My parents did not name me Leo. I chose it.

Well actually that is not quite true. It is short for my Christian name which none of my friends could pronounce. A good friend once introduced me to people in California and turned to me “do you mind if we call you Leo?”

I just nodded.

And so my life was changed. For the first time in my life I managed to avoid that awkward moment just after introductions when you have to say your name three times so that strangers can make sense. In the end everybody nods in embarrassment and the conversation moves swiftly along. Or worse it dies right there.

This got me thinking about names and the stories they could tell.

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Table Mountain at last light

In rock climbing the first person to climb a particular route gives the route a name and proposes a grade. The second climbing route I did was Right Face named so after the obvious way up the right hand side of Table Mountain. Obviously there is a Left Face too. Our aim was to one day progress to climbing on Africa Ledge. Named after the shape of Africa in the ravine.

There is obviously Africa Face, Africa Cracks, Africa Nose, Africa Crag etc  As we progressed through the grades so we progressed through these names.

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El Capitan – The Nose is the shadow line up the centre

Overseas I climbed in Yosemite. What a more imposing name than El Capitan? The first route up the captain: The Nose. The obvious line up the prow in the middle of the imposing wall. Every party climbing the route finds their own adventure, finds themselves in a way and finds their story. Stories to be told around the campfire later.

I travelled to Utah to hang out with cowboys and climb this tower called the North Sixshooter. Utah desert is famous for crack climbing. The sandstone walls are completely void of features so you have to stuff your hands, finger, arms, anything that goes into the crack and hope that it sticks. It is absolute war. A single rope length can take every bit of energy that you have. There is a route there called The Jane Fonda Full Body Workout. Go figure.

As I progressed I wanted to open routes too.

I went back to Africa Ledge and made Africa Lunch. You see it was on Africa Ledge and my friend Tinie made Out to Lunch the same day.

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Mary on the not so scary first pitch of Quake

On Fountain ledge there is Magnetic wall and this little wavy route called Quiver. We did a very very scary route called Quake. The nasty jumble of sharp rocks at the base will chop you in half if you fall off in the wrong place. There is also a video game where you kill lots of bloody monsters by the same name. Hence I thought it was appropriate.

I had just been dumped by a long time girlfriend. We were climbing on the Lower Arrow Buttresses. You have Robin Hood, etc… I made Shot to the Heart. Not a route of great beauty but necessity.

We once again progressed and moved to the bigger cliffs.

Yellowwood Amphitheatre in Du Toits Kloof had Armageddon Time which was the bench mark route and the 1977 classic Time Warp meandering up the centre of the wall. We put up Prime Time up the middle of the wall.

Somehow I think a name gives a route a certain destiny. It gives it a certain place in history and that is where the story starts. Same with people. If we don’t like a name then we should be able to change it. Change it so that we can tell the story we want the world to hear. Tell our story.

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Automatic for the People

We developed this cliff in the heart some enchanted mountains. The first route to be put up here is called Automatic for the People. You can fall off the very first move and off the very last. In between are 250m of overhanging climbing that are hard and world class. So not automatic at all and certainly not for the people. But the theme was set to REM songs. What followed was The Great Beyond and finally we brought some Lou Reed into the mix. After 11 weekends of preparing the route we put up Magic and Loss. For every bit of magic there is an equal bit of loss. Andrew prepared a route but broke his leg before he could climb it. He called it “Bury my heart at wounded knee”. We got permission to open the route as Andrew would be off climbing for the whole season and I suggested “White men can’t jump”.

So if your story is not to the way you want the world to hear you then maybe start again.

My name is Leo.

Thank you.

3 thoughts on “My parents did not name me Leo. I chose it.

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