Climbing in Waterval Boven
“Are those monkeys?!?!” I ask after hearing strange noises reverberate across the valley. “No, those are climbers!” Our new friend Kyle responds.
Andrew Pendley had just sent his project on a crag down the way and belayers and friends were pretty happy about it. The route, Rodan (8b/5.14b), now ascended, is currently the hardest climb in Waterval Boven. Celebration was certainly in order.
We stopped in Boven for a week when we first arrived in South Africa. It boasts the largest concentration of sport climbing routes in the country and has superb quartzite rock. If the quality of the rock isn’t enough for you the climbing community is second to none. Everyone we met without fail was amped on climbing, for the sake of climbing, and ready to give you a belay, even on their rest day.
The campground near the crags is nice, complete with pool and deep water soloing bouldering wall. Being the rainy season in January we stayed at the Roc N Rope climbing lodge, which is the hub of the climbing community. It’s also a great place to orient yourself on the area and tag along with other climbing groups heading out. The climbing guide is out of print, but a new edition is available online for free here.
There are some really amazing crags here. The namesake crag at the waterfall has some exceedingly beautiful routes and scenery to boot. That said, the approach is a bit of a mission.
You have to walk about an hour from the Roc n Rope or get dropped off as it is not safe to leave your car at the start of the trail. Then you have two options. First, rappel down a 30 meter gully to the base of the crag. Or, second, take your chances walking through a 300-something meter train tunnel and hope there’s enough room for you and the train should one come through while you’re in the tunnel.
“Have you ever been in the tunnel when a train came by?” we ask Andrew, who has volunteered to be our guide for the day. “Me, no, but climbers have been in here before and it’s fine, there’s plenty of room.”
Hmm. We rap down, spend a great morning climbing then it’s through the tunnel on the way out. There are four of us walking with headlamps. We have a decent pace as we enter the tunnel. No one says anything but as the tunnel darkens around us we all pick up the pace a little bit. One hundred meters in and two hundred to go and the pace has subtly quickened to a slow jog. Man, that other side doesn’t seem to be getting closer quick enough.
Again, no words are spoken but before we know it we’re all four running nearly as fast as we can to get to the other side. Gee thanks, Andrew, I thought this was safe!
We reach the other side and laugh it off and back at the lodge the other climbers laugh too. The consensus is that there is in fact room for you and a train, but that doesn’t make it any less scary!
We climbed in Boven after a month of not climbing opting to spend our time instead playing backgammon, drinking tea and eating baklava in Turkey. We were definitely out of shape. Getting on some of the easier routes proved to be humbling.
After climbing for a few days we started to wonder if the grades at Boven were exceptionally hard or the ratings on Ton Sai and Kalymnos were making us soft. Either way no route we climbed went down without a fight.
We only spent about a week there, but we could have easily spent a month. It’s nice to have a car while you’re there, especially if you want to camp. You can walk to several crags from the lodge but most are situated 5-10 km out of town. And the campground is about a 3 hour walk back to town.
Gustav and Alex at Roc n Rope are an invaluable resource for anything related to Boven. Check out their website for any and all information.