Greetings to you from the rock climbing base camp on the “vlatte” just below the summit of the Tafelberg, 2007 National Senior Scout Adventure held in the Cederberg Mountains. Today began at 05h10 at first light followed by a quick trot to the demarcated area where there is a sign posted out with a sun dried white roll of toilet paper, placed on a thin cedar wood stick.

If it is there, all is clear for you to proceed, and if not, well, you just have to wait your turn. I get there & its all clear. So I proceed and find a spot not previously used & do the necessary squatting thing, using as little white gold as possible, as it will take years to decompose up here. This is followed by a wash, after which, I feel a little bit like a new man again!

I proceed back to my tent, eat oats-so-easy & tea for breakfast, before I pack my day pack, with a rock climbing harness, jersey, sun hut & sun cream, water & cooldrink for the day, as it’s a long hot day ahead, at the top of the mountain. Finally, I pack in a snacker or energy bar, secure my tent & I’m ready for the day.

The scouts that will climb the base today, have overnighted at the Welbedagt Cave below, on the lower vlatte ridge & have to hike up to our base, which takes them about 45min to climb. As they climb, they begin to see more of the valley below, which only gets better as one climbs higher & higher. The scout reach us and we find out how everyone is feeling & most of them are already tired & a bit low spirited, but we as staff know, that in a few hours time, this feeling will have changed to totally the opposite. We have fresh water waiting for them in a 25l water container, which we filled the afternoon before, from the little stream nearby. The water has chilled somewhat overnight, which is placed beneath a large rock so that it is out of the sun for most of the day. The scouts fill their water bottles & we all start climbing to the summit of the Tafelberg, where the rock climbing base is set up & waiting for these tired scouts. The climb to the Nek between the Tafelberg main peak & the Spout also takes ±45min & from there we proceed over the Nek, to the eastern side of the Tafelberg.

We climb a gorge with huge rocks of all shapes & sizes until the path splits. Either one goes straight, which takes you directly to the summit via a chain & jump step across a ledge, or a right turn, followed by a crawl beneath a huge rock that is wedged in between a major crack in the solid mountain. From here, we climb between more rocks until we come out onto a platform that has an amazing view eastwards of the Karoo’s interior that lies below in the distance. It is here where the rock climbing starts. To the left above our heads, is the climb up for the scouts which has lots of hand holds & foot grips. One of the staff has already got to the top and has belayed himself into position. The scouts get briefed of what is planned for the base & receive their harness & helmets. We as staff help check that all harness are correctly secured & chat to the scouts as most are nervous & some don’t want to climb. We don’t make an issue about that, as peer pressure will sort that out later

.stephen stefano

Next, we hear, “ROPE DOWN” from a voice directly above us & we all look up to see the end of a rope being thrown down. The first scout to climb is ready & gets hooked onto the end of the rope & shouts up the rock face to the belayer above, “JAMES, ON BLUE READY TO CLIMB”. The rope is pulled up until the slack is taken up, after which the scout yells, “THAT’S ME!” and from above, “CLIMB WHEN READY” only to followed by a“CLIMBING” instruction from the climbing scout. That’s when it all starts, what these scouts have been waiting for. The take off isn’t easy and in fact is the hardest part. If you can climb the first 4 or 5 meters up, the rest gets easier from there. There is no race to the top & each scout climbs at his or her own pace. The belay rope is pulled up as the climber climbs so that if he should slip & fall, the fall is controlled & he can continue climbing.

To date, on all the Adventures, there has never been an accident purely because the risks are identified, managed and safety is taken seriously. By now the scout is at the top and is ready to move inwards away from the edge, before he is allowed to untie the belay rope, once he has reached the dedicated safety spot. Once two scouts have climbed, the pair walks together (buddy system) to the summit of the Tafelberg, where the trig beacon is. Its height is 1969m above sea level, some 100m higher than the inland height of Jo'burg, or twice the height of Table Mountain, to give you some comparison of the size of this mountain. Once they return, the traviline traverse awaits them, which takes them across the crack which they walked through below on the way
up. Here one hangs below the horizontal rope spanning the crack & you pull yourself across with your arms. Each scout is belayed by one of the staff to safety on the other side. From here the scouts proceed to one of two abseil take off points, where they abseil down to the start point some 25m below. The hardest part is transferring one’s weight onto the rope, as well as leaning out of the rock & going over the edge. Once past this point of no return, each scout slowly lowers himself / herself while “walking” down the vertical cliff face. Once they “return” to mother earth, they are so elated, that they seem different people that climb up from the cave earlier.

Once all have been through the base, is time to bid the scouts farewell as they descend the mountains in their patrols back to their hiking kit. We the base staff, secure all the climb gear which stays in place for duration of the adventure and then proceed to the gorge below, where lunch await us. The mood of the staff is also elated; as yet another group of scouts have enjoyed the base & have gone down different people and more importantly, that there were not mishaps.

After our lunch, the base leader confers with his climbing partner, as to what we as staff will climb in a group. This is our reward to giving up all the comforts of home for the days we spend up here in the mountains. The route is decided, climbing teams are planned, as well as, climbing gear selected for the particular climb. Then it’s all systems go & the serious rock climbing begins, with the lead climber proceeding ahead, placing
gear in the rock as he climbs to the first Stance Point. The lead climber is belayed up by the second in control, until he reaches the first stance, which completes the first pitch of the climb. Once he is off belay, he secures himself to the rock to belay the rest of the team up. As I am the newest climber, I go first and take my time on each move, remembering to move only one limb at a time. At all times you must have 3 contact points between yourself & the rock. The belay rope is my safety & if I feel tired or uneasy, I shout “rope up” & in an instance, the rope is pulled up with such force, that I feel the benefit of that lifeline. I get past the tricky bit and realize that it’s not that bad & I actually forget that, there is a shear drop below just centimetres below my feet. I proceed until I get to the first stance, where I get to a point of safety, before coming off belay. The rest of the climbing team climbs up until the last climber is left below. It is the job of the last climber to collect all the rock gear attached to the rock which the lead climber placed & which has helped all of us to safety along the way. Once the last climber has reached us, the second pitch of three commences. The whole process is repeated, until we are all safely at the top of the climb. The view is stunning from up there, but our real reward waits with that of a 65m abseil down another cliff face close by.

Once the ropes are secured for the abseil, one of the experienced climber abseils down to check the rope & most importantly, finds a suitable shot where we will all return to the bottom below. Once all is in order & safety checks done, I get to abseil first & enjoy every moment of it. The abseil just goes on forever as it’s 3 times longer than what the scouts get to do. Finally, we all abseil down safely, find our days packs and share the load of carrying all the gear used back to the lunch spot.

Our descent back to base camp below commence and we all feel the same as the scouts felt hours earlier, different people. Before one knows it, we are back at base camp & water needs to be siphoned out if the stream for our use, as well as, water for tomorrow’s scouts when the cycle repeats itself. As the late afternoon is still hot, some of us head lower down the stream area where we can wash & clean our bodies in the wide open, stark naked with no fear of anyone watching as there just aren’t any eepers out there.

Supper is decided & each of us takes turns to cook & wash up such that all is finished before dark. Once darkness sets in, warm jackets get put on & tea/coffee gets shared as well as star & satellite gazing happens. Stories of climbing & life, as well as, jokes & teasing of one another, are shared until the yawning commences, signalling its time to crash as another rewarding day awaits us tomorrow. Without to much hassle, we retreat to our 2-man tents, which we all call home up here.

Not before long snoring is heard from one of the other tents and next you know, its day break again & it’s time to rise and head to, you know where!

Rock Climbing Regards from here atop of the Tafelberg, Cederberg Mountain
Stephen Stefano — Matthew’s Dad