Sunday, March 10, 2019

Climbing in Cape Town, South Africa

Rappelling down after some Table Mountain cragging
Cape Town is an amazing place. Steep mountains that rise straight up from white sand beaches are easily accessible from the City Bowl by a quick Uber ride! During our month in South Africa, we explored some of the local climbing areas that featured old-school trad multi-pitches on Table Mountain and steep sandstone sport crags at Silvermine. With limited time, we opted for day trips out of the city but only scratched the surface of what the region has to offer. Other areas that would deserve their own dedicated trips include visits to Montagu and Cederburg (home to Rocklands) but also require a rental car and camping gear if you really want to do it right!

The grading is a number system from 5-38. Depending where you look the conversion can be off by a few grades. We found the sport climbs to be very sandbagged but the trad seemed to be pretty comparable to the Canadian Rockies grading.
Breaking out the ropes 
The best way to find information about climbing in South Africa is the Climb ZA wiki and forum, where you can gather info about crags and find climbing partners in the area. Through the forum, Kyle was able to meet a number of fellow climbers (mostly Canadians!) who were eager for partners. As a result, we developed a small posse of foreigners to hang out with while we were in Cape Town. We also stopped by Drifters Xtreme Sports in Cape Quarter to pick up the local guide books, Western Cape Rock (Sport Climbing R360/$36) and Cape Peninsula Select (Trad R300/$30). The friendly staff eagerly shared their favourite routes and local gems, as well as practical advice on how to not get mugged. There have been violent robberies relatively recently in the National Parks, including Table Mountain and Silvermine where we were climbing. Everyone seems to have a story of friends that were robbed. Their advice: carry pepper spray, don't let people sneak up on you and pay attention to your surroundings. We bought ourselves each a tiny bottle of pepper spray for dirt cheap at Drifters and made sure to always keep an eye out for suspicious looking folks while we were out in the parks. We never had any incidents.
Clouds rolling down Table Mountain
Here is a list of some of the more memorable climbs:

Africa Crag
Grade 13 (5.7)
Length: 130 m (5 pitches)
Image result for africa crag table mountain
Map of the hiking trails on the north side of Table Mountain (see Africa Ledge and Fountain Ledge on upper right)
From Cape Town, we took and Uber to the base of Table Mountain. To access the climb, we took the Table Mountain cable car to the top of the mountain and hiked down the India Venster hiking trail to Fountain Ledge. Traversing Fountain Ledge around the big buttress under the cable car, we stayed high and right to gain Africa Ledge (going left would take you down the India Venster trail). It took about 30 minutes of walking to get to the start of the climb. Realistically you could walk up from the base in almost the same amount of time when you factor in the gondola ride, but it is a hard, steep slog that we were happy to avoid in the hot sun.
Access to Fountain Ledge via the India Venster Trail
Kyle had injured his hand a few days prior so I was leading this route which was easy climbing but challenging route-finding. The less than obvious route follows the path of least resistance up the face, zig-zagging its way to the top. As with most of the climbing on Table Mountain, the route doesn't get much traffic and the guidebook doesn't have detailed topos to guide you. Off the start, I opted to skip a 5.8 and 5.6 in favour of an easier 5.7 single pitch but it was dirty and meandering, causing me to wonder if I was off route. Things were a bit strained as we climbed the first few pitches but as we climbed higher up on the route, we started to feel more confident we were in the right place and really enjoyed the position and views of the city below. Half ropes were key on this route due to the amount of rope drag from the traversing. The route tops out right at the cable car station and descending via cable car was a nice treat! The surprised look on the tourists faces as we pulled over the top was also a highlight. Overall, this was a fun adventurous route that was a good introduction to Table Mountain.
Soaking up the sun on Africa Crag below the Cableway Station
Leading up up and away on Africa Crag
Laughing or crying? Maybe a bit of both
Cable car and Lions Head with views out over the Atlantic Ocean from Africa Crag
Jacob's Ladder
Grade 16 (5.9)
Length: 70 m
3 pitches
Base jumpers flying off Table Mountain
This is a classic moderate Table Mountain route that came highly recommended. Again, we avoided the long trudge up the mountain by taking the cable car to the top and walking down to Fountain Ledge to start the route. The route starts from a small ledge to the left of where Abseil Africa has it's ropes hanging. You need to scramble up a corner then traverse left along a narrow ledge to the bottom of the first pitch. Despite being one of the most popular routes on the mountain, it still wasn't obvious and the route felt dirty. It had rained the night before and we spent a long time deliberating whether the sandstone would be dry enough for us to climb. As we discussed our options, a few base jumpers leapt from the cliffs above, pulled their chutes and flew away. Very dramatic. Eventually we decided to just go for it. Kyle took the first lead up the left facing corner. It was steep and awkward especially near the top of the pitch. The multi-pitch book we had bought had next to useless topos and had confusing beta about where to build our anchors or which line to follow (what the heck is a bollard?). Kyle built a hanging belay at the top of the corner from a rail that cut across a steep face to climbers right, the iconic second pitch.
Kyle moves through the crux of the first pitch on Jacob's Ladder
High above the clouds on Jacob's Ladder
Views of Camps Bay from the top of pitch 1
The second pitch is the "money pitch". It starts with a 15 meter airy traverse high above Camp's Bay that is easy to protect and has massive jugs. Before reaching the corner, the pitch takes a turn straight up the face with thinner holds that get better as you climb, with intermittent protection in horizontal cracks. I lead this pitch and and took a long time working up the confidence to move up out of the safe traverse onto the more exposed face. I used up my useful gear early and had to get creative slinging small chicken heads because the pitch kept going and going. Apparently it is easy to get off route into more difficult climbing to either side, but following the path of least resistance will get you where you need to go. I topped out on a ledge where I built an awkward belay at my feet but had amazing view out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Big, exposed traverse on pitch 2
Climbing the face on the money pitch
Kyle on his way up the face to the 2nd belay station
Just hanging out on Table Mountain
The last pitch was straight forward and took us up to a big ledge just below the hiking trail at the top of Table Mountain. Hikers peering over the edge were pretty surprised to see us appear below them. We had lots of space to coil ropes and pack up, then scrambled up using a strategically placed rope to pull through a prickly corner and top out by climbing over the fence onto the walking path. 

Silvermine Crag
Silvermine was about a 30 minute drive from our condo in Cape Town. It is part of the national park and I had to pay an entrance fee each time we went. There are rules about climbing in the parks and you are supposed to buy an activity card but we never had anyone check. There are also different fees for South African's vs. Tourists to enter their parks so be prepared to pay at least double the local rate! Some only take cash which caught us off guard the first time we tried to go to Silvermine, because everywhere else took credit card. 

We went to Silvermine a few times to do some sport cragging. The approaches were short, the crags were nicely shaded and we were shocked at how few people were out climbing, even on weekends! There is also a reservoir in the park so swimming after climbing is also an option, as long as you are out of the park by 7pm when the gate closes.
Steep walls and views of False Bay and Muizenburg
Fun sandstone cragging
Doing some leading on sandbagged sandstone

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Touristing in Cape Town, South Africa

One month in Cape Town, South Africa sounds like a long time, but I feel like we only scratched the surface in this vibrant city! We arrived at the beginning of February without our luggage. This was not surprising because when we showed up at the airport in Calgary 28 hours earlier, the first leg of our journey was canceled due to snowstorms in Vancouver. As a result, we scrambled to change our flights and connections. We actually ended up with a better schedule, arriving 1 hour earlier in Cape Town than our original itinerary. Arriving in a new country after dark is always an interesting experience, especially when the South Africans sitting across the isle from us on the flight had been horrified to hear that we were traveling on our own. Despite our assurance that we were going to be staying with some locals (not actually the case) the woman warned us about the dangers of Cape Town enough for us to start wondering if we had made a mistake about this trip. Most of the information we had found seemed to contradict this woman's concern and stated that although Cape Town has a violent reputation, it is easy to stay safe and out of trouble.

Once we learned we would be leaving the airport without our luggage (or any of our climbing gear that we had checked), we took an uber to the Air B&B we had rented for the month. I had printed out instructions on how to get into the building but we didn't have any way of contacting the owners if we couldn't get in. Our plan was to pick up a SIM card the next day so we were relying on WiFi and everything looked pretty closed. The uber driver dropped us off on a deserted street outside a condo complex encircled by a spiky metal fence and drove away. It was well lit but unnerving nonetheless. When we couldn't get through the security gate we started to panic, but after 4 attempts the caretaker finally answered the buzzer and let us in. What a relief. 
The bachelor pad - our home for a month
We spent the next day getting our bearings and settling in. We picked up SIM cards for our phones so we had data for the month. Our bags were not going to be arriving anytime soon so climbing was out of the question initially. We bought some clothes on the airlines dime and set out exploring the city.
The colourful homes of Bo-Kaap
Table Mountain views from a roof-top patio in Bo-Kaap
We were staying in Green Point, a neighbourhood within walking distance of many of the tourist areas including Bo-Kaap, City Bowl and the V&A Waterfront. We initially explored on foot, then ventured farther out on rental bikes to access Camps Bay, a beautiful sea-side neighbourhood on the Atlantic Ocean.
V&A Waterfront
Cycling through Bo-Kaap
Rental bikes on the Sea Point Promenade - en route to Camps Bay for the afternoon
Camps Bay beach with views of the 12 Apostles (Table Mountain)
Atlantic coast
Eventually our gear arrived with only a few items missing. All the climbing gear was accounted for. We had plenty of time to climb later so our next tourist stop was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where Bonobo was going to be playing a show. I had bought tickets a few weeks before we left and was very exited to see a concert in a foreign country. We spent the afternoon exploring the gardens. Looking up at the tropical vegetation on the mountain above, it felt like we were in Jurassic Park. Later, we staked out a spot on the lawn in front of the stage to wait for the show to start. Everyone had brought their own picnic and we felt woefully under prepared. Our bag of cookies and bottle of ginger beer did not compare to the elaborate picnics with tapas and wine that everyone around us seemed to have. South Africans sure know how to picnic! The sun went down and the band came out. It was a magical experience listening to Bonobo high above the lights of Cape Town and in the shadow of Table Mountain.
Exploring the botanical gardens

Protea flowers look like a dragon eggs!
Wandering the gardens

Getting ready for Bonobo!
We ticked off some of the main tourist stops, like the weekend farmers market at Oranjezicht and the Two Oceans Aquarium. Then we picked up a rental car and began to explore other parts of the Western Cape. I got in touch with some friends of friends who invited us out hiking to see the Disa flowers and out for sundowners on the beach. We also were invited for drinks with my friends sister-in-law who told us all about the history of South Africa including the Apartheid and the current political and educational systems. It was very eye opening to speak with a local who knew so much about the country's volatile history.
Oranjezicht weekend Farmers Market
Kelp forest exhibit at Two Ocean's Aquarium
Table Mountain from Signal Hill. The clouds that roll in with the South-Easter in the summer are know as the "Table Cloth"
Views of the FIFA stadium and waterfront from Signal Hill
Our tiny right hand drive for exploring the Cape
Out for a drive to Haut Bay, views of Lions Head and Camps Bay behind
Disa flowers - the Western Cape Flower that only blooms in February! 
Beers on the beach
Valentine's Day picnic with new friends
African Penguins at Boulders Beach
Summer time penguins!
So cute!
Strolling the waterfront in Simon's Town
Kite boarders and windsurfers catching waves at Misty Cliffs Beach
Looking south the the Cape of Good Hope
A good day for watersports
Amazing views of Haut Bay from Chapman's Peak Drive
Windy road cut from the cliffs - Chapman's Peak Drive
Morning view of Table Mountain from Table View Beach (on the way home from Du Noon)
Looking down from Silvermine Reservoir towards False Bay and Muizenberg
Disaster struck early in the trip. After only a few days of climbing (see Climbing in Cape Town Blog), an extreme dish-washing accident required a trip to the New Somerset Hospital Emergency Department. Kyle had sliced his hand open and required 6 stitches. The wonderful interns and doctors took care of us right away and put Kyle back together stat, commenting "oh, its not that bad," much to Kyle's objection that it was indeed "that bad." This caused another change in plans. Fortunately, there is lots more to do in Cape Town other than climb so we took a trip to the Constantia Wine Region which is located within the city. We were able to visit Groot Constantia (the oldest wine estate in the Southern Hemisphere) as well as Eagles Nest and Constantia Glen wineries.
Hours after sutures, wine is helping Kyle recover
Touring Groot Constantia
Beautiful gardens and vineyards at Groot Constantia
Delicious charcuterie at Eagle's Nest

Hills and vines at Constantia Glen
Great day of wine tasting
We also spent some time doing walking tours of the city, learning more about the history of Cape Town and South Africa as a whole. We had a great tour guide who told had stories to tell us around every corner.
Nelson Mandela street art
Cape Town City Hall
Maasai performer in the Company Garden
Sampling the local happy hour G+T
Sunset views from our balcony
For the last few days of the trip, we hit the water. We went out early one morning from the waterfront to kayak and were treated with appearances by whales, dolphins and seals. Later, we traveled to Muizenberg where we rented surfboards and caught some waves in False Bay, home to many great white sharks! We didn't have any Jaws encounters, but kept a close eye on the shark watch flags along the beach!
Early morning paddle
Southern Right Whale waving its fin at us
Good morning Cape Town
Woodstock Gin Company
Busy day at the beach
Surfing in Muizenberg
Kyle catches a wave
Moody skies and colourful change rooms
For more info about our Cape Town trip, check out my climbing and hiking blogs too!