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.

Today I want to tell you a story.

Back in the  90’s I was actively progressing through the grades in rock climbing. I wanted to consume everything. I wanted to get better. Slowly and steadily I did by choosing partners and ventures carefully that would stretch me.

We climbed everything within our reach and we slowly expanded our horizon. The start of summer was always a period of dreaming and planning. The days were getting longer but the weather was not quite cooperating enough to do serious routes.

I remember dreaming out loud to Gareth that we could climb Ocean’s of Fear by Easter if we put our minds to it and progressed steadily through the grades for the whole summer. Each weekend building on the previous one. We would have to stick to our schedule in order to reach the goal. The learning curve would be steep but hopefully within our gradient. (or so I lead myself to believe at the time.) His response surprised me and stuck. With time I have come to understand.

I don’t remember the exact words but it went something along the lines of “I don’t want to consider each weekend working towards an end goal and not enjoy the weekend in itself” I am paraphrasing as his command of the English language is far better than mine.

Two things strike me as lessons for myself when I think back. My motivation was completely goal focussed. Whereas my partner was content in enjoying the moment for the moment. I am not saying he was lazy. Far from it. We were highly self motivated. It took me almost 20 years of exploring the vertical walls to learn that. The closest I came to truly being present was on a few meters of unclimbed rock in the Yellowwood Amphitheatre in Du Toit’s Kloof. The 200m of wall below me was known so was the short section to the top, bar the next 4m. This was the link. I was stretched physically and knew where I needed to be. The wall was overhanging and I needed all the strength in my arms to execute. I set up and knew the hold on the horizon would lead to salvation.  This was it. I committed. But in doing that move I knew that for that moment I was where I needed to be. I knew that this was here on that wall at that exact moment.

To fill the present moment is something that I work on daily.

The second lesson is to consistently think about where I am on gradient. In the case of Ocean’s it was unrealistic to follow my projected learning curve. I recently read up about David Brailsford’s Marginal Gains philosophy with Team Sky and British Cycling. The underlying thing here is to constantly know where you are so that you can make that 1% change from there. You concentrate on the now. Then the goal will present it self.

Caperoutes – a project from another decade

The Caperoutes concept was born as my second attempt in rock climbing route guides. It almost came to fruition 9 years ago. Life intervened and this project got shelved into the dusty archives of my external hard drive. I wanted to produce something new, unique and beautiful to look at. Caperoute’s aim was to provide accurate route information to facilitate your adventure. The mountains have not moved in the interim.

What inspired Caperoutes?

I love Dave Cheesemond’s Classic 50 Routes. This was and in many ways still can be a “to do” list of routes. My initial thoughts was to modernise this and make Caperoutes into the ultimate bucket list.

Why am I publishing this now?

I have put a ton of work into producing these mini guides. The Caperoutes guide as a whole is not complete but in its parts as mini guides to individual areas they make sense. Each mini guide hopefully gives the best routes in that area across various grades. This info has been sitting in a folder on my computer for too long. There is much fun adventure out there to be had. Hopefully these topos can help you find some of that for yourself.

Are they accurate?

As accurate as any guide out there. Yes there are mistakes as I discovered with The Ledge. There always will be and that makes for good stories around the gas stove.

Will they be published in a book?

Not by me (unless I get paid a whole bunch of money to make this worthwhile 😉 )

Why am I doing this now since I have not climbed in close to a decade?

I am not wanting to tread on anybody’s toes. There are fantastic route guides out there in print. Please support them. However there is also a huge gap. This project hopefully can complement what is out there.

So I trust the info is still relevant. Use it, share it, don’t use it. Whatever.

A picture is worth a thousand words:

Topos are the way forward! They are much easier to understand for locals and international visitors. The combination of photographs and sketched topos offer you the perfect amount of info without taking away from the experience.

I had big visions for this project but became overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Several people inspired me along the way. Stefan, Tristan, Justin, Riki, the forgotten German. Thanks for supporting me when you did.

All material is original and I would really appreciate if you respect my copyright on it.

Here is the list of mini guides for you to download. Enjoy and leave a comment if you want.

Caperoute Symbols

Caperoute Tafelberg

Caperoutes Castle Rocks

Caperoutes Jonkershoek

Caperoutes Apostles

Caperoutes Krakadouw

Caperoutes Maltese Cross

Caperoutes Wolfberg

Caperoutes Yellowood Amphitheater

 

Yosemite Valley Pilgrimage

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16 years ago I made my first pilgrimage to Yosemite. This is the first route I climbed there: The Direct North Buttress. An overly relaxed start and me not knowing how to climb offwidths ended in a 24h day.

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Enga leading Lunatic Fringe

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Bivy at the base of The Heart on the Salathe Wall. The first night of 3 on the wall for us.

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hauling the pig below the roof. long shadows, it is getting late.

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Finally we reach long ledge bivi. I am in a ditch as wide as my shoulders with a 800m ditch to my right, the haulbag hanging above the void.

Beyond the Mountain book review

IMG_1665Steve House‘s actions speak loud, louder than words. The resultant art, painted on the canvas of big blank faces. And his book Beyond the Mountain tells that story.

I was truly riveted for most of the book, not once wanting to put it down. I actually wanted to enjoy it before getting it and I certainly was not disappointed. I had heard much of Steve‘s routes over the years but have hardly read any of his writing. Yes there is a touch of Twight darkness in a couple of pages but overall it is much more human and I can relate to it much more easily. His version of the Slovak Direct on Denali is interesting as I have read Twight’s many times.

But the book does live up to its name in that summits attained, or not are vehicles only for something more.

How do you review a product like this without reviewing the man? Who am I to review him anyway? The one nagging thought that keeps coming up is “Why does Steve see it as acceptable to leave his stove which has run out of fuel as trash on an alpine face? Why not leave all and any trash? And how different is that attitude to that of big expeditions? Why is it OK to put your own ambitions above those of the greater good?” That is the one question I would like to hear the answer to.

Other than that this is a truly inspirational book. Not in a far out sense but making the suffering and emotion seem real and tangible and the whole experience human. I can only recommend this book to all climbers, alpinists and coach spectators alike. You will not be disappointed!

And if you are still not convinced then read this much more articulate review here.