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Roadtrip to Failure

I remember when my friend started dating a South African resident at the beginning of 2012, there was much excitement in our little climbing circle. We were of course happy for him but also secretly hopeful that if things worked out between the two of them, we could all someday have an excuse to visit Cape Town and hence, Rocklands. Our vested interest in their courtship paid off when they did end up getting married and moving to Cape Town. Cheers Sujay & Sophia!

The four of us traveling there were all climbers from Delhi, and Rocklands was, naturally, the highlight of the trip. The destination for numerous climbing movies, where the strongest and most famous climbers went to claim glory, it had a mecca like status in our minds. However, once we got to Cape Town we were blown away by how stunning that place was. And the bouldering there was incredible too, where every top out promised the breathtaking view of the ocean and green valleys. We managed to spend two days bouldering there before our scheduled departure for Rocklands.

For me this was a first climbing trip overseas and I was super psyched for the outdoor adventure to begin. Having spent most of my life in the bustling cities of Bombay and Delhi, my experience in the great outdoors had been quite limited. Infact, we were all first time campers! Needless to say, after weeks of gathering the ‘things we will need’, we arrived in South Africa a tad over prepared and I’m not sure how, but we did manage to fit into our rental, 3 crash pads, 4 rucksacks, all our tents and enough dehydrated food to feed the entire campsite.

THE Rocklands
Rocklands is a vast semi-desert landscape full of sandstone boulders. The area has been developing since the 90’s because of the sheer quantity, not to mention the quality, of bouldering. The weather in the winter is obviously a bonus for most climbers, though for us Indians it was a bit cold. While it was ‘too hot to climb’ for most people we were the ones hanging onto greasy crimps and going “Hell ya, THESE are perfect conditions!” The formation of the boulders there is so unique that quite often on a single boulder one could find problems in the 5’s, 6’s, 7’s and sometimes even 8’s.

We always referred to it as THE Rocklands as it seemed logical for a place that is clearly a land of infinite rock, be titled so. As it turned out, in some sort of humble poetic gesture, the name of the place is simply Rocklands. In the eleven days we were there we managed to see just about 20% of the areas mentioned in the guidebook. This was after greedily going to the same site again just because every new place we went to became our favourite. We still sometimes refer to it as The Rocklands, probably out of habit but I like to think it’s more out of reverence for that place and its grandeur.

The best day in Rocklands
After the first few days of conditioning I found a line called RSA, a 6b, somewhat overlooked between two beautiful classic lines, Girl on Our Mind and Coal Chamber, both 6b+. RSA had a really nice sequence and I managed to work all the individual moves. So on our way back from spotting a friend on his project, on one supposed rest day, I decided to give it one burn (colloquial term for a send attempt). All my friends were just hanging around sunning themselves when I got onto the problem and sent it!

That same evening we ended up going for a walk up to Fields of Joy, hoping for a spectacular view of the sunset. As we were heading up the unexplored crags, one of the climbers there joked that he would call for the rescue helicopters in about an hour. We all laughed it off and cheerfully scrambled on. The view from up there was well worth the hike. The ever-changing splendor of colours in the clear Cederberg sky stunned us into silence. Our lives back home seemed far away. Even our campsite was a distant notion. At that point nothing else existed. After the sun set one of my friends figured that if we continued walking northwards we would end up at the plateau area close to De Pakhuys, our campsite. So off we went, feeling energized and planning what we’d cook for dinner. Soon it was pitch black and besides for the areas illuminated by our headlamps we couldn’t see a single thing. By then we were wading through thorny bushes taller than us, accidentally stepping into porcupine holes and generally feeling quite confused about our whereabouts, when our team navigator, called out the dreaded words, “Hey guys, I think we’re lost”. Hmm, we could have used that rescue helicopter right at that moment. We decided that the best thing to do would be to head back to Fields of Joy since that was the last known area. We somehow oriented ourselves with the moon, since that was our only constant. We could see the occasional passing of headlights so we knew we weren’t too far from our campsite. Keeping a safe distance from the sixty feet drop to our right, we headed back the way we thought we came, hopefully towards our destination while mentally preparing to sleep out in the cold. Somehow we found our way back a lot quicker than it took for us to get lost and suddenly we were back at the same sketchy trail through the bushes, which fortunately my friend recognized. After slowly making our way down and once it was a certainty that we were no longer lost, we all sat down and took a breath- and out rolled the laughter along with the confessions of fear, doubts and disgruntled misgivings everyone felt silently in the darkness. We passed around some cigarettes and chocolates in celebration, in a manner sealing our new found camaraderie. I remember feeling grateful to have found our way back and realizing then that this was the best lot to have gotten lost with.

Bouldering is 95% Failure
A friend I made on this journey told me that even if I didn’t manage to send classics such as Mary’s Roof, Roof is on Fire or Girl on Our Mind, simply trying them and working the moves had probably made me stronger. On this trip I spent more time struggling than sending and there were several times I wondered “what on earth am I going to climb here. I flew all this way to struggle on a 5?!” So hearing that made me feel a lot better about my scrapes and bruises, and all the near sends.

They say that if you make a decision you’re unsure of, you should surround yourself with nature and the wisdom (or lack thereof) in your decision will suddenly become crystal clear. I guess the decisions I have taken during this trip must be very very wise because they were made while deeply immersed in beautiful Cederberg, in absolute radio silence and at a time when I was completely, blissfully, happy. It was quite simply to travel as much as possible and climb with complete joy. So I came back and quit a job of seven years to make room for a less rigid work schedule.

Being back here in the big city, I don’t remember what grade I climbed or didn’t climb. I remember competing with my friends over who could set up their tent the fastest, with the aid of the car headlights only, the first night we reached De Pakhuys. I remember the Lapa, the resident bar and all the people I met at different stages of their journey, each of a different duration. I remember spreading avocados on rice crackers with trembling chalked up hands- our lunch on climbing days. Thinking about that little snack still makes my mouth water in a way no restaurant here can. I remember my first ever road trip with friends in a foreign country and the dramatic landscape we drove through. And I most fondly remember the day we got lost.

What is a rock trip without all these firsts and all these (mis)adventures.

Rocklands, 2014

3 Comments

  1. Suraj Sunil Singh Nagarkoti
    January 15, 2015 - Reply

    I have a good fortune of reading your article regarding your experience in Rocklands (South Africa). It’s well-written and contained sound, practical advice, and a lot more adventure. In fact, I was visualising your story in my mind and it seems to me very interesting, though my vocabulary still not that strong but I found no difficulty to understand your writing. You pointed out several things that I will remember for years to come. I look forward to reading your next experience. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience and I wish you a lot more success and adventure in your life.
    I hope you will climb much higher grade.
    Stay blessed!
    Koti.

  2. January 21, 2015 - Reply

    You should write more. Loved this.

  3. Ranjit
    January 24, 2016 - Reply

    It was really fascinating to read your blog keep writing, climbing and exploring new places.

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