“What’s the point of flying halfway around the world–alone–to go bouldering?” I asked myself this more than once during the grueling 12-hour days on a construction site one year before I finally departed for Rocklands, South Africa. What am I chasing? Or running from? There are great boulders all over the U.S., and I’d have friends to travel with. So why am I breaking my back to fund this particular trip? Well, some of the more obvious reasons include “the experience” or “the beauty of the place” or whatever other clichéd thing outdoor enthusiasts say when they abandon their loved ones for months on end to satisfy some restless itch. In any case, I still can’t answer these questions, but whatever it was I was looking for, I certainly found it.
Rocklands is a sandstone mecca situated in the Cedarberg Mountains on the Western Cape of South Africa. The area’s popularity among boulderers has exploded in the last decade, and it now stands as one of the world’s most esteemed bouldering destinations. The idea for this trip was born a year and a half before my departure. After gaining the support of my sponsor, Asana Climbing, it was official; I was going to South Africa. Originally I had planned to travel with a few friends, but life took its usual twists and turns, and they all ended up unable to make it. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I insisted on following through with the trip, and this turned out to be my first stroke of luck.
After a week in Cape Town, a long bus ride to Clanwilliam (nearest town to Rocklands), and a lonely night in a rundown motel, I was finally in Rocklands Proper. Within thirty minutes of my arrival, the first winter storm broke. I took shelter under the lappa (unwalled, tin-roofed structure), which served as the camp’s community hangout, where I stayed for the next four days. It felt like a glorified prison cell with torrential rain as its bars. The low bridge at the entrance of the campsite, the sole access point, flooded within an hour. No one could get in or out. I didn’t see a single person for those four days. I devoured books and drew pictures in the sand to occupy myself. When the storm cleared, my good fortune became apparent.
It’s important to let sandstone dry for a few days after a substantial rain to avoid breaking key holds on climbs. During the drying period, people slowly began to trickle into the campsite. It was the early season, so not many people came in–maybe 10 or so. By some stroke of fortune, we had all made the same gamble and shown up alone. We made plans for the next sunny sunny day and ended up climbing together for the following two months. We adopted the name Team Psyche and quickly set out dispatching group projects under the philosophy that a send for one was a send for all.
My main goal was to climb Caroline, a beautiful 30-degree overhang with amazing vertical water features that make the most bomber mini-pinches I’ve ever touched. Add in two consecutive drop-knees and the beautiful streaked black and orange sandstone, and it’s a contender for one of the best boulders out there. Here’s a photo of the send, taken by Keith Share (who also completed the route moments after this photo was taken):
Most climbers are familiar with the feeling of topping out a project. Whether finishing the blue v1 at the local gym or finally standing on top of Half Dome, this is always the moment when the spirit of climbing is revealed. Look into the faces of the people around you. Some you will know and some you wont, but regardless of acquaintance, most will be smiling. pon sending Caroline, people I had known for only a month and some I had only met that day were smiling as if they had just climbed their own project. My psyche got them psyched, their psyche kept me psychedthe psyche cycle just perpetuated itself. While in the Rocklands, I was forced to notice those fleeting moments in which simply being there was cause for contentment. This satisfaction was the glue that held all of us together. We were psyched on life. We climbed, drank, swam in the Atlantic, ate the freshest fish, woke up early, woke up late, stayed up all night–all as the psyche determined. And by the end of our very separate but parallel adventures, we all came out as friends. That was what I took away from this trip and now what I will try to take away from every session.
Active Life Staff Writer