South Africa's Best Dispatch 5.13 Big Wall

Posted on: December 23, 2007


The north-facing headwall on Blouberg North’s main cliff, showing Dog of Thunder (30+ [5.13] with one point of A0, 13 pitches), Limpopo Province, South Africa. The route was established by Clinton Martinengo, Charles Edelstein and Stewart Middlemiss from November 24-25; it is now the hardest climb of its kind in the country. [Photo] Charles Edelstein

Amid thunderstorms on November 24-25, Clinton Martinengo, Charles Edelstein and Stewart Middlemiss established the most difficult big wall line in South Africa on Blouberg North's main cliff, a thousand-foot-high and mile-wide quartzite wall in the Limpopo Province. The route ascends the relatively blank, bulging and then slightly overhanging headwall. On six trips over four years, Edelstein worked on Dog of Thunder (30+ [5.13] with one point of A0, 13 pitches), but it was not until he returned with Martinengo that progress was made on the difficult upper sections.

Martinengo is presently South Africa's best all-around climber, having recently redpointed all the country's major testpieces in the last few months: Oceans of Fear (29 [5.13-] traditional), Jabberwocky (33 [5.14a]) and Streetfighter (34 [5.14b]). With veterans Tini Versveld and Tony Dick, and the young rock-jock Marijus Smigelskis, Martinengo and Edelstein returned to Blouberg North twice this year. Martinengo and Smigelskis freed all the difficulties, but "both times we were spectacularly unsuccessful at linking the route," Edelstein said.

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One major difficulty of the wall is finding decent conditions, as the cliff bakes in the morning before cooling once the sun moves off the face. The trio experienced a different scenario, however, waiting for rain to quit in order to rappel the route on the morning of the 24th. On the descent they added bolts to three rappel stations (adding none to the route itself, which had about thirty bolts in total from past projecting; all pitches require a standard trad rack) and dropped bivy gear at the ledge 130 meters above the route's start. They began climbing in humid conditions that, after three pitches, balled into ominous thunderheads replete with lightning. Thanks to the overhanging headwall, they waited out the storm without getting wet and continued up two pitches of partially wet rock to access the bivy ledge.

An R-rated traverse the next morning brought them to the difficulties: three of the seven pitches above the traverse are 30+ [5.13]. Martinengo, bar one rest on a bolt on Pitch 9, redpointed all the pitches including the final crux that posed "difficult hand jambs in a soggy crack, long reaches off underclings." More thunderheads threatened the trio, this time exposed, but they finished the final pitches in a drizzle and topped out, returning to their bivy for a meager dinner and rest.

"There is little doubt that [Dog of Thunder] is by far the hardest undertaking of its kind in South Africa," Edelstein said. "The jury is out as to whether it will entice the Birketts, MacLeods, Caldwells, Hubers, Trotters and Berthods to show us how it is free climbed in a day..."

Source: Charles Edelstein

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