It’s Monday morning. Waking up to the rising sun over the mountains and the sound of swallows living in and around cliff faces, I’m sure isn’t your usual start to the week.
About an hours’ drive from our desolate coastal landscape the mountains unfold and surround us like a protecting mothers embrace, a welcome site. For quite a few weeks now, we’ve wanted to go camp out in the Spektakel Mountain range. Timo found some climbable cliff faces scouting the area on his own, hiking up the hill to approach the cliff from the front. When he brought me the first time, he thought it best to approach from the top. We 4 x 4’d up this narrow little pass no one has driven in years it seems. The further we drove up it, the further civilization was forgotten: eagles, swallows, baboons, dassies, endless unexplored cliff faces and no-one insight…heaven.
We stopped at the top of the hill and trekked down the rest of the way. We abseiled down, climbed a bit, walked around, went home. We decided then and there the next time we visited the Spektakel mountain was with drill and bolts in hand. If we can’t make it to the established climbing areas in South Africa, we’ll bring them to us.
It was 8h45 when we were heading up our narrow gravel pass. It had been raining a couple of days before and little gorges had formed in the road, but with Timo behind the wheel there’s truly nothing to worry about. Place a rock here, turn the wheel there and ta-da…you’re up the mountain.
At one stage crawling up this track, it was so steep, our heads were glued to the seats headrests. You can’t see around some of the corners, having to go on feeling and instinct and just when you think the worst is over, the best is still to come!
With drill, leads, bolts, sleeping and cooking gear in tow, we head down the mountain, but in stages as I forgot to mention the generator. In order to climb in the Northern Cape you might have to die trying to get there first. The journey there can be a crazy adventure without the actual objective being completed. Months went by with Timo dreaming about the Spektakel cliffs.
Once in a while we go to the city, to get supplies, get out of isolation and into civilization. We come home with all sorts of goods, on this particular occasion a drill and generator. The generator could be used at home too, but mainly to bolt routes with?! The one question that kept on looming in the back of our minds was how the generator would make it to the cliffs. We thought of building a base with wheels or even using a wheel burrow but the terrain ended up being too rocky. The only solution it seemed was to carry it down. Two wooden poles, two sets of shoulders and down the mountain we went. We did a test run at home where the ground was smooth and flat, which gave us much confidence but now with bushes scratching at your ankles, thorny thistles and loose rock to navigate, carrying a generator was no joke.
As far as you could see the ground was covered with bush and being September, the most beautiful flowering succulents. As you neared the thicket, little rock paths opened up in front of you as if by magic. Sheep wonder here with paths having formed from their occasional visits.
Our legs were scratched, at random a thorn firmly lodged in place. Once we were close enough for the leads to reach, we sat down for a breather then went to fetch another load.
With all the gear at the top of the cliff, Timo got to work. With drill, bolts, spanner and wire brush he hung from the cliff pioneering away. Holes were drilled, bolts secured and the job was done. Opening up 4 to 5 new routes that have never been climbed, although for now, they’ll have to top roped. It did take time hammering at regular intervals to make sure the bolts were fixed to a solid part of rock, every time you heard a ‘piiing’ in went the next bolt. I read and wrote in between handing him gear and checking the ropes…making myself comfortable on the ledge while Mc Guyver was getting comfortable hanging off it.
We rolled up the leads, packed the drill and any other unnecessary gear we didn’t need for the night out. We worked through lunch, four sandwiches, an orange and some juice then slowly started making our way back to the generator. This time around tying the poles to the bottom of it, letting it rest in our hands at arm’s length. Carrying a generator twice in one day was taking its toll. Although I felt stronger on route back (plainly because I knew what lay ahead and what was expected) we stopped every 20metres or so to breathe and rest tired arms, hands and shoulders. Once the bakkie was in sight, we were home.
I flopped down on the back while Timo unpacked and repacked his backpack for the trip down and night’s stay under the overhang. Headlamps, gas stove, pot for all cooking purposes, 2 x sleeping bags, camp mattresses x 2, milk, coffee, tea, sugar, bowls, cutlery, toothbrushes, toilet paper, camera, plenty of water which never seems enough, sun block, all our climbing gear and phones for emergencies…not to forget the coffee peculator! In my backpack I packed what Timo couldn’t fit in his, along with warm clothes and wind/water proof gear.
I abseiled down after Timo rigged the rope, then he came down with a pack so heavy it was pulling him horizontal making it nearly impossible for the rope to glide through the bug with ease. Needless to say we made it down safe and sound.
At the bottom of the cliff, under the overhang, scouting for a level area to lay our heads all we found were rocky patches and evidence of a sandy animal footpath. Timo moves a few rocks and gets to work on digging out a level area for the sleeping bags to go. The animal path meandered right past our heads, so I a built a rock wall around our dugout bed to prevent any small creature scuttling over us at night.
With cuts and bruises, tired bodies and sore muscles we settled into the evening with tea and a book to read. Occasionally staring into the distance as the sun was colouring the mountains orange, pink and purple. As it set behind us, the mountain tops were the only give away of another day ending. At last light the sound of baboons echoed across the valley, the realisation sinking in of staying out in the open, no tent, just a pair of sleeping bags and us. We cooked some noodles, barked a good night to the baboons then settled into our burrow for the night.
The moon rose late that evening and when it did it was so bright we could chase our own shadows but up until then the starry sky was in full swing. Sometime during sleep and slumber a bush beside me rattled, the sound of stones grinding on each other but it didn’t seem like too big an animal and I drifted off to sleep again. The night seemed to last forever. Every now and then I would sit up and wonder at the world, look over at Timo and snuggle in beside him to fall asleep with utter content and happiness. The moon ducked behind the cliff, the stars came out once more, right before it was time to get up and play.
When I awoke, the mountain range across from us was lined with colours orange, yellow, pink and blue as it rose up into the sky. Although the sun has not yet risen the sky was already dancing with excitement for its arrival and so were the birds. Just like the moon gives notice of its rising with the show of bright light so the sun gives itself away by painting the sky. Apart from the morning star, the birds were the first to chase the new day, singing it to life.
It didn’t take long for the cliff face on our right to light up something golden. The soft morning light full of promises and secrets, so promising that with witnessing this I felt like a conqueror and pioneer myself. As if we truly were the first to witness the golden hour on the face of these cliffs and the valleys below. But we were not, the eagles and swallows witness it every day, they hold the true secrets of life and nature out in this wilderness. They witness it all. Through the valley came echoes of baboons fighting, we could hear them but they were nowhere to be seen.
Not a cloud in the sky, the sounds of swallows, bugs and bees enjoying the early morning sunshine. Eagles sit atop, watching over their kingdom, the wind ruffling their feathers ever so lightly. Warm air push upwards creating hot air streams, swallows swoop and glide; dive and twirl as the sun sheds light on their wings. The eagles slowly drift and hover up high, the sky belongs to them alone, their own playground. Limitless. Endless. Reading in between two cups of coffee and readying for the day’s work.
Timo walks around the cliff to reach the top. He’ll choose a route and abseil down, dislodging any flaky or loose rock. Nature calls, I take a walk and on route back, a little blood trail follows. I discover a centimetre sized hole in my left heel. That rules me out for the days climbing, but gives Timo a good amount of time to spend on the rock. While he was up on the cliff, I abandoned my post more often than most to inspect routes and run to safety under the overhang. From falling flakes to showers of pebbles and finally with a shout of warning from the top, a fair sized boulder comes toppling down cracking and booming the valley into silence.
Timo climbed the routes several times, checking holds and actual do-ability of them all. Now fairly satisfied, although slightly saddle sore we got out of harness, sat down for lunch. An hour was spent in the midday sun, admiring the view from our Monday morning office feeling as free as the birds that accompanied us. Having one last look at where we stayed the night we made our way around towards the riverbed where we climbed up and out.
Shuffling our way along the edge in order to grab the last of our gear was terrifying. Some days I dance like a ballerina along these ledges and other days fear has got me by the scruff. Fear stricken and vertigo induced I stand clinging to the cliff not sure what I’m doing or how I even got there. Like a goat who just forgot it was a goat. Both of us heavily loaded, with gravity at pull, one wrong step, one bump of the pack and we could surely go tumbling down 30m. Timo, on the other hand, is a mountain goat; best friends with vertical edges, small ledges, heights and thrives in these extreme conditions. He patiently waits while I make my way across. Then pack everything we brought, leaving nothing behind.
Safe on level ground, we followed the river bed to the top of the hill. With the sun already high, the trip back was hot and draining, having used the last of our water over lunch, we’d have to wait to quench our thirst. Due to a puncture the day before, we decide in future a beacon at the top of the hill would be a better place to park. Living on the West Coast you’ve got to be geared for anything, the tyre was pumped up and ready to roll in no time.
Before heading home in awe of the best two partners having just experienced something extraordinary, we make a quick stop at the Mikro Superette. Run by three elderly ladies, selling anything from milk to pantyhose, pantoffels and chocolates. A ‘regte boere plaas winkel’, ten to one run by the wives of the farmers in the area. A piece of paper on the inside of the door read ‘betaal jou skuld’ with a list of names underneath it. Greeted in polite Afrikaans and asked if we needed anything in particular. A coke, chips and Wilson toffees will do just fine.
I unwrapped each of the toffees one by one, reminding me of my childhood, when life still seemed pure, simple and safe like it is once more. We pumped our tyre again and nostalgia takes us home, home to the ocean where all things come together.