Looking up at The Pulpit

I have been aching to try some of the routes in the book Table Mountain Classics by Tony Lourens for quite some time. I have browsed through the book a number of times and had expressed some concern over the “grading” of some of the routes. I had specifically commented to my climbing and hiking friends on the inconsistency around which the author adds the provisor concerning whether a rope is necessary or not. With this in mind, I spent quite some time reading the book, studying the author’s descriptions of routes I had already completed so that I could gauge his descriptions of said routes against my experiences to “benchmark” his “grading system”.

Please also take the time to read this comprehensive report by Rudi Scholtz detailing his very similar but far more serious experience on the nearby Eastern Buttress Route.

Here are other routes in the book which I have completed with absolutely no problem (I had done so before purchasing the book). Each main bullet point represents a route in the book; the sub-points are my comments:

  • Constantia Corner: B/XX (a rope may be necessary on some of the short rock steps)
    • I have completed this numerous times, normally in running shoes, and once with a dog!
    • I cannot imagine where you might use a rope
  • Nursery Buttress: B/XX (a rope should be used)
    • I have completed this route once without a rope and without any difficulty
  • Ledges: C/XX (a rope may be necessary)
    • I have completed this once
    • I remember thinking on the last pitch that although there were plenty of holds I would have preferred having a rope
  • Left Face—Mystery BB/XX (a rope may be necessary)
    • I have completed this numerous times
    • I cannot imagine where you might use a rope
  • India—VensterB/XX (a rope may be necessary)
    • I have completed this many times
    • You do not need a rope (even less so since the additional protection was put in place)
    • The route in the scrambling sections is obvious as a result of the protection
  • Kloof Corner Ridge: C+/XX (a rope should be used)
    • I have done this numerous times
    • There are chains in the places where you may want a rope (I have used a rope once when I took a nervous hiker up the route)
    • The route in the scrambling sections is fairly obvious
  • Three Firs Route: B/X
    • I have done this twice
    • I cannot begin to imagine where you might use a rope
  • Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine: B/X
    • I have completed this numerous times
  • Agatha’s Gully: B/X  (a rope may be necessary)
    • I have completed this numerous times, normally in running shoes, and once with a dog!

The Hiddingh—Ascension Route scores the following grading in the book: “B+ (a rope may be necessary)“.

In addition to this misleading “rope” info, it does not tell you where the rope may be necessary. This information is vital to your understanding of where to go.

“Traverse out to the left along a grassy terrace to an easy break on the right (cairn). Climb this and a few easy steps above to the top.”

The above line, in addition to the rope info problem, makes this book extremely dangerous. All of this meant that all of a sudden, at the very final stage of the route, we were left in an incredibly dangerous situation.

Retreating down a route is not an undertaking that you should take lightly, and the experience of the route in reverse was unpleasant, to say the least: the loose, rocky steep gully section was beyond treacherous!

What we did wrong:

  • NEVER put your trust completely in a book! Find someone who knows the route to advise you, and preferably lead your hike
  • I usually have a headlamp and glowsticks in my daypack: but on this day I had neither

As the “leader” of the hike, I found myself under extreme stress. Do not underestimate this! I am truly grateful that Leanne trusted me implicitly and kept her head during the entire ordeal.

What we did right:

  • we assessed the situation carefully
  • we were not too stubborn to admit defeat and retreat!
  • we stuck together: as there were only two of us, this was a no-brainer
  • we communicated constantly, each checking on the other’s state of mind
  • we communicated constantly about which way we were going
  • we had food and drink with us, so we were hydrated and had energy
  • we had the right clothing: both of us were wearing Merrell boots, we had fleece tops and Buffs which we wore to keep warm, and we had shell jackets (which we did not need)
  • we moved at a sensible pace: even though we were racing darkness we did not rush
  • we had a charged cellphone with us
  • we actually had some climbing gear (slings, daisy-chainquick-draws, a large hex) which we used on one or two of the very tricky sections

Below is a report of a rescue in the same area. There are striking similarities between our experience and the experience of this group.

By David

Outdoor adventure enthusiast living on the Garden Route.

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