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The Johannesburg Section of the Mountain Club of South Africa actively fosters and facilitates mountaineering. This incorporates climbing, trekking, mountain walking and related activities, and promoting fellowship between people with these interests who are committed to the conservation of mountain areas.

HomeNewsLatestMeet report: Big wall training meet at Waterval Boven, 9-10 February 2013

Meet report: Big wall training meet at Waterval Boven, 9-10 February 2013

Meet report: Big wall training meet at Waterval Boven, 9-10 February 2013

By: Andrew Porter


On 9 February, 10 climbers got together at Waterval Boven for a slightly different mission.  Instead of joining the masses to go sport climbing, we pulled out a ton of big wall climbing gear.  The idea behind the MCSA meet was to provide some training and to gain practical knowledge of some of the skills needed to climb a big wall.  For the purposes of the exercise, a big wall meant that you will spend a night on the wall and need to haul your gear up with you.

The day started easily enough.  We practised setting up and packing a portaledge from the comforts of flat ground.  Once everyone had had a go at that, we put up a fly, mainly so that I could show everyone just how difficult it is to get one up.


Knot practise followed.  The idea is simple – a haulbag is very heavy, especially on a hanging stance.  So, you need to know how to tie it off so that you can recover the pulley, and also need a way to potentially lower it out onto the next pitch if that has a traverse on it.  The Munter-mule knot is simple and works well for this.  Once again, this was practised on the ground.


By now time had moved on and the cliffs were in the shade.  We carried half our gear to the Disciple Wall.  A few volunteers established top ropes on the climbs here, and we used this to practise jumaring.   For most people, this turned out to be harder work that expected.  Getting the correct co-ords, length of daisy chains, and correct choice of foot loops is done via trial and error.  In our case, much error!


About here, everyone realised we are after all at Boven, and a tendency to go climbing took over.  This worked out well, as the afternoon then passed rapidly and before we knew it, it was 17:30 and we did not yet have a place to sleep.  Just like in the hills, where darkness comes sooner than expected.


We climbed Freak On, and used a top rope to set up some anchors for the portaledges and a few more ropes on the smooth wall half way up this climb and the silly hard route to its right.  Being in big wall training mode, we could of course happily do a pendulum to set up these anchors instead of feeling a need to climb the route.


By the time darkness arrived, only one portaledge had been rigged, and the second was in dismal progress.  Lesson number one was to always take a headlamp with you! Eventually, four portaledges and one hammock were set up.  Everyone had food on the ground, and then began the (slow) jumar up the overhanging ropes for a night on the wall.


During the night, we of course learned lesson number two: switch off mobile phone alarms especially if they are still on the ground, or you will have to abseil in the dark and re-climb back up to your portaledge.


For the Sunday, I had hoped to find a suitable wall to practise pendulums on.  Ideally, you need an easy climb into the center of a smooth wall.  From here, you want a pendulum left or right to join another route which can be easily climbed to chains.  Nothing suitable was found, so we just climbed in the conventional way before going home.


Lots of fun was had by all, and vague plans are in the making to have another big wall training meet later this year.

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