rigged shady patch, Alex and his tarp - that's why I always call Alex.
Team send of Newborn.
What's your Dawn Wall?