Climbing in South Africa around Cape Town
Tony Lourens, the editor of SA Mountain Sport Magazine, shares the delights of rock climbing around Cape Town at the tip of Africa.
Thinking of where to plan your next climbing trip? If you want perfect rock, a variety of grades (up to 8c+), steep and very steep walls, single and multi-pitch sport climbing, and multi-pitch trad climbing that will rival anywhere in the world, all in the heart of, and within a two hour radius of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, then stop planning and whip down to your nearest travel agent and book yourself a ticket to Cape Town, South Africa.
Cape Town is one of the most cosmopolitan cities you will find anywhere. It pumps with life and blessed with incredible scenic beauty, which is practically unsurpassed. The city itself lies sprawled at the foot of the famous and ever-present Table Mountain and spreads right to the edge of the sea, where the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is situated. This is a visitor’s paradise when it comes to shops, restaurants, pubs and busking artists of all kinds. The Cape Peninsula, which stretches about 60 km south of the city, is a tongue of land that is dotted with famous beaches, world-class eateries, historical pubs, interesting places to visit and of course many climbing crags. At Boulders beach one can swim with the penguins and at certain times of the year whales can be seen frolicking out in the bay, and fish can be bought at the little fishing harbours, fresh from the boats, as they come in with their day’s catch. Then there is the stunningly beautiful coastal drive that contours the whole peninsula passing through Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. There can be few major cities in the world, if any, that can boast hundreds of top quality bolted routes and also brilliant trad climbing atop a 1000 meter mountain, all within a stones throw of the city centre. So let’s explore these climbing areas.
For sport climbers there are a number of great crags dotted along the peninsula. If you are looking for something not too pumpy, then head for Silvermine Reserve. There are four crags here that differ quite a bit in character and has routes from very easy up to about 7b-ish, with some brilliant routes between 6a and 7a. If however you are after a pumpfest, then there are two crags that will happily oblige. The Mine, which is close to the Silvermine crags, has few easy routes, and the business here starts from about 6c and goes up to 8a+. Classics of the crag are Sickle Moon (6c), Red Guitar on Fire (7a) and A Gift of Wings (7c). Further along the peninsula you will find The Hole, a huge cave that yields mega-steep routes from 7a to 8a.
For trad climbers the top of Table Mountain around the cable station is where you should be headed. The routes start from a huge ledge about 100 meters below the edge of the table and is easily accessed from the top. The rock is hard, top quality sandstone (like all the other rock in the Cape), and yields steep and fantastically exposed multi-pitch routes of all grades up to 8b+, but with a concentration of world class grade 5 and grade 6 routes, like the celebrated Jacobs Ladder, a three pitch 5c that will put a smile on your face for days.
Heading slightly out of the city, there are some choice places to visit. The town of Montagu lies about two hours east of Cape Town and is the mecca of sport climbing for local climbers. There are many crags here scattered across the Cape fold hills, yielding routes, although of the same rock type, of varying character. With the multitude of crags and grades, one can choose whether to climb in the sun or shade, steep or very steep, moderate or hard. It is all there. The two popular places to stay in Montagu is Rainbow Glen for comfortable chalets in a peaceful setting, or De Bos for camping and chalets, but a little less peaceful. With very low rainfall figures, Cape climbers head here when Cape Town is being lashed by rain.
Three hours north of Cape Town lies one of the most unique mountain ranges on earth. The Cederberg has some of the best trad climbing you will find anywhere in the world. It has four small, but fantastically unique sport venues and of course is the home to the famous and world renowned Rocklands. Trad climbing in the high Cederberg is remote, wild and rich in fulfillment. There are three main areas. Wolfberg, Tafelberg and Krakadouw. Of the three, Wolfberg is probably the most friendly. Here you can camp at your car and do the one hour approach-walk in the morning. The routes are brilliant, but the atmosphere is less remote, as you will get day trippers passing beneath the walls. To climb at Tafelberg and Krakadouw you need to camp at the base off the rock. This necessitates an approach walk of two to three hours, but once you are there, you will want to be nowhere else. Tafelberg, for me, is particularly special. Situated at a shade under 2000 meters the climbing is impeccable, taking sweeping lines, up steel-gray walls and beautiful orange corner systems, always with tangible exposure sucking at your bowels. There is also a brilliant bivvy cave to sleep in. Krakadouw also has superb climbing with routes up to 10 pitches long.
Rocklands needs little to no introduction and is ranked amongst the best bouldering areas on the planet. Covered in a seemingly never-ending sea of boulders in a rugged and remote landscape, development of problems is endless. With thousands of problems already existing, there still lies acres and acres of untouched stone. It really is boudering paradise.
If all this is not enough there are other back-country mountains which offer 10 to 20 pitch routes in remote settings, with sometimes complex approaches and even more complex descents. These you will find in the Du Toit’s Kloof Mountains and on the Klein Winterhoek, but good knowledge of these mountains would be a sensible prerequisite.
Using Cape Town as a base, climbers are spoilt with choice. Hang around the Peninsula and climb fantastic sport routes, ending the day with a cold beer watching the sun set over the ocean, before settling into one of the many restaurants for a delicious meal, OR, take a trip to Montagu for a few days, clip bolts late into the afternoon, relax with a glass of local wine around the barbeque fire and chat into the night, OR take a trip to the Cederberg and feed your soul with some of the most impeccable climbing you will ever do. The choice is yours. And it is only a flight away.
In brief: climbing around Cape Town, South Africa
Silvermine Crags: sandstone - 70 routes from grade 4 to 7c (sport)
The Mine: sandstone - 50 routes from grade 5c to 8a+ (sport -very steep)
The Hole: sandstone - 30 routes from grade 5a to 8a (sport-very steep)
Table Mountain: superb quartzitic sandstone -100's of routes from grade 4 to 8a (trad multi pitch)
Montagu: sandstone - 200 routes from grade 3 to 8c+ (sport- vertical to very steep)
Cederberg - Wolfberg: superb sandstone - 90 routes from grade 4 to 7b+ (trad multi pitch) and some brilliant vertical single pitch sport routes from 6a to 7a
Cederberg - Tafelberg: superb sandstone - 70 routes from grade 4 to 7c+ (trad multi pitch)
Cederberg - Krakadouw: superb sandstone -100 routes from grade 5b to 7b+ (trad multi pitch and single pitch)
Cederberg - Rocklands: sandstone-50 routes from grade 5a to 8a (sport-vertical to steep)
Cederberg - Rocklands: sandstone-1000s of world class boulder problems from grade easy(4/5) to 8C with oceans of scope for more development.