Climbing Destination Guide - Bouldering The Rocklands in South Africa
When I told people I was going to South Africa, many people asked me about which cities (Johannesburg/Cape Town) we would be going to, and if we had plans to go do a safari. All valid questions, and although I did have hopes to see Cape Town and possibly go on a safari, the objective for this vacation was to get a taste of South Africa's world class Bouldering.
I'll admit, I didn't know much about The Rocklands at first, and when our friends first started talking about a trip to go climb in South Africa, I was pretty on the fence. South Africa had never really been on the list you know.. that mental list we all keep of places we must go to before we die like Machu Picchu, Everest Base Camp Trek, gallivanting across Europe, Van life and climbing in Norway or Iceland, or seeing the South Island of New Zealand. I mean, I have quite a big list of places I want to go to and only a limited amount of vacation time each year. But soon 5 of our friends were confirmed to go to The Rocklands and we couldn't resist the pull to go on vacation with everyone, because how often does it work out that a big group of your friends wants to go on the same trip at the same time?
Ahhh. So where is The Rocklands? The Rocklands is about a 3 hour drive north of Cape Town in a region called Cederberg, about 20 minutes from a town called Clanwilliam. 3 Hours isn't so bad, but driving there is the least of the travelling.
It took us one million hours (slight exaggeration) to arrive in Cape Town from flying out of Los Angeles Airport. Our feet and ankles no longer looked familiar to us. In fact, most of us didn't have ankles anymore. We flew British Airways because they allowed oversized luggage for free as a checked bag, and our crashpads were all very oversized. Michael and I shared one big suitcase for our clothes, and then strapped 2 smaller crashpads together with Home Depot cords, this was our "2nd" bag. Our other friends did something similar. Some of them made bigger bags to zip up their crashpads in, but we were honestly too lazy, and waited too last minute for something that fancy.
Everything arrived safe in sound in South Africa and getting through customs took no time at all. We were out of the airport in no time. The three groups of us were all staying different time lengths so we had to get separate vehicles. Michael and I (staying 2 weeks) got a rental car from Hertz. A manual little white car called "The Blaze". Dallas and Mandy would be staying 3 weeks, but also rented a similar car from Hertz. Carlos and Steph were staying 3 months, lucky bastards, and got some truly South African car called "The Tazz", from a rental agency I'm not able to recall.
And don't forget, in South Africa, you drive on the left hand side of the road!
Clanwilliam was the closest place for us to stock up on groceries and alcohol. Here are a few places in town that we found really useful:
- The Spar - The Local Grocery Store / Also had a side liquor store with beer, wine and liquor (Wine in SA is super cheap! Great bottles for about $4 per bottle US, the beer that we tried on the other hand was less exciting)
- Sederkem Pharmacy - You can find other unusual health foods and protein powders here
- The Yellow Alloe - A small B&B that also opened their doors as a café/restaurant to tourists and climbers. Best place to get some coffee and chill with some free wifi. This is where we usually stopped in when we needed to connect with family or check our email, etc. (http://www.yellowaloe.co.za/)
Clanwilliam also has a Rooibos Tea Factory, but we never made it over there. We did make it to the "Preserve" and it wasn't that impressive, but that's OK.
We all stayed in a big cabin together at a place called "Travelers Rest". Travelers Rest ended up being in an awesome location. It was very close to all the climbing, and the main office had a nice casual restaurant and little store that we visited frequently. They also had wifi for purchase if needed, but we usually opted for the Yellow Aloe in Clanwilliam. The cabin we stayed in was called "Daisy". We all brought our Nationality flags and hung them up there at the cabin. We were representing the US, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Texas (hell ya!).
Comically, our first few nights at the cabin we discovered we had a small mouse living with us. He ate the corner of our loaf of sandwich bread. We got a few mouse traps from the front office and they told us the mice liked peanut butter. For about 3 nights in a row we would come out in the morning to find that all the traps were still in tact, but there was no peanut butter on them. Sneaky little guy. Instead of catching a mouse, we were feeding him tasty peanut butter. We got him on day 5 I believe, when we made the traps super sensitive. Now, part of me felt bad for the mouse, Except, he kept peeing and pooping on our kitchen counters... for cleanliness sake, he had to go.
The cabin had its own charm. At nights the ceilings came alive with small unknown creature noises and lizards. The bathrooms had bomb shelter like doors on them, and the roof was covered in bamboo. We grew to love its weirdness. It's where we spent our evenings and our rest days. There was no TV or internet at Casa del Daisy and so we spent our evenings drinking wine, rubbing climbing lotion on our torn up hands, reading books, playing games and even painting around the big kitchen table.
There was even a neat little trail near Travellers Rest that lead you through all of these old African Rock paintings. We did this hike on one of our rest days. Definitely worth checking out if you are staying near Travellers Rest.
As for the climbing, Michael and I followed a 2 days climbing, 1 day of rest sort of schedule since we were only there for 2 weeks.
The Rocklands climbing area was huge! Everywhere you looked there were boulders upon boulders. You could tell that there was really so much untapped potential here. Only being there 2 weeks we tried to hit a variety of areas and to hit up the classics. We spent most of our time in these areas:
- The Sassies
- De Pakhuis
- The Campground
- The Pass
- 8-Day Rain
Those aren't even the only areas. I mean we barely scratched the surface. I thought Bishop was huge, this place is like Bishop on steroids.
After only a day of climbing in The Rocklands, it soon became clear that there were a few classic things you could attribute to the style of climbinging in the Rocklands:
- Dynos- if you like to dyno, there are so many unique options here. The boys definitely had some fun on these kind of climbs
- Roofs/Caves- so many roofy/cavey climbs! Go as low as you can imagine on a boulder and then climb out of the cave and onto a face.
- Juggy Top Outs! - Unlike a lot of sandstone climbing I've experienced in the US, The Rocklands tended to have really nice juggy finishes, instead of slopey sketchy top outs.
- Grity/Frictiony Sandstone- The rock here was incredibly grippy. Much different than some of the stuff you see in California and Utah
The variety and grades of climbing was enough for anyone who wanted to go there. My projecting grade is probably around V4/V5 these days, so I only got a few of those, but I had a lot of fun on the V0-V3 range of climbs there too!
And there is plenty of hard stuff, that is probably what the Rocklands is more known for anyways.
I have to admit, roofs are not my strength, so I did look around and managed to find some cool slab climbing Boulders too in a more difficult grade range V2-V5. I also probably climbed one of the highest boulders to date in South Africa. M.I.A. Arete (V2 slab with unfortunately slopey top out).
It was fun to try the classics and see so many of the climbs we had only seen in youtube videos, such as The Roof on Fire (V5) and Orange Heart (V5). The Pass was probably my favorite of all the areas even though it had the longest approach hike of all the places we went. It was probably the most beautiful area we went to, and so much great climbing!
Honestly, we didn't see too much wildlife. Sometimes we saw baboons in the distance at the Campground or at 8-day Rain. We saw some cool blue lizards in the Pass, and we drove by a lot of Springbok. There were also some adorable black labs at De Pakhuis that always hung out with us when we climbed there.
We were there right before winter really started, so the days were pretty nice. Mostly we had perfect weather. Only a couple of days were really hot. We also got lucky to pretty much avoid any rain on our trip.
It will be impossible to try and remember all the cool climbs my friends did, so I'll put a view of the ones I did to give you an idea of what's out there for the beginner/intermediate climber, but for more details on the harder climbs, check out my video at the bottom.
We spent one of our rest days travelling to Cape Town with Mandy and Dallas. I was pretty stoked to see the Penguins at Boulder beach, which were awesome! And the coast was really adorable. We ended up doing a bit of shopping down there and having a nice seaside lunch.
We spent the rest of our day at the V&A Marketplace, where there were sailboats, great places to eat, shopping and great views of table mountain. It was fun to explore and see a bit of the culture down there, but we only had the day.
One must do if you go to South Africa is to visit Muisbosskerm for the feast of your lifetime. Muisbosskerm is an all you can eat style buffet restaurant of sorts only about an hour and a half away from Traveller's Rest. We made reservations through Travellers Rest for our group for the end of one of our climbing days leading into a rest day.
The food is served buffet style and it is all freshly cooked right there in front of you. We feasted for 3 hours. It’s probably the best feast I’ve ever had. Mostly delicious fresh seafood and the best sweet potatoes and bread ever! Everything was delicious and amazing. We were all severly overfed by the end of it, and we were happy to be able to sleep in the next day.
For the climbers out there, a trip to the Rocklands should be high on your bucket list. After only 2 weeks there, I've already mentally made plans that I will return one day because I've got a few projects that I'd like to come back to (hopefully I'll be much stronger then). The Rocklands is a magical place, don't miss out.
For more fun on the trip and a look at the different areas we climbed at, check out the video I made on youtube.
Until next time South Africa.
If you are going to be extending your vacation in South Africa after bouldering in the Rocklands, check out this South Africa itinerary for more ideas while traveling in South Africa!