Mountain Online Features Mast
Pushing the limits in South Africa
    The latest news HOT off the local rock climbing scene is that SA's hardest rock climb has just been opened. Cape Town climber Sean Maasch recently cracked the elusive grade 33 (8b+) at Montagu, in the Cape!
Every few years it happens. What people previously considered unthinkable finally goes free. South Africa, with all its quality rock and talented climbers, has always been somewhat in the lee of world climbing activities. Unlike many European countries where climbing is ubiquitous, and where prime exponents of the sport are often considered national heroes (a poll in France once identified Catherine Destivelle as being more of a household name than the then Premier), climbing has been an activity of only a few. But in recent years, particularly with South Africa's emergence and greater acceptance into the international sporting community, climbing has seen an unprecedented upsurge in popularity.

Along with this increase in the general profile of the sport has been the urge of its chief exponents to push the limits as never before. Visiting international climbers have been out to sample what the country and the rock has to offer, bringing with them their expertise, enthusiasm and the ability to provide local routes with consensus gradings.

In the last few years, the hard climbers of the country have pushed the grades higher than many thought they could go. In 1985, Andrew De Klerk opened Dream Street Rose, (27) it was a notable advance. Another leap forward was Twilight Beauty (32), opened after massive effort by Steve Bradshaw in 1991. People like Bradshaw, Jonathan Fischer, Jeremy Colenso, Richard Lord and Roger Nattrass are all very much at the cutting edge. Recently, Richard Lord opened the fearsome Jabberwocky, at The Restaurant at the End of The Universe. Roger Nattrass, himself currently the South African climber with the most hard routes to his name, opened Barricade, at the WaveCave, in Durban. These routes were both graded 33, the top grade in the country. Recent thinking, fortified by consensus gradings given by top visiting climbers such as Gerhard Hörhager, Elie Chevieux and Frédéric Nicole has put these gradings at 32. Now, after many months of work, a Cape climber, Sean Maasch, has stunned all with his new route in the capital of sport climbing, Montagu, in the Cape province. The route, called Animal House, is in Bad Kloof which is currently at the centre of climbing development in the town. Brent Jennings spoke with Sean about his recent achievement.

Sean is a modest chap who is held in high regard by those who know him. He has been a part of the climbing scene in this country for a number of years and his routes are characteristically powerful. Animal House is 18 metres of 30° overhanging rock, with two distinct crux's. Sean has graded the route 33, and describes it as "hard" French 8b+.

"I bolted this line about two years ago." says Sean. "After working on it I left it for six months because I wasn't really strong enough, then I had an accident... so I was forced to leave it for a while." Obvious tenacity finally paid off.

"In all, I must have put in about 40 to 50 hours work on the route." Hanging out with an international band of boulderers in the Cederberg, including Todd Skinner and Frédéric Nicole must have given Sean the physical and mental edge to enable him to finally pull off the redpoint. As Sean puts it: "When you're climbing at that grade, the mind plays a huge role. I could do all the moves a year ago, the problem was linking them all together."

Sean is aware of the importance of our grades being confirmed by top international climbers. "Many guys have tried the crux's. Fred (Nicole) and Stefan Glowacz as well." There appears to be little chance of the route being downgraded.

As for the route itself, Sean says that the technical difficulty lies in establishing yourself in the first crux to enable one to actually do the thing. Is there potential for more hard routes at the crag? According to Maasch, there are currently a couple of projects in the higher grades, as well as one or two that have been described as "futuristic". In the meantime, Animal House remains unrepeated.

© 1996, Brent Jennings, Cape Town

Visit the Bookshop: More than 5000 titles available
© 1996 Ikhaya Design Studio " " to Contents