Back home... hard to get back to normal life when you've been climbing and staying into the wild with friends for 58 days, and even worse if you return from bone dry African winter and find yourself in the middle of a boiling September here in Italy!
Time runs quickly when you are on a trip, and when I try to look back at our experience everything tends to mix together, giving quite a messy and cheerful sensation, made of people, sceneries and smells from a far and previously unknown country.
Red, red was color of land and rock, green were bushes and plants and deep blue were the skies above us. Almost sunny every day, sometimes quite warm, but always dry with some little breeze. Shorts periods if rain here and there made you realize even more how good weather was and let your body have some rest from climbing and hiking, in order to restart fresh and focused the day after.
Climbers came from all over the world and everywhere you went you could meet people sharing with you the enthusiasm of being exactly on the trip they always dreamt to be. Moving around you could hear a strange language made of English, German, Afrikaans and yes, also a hint of Italian.
We stayed well, every day we woke up, we had a satisfying breakfast and then we went out with our old cars to explore as much as we could of the area, trying to find out and repeat all the most beautiful problems among that endless amount of rock we had in front of our eyes. Evenings just came too quickly and many times we were obliged to stop just to go in town to do shopping before closing time.
The place itself is vast and amazing, with a hint of wilderness but at the same time really friendly and peaceful. I tried to record our best memories with pictures and videos and now I'll let them speak, hoping they'll give you inspiration for planning next trip.
There is also something else I want to talk about. Rocklands is for sure one of the best climbing destinations I've ever been and for sure one of the most famous, but I have to say it also shows some limits. First of all when you get there you can really feel how poorly black people live comparing to white men. Even if they're usually smiling at you it is hard not to think you're just there for climbing and having fun, when you see such poverty around and you're frequently asked for food or money... of course you can't help everybody and you end up living your holiday, I just hope all this tourism will help to promote the development of the region under every aspects.
Another strange fact is that despite all the amount of rock you can see around, just a small portion is actually good for climbing. Sometimes it is either holdless or too juggy, but most of the times it is just loose and bad rock. You may have to walk quite a lot between these before reaching a good sector, but the hike is always nice and when you finally get there you're always impressed by the quality of the climbing.
The style is quite crimpy and it's full of overhangs with strange holds, so climbing tends to be quite basic and powerful, at the expense of balance and technique, but sometimes it also offers tall brilliant aretes and even a few slopey gems you can find here and there... be careful that this sandstone can be really hard and "glassy" and slopers may have a really bad friction! Anyway the variety of holds and shapes is fantastic and I found it second only to Fontainebleau under that aspect. (Yes "Le Coeur" is still unbeatable).
Reading the guidebook I found that first sectors were developed starting from 1994 and since then many strong climbers came to search for projects in the climbing mecca, starting from Fred Nicole, Klem Loskot or Bernd Zangerl... nowadays it seems that most of the beautiful lines gathered around the main climbing sectors have been already climbed, and if you want to find your own project, one that really stands out, you have to walk further and further... maybe even 50 minutes uphill like did Nalle for "Livin Large", but I can say it was definitely worth it! Much more possibilities are left for short routes, which can be found here and there on the faces of the tallest boulders, many of them would be perfect as hard and scary trad projects. We tried a couple of amazing lines but found them too hard or demanding in time to be worked and so we preferred just to keep on bouldering and explore all the sectors around for this first trip.
There was just a thing which I found quite odd about the climbing there and this were GRADES. This summer I wasn't sure in the best shape of my life but during this trip I would have climbed 34 problems above 7c according to the guidebook, of which eight 8a+'s an 8b and three 8b+'s... by far the best I did in my climbing career, especially comparing it to last winter in the Peak District where in two months I was just able to climb 11 problems above 7c including just two 8b's. Not to mention that many grades had already been revised in the guidebook! So what happened? Are the big stakes you could find in Clanwilliam especially good for climbing performances? Or it is just the whole system that has to be revised? Is it possible to have a common grading scale all over the world?
I'm not referring here to first ascentionists, as it is always hard, and maybe impossible to give a correct grade when you climb on your own and have to discover every single trick, but more to the climbing community itself which seems to be always happy to record the given grade, without bothering to think as much as they do when they climb in their home crags here in Europe for example, where grades seems to stabilize quite soon around a common "standard". The problem I think is that we want to succeed, and to do so we need to climb numbers. How any times have you heard: "I climbed an 8a+" and only after the name of what have actually been climbed? Like if it was less important? Well to me is still a big difference to hear: "I climbed Nutsa in Rocklands" or "I climbed la Merveille in Fontainebleu", after both names there's written 8a+ in guidebooks, but if I saw climbing Nutsa almost twice everyday I still have to climb or see anybody climbing that thing in Fontainebleau, and you can't tell me it is just because it's rubbish...
Anyway here is a list of what I climbed during the trip, with the official "guidebook grade" and the one I thought was appropriate. Again it is always hard to be rational... especially when you climb so many days in a row, but when you feel 7 grades out of 10 wrong there should be definitely something odd going on.
|Tomorrow I will be Gone||7c||7b+|
|Bacs pour Nini||7c||7c|
|Kingdom in the Sky||7c||7b|
|Il etait une fois||7c+||7c|
|Black Mango Chutney||7c+||7c|
|The Shark||7c+||7c+ soft|
|White Mazda Clan||7c+||7b+|
|Stretched and Pressed||7c+||7b+|
|Gliding Through the Waves like Dolphins||8a||8a|
|Out of Balance||8a||7c+|
|Double D Bras and Shiraz||8a||7c|
|Witness the Sickness||8a||8a|
|Barracuda sitstart||8a+||8a+ soft|
|30's the new 20||8a+||8a|
I'll leave you with this nice little video my friend Marco edited, which I think captures really well our African experience, with its people, its landscapes and its climbing. This winter I hope to go back to Fontainebleau and Peak District, to keep on climbing truly inspiring lines as I could do here in Rocklands. My 8a.nu ranking will suffer a little bit but I'll try not to bother much. ;-)