Thursday, August 20, 2009

Searching for Serendipity

If I had to distill my experience in South Africa down to a single word that sums up the whole season, that word would be 'searching'.

So much searching, in fact, that my legs are still sore after a week of rest. This season I was excited to search out and discover something new and cool. I wanted to find and complete a boulder problem that was not only at my limit, but had some thing about it that I had never experienced before. Whether a crazy new move or a type of feature I had never climbed... I wanted to just keep searching until I found what I was looking for.

I was able to complete several new problems this season, including the first ascent of an absolute classic I named Spudd Webb in honor of the height-challenged NBA player who could still slam dunk. Despite the fact that it was an amazing, near perfect boulder problem, it was not at the limit of my ability. The 'slam dunk' move is one of the coolest moves I've ever done, but this didn't feel like the climax of my trip.

Spudd Webb, First Ascent.

There were several problems I tried this season that were too hard for me. The notorious project at the Roadside area (we were calling it the Air Star Project) has once again throttled another season of the worlds best boulderers. Had I been able to complete this amazing line, this would have surely fulfilled my vision, but after prolonged attempts and watching other great climbers attempt the line I'm pretty sure this problem is in the V14 - V16 range.

Sadly, the hardest climb I did all season was not of an extremely high quality. Vice President is a direct finish to an existing problem called The Vice, and though it's harder than The Vice, the two-move gut-wrenching power crux is not the graceful, fluid, gymnastic climbing I had fanticized about. Another hard climb I succeeded on was Green Mamba, given 8B or V13, and though I sent this climb relatively quickly it still felt unfulfilling. I was seeking something that I had to struggle with and really break through some barrier to overcome.

One day, myself, Nalle, Kevin, Sarah and I went out to explore a new zone called The Base Camp. These boulders looked great and there was one line that stood out among all the others. A group of motivated Germans were there, including Flo and Axel, who spent the whole season in Rocklands. As it happens, they had seen the same line as I did and were planning to try to climb it. They had already spent some time making the landing safe so I stood back and allowed them to work on the moves and try to send the problem first. After about an hour I checked back and none of them had topped it out, so I put on my shoes and helped them find the beta for the top of the climb, a difficult though very small move from a micro-crimp to the top of the boulder. A fall from this move could be dangerous so it was important to have all the pads and all the spotters ready in case you miss this powerful and balancy move.

In a group of motivated climbers, it's always exciting to see who will get the first ascent of a new problem. Since the Germans had put in most of the effort in making the landing safe, I let them take a few tries, and just as I was about to put my shoes on, Flo stepped up and with a massive scream he stuck the crux second move, powered through the middle section, and dug deep to latch the top of one of the best new problems of the season - Serendipity. The problem got its second ascent just minutes later, when on my first try from the start I also found my way to the top.

Serendipity, at the Base Camp Area.

To be honest, the second ascent of this problem was likely the experience of the trip for me. It came the closest to matching my vision of what I had set out for, and thinking back on it, there are few places in the world where this kind of boulder problem exists.

Shortly after climbing Serendipity, I heard my friend Nalle had managed to rediscover an area he had seen the previous season. Nalle's goals were similar to mine - he wanted to do something new, hard, and special. This line he found eventually became Livin' Large... which I blogged about previously.

Filming Rocklands with the Red One.

Though I continued looking for my own lines, I was happy to focus on filming Nalle on his project and supporting his efforts to succeed on his project. Though Nalle gets the credit for the athletic skill to ascend the problem, I was psyched to have the opportunity to capture the ascent in cinema-quality 4K video on my new video camera.

Another meaningful event during the season was our visit to the Elizabethfontaine Primary School, which is located right in the middle of Rocklands. This Spring we put on movie screenings of my last film, Pure, and we also did an event where Kevin Jorgeson gave an excellent slideshow. Kevin got to see the school for the first time on the trip and he was psyched to have participated in the fundraising. In addition to donating money to the school, we also had a couple hundred toothbrushes and some warm winter hats from Cloudveil that we gave to the teachers in order to distribute to the kids.

This season, we were able to donate even more than we did last year, and with the exchange rate of South African Rand being quite favorable, our donation of 12,000 Rand will help the school on their next project: building a kindergarten. Lots of the kids in the area would benefit from having a grade prior to first grade, where they can learn some basic skills and get up to speed before starting school.

As always, the school looked neat and well-kept. We were treated to a performance of a new dance routine from some of the older students, and they showed us a new garden they had planted recently to be able to grow vegetables to use in the school kitchen. Many of the children wanted to be able to have cabbage soup, but the school could not afford it, so now they have a small, productive cabbage patch that also helps teach the kids about basic farming practices.

Our efforts with the school have not gone unnoticed, and I'm happy to report that other climbers have started to get involved as well. One great idea that recently was implemented was the placement of a donation box in the campground, where departing climbers can leave their unwanted spare change instead of taking it home and forgetting about it. Guy Holwill was working on this project and it's really great for me to see the virus expanding.

This season there was a lot of talk about new access restrictions, permits, closures, impact, and all the other stuff that starts coming up just before an area starts getting shut down. Doing some positive things for the community is a great way to balance the negative impact climbers have on the environment, and ultimately I think my work with the school will be longer-lasting and more important than any first ascent I may accomplish.

Chuck Fryberger
August 20 2009


chuffer said...

nice work! keep making a difference!

hope this amazing place remains accessible for those of us who have not yet made the trip.

Nalle Hukkataival said...

CAMOOOOOOON!!! someone got bushed.

m said...

nice climbing! looking forward to seeing some of the footage!

any photos or beta for the vice president?