THUNDERDOME – Dog of Thunder
and cams on thin face moves. Martinengo put in two tries on the second (P9, Abraxis in the Sky), lobbing twice off a hard move above the last bolt and leaving the ropelength yet to be freed. And the third (P10) takes a crack and strenuous climbing to a testy undercling move and a punishing final mantel.
Above all this, the team charged up three easier pitches amidst some of the worst lightning they’d ever seen. A few quick rappels to safety, and a monster deluge began in earnest.
“Blouberg is a wild and remote place,” wrote Edelstein. “Even the walk-in is complicated, on poorly defined cattle trails.” He added, however, that the cliff’s compact rock is very user-friendly for traditional climbers, offering excellent nut and cam placements. And, wrote Edelstein, “Once you’re there, Blouberg captures the soul.” —Dan Dewell
And so it was that on Friday 24 November we rappelled down the wall with heavy packs including a drill and 12 litres of water after waiting for the rain to stop. No further bolts were placed on any of the pitches but three rappel points were improved with bolts. After depositing our bivvy gear at the palatial ledge 130m above the ground we continued to the bottom where we dumped the drill and Clint and Stew’s approach shoes.
In very humid conditions and thunderheads approaching Stewart led the first pitch in fine style with Clint and I yelling beta at him.
I then sweated up the next grade 23 pitch where I had intended to place a bolt but had refrained to do so because Clinton had discovered a critical, but tiny cam (Alien zero) placement. This, of course, was missing from the rack having been left on the rappel as a directional. The smaller black diamond Z cam did not fit well but had to do. I did not even bother testing it. Clint had on-sighted this pitch a little further to the left when we had tried the route 6 weeks previously but I did a more direct but very tricky version with a desperate pinch and using small and awkward foot holds above suspect runners. I attained the belay ledge pumped to the max and streaming with sweat.
Clint then led the next pitch to the shattered ledge. On our previous visit I had thought this pitch also needed a bolt but it yielded to grade 21 climbing and good enough trad gear placements.
At the shattered ledge the tension began. It was rapidly getting dark and the mother of all thunder heads was approaching from the north-west. Lighting crisscrossed the air with many bolts arcing between the clouds. Clint was the man for the next grade 25 pitch but he had visions of being fried by lightning and was being disobedient and cowered next to us on the ledge. Stew and I cunningly convinced him that there was no ways that the lightning would be interested in him despite the fact that he was carrying about 40 shiny biners and a whole rack of other metal bits. We suggested that he could always leave all that stuff behind and solo the pitch!. We sure weren’t offering to go up.
“Abraxis in the sky” – grade 30+ – is what Clint called the next pitch. I named it “Martinengo’s Nemesis”. He had two attempts but both times could not reach and stick the move above the last bolt. It’s very hard! Stew and I used those silver juglets and footholds to complete the pitch.
Clint then did a phenomenal red-point of the final difficult pitch. It is desperately hard with varied climbing including difficult hand jambs in a soggy crack, long reaches off underclings and then he almost blew it on the last tricky move which is only about grade 22 because he was so pumped. He hung there for about 15 minutes. He reckons it’s the hardest he has had to ever try.
Stew and I embarrassed ourselves again and yarded up to him. One of the few moves I managed was actually the one that almost stymied Clint. (I told him to climb with glucose candy in his pockets in future.)
We were home and dry – or so we thought. Those damnable thunder heads were rolling in again and it started drizzling!. This time we were exposed and lightning strike was a real danger. We set up a rappel but I started climbing the next grade 22 pitch with a single rope doubled so as to facilitate a quick retreat if necessary. But the weather brightened up and I managed to climb the pitch fairly quickly and free except for the one, very wet lay-back move that Stew also aided. Needless to say Clint freed it but his 1.8m helped I’m sure.
We composed ourselves at the next stance and again decided it was worth the risk to continue despite the tremendous power of the thunder storms all around us. The next two pitches are grotty but we managed to top out and shake hands and then down we went back to the bivvy to a leaner and drier dinner. Again the heavens opened and dumped tons of water all around us.
Start. The start is immediately to the right of the start The Dream of White Dogs about 100m beyond great gulley. Three bolts are visible.
Pitch 1: 25m 25. Clip the first bolt with some difficulty and do tricky moves into the recess. Climb up the recess to the bulge and lay back and mantel strenuously to gain easier ground. Continue up the shallow recess to a semi-hanging belay after 10m or so.
Pitch 2: 20m 23. Climb up and slightly right to place a good medium sized cam to the right of the pillar 5m above. Step left at the base of the pillar and avoid the obvious undercut flake to gain the recess on the left of the pillar. Do technical moves to gain good holds. Continue through the overlap above to gain a small but good stance.
Pitch 3: 55m 21 Climb directly up for about 4 m and then tend diagonally left to avoid the white rock to gain rappel anchors. Continue up tending a little left and then back right to gain a pillar. Climb this and find an overlap that leads to easier ground. Continue to the shattered ledge and bolt and nut belay.
Pitch 4 and 5: 35m 25. Step off the right end of the ledge and climb the recess to attain an obvious overhanging crack. (Shared with “Delicate Sound of Thunder” grade 21) At the crack step right to gain a right facing recess. Climb up to the left 2m to attain a perch. (One can stance here with small cam belay). 3 bolts are visible up and to the left. Climb up 2 m from the perch step right and then back left. Continue on good holds to the overlap below the bolts. Continue past the bolts to a ledge and good nut runners or belay. (grade 25) Climb up the run-out face diagonally right to attain a right facing corner-crack (20). Continue to the bivvy ledge.
Pitch 6: 15m 16R. Traverse carefully15m to the skyline to a peg and bolt belay.
Pitch 7: 20m 30+. The Ningenator pitch. Gear = Bolts and cams. Above are several bolts. Climb up to a rail and move left to a rest at a medium cam placement. Rail right for about 5m to a bolt and move up over a bulge to gain a left facing corner. Continue easily to a bolt belay on a good ledge.
Pitch 8: 15m 22+. (The “Measuring up….pitch.” Add a grade or so for every 1cm you are shorter than 165cm.) Move right past two bolts and do a reach move (for some) to reach a juggy recess/crack on grey rock. Continue easily to a ledge system and clip the bolt to keep the rope direct for the second.
Pitch 9: 15m 30+ Martinengo’s Nemesis “Abraxis in the Sky”. Climb past the bolts on edges to a two bolt semi-hanging belay. (Take at least two small cams 1.5 and 3cm or 3⁄4 and 1 in). The crux is a long reach to a non-hold after the last bolt before the Belay.
Pitch 10: 20m 30+ (What is takes…..). This pitch has several bolts but also requires a large cam, some small cams and medium nuts. Gain the crack and continue strenuously to a hard undercling move. Continue up and to the left and follow the bolts. At the last bolt do a tricky mantel and move right to a small cam and nut belay directly above the previous stance. This pitch is a real fight if you are rushed after the other hard pitches.
Pitch 11: 20m 22. Climb up on the grey juggy rock and then step left to a ledge. Above is a stunning lay back crack. Step up left into a crack and continue 3 m or so. Move right into the layback that is extremely slippery when wet. Climb up to the overhang and clip the bolt on the left. Reach high to a rail and then continue to a bolt belay.
Pitch 12: 15m 19. Climb directly up and move left to gain gnarly crack system. Continue to a bolt and gear belay.
Pitch 13: 30m 20. Continue up the bird shit crack and do some funky moves through the blocks above to gain easier ground on grey, juggy and a little scary rock. Continue to the top to a bolt and sling belay.
To free climb this route in a day ground up without any beta and in anything but near weather conditions would be an enormous feat and is then probably grade 30++ (5.13d?). And an on-sight flash ascent without the beta is an even greater challenge. So, don’t read the rest if you are a purist!
Probably the best way to do this route would be to rappel from the top as we did on the first ascent and stash water and snacks and bivvy gear and climb the first 5 pitches to the bivvy ledge on the same day, finish the route on the second day and then rappel the route to collect the bivvy gear. However, the problem would be to find the top rappel point.
If done ground up, then hauling is no problem if one has 60m ropes except it is a little tiring. All of the crux sections are less than 30m long so hauling can be done in 30m sections up to the bivvy ledge. The second can tie in the middle of the rope or climb on a single rope. If one is not going to rappel the route and top out then leave your bivvy gear on the bivvy ledge tied to the end of one of the ropes and climb pitch 6 tied to the end of one rope and tie directly in to the other rope when the leader reaches the stance at end of pitch 6. Do the same for pitch 7 and only haul once you get to the top of pitch 8! Just carefully direct your rope attached to the haul bag as you go.
Pitch 2: Once one steps left at the base of the pillar and into the recess above the flake there is pro with small cams and also a big cam on the left. The good holds were very slippery on the first ascent due to heat and humidity. There is a bomber tiny cam placement here with the purple sling alien fitting best.
Pitch 3: Watch for rope drag. It is a little run out but safe enough.
Pitch 4: Slippery if humid and hot but good pro except the start. Be careful.
Pitch 5: A bit run out but straightforward.
Pitch 6: Take care on the traverse. Get your bivvy gear across to the stance at the end of the traverse as this is also a rappel point.
Pitch 7: Take Clint or a cheat stick
Pitch 8: If you lead it and you are short there is a bolt at your knees so not too scary. Can probably use rope tension to reach right.
Pitch 9: Take Clint or a cheat stick.
Pitch 10: Same.
Pitch 11: Nice pitch; safe good gear.
Pitch 12: A bit grotty but safe enough
Pitch 13: More grotty but requires some care and also safe enough.
The next rappel is overhanging so keep the rope in by placing gear (medium cams) on the way down. This gets you to the stance above pitch 9.
The next rap is sideways and requires directing the rope and clipping to the bolts at the stance at end of pitch 7 and then placing gear on the rail to reach the bolt above the stance below and clipping both ropes to this as well. The last person to rappel unclips the one rope but leaves the other clipped to the leaver biners at the stance above pitch 7 and also the bolt above the stance below. The rope to be clipped is not the pull down rope as the knot won’t feed through the biners.
The next rappel is almost 60m and is a little overhanging. Rappel about 3m and then use a medium cam in the rail to keep the rope in to the wall. Continue to the bolted rappel point about 5m below the shattered ledge.
The next rappel is only about 25m to a bolted stance. Don’t miss it. The last rappel is 55m to the ground.
The bivvy is very comfy and there are 3 mats there. Don’t throw off any rocks as these can be used to shit on and then thrown off.
One can also bivvy less comfortably on the shattered ledge. The shattered ledge and the main bivvy is protected from rain unless there is very strong wind.
There is a good but exposed bivvy at the end of pitch 11 but it is a bit pointless. Either top out or rap down.
Climb with one torch per person!!