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Boven – FAF Chapter 2

Often hailed as the Mecca of sport climbing in SA – Boven is one of those destinations that cannot be missed. In fact, for most of the climbers in the North, it’s one of your first outdoor venues and one of the most memorable. 

Waterval Boven can be found in Mpumalanga, just off the highway on your way to Nelspruit and around three hours out of Joburg. This is an area steeped in climbing history and tradition. An almost monthly pilgrimage site for frothy climbers – it’s hard to not see why. With the entrancing contrast of deep orange walls and bewitching lush green foliage, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this haven.

(c) Chris Doman

Boven’s gorgeous valleys are filled with some of the raddest climbing in the country. They are typically vert or slightly overhanging (though areas like the God No! wall have some insane roofs). The rock is a captivating orange and bullet hard quartzite. If you’re tied in to the sharp end here and your belayer assures you that hold is “Bomber dude!”, it probably is. The climbing in Boven is often highly technical face climbs, especially as you start pushing those grades. One of its truly powerful selling points is the sheer number of climbs on offer. With around eight climbing areas and multiple crags within those areas, you’re looking at well over 800 routes to put your chalky mitts on. No matter your ability, there’s something for you. If you’re brand new and wanting to grip some real rock you can swing by The Creche and climb the best 10 (you heard me!) in the country, Freddie. You’re a tough customer that wants to roll with the crusher crew? How about Snapdragon, one of SA’s most famous routes. We grade it at 29, no matter what any foreign climbers may say. 

The History

Boven originated through a desire to link the old republic with the rest of the world via modern day Maputo. While construction didn’t take the many years one might have expected, it did take a heavy toll on the workers involved in the project. Many met their fate to malaria or lions, but by the end of construction Boven was considered a modern railway town. The train could be caught from Pretoria with Boven being a stopover on the way to the Lowveld. Or, if you were a climber, the easiest ride possible to the raddest destination.

Peter Lazarus (AKA the Lobster) and Gary Lotter are the legends we have to thank for Boven. During 1991 while on a work trip, Peter noticed the perfect quartzite cliffs winking at him. Like any respectable climber, he had to check it out. Pairing up with Gary they managed to put up the first three routes in Boven in only a week. The first among them being World’s Apart (26), which had its gear placed on lead. Very bold. The site for the first climbs was at the soon to be called Restaurant Crag (there used to be a restaurant right above it – apparently the burgers were amazing). 

The 90’s were not the first exploration into Boven. In the 70’s some traveling climbers had a look but claimed they couldn’t find any good lines. Of course, these were the days before the explosion of sport climbing in SA. Back then, everyone was a trad dad. In the 90’s though, that evolution gripped the nations climbing consciousness – often in polarising ways. Ethics aside, you can’t deny that bolting has unlocked some of the best climbing we could ever hope to experience in the short time afforded to us.

(c) Chris Doman

As with all crag development, word got out. In Bovens case, it was due to enthusiastic upselling on Peters part. This drew it to the attention of Mike Cartwright and Grant Murray. They wasted no time putting up the obvious – and some of the hardest lines. In typical climber fashion they did manage to scandalise the townspeople with Mike’s stunning 80’s pink tights. Those were the days. Over time, more and more people found out. It infiltrated the climbing community consciousness through media and word of mouth. Eventually Boven got bestowed with its moniker – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

From here the rest is history. Boven received worldwide attention. With climbers flying in from all over to test their metal or even put up lines! Surprisingly, the first climb at the God No! was Jabberwocky (32) bolted by the American Todd Skinner. Jack of All Trades (30) was opened by Tessa Little in 1998. Making it one of the hardest female first ascents in the world at the time. Boven even featured in Rotpunkt!

(c) Chris Doman

Bringing it all Together

One of the stand-out features of Boven which must be mentioned – and isn’t the climbing – is the community. There is a relatively small group of dedicated people, climbers and non, who have built and continue to maintain the spirit of community and climbing in Boven. For their efforts and psych, they have our eternal gratitude.

Alright, obviously you’re keen to go if you’ve never been. If you have, you obviously want to go again. For the newbs, here’s the beta. There’s loads of places to stay, each with their own distinct vibe. If you want to chill, meet new climbing friends and embrace the life of a climbing nomad – Roc ‘n Rope is you place. It’s run by Alex and Gustav. Gus who penned the best route guide you’ll find for Boven and is an all round, solid tjom (Alex too!). If you’re looking for some relaxed space with a profusion of delicious and fresh sourdough, then Tegwaan is where you want to be. Tegwaan was founded on an international climbing love story between the lovely Renia and Balthazar. Well worth a stay. Mayhem is a super lekker campsite, though not open year round, it’s the site for the annual MMF festival. The name holds true and something wild always happens at the venue, but it’s worth it for the fun had, and friendships made. If you enjoy mixing a bit of cycling in with your climbing then Tranquilitas is the place for you. A spacious campsite, with chalets on offer, perfect for a family getaway.

(c) Chris Doman

One blog post is not enough to do Boven justice. It’s just too big. Too beautiful and too amazing. We’ve done our best to scratch the surface but the best way for you to know Boven is to experience it. Throw some ropes and friends in your car and pull through for a weekend. Enjoy your new favourite destination.

Kat Odendaal

Kat Odendaal

Gym Worker at FA

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