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Round 1

 

2 new routes, on the Klipdachswand. The right Chimney called Figarch grade 17 and the left chimney is called "a cup of tea and two chimneys" 18. Both routes are about 3 pitches long. They were both opened solo by Alard in an afternoon.

 

 

Voitec and Alard opening "Watersports" grade 20. This is a superb new trad route with 3 pitches of laybacking and good gear placements.  Pic by Marianne Pretorius

 

Alard on the second pitch of Herero Arch. this route has a bit of everything, from big cracks to  balancey face climbing. pic by Marianne Pretorius.

 

Alard on pitch 8 of Herero Arch a delicate 25 traverse. Pic by Marianne Pretorius

 

 

Alard Belaying Mark on pitch 9, the technical crux of the route, a friction 26. As can be seen, there is not much to hold onto. Pic by Marianne Pretorius.

 Mark Seuring, Alard Hüfner and Marianne after the second Ascent of Herero Arch 26.

 

The South West route has many chimneys,  here Marianne is working hard. pic by Alard

 

A welcome rest from the chimneys on the second last pitch of the South West wall. Marianne and Alard did the route from car to car in a new time of 6 and a half hours.  pic by Alard

 

 

'WHO AM I…and Why, again, have I got this rope?'

NAMIBIA, 2001: The Quest     By Mark Seuring

 

"One of you seeks the fountain of youth and the other the mystery of death, yet indeed they are but one, they dwell in you both." From: The Quest: The Wanderer (Kahlil Gebrain).

 

In the desert…

… you will find all sorts of things: It is a place where one's senses are sharpened, ones bodies are beaten, and ones motives questioned. It is therefore a place where you will either walk from, a broken man, ready to hang up your rope or a youth, ready to take one's found treasures back to an insane world. As a climber, you will either go home and try to forget what you saw and felt or you will let that soul soar, restless and eager, finding new challenges that equal those you had in the desert, at a mountain called Spitzkoppe.

 

…you will find silence. At night all visitors sleep. At night the local population roams, to eat or be eaten, to live. The sound of life is shrill and at the same time soft, it is calming to all who listen. 

Then at around 5h30 am, I am awake, the silence is gone, replaced by an urgency to move. For 12 to 16 hours I will be focused, senses acutely directed at living, at climbing the SW wall of Spitzkoppe. A quick bowl of muesli and a gulp of tea and I set off, accompanied by Voytec, a friend and climber. We are both enthralled by an activity most would categorise as insane.   I feel it brings me closer to the sane, to feeling alive. And what better place to find that feeling: the desert: and things die in the desert.

My thoughts are elsewhere on the walk, I feel my leg muscles aching, there's a niggling pain in my lower back from the pack I am carrying, my breathing is deeper, my neck straining to suck air into my lungs, its hot, sweat starts building on my brow…. I look up at the wall: It's big. 'Alard and Marianne climbed it in six hours yesterday; that's mad. I want to beat that! No, we're already to slow and besides, I want to take it easy on my first day.'

…you will be surprised. We've reached the start. It's wet, a thin sheet of water is running down the first 25 meters of climbing. 'This is the desert, its not supposed to be wet! 'This makes the climb impossible, unless … I aid up from bolt to bolt, cheat-stick clipping as I go.

…you cannot hide… Voytec takes over the lead and with wet shoes makes his way up a laybacking crack. The granite is like glass and soon he is scrabbling with his feet to find purchase. A few tense moments and he is at the chains! Like this we alternate leads and head up the fantastic crack system and into the chimney. Here it gets a bit scarier: looong leadouts and a lack of fear are the key to success. Once you're moving, anaesthetise those fear cells, get into the groove and repeat the same movement for 40m at a time. DON'T stop to think, Don't hesitate! Once you do, you'll want to hide away and forget the mess you got yourself into: getting back to the womb is all you want, no questions asked. That's where I find myself, regretting that moment of hesitation. Voytec sits far below me, safe, his call reaching my screeching nerves : "Fine Style!" At this moment I regret being here. Looking up, looking down, nowhere to hide! Or so it seems, I take Marianne's advice, squeeze my balls and move… On the next ledge I can hide. Wow, that's why I love it. Death was right there, taunting, but I cunningly escaped, all regrets gone, replaced with euphoria. I feel invincible (for now).

 

… you will find simple things. We finish the climb in 'fine style'. Voytek leads the last hard pitch from which we easily reach the summit. The sun joins us and keeps us company as we stare into the hazy desert distance. It feels good to be alive. The simplicity of sitting here, with a friend, my eyes closed, soaking up the sun's warmth and feeling it enter my soul. I am happy.

 

… you will see how far you can go … alone. We were extremely motivated to climb the Herero Arch, a hard (grade27) 600m route that ascends below a massive overhang system which arches across the left side of the SW Wall. Alard, Marianne and I set off late(the campsite was abuzz with voices and clanging gear) on that steep uphill hike that would become so familiar by the end of the week. Our legs were tired and our palms raw from climbing up and over  and then descending the many large, rough boulders above camp.

The first two pitches have been climbed by Eckhard Haber. They are trad and pretty hard, especially the 2nd, a scary, flaring off-width with sparse gear. From there the Austrians headed up, bolting on lead, toward the large Hueco below a bulge and the 27 pitch. The Austrians are tall and sometimes, even I had to stretch to reach the bolts. The 23 pitch to the Hueco went fine. We realised that many of the crystals you need to rely on are loose and tend to crumble when you place you foot on them. You hope you can create enough friction whilst they crunch under your weight for you to reach the next tiny holds. Its pure concentration and perfect weight transferral that are required; sometimes a bit nerve wrecking. I managed to onsight the 27 pitch(probably more like 26) except for a compulsory aid section (may go free at 30+??) through the bulge. The climbing above the bulge was awesome. Hand and head-sized pockets leading diagonally up a smooth ramp… The exposure tingles your mind as you move up slowly on the long lead-outs, alone, completely detached from your friends sitting below the bulge. We left a static line hanging from the Hueco and abseiled back down, well chuffed at having done the crux, well, what we thought to be the crux. That afternoon we relaxed, went for a swim and just loafed about.

 

 

… you may feel eight feet tall or three feet short. "You held what, exactly?!" This becomes the most used exclamation/question the following day. We're back up on Herero's Arch. Our goal is to climb the route in one go, leading all pitches ground up. The 26 pitch goes smoothly: I feel invincible! The next pitch is a 24. It’s a different story.  I'm useless even on toprope. Marianne made it look so easy and now I want a 'tight rope'. Soon its over and I'm relieved I didn't ask for it. I coolly climb onto the ledge, mumble something inaudible about how hard it was and what a good lead it was and proceed to watch Alard facing the same predicament as me, with similar result. The two pitches following the arch are pleasant (grade 20).

We had reached the last hurdle(s). From here the route traverses for 50m to the right, along an extremely blank wall, and then heads up a few meters to a comfortable stance in a hueco. Another 26 pitch takes you to easier ground above. Alard made his way across the blank wall. We watched with great interest from our safe little perch. With Alard we knew we had picked a winner: Soon he moved around the corner and, except for the frequent "This is hard!" or " I can't see the next bolt, I'm just gonna carry on", we heard nothing, until the expected: "I'm safe!" came. It's hard to explain what slab 25 is like but I'll try. Basically you always feel like you're three feet tall/short. It seems like you always have to make one more move from where you are to get to the next tiny hold. Using the word 'hold' s a bit exaggerated as there really are none, Just standing there in space is fine, the moving is hard. You have to take one foot off (that's half of what's keeping you on) and step higher. This feat is near impossible to comprehend and it’s a matter of 'Stealth rubber over mind'.

 

…the easy way can often prove to be the hardest. Having done the 25 pitch for practise, I got straight onto the 26 pitch. The bolts were close to each other, which means they must have been placed whilst standing on the one below, which means the climbing must be hard. I was trying to clip the 2nd bolt when one of the barely existing flakes I was crunching under my foot decided to move earthwards: I followed. On my second go I clipped the bolt and moved to easier angled ground above. The next two pitches were easier than expected and soon we only had one little section to go. And there I was, stuck, unable to do a 'simple' grade 20 move. I small roof 10m from the summit would not yield to my efforts, my gumpyness, increasing in proportion to the amount of chalk I was shovelling onto two tiny crimpers. At the end I committed, knees thrashing to find purchase above the lip. "To hell with 'fine style', I am up": A most embarrassing finale to a fantastic two days of climbing.

 

… you should take steps after looking first and never close your eyes when jumping.

Feeling somewhat invincible, Alard and I decided we wanted to reach the summit of Spitzkoppe, but not by the standard route (this meant walking around the whole mountain), but via a new route up the West Ridge. I had briefly looked at it on our descent off the SW wall and thought it possible. It was easy to convince Alard of the plan (he also sometimes struggles to see further than his locks curling around his nose). Three pitches up we had reached the end of the crack system. I proceeded up from the stance where Alard was hanging off a single (good) friend. Five meters up I had to make a decision: go for it and hope to find gear above the bulge or retreat. I was battling with this for a while when suddenly I felt myself moving upwards. I had taken that first step off the ledge and was rapidly frictioning my way up and over the bulge. There I stopped and looked around. I was in a sea of blank, featureless granite. I carried on up for another 15m to a small hollow. There was no chance of placing any gear. The climbing had been pretty hard, grade 20 slab and I thought it to dangerous to down-climb. Now I was scared. I cursed my stupidity as I crouched there, balanced on two small edges.

From here there could be a few plausible endings: One, I could have down-climbed, fallen…, not fallen and enjoyed the fountain of youth for a while longer. Instead I chose the other, more cunning ending: Build a bulge of rock by scraping away the rock around it, then placing a sling and lowering myself down. It worked! I was expecting the sling to pop at any time… but it didn't.

I get to enjoy the fountain of life a little longer, and I will definitely be back to the desert, at a mountain called Spitzkoppe.

 

For route descriptions go to

Namibia Routes

More information on the routes and the climbing is available in Eckhardt Haber's excellent new route book "Spitzkoppe and Pontoks, a Climbers Guide".

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