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The Beginnings – FAF Chapter 1

The Beginnings… FAF 2024 begins. This year we thought it would be sick to centre the theme of FAF around the origins of climbing in South Africa. Buckle up. South Africa is home to some world class climbing, be it bouldering, sport or trad – we have some of the best. The FAF series will take you through some of the most outstanding climbing areas in the country. Hopefully this escalates your psych and you plan some climbing missions to sus these pozzies out.

Chapter 1 - Oudtshoorn

Chapter 1 takes us to Oudtshoorn. Possibly the only developed limestone crag in SA. If you’re living that dirtbag life and can’t afford a ticket overseas you have to add this to your bucket list. The Oudtshoorn crag is nestled in the Swartberg mountains near the Cango Caves. It’s a dramatic crag with steep overhanging routes. While the sheer scale of this wall – for a single pitch crag – might seem intimidating, this will be some of the most fun 3D climbing you’ve ever had. The characteristic limestone features of the wall look like melted wax. There’s kneebars aplenty and epic whip potential. Even the Bushmen recognised the epic nature of the location, as evidenced by the stunning cave paintings. If you do visit take care not to touch them, they’re delicate and part of our history. 

Climbing in Oudtshoorn was initially developed by Sean Massch and Jono Fisher in the 1990’s. Noting impassable blank sections between tufas, the duo squirted acid into holes made by drilling pockets. This allowed them to link sections and open a classic route Seven. Of the seven deadly sins, making seven artificial holds is one of them.

(c) Wian van Zyl, The Crag

As it so often does, life happens and the pioneers of the Oudtshoorn crag moved on. Sean and Jono were the only ones who knew the location of the mythical limestone crag. With their departure it lay untouched for several years. Developed died down, but was revived in 1995 by a quartet of climbers. Namely Arno Naude, Gunther Migeotte, Shannon Law and Jeremy Colenso. Jeremy and Shannon went on a hunt for limestone climbing potential in the most obvious place – the Cango Caves. After a bit of recon work they discovered the secret crag and development began anew. 

In a classic “crag development” move they hunted for the King Line first. Short Circuit comes in at a whopping 31. Needless to say, it’s epic. How it got its name is a classic in dirtbag tomfoolery. Jeremy borrowed a battery operated drill to bolt the line. Mid-way through a hectic leadout he managed to pull a wire loose. This resulted in a short circuit which caused the battery pack to catch fire. Narrowly escaping an admittedly epic demise, he managed to unclip it and throw it down just as the rope and harness started to melt.

The years went by and more and more lines went up, all of sick quality. Bolting in Oudtshoorn came to an end in the late 90’s through an unfortunate and avoidable mistake. A route was bolted through a cave painting which led to a ban which might have ended climbing there permanently. Thankfully due to the efforts of Ed February bolting was the only thing banned. Later on, in the early 2000’s the ban was lifted. 

If you’re planning on gripping some limestone with your chalky paws, we recommend you stay at De Hoek. It’s a lekker campsite (with chalets for those of you with that Patta-Gucci money) only a few minutes walk from the main wall.

(c) MCSA

SA's Great Grandaddy of Climbing

In good conscience we couldn’t mention Oudtshoorn without an honourable mention to its neighbour – Towerkop. One of the five main peaks of the Klein-Swartberg mountain range, this should be considered one of the holy climbing pilgrimages of South Africa. Towerkop is home to THE FIRST recorded rock climbing route in S.A. Which was sent in epic fashion – free soloed in 1885. Prior to this, Bushmen used to hammer stakes into cracks in order to get the honey from beehives. When the purist talks of “natural protection”, this is what he means. To any epic adventurers planning on a trip, remember to bring food to the secretive and protected “Wuzzie” species. We’ll say no more on the matter. To earn this knowledge you must visit the holy site of Towerkop. 

The FA crew could not be more stoked to usher in the latest edition of FAF. We know you’re stoked. You know you’re stoked. Let’s get sending on the journey of Beginnings.

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