Umgeni Valley, our first stop in South Africa. After 60 hours of travel, our friends Roger and Andrea Nattrass and their two boys Cameron and Max, welcomed Jon and I into their home near Umgeni. Upon arriving, Roger loaded us into the car and took us on a safari. Just minutes from the house, zebra and antelope roamed through the tall grasses. As the sun set, we walked along a dirt road, shaking off the pains of overseas travel and taking in the beautiful countryside views. The real treat came as we left the nature reserve – five giraffes, including one baby, snacked on acacia trees beside the road. South Africa, day one.
Over the past week, we’ve sampled some of the southeast’s best sport climbing. Kloof Gorge provided a nice introduction to stiff grades, beautiful sandstone walls, and of course – the friendly climbers of South Africa. A pathway through a physiotherapist’s backyard garden leads climbers to a series of rolling hills, where we dipped down into a canyon and rappelled down the cliff’s edge. Since 1989, Roger has developed the gently overhanging sandstones shelves of Kloof. As with most sport areas in South Africa (and the world, for that matter), Kloof began as a strict trad area, eventually evolving to accept bolts. Roger originally bolted Eroica, a fantastic 26/7b/12b we enjoyed, in 1989 with only five bolts – today it boasts nine. For more information on the progression of climbing in South Africa, check back for an interview post with Roger in the coming weeks. I also climbed Phantom of the Opera, a five star 28/7c/12d, that would most certainly be 5.13 at any other crag in the world. Roger ticked off two impressive first ascents that day, calling them Madam Butterfly (25/7a+/12a) and La Traviata (26/7b/12b). From what I’ve noticed so far, the grades in South Africa are honest, or as many would say, stiff.
Jon Glassberg Photo
In addition to Kloof, we’ve spent a few days climbing at Umgeni, a long cliff band of blocky, crimpy sandstone. Imagine one of the best sport crags in a country, and less than 50 people have ever climbed there. In the United States, Umgeni would be busier than Rifle – because it’s the style of Rifle, but less polished, holds higher quality rock, and giraffes watch you climb. Umgeni holds a stack of difficult routes, all very challenging to read on onsight due to the lack of chalk. The locals have kindly shared this special pocket of stone and we are ever grateful! Jon and I climbed Tower of Power (29/7c+/13a), a fun route with a three points off dyno at the beginning, leading to a powerful lower crux. I barely made it up Stonehaven (30/8a/13b), a thin, sustained route with very little relief surrounding the sloper crux. We’re hoping to spot the giraffe tomorrow, a token of good luck for our last day climbing at Umgeni.
Jon Glassberg Photos
Apart from climbing, I gave a slideshow and taught a clinic at Southern Rock Climbing Centre, the only commercial gym in Durban. I was extraordinarily impressed by the enthusiasm and effort these climbers put into their sport. They have a ton of fun, try insanely hard, and are willing to work to the point of exhaustion and nausea (literally) – thank you to everyone who came out for two fun evenings!
Jon Glassberg Photo
While in Durban, we combed the beach that stretches over 20 kilometers along the city. Beautiful waves and soft sand made for the perfect cityscape. We checked out the downtown area surrounding The Workshop, an area of town that puts Pearl Street to shame. In short, we were the only white people among hundreds of viewers of the local Friday afternoon comedy show – presented entirely in Zulu. While the only Zulu word I’ve learned is “sanibonani” (hello), we enjoyed the laughter of the crowd and a few quizzical stares from bystanders, wondering how we had wandered onto their lively street.
Jon Glassberg photos
We’re enjoying all South Africa has to offer – including plenty of meat, the local delicacy, and looking forward to more exploration to come!