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Mark Seuring Co leader. Chief in charge of Pan Cakes. MCSA JHB
Pieter Martin MCSA Cape Town. Owner of Toyota Hilux
Ben Bransby: Dynamite in a small package, BMC
Alard Hüfner the Expedition leader MCSA JHB
Isak Steyn MCSA Pretoria, Chief Mechanic
Peter Robins: Falling IS fun aka Lobbin-Robins, BMC
Andrew "Where's my double decaff extra latte mocha cappuccino!" Donson BMC, now living in the USA
Matthew Munting owner and main driver of Landrover Forward Control
Dave Turnbull, leader of BMC team
Leo Holding, Fierce Warrior Princess, BMC
The sponsors of the South African climbers.
Leo on Slack Line
The British Team arrived in South Africa, and it was not long before a slack line was set up over the swimming pool at Alard's parents' house. Please Note It was the middle of winter and the water was VERY COLD.
Now came the task of introducing the BMC (Bolt More Climbs) team to drills, bolts and hangers.
They make a good show, wearing their UPAT hats and Rock On Climbing shirts
Packing Matt's car, a Land Rover Forward Control named Uncle Vim, after Matt's uncle, who, a week before the trip, sold the car to Matt.
The Many hours driving were made bearable by the presences of beautiful ladies in the Sports Illustrated Magazines (swimsuit edition). Here Dave tests the 3D glasses and seems satisfied with Ben drooling over him.
One of our overnight stops along the way. When sleeping on top of Uncle Vim one had to make sure not to roll over too much in the night .
The first view of Sitting Chief after 5 days of driving, through Zimbabwe, the Tete Corridor, Malawi and then into northern Mozambique.
We set up camp in the village of Lalaua at the "Hotel". We made quite a spectacle and attracted the local kids who loved playing football, frisbee and enjoyed our slack lining antics.
On closer inspection and about 2 hours walk from the village, the 400m high granite dome looked like it would provide for some good climbing. We were looking forward to bivving in the massive Hueco's (shallow caves) in the upper section of the wall.
On closer inspection and to our disappointment the rockface was covered in lichen and grass.
Leo looking sexier than ever: Our very own Fierce Warrior Princess.
Pieter on the second last pitch.The lichen forced us to abandon our planned routes and we then climbed the obvious line of weakness.
Mark, Alard, Peter, Dave, Leo and Pieter on the summit of Sitting Chief.
Demonstrating the 'Asses high, squeeze your eye-balls' technique of taking posed summit shots.
"Is he gonna jump?" Leo trying hard to look cool whilest peeking over the edge to the ground 400m below. Alard decides to do a hand stand instead.
The kids at the village seem happy to see us after our safe return from the mountain.
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Mocambique 2001: The Secret Diary of Uncle Vim with some insights supplied by Mark Seuring. By Mark Seuring.
List of Characters: Dave Turnbull, Piet Robbins, Leo Houlding, Ben Bransby and Andi Donson from the UK and Pieter Martin, Izak Steyn, Matt Munting, Alard Huefner and Mark Seuring from South Africa.
"I am 25 years old. On your scale I would
be young but to my contemporaries I am old. I have travelled far and wide yet
never set foot anywhere. I have a healthy appetite but you would think I eat too
much. I bring joy to many, am loved by one yet never feel loved.
This is the story of how I was rudely taken out of my retirement sleep to be a hero. Yes, it sounds dramatic but I assure you, to the ten people involved I have become somewhat of a hero: I arrived just in time to carry them through an adventure they had planned yet never expected.
June 20 - 30
(all greased up and ready to go…)
For me it began when I was sold, after 25 years of dedicated service to my master, to this somewhat bedraggled looking oke ('bloke') with skinny legs and big boots, who drove me away and showed me off to all his friends. I knew I was destined for greatness when he and his friends fretted and fussed over my health and looks day and night for a week.
Sunday, July 01 (time spent sitting around: 0.
Life is good!)
When I was finally ready, I was introduced to the nine other people I was to carry forth to, what I now understood was a mission somewhere north of here in Africa. It’s a wild and exciting area that few have visited and where only a handful have done something they call 'Climbing'. This activity, the merits of which I have yet to understand, connects all ten of them. I learnt that four have travelled from the UK and one from Colorado in the States(Andi) to be here. They all belong to a club called the BMC (British Mud Collectors). The other five are local and belong to the MCSA (Mega Cool Super Athletes).
Monday, July 02 (King amongst the mad!)
The Brits had already adopted me as their own and I must brag that there was a bit of shoulder shuffling and barging going on, when it came to decide who was to travel with me. I could not believe how much gear they took with them: There were 8 large haulbags, stuffed with at least 1500m of rope, 5 whole racks of friends and nuts, 200 bolts and hangers, two drills, 3 large trommels with food, pots, pans and cookers, a few spares for me and all their personal stuff ranging from the most peculiar hats to certain magazines which kept them entertained for hours at a time. So you can imagine how festive it was, cruising at 80 along the Pieterburg highway, the wind whining in my ears, and four grinning Brits stretched out in luxury in the back. Matt sat up front with Izak. His wild hair held down by a dirty black beanie. A cigarette dangled from his lips as he bounced along happily, clutching the wheel. He would seldom relinquish the wheel to anyone, except when he just could not keep his eyelids open. Matt and I were close; we took care of each other.
Tuesday, July 03 (1 am: troubled times: wasn't
We topped this hill and found the hazards of Pieter's Toyota playing up ahead. Breakdown. I was troubled by mixed emotions. On the one hand I was sad for the group on having to deal with another obstacle, but on the other hand felt glad it wasn't me stuck on the side of the road. I could sense from the start that they had expected me to give them trouble. I easily towed the Toyota to Messina. The head gasket had blown in Pieter's Toyota. It would take at least a day and half to fix, unless the engine was affected. That would mean four days… I didn't think Pieter would join us if it was to be the latter. Either way, it seemed dubious.
I was now carrying 9 climbers, all their gear and 170 litres of petrol. Matt and Izak checked all my vital signs before we crossed the Limpopo, waving to the local hippo on the rock (a total Africa experience for the Brits: "Lekker Kif") and headed into Zimbabwe.
That same day - Thursday, July 05 (heading
north…feeling strong and in control)
I did not want to drive any faster than 80km/h, so, when we would reach that speed, I'd let the engine whine with enthusiasm. That would scare them enough to stay below 80. For two days we drove seemingly continuously, stopping only to buy food or petrol: Nando's and petrol at R10 per Liter in Harare and for the odd pee-break. Initially everyone was really psyched on seeing Africa, but soon even the Baobab tree and Hornbill were only part of the scenery. They then resorted sleeping (often in the most distorted positions that I did not think humans were capable of and mostly involving the close proximity of someone's face to someone else's foot). Or they would read 'the' magazines (if you can call wearing funny looking 3D glasses and ogling over the curves of various Sports Illustrated swimsuit models 'reading').
Somewhere in Zim, as I was cresting this hill,
I suddenly felt something on my roof. On closer inspection I found this
something to be Leo. Always up for a challenge, he had climbed out the window
and was lying on his belly flapping his arms. He'd then jump up, feet apart, one
arm reaching forward, the other clutching his hat and his bum swaying back and
forth to keep balanced. I later learnt that this activity was called 'roof
Friday, July 06 (mountains of itchy bums. I
feel right at home here)
Fransisco and Roberto where sitting by the church as if waiting for our arrival. The Brits were 'lenk' chuffed at recognizing Roberto from the "Cheese" T-shirt he wears in one of the pictures they had seen. They all left me at the church to watch over their expensive gear and walked up to this small sulphuric stream at the base of the Mlema East Wall. Mark writes: " Leo, Alard and I splashed around in the stream, our first wash in days, and sat down on some of the rocks. Much to our dismay, we broke out in the meanest of itchy rashes on every bit of skin that had touched the rock, including some very delicate 'dingly-danglies'. The only cure was a 'scratch-free' patience and copious amounts of moisturizing cream."
I think the Brits were pretty impressed with the wall and chatted about its size and compactness, even Dave and Ben were momentarily distracted from the Sports Illustrated girls.
Sitting Chief or "Merupi Mountain"
to the local people suddenly appears in the distance. It looks big and steep,
even to me who has no intention of getting too close. The road just seems to end
in the town of Lalaua, at the base of the mountain. It was late and a few of the
guys disappeared down the street to buy a crate of cervejas. They all sat around
on the 'stoep', drinking beer and recounting climbing stories. The supply seemed
Suddenly a white Toyota parked next to me and out jumped a wild looking Pieter grinning HUGELY. They had travelled for 4 days and arrived here a mere 2 hours after us. Everyone was way impressed and more beers were opened in celebration. That evening we were joined by a certain Roberto, who took it upon himself to welcome us. I thought then and there that he looked a bit suspect, with his squint, darting eyes and too large grin. I was going to keep my eye on him.
Saturday, July 07 (Aah, rest: no need to eat.
At 4 km to the liter it seemed to worry the others. Hey, I get thirsty when
The following morning Mark, Alard, Dave and Andi were interviewed by the District Administrator, concerning the reason for our visit. They returned with a disapproving appearance and informed the others that we needed to obtain permission in Nampula, a day return journey from Lalaua. In the meantime the people staying behind could scout a way to the ridge separating the mountain from the town and look for possible features on its sheer surface. Dave, Alard and Mark, joined by Roberto, used Pieter's faster yet more unreliable Toyota for their journey to see the Immigrations Minister in Nampula.
I was parked close to a big tree in the courtyard in front of the hotel and surrounded by hundreds of white eyeballs in friendly black faces. Their interest in the white 'Msungu's' behaviour was insatiable as they watched their every move. They especially enjoyed the Frisbee and the soccer balls and giggled in fits at the tight rope antics displayed by these crazy visitors.
Sunday, July 08 (another rest day. I'm
bored…or am I?)
They left at midmorning, all 10 laden with huge packs that only showed their spindly legs toiling along the steep path leading up to the plateau from which the mountain escapes. I felt all alone, hoping they'd be back soon. In the meantime, however, I could have some fun with the local traffic… (edited out due to reader sensitivity).
Mark writes:" We toiled for 2 hours with our heavy packs to reach the dense forest settling at the base of the mountain. From the plateau we had studied its shape and all possible lines to the summit. It did not take long for us to form teams and formulate strategies for climbing our chosen routes. However, when we arrived at the foot of the wall, a whole new picture presented itself. The entire wall was overgrown with vegetation: grass clumps, bushes and thick, green lichen. The sight was quite disheartening but we were here, now, and we wanted to climb. We stashed our gear at the base of the wall and strolled back down to Uncle Vim, cold cervejas and a good helping of pasta.
Monday, July 09 to Wednesday, July 11 (bolting
I woke to see Roberto crying. Large, translucent crocodile-tears were rolling down his cheeks. Mark, Leo and Alard, ignoring this display, busied themselves with their packs before setting off up the hill. He was crying because he had missed his ride with the administrator who had asked him, Roberto, to join him on a diplomatic visit to a neighbouring district.
Mark writes: "We were at the wall, Roberto is forgotten. I led up the first pitch, heading for the corner, which was to take us to an easier angled face and crack to the ledges below the headwall. It was pretty easy going so we decided to simulclimb as far as possible. It felt good to be climbing, to live for each move as it happens. After 150m I reached a tree below the left facing corner. Leo led up from here, moving rapidly for 10m, then coming to a halt. He was trying to place gear in a crack but kept on pulling ever larger pieces straight through it. Eventually, deciding that none of the two pieces he placed were any good, he just continued over a small overlap and onto a slabby face. There was none of the apprehension I feel when watching some other climbers on a difficult and scary pitch. The otherwise rash and 'quick to jump and look later' Leo was in complete control, slow and deliberate in his movements, even taking time to brush off little edges with his little wire brush. Ten meters above his gear, he came to a standstill. The climbing looked hard with no gear, but there was a small ledge with possible gear coming up. He calmly pulled through this difficult section. Some 10m higher and against all his ideals of climbing, Leo found himself in a predicament. He had to place a bolt. He was not happy, we were highly amused. One hour he hammered the drill: tic tic turn, tic tic turn… swearing, hitting his thumb, swearing some more. Now the hole was done but it was to wide for the bolt: more swearing, this time louder. Good thing for sponsored gear: He tied a small wire nut around the bolt and hammered it in, it held I climbed past Leo's only gear, linking the clean foot- and handholds into a barely suitable sequence. The climbing was hard. With good gear I would have had no problem, but there was none. On the crux last move a crucial hold broke and I swung backward on the rope. I was greeted by a big grin and the words: "Goo' thin you didn lead tha!"
It took me another hour to drill a hole for the second bolt, which was to complete the stance. In the meantime Alard decided to come up and see what all this fuss was a bout. He looked up at the wall above us and stated the obvious, a fact we were ignoring in attempting to be hard core. "This looks terrible!" he frowned, and that was that, we headed down.
Back at the base, we met up with Dave, Piet and Pieter who had tales of great falls. First Piet had pulled on a large grass tuft which had slowly detached itself from the rock, sending Piet on a downward arc, falling into another bush and over a roof where he came to an inelegant halt. He only had some minor grazes. Pieter then went up, attempting to place a bolt. Hanging off a hook, he had drilled a few millimeters when the edge he was hanging off, suddenly crumbled. He fell similarly to Piet, ending up below the roof. They decided to call it a day.
At some point during the night we were
awakened by voices. Trampling through the bush were Ben and Andi, on their way
down to the hotel. They had failed just 20m from the summit at the crux of the
final, very led out slab. They were somewhat disappointed by this failure but
all in all had a very good day of climbing. Good for us: Merupi mountain had not
been climbed to the summit.
It was a crisp morning when we headed up the approach slabs to the base of the large corner and chimney system. Clouds were swirling around us and the light was mellow. The corner offered some good climbing, mainly clean crack and chimney climbing, culminating in a steep chimney, which we graded at 23. On reaching the shoulder, we found to our dismay, Piet just below the slabby crux, which had been the end to Andi and Ben's attempt. He, Dave and Pieter walked around the mountain and ascended an easy gully to reach the shoulder. Leo was adamant we were being robbed. Piet did the moves coming close to falling when a tiny foothold broke. He held himself on a small edge, mantled it and reached the branches of a small bush. We followed the other three up this pitch (grade 22 or E3, 5b) and to the summit.
It was a stunning summit. We could see far
north across the Rio Lurio and the enticing lure of new adventures. To the south
and east we could see the granite domes which make this area so special.
Matt and Izak were still busy on their route. We left them to it, thinking that even though we were done with this mountain for now, we would wait for them to finish their project.
As it was, they climbed three epic pitches ending with Izak falling and ripping a chunk of flesh from his thumb. They descended the following morning to the Hotel and Uncle Vim.
Thursday, 12 July (letting go…)
"Give me Meester, give me 'juice'!" Ben proclaimed, imitating Roberto's last words to us. He actually meant 'jersey' and made quite a nuisance of himself, pulling at each of the guys shirts in turn, pleading, pleading with them to hand them over.
The administrator had not yet returned from the neighbouring district, and, this being a highly hierarchical and bureaucratic country, the second in command (we named him 'Squint eyes') would not commit himself to the highly responsible task of letting us leave. All packed, I was standing outside the administration building waiting, while the others spent an uncomfortable hour in his office as he rambled on about his, our and the administrators duties. I overheard them say how freaky it felt, not knowing who the guy was addressing: 'One eye would look at Alard at one side of the table, then move to Dave, while the other rotated around the room eyeing each member separately.' On their increased insistence and unreciprocating reliance on logic, he finally let us go.
We arrived at the church at Mlema 3. Dave, Ben and Andi left late that afternoon and were confident of getting to the ledge before dark. The others made themselves comfortable on my roof and watched their progress up the wall and the advance of mean looking clouds from across the plains. It was not long until they collided. The three had reached the third pitch when the rains came. The others huddled up, warm and comfortable, under my roof, expecting three bedraggled figures to arrive any moment for a hot cup of coffee and a warm bed. Nobody came.
Friday, July 13 (As luck would have it)
Mark writes:" We arrived at the base of the climb to find three very wet and unhappy characters. They had spent the night, cold and wet in either a down sleeping bag or bivvy bags. We joked with them a bit and took some good blackmail photographs. It was still raining, so we abandoned our attempt as well. In abbing down, the three had left 3 brand new cams on the third pitch, a worthwhile bounty for any future ascentionists!
The clouds looked ominous and showed no sign of lifting. The decision was made easily. Ben, Dave and Andi, still looking damp, pushed for the Malawi option, the lure of sandy beaches and clear, warm water an undeniably great temptation. The others did not resist this plan, much.
Saturday, July 14 to Tuesday 17 (Showing off…
because I can)
Lake Malawi is a paradise. You can do absolutely nothing, forever, and feel no shame.
Wednesday, July 18 to Sunday 22
I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I suffered a minor bodily dysfunction, which slowed us down a little. Using a broomstick, some duct-tape and ingenuity, they temporarily bandaged me up. We travelled on to Mpumalanga and the prospect of climbing in a new area. The Brits were psyched and in two days, showed the South Africans just why they were Brits!!! Ben onsight opened a 26 and a 25 while Leo opened another 26, impressing with a 'go for it' attitude even if the gear is only just 'OK'. Dave and Andi climbed a cool 23 up a classic corner.
They then spent two days at the restaurant, enjoying the area, but caring little for clipping bolts.
Monday 23 July (Machines feel things people
It was time for the Brits to leave. I picked
them up at Alard's parents place for one last ride. I had enjoyed their company,
their dry humour and imitation of some 'lekker' South African expressions. They
liked me too, giving me a name, enjoying all my strengths and understanding my
flaws. I'm sure they will think of me with fond memories. They also made an
impression on the South Africans. Besides teaching them how to walk across a
slack line, they showed great modesty, especially considering their
achievements. They also embody a style of climbing that is rooted in history
and, transcends beyond all modern trends, into the future: A future from which
our modern super heroes want to but should not be allowed to hide from, where
super hard routes are and will be climbed… on trad. By fearing what was done
in the past, we are limiting our future.
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