I recently returned from one of the best and worst trips I've ever had. I was lucky enough to spend the whole of July in Rocklands, South Africa, an experience I will never forget and a venue I will be returning to as often as possible.
If you’ve heard of Rocklands, you will likely have heard similar opinions to me. All of which were very positive, usually including words such as ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’. Before going on a trip I tend to let my imagination run a little too wild and begin to picture the perfect trip in the perfect place. Usually I'm brought back to earth because no trip is perfect, and every venue has its flaws, however, our first day in Rocklands was not met with disappointment, it was met with awe! I was so excited on our first day that after four hours of climbing I had climbed so much my finger tips looked like they'd been held to a belt sander. I was truly blown away.
The first two weeks were filled with success. In the first week I matched my hardest grade by climbing ‘Vlad the Impaler’ 7c. This trend continued on into my second week with a few more 7c’s being added to the tick list as well as some classic 7b’s and 7a’s. I was feeling strong and had already sent some climbs that I was really happy with. However, my goal for the trip was not to stick to low grades, I had been ambitious and set myself the goal of going for 8a. Realistically I knew this was going to be a big ask, but I hoped that it would force me to try harder climbs, as prior to this trip I hadn't seriously tried anything over 7c. After the first few weeks I started looking at projects, I began with the classic ‘Caroline’ 7c+ which I had tried briefly on our second day. After managing to link most of the moves, my luck ran out while working the top and unfortunately I split a tip. The holds in Rocklands are not forgiving in any way, and so far I had 3 split tips and a flapper on another finger. Definitely time for some rest days!
After what felt like the longest 2 days of my life I was ready to go again and I was unbelievably psyched to get on the climb at the top of my, and many others, list. ‘The Hatchling’ is a crimpy, slightly overhanging, technical, heel hook dependant 8a. It was basically my ideal climb and I would finally get to try it. Although it is quite high I found myself feeling no fear for once, but I managed to forget how to project and stuck to one method, the most common method. For those of you that don't know this problem, one of the higher moves requires a precise stab to a small 2 finger crimp pocket. I was on this move for about an hour when I finally started to figure it out. I got to the move, steadied myself, went for it, then my foot slipped. I fell, caught my foot on the edge of the pad and re-sprained the same ankle I have sprained twice before. 2 weeks in, 2 weeks to go, and any chance of achieving my goals had just evaporated.
I was lucky enough to be with a medical student from Norway who jumped right into action, compressed my ankle and assessed the damage. I had 4 other friends I’d met on the trip, and Mike with me. Everyone was right on hand to help out, to hold me while I tested to see if I could stand, to help make a makeshift compression band, and to make me smile 10 minutes later. If it hadn't been for all of them I wouldn't have felt ok to stay and let them climb, and I probably wouldn't have recovered so quickly.
The days following were very difficult both physically and mentally. The terrain there is very uneven, very rocky and very risky if you don't have a fully functioning ankle. The only ground that was flat was in the cafe and in our house. It took me twice as long to walk around, I didn't have crutches and had heard such bad reviews about the hospital that it didn't seem worthwhile to waste a day going with no guarantee of even getting crutches. I was thankful that I could walk at all as that hadn't been the case with previous incidents, but it wasn't pain free and it confined me to the cafe. I got to the point where I was able to walk in to one crag, which meant I could hang out with people if they chose to go there, but they of course didn't go there every day. I spent a couple days waiting in the house or in the cafe, usually with one or two people for company, but at one point everyone wanted to go climbing. At first I was sure it would get better in a week and I was guaranteed at least 3 days climbing, but after 4 days my healing seemed to plateau, mainly because even just walking from the car to the house put strain on my ankle and was probably prolonging the healing. I worried that despite climbing so much at the start of the trip, I would never be satisfied leaving because there would have been so many missed opportunities.
A couple more days went by, these were the worst because I could walk almost completely normally again but I doubted that I could climb safely. Frustration was setting in. I woke up with 5 days to go, felt no pain, could balance on one foot and saw no swelling. I decided I would try to climb but not allow myself to fall. I went with Mike and tried some very easy climbs and practiced landing. I could push with my foot but I couldn't heel hook and I knew there was no way I could do anything higher than head height. I found this even more frustrating. All of my projects either, involved a left heel hook, or were too high for me to even try without risking more damage. My list of at least 15 climbs was narrowed down to 2. A 7c+ and an 8a. At this point I didn't even know if I’d be able to top anything. But it didn't mean I wasn't going to try. We had 3 climbing days left. I chose to first try the 7c+ since Mike also wanted to try stuff in the area, so we returned, once again, to ‘Caroline’. I spent almost the entire day trying it, taking big breaks to ensure the best goes. I had managed every single move, and to climb it in two halves. I came incredibly close twice, making it to the last crux move and stepping off once because of fear of falling and hitting the mat wrong. I knew if I was going to do it I would need to be as in control as possible, and unfortunately I didn't have the energy to do it that day.
2 days left. Second last day, and it had to rain. Right over the pass. Right over my project. The second we heard the pass was dry we were in the car and on our way from Sassies to Roadside. We rushed all the way to the boulder and, it was dry! Annoyingly it was pretty humid and we were basically still in a cloud. I was in South Africa, at midday, wearing a hoodie and a down jacket and still freezing from the wind attacking us as we stood. We decided to brush the holds and have a few warm up goes at the moves to be ready as soon as it cleared. After about an hour, with no sign of improvement and having another very close attempt at reaching the top I decided I wasn't going to let a little bit of mist stop me. I got psyched up and then, fell off the first move 3 times. Fantastic. I’m very good at being quite negative, especially on this particular climb. Not in the way that I shout, or get really angry or throw stuff. I just seem to get in my head if I don't catch something perfectly right, which was tough on this climb as the moves felt quite low percentage. After complaining several times about hitting the third hold wrong I was swiftly told to be more positive and to just deal with it. I swallowed my pride and began to tell myself to get over it. I sat down at the foot of the boulder, determined not to drop the first move yet again. This time, my right index finger fell into a dent that felt like a sinker compared to whatever it had been on before. 9 years of climbing and I still don't know how to hold a hold the best way! I pulled on and did the first move with the most control I had all day. The rest of the problem went far from perfect, I must have caught almost every hold wrong, but thanks to Mike and Gracie shouting encouragement, I got over it and kept climbing. For the first time I caught the last crux move from the beginning, I knew then there was no way I was letting go. I clutched the top, pulled myself up and let out the most embarrassing squeal I've ever made. I had done it!
This trip was an emotional rollercoaster, but despite feeling completely lost, completely hopeless and feeling like I would never leave happy, I spent my last day falling off and smiling about it. I climbed with my favourite people, I fell off the last move of a 7c enough times to drive me mad, but I didn't care. The last climb I completed in Rocklands was a climb that Mike described as ‘ew’. I flashed ‘Lolita’ 7b, a bunched 3 move problem that could only appeal to a crimp lover such as myself. As I topped out I saw the most beautiful sunset of the whole trip. The sky was filled with colour. I looked around and the land and boulders were soaked in a warm orange and I could see for miles into the distance. It was like the final scene of some cheesy romantic film, and it was incredible! I left Rocklands feeling complete, the trip was a closed book. I of course have a lot of unfinished business and will be back next year, but for now, I couldn't be happier with how the trip finished. I got to spend a month with almost all my favourite people in my new favourite place, and I couldn't possible ask for more.