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Entries in South Africa (8)


What a summer its been! 

As I've written about in in previous blogs I spent last year trying to get better at things, long story short it's been working! I've been travelling around S.A and gatherned a number of amazing stories and sends along the way. Watch this space!



Epilepsy & Inspiration 

A week ago, I gave a presentation on my expeditions at Epilepsy South Africa's Annual General Meeting. The title sounds a bit bland but, those who attended were some of the bravest and most impressive individuals I've met. I've had Epilepsy for a long time now, yet I'm in a very fortunate position. Even though I've had a few episodes in the past couple of years, my medication is keeping everything under control, plus I have the most supportive people around me.

Epilepsy affects more than 500,000 South African and even with great organisations like Epilepsy S.A there is still a huge stigma towards it. Many people never tell their friends or family because they feel like they'll be judged or rejected.
The presentations and discussions became emotional, yet they grounded and left me inspired. A talented up-and-coming BMX rider, Justin Dekker, who has had epilepsy since he was a baby, spoke about how much he's managed to have achieved. He's transformed his self-image as being a  "sufferer" to racing the world's best regardless of the many people who have discouraged him from what he loves most. Another woman who has just recently been diagnosed built up the courage to come for help. She was in her late 40s and had recently been diagnosed, which frightened her tremendously, however, what was amazing was her will to find people to talk to- other individuals with epilepsy whom she could relate to and assist her in being proactive and in acceptance with it.
The people who run the provincial branches, find funding or go into communities to bring awareness to the condition. These kind committed folk are the ones who make sure that a scared child who is suffering from epilepsy is comforted and their teachers and family are made aware that there is nothing "wrong" with their student, son, or daughter.
Being diagnosed with epilepsy was tough and scary but, it would have been far worse if I didn't have the support of my family and Epilepsy SA to help me through it all. I sat and listened to beautiful stories that left a lump in my throat. It's so important to see ordinary looking people who are actually accomplishing great feats every single day.
I'm so proud to be an ambassador of Epilepsy SA because it has given me the opportunity to meet such wonderful and strong people as well as allowing me to share my experiences in the mountains that could possibly inspire others who may have felt disempowered to step up and climb their mountain.      

Go to Epilepsy SA Website for more information



KAPE 2 Kalahari is a go!


It's been a while since I set off by myself into unfamiliar territory.

The KAPE Expeditions have always been stressful, intimidating and have required a horrible amount of preparation. Coming back from South America, fatigued and undernourished, I was in no rush to set off on a mammoth jaunt anytime soon.

My studies and my absolute yearning to see S.A began last year. In between uni, Marine and I tackled the Drakensberg Grand Traverse which involved 240km of ungroomed, mountainous terrain. We hiked for 11 toe-numbing days, which were enough to leave us satisfied and beat-up. Along with my climbing, I became fixated on these intense micro-missions.

Sadly, Marine is deep in her Ph.D. and even though I know it will be a little lonely I'm overly excited to cycle from the Cape to just below the Kalahari National Park where I'll meet up with Marine for a little bit of wildlife watching. My route will snake over the Cederberg and then across the barren Karoo. My route is somewhat vague but its roughly 850km which is a little daunting because I've never bike toured before and, as I'm finding out, my packing is a joke.

Nonetheless, for better or worse Its going to be interesting.



Passing it on

The Cederberg has become over the past couple of years an extraordinary playground. My friends and I eagerly escape the congestion of the city for a chilled hike, a long run, or a spectacular climb where we are always in complete awe of the dark starry nights and the prestine landscape. It’s just over 2 hours out of the city, nonetheless, you always return from a weekend feeling worked, satisfied and relaxed like you’ve been gone for weeks.

I’m fortunate enough to have been born in an environment where I have been pushed to get out to the mountains. Sometimes I marvel at Cape Townions who say they’ve never been there. Part of me is annoyed because I feel like people waste their time in front of the TV and in cramped shopping centres. This is a flawed view of mine, due to the simple fact that a large number of people can’t afford to get out to these natural wonders. While my friends and I aren’t loaded, we have some expendable cash, equipment, training, and access to a car. This is a lot more than a large amount of the population.

This obvious discrimination plays on my psyche as well as on the minds of a number of my friends who share the same passion for places like the Cederberg.

A couple weeks ago, Henko got hold of me pitching the idea for taking some youth from a township just outside of Cape Town to the Cederberg. I immediately said, “Yes”!

Henko, Marine, Lani, De wet and I headed through to the Cederberg. 5 guys and 5 girls who had all never seen the Cederberg before arrived to pitch their tents in Sanddrift Camp beneath the almighty Wolfberg. Henko did an incredible job of organising pretty much everything. That night everyone crowded around a healthy fire to fend off the chill and have a warm meal. The following day we were all going up to the awesome “Cracks”, which I expected to be a serious day out for the group.

Morning dew blanketed our tents and a little after 9am we headed off. The hike is steep and the rocks were slippery. The 5 guys surprised us with their fast pace while a number of the girls struggled to acclimate to the harsh terrain. We did our best to keep everyone together but, slowly, the group was divided into a fast team and a slow team. By the time we reached the “Cracks” some of the group had eaten most of their packed lunch and looked a little worse-for-wear, however, everyone kept soldiering on. Through the cramped chimneys, the group stayed together to help one another, which was wonderful to watch.

We arrived at the top around lunch time. Some were shattered and stretched out in the sun. The goal was to take them all to the “Arch”, however, we decided to split the group. Henko and Lani took half of the group down back to camp while Marine, De wet and I headed off at a quick pace for the “Arch”. I’ve got to say, even though none of these guys had been on a proper mountain hike before they didn’t seem to take too much of a beating! We arrived at the aesthetic landmark in no time at all, we rested, munched on some bars, and examined the cheekiest little Rockjumpers. After sometime basking in the sun we headed back.

Everyone looked worked but happy when we arrived back at the camp. They demolished a sizable amount of hot-chocolate, peanuts, and hot dogs and after a warm meal, we went through to the Cederberg Observatory, something I’d always wanted to do. That evening a passionate astronomer taught us about our galaxy while we played with some cool instruments that let us study the ocean of stars above our heads from a different perspective.

Everyone went rock climbing on the final day. Marine and I had to leave a bit earlier to drop off gear but the rest of the team had a remarkable time at the crags.

The weekend was fun and a serious learning experience for me. I feel like these types of trips need to be a lot more regular and aimed at younger kids, though. I was shocked when we caught some members of the group discarding their trash in the velt. It angered us because we are always extremely careful about leaving no trace and this was so disrespectful to the area that we were enjoying. Nonetheless, when we saw the state of their township where trash is scattered everywhere, we understood that we could not blame them for something that is so common in their community.

It all starts with us, the mountain goats and outdoor fanatics, who must pass on our knowledge to those who need it if we want to see our wilderness appreciated and protected.

 Thanks to the Mike Horn Young Explorers Program and CAPESTORM for sponsoring the weekend! All pictures (C) Lani Van Niekerk   

















Stories from a rain whipped cave

Returning to the Cederberg this time around was a stark contrast to our dirt bagging trip in January.  Due to the incredible heat Henko, my half-brother-half polar-bear amigo, and I climbed the outstanding  textured red walls the Cederberg had to offer. Only stepping out in the early mornings and late afternoons to avoid the heat. We searched for crags that never got sun and when we were beaten by the warmth we retreated to this deep, airy cave where we’d sleep, eat and stay as cool possible.

This time around, we left Cape Town while the Cape lashed the peninsula with hurricane force winds and rain. Even the dry-old Karoo was, thankfully, hit by the storm. We eventually arrived in Truitjieskraal. The walls were drenched and we wrapped ourselves in layers of down and waterproof gear. I missed the heat!   

The storm slowly fizzled out and the pink-orange rays began to bring warmth into our cave. The day that followed saw us chasing after the walls with light and avoiding the shadows. The rock in Truijties was hard and my shoes stuck like glue. I managed to send a project called Schlot Machine that had been a psychological barrier a month before. The first time I got onto it I was scared, pumped and bailed off, however, I’ve been working on my fear tolerance. Working with Matt Bush, where he helps me with my technique and we use visualisation to managed fear. He uses it when he free-solos extremely difficult routes- I guessed he knew what he was doing when I signed up! When I got to the top I felt so happy that, yes I’d climbed the route, but I’d broken through this mental blockade that had been preventing me the whole time.

Henko climbed like a champ and we had a warm, filling feast that evening. We needed to refuel for our Rooiberg the following day.

Rooiberg is a proud wall with an abundance of trad lines. We chose a mellow route called Blunt Brothers. It's 5 pitches and we climbed freely and confidently the whole way up. The second last pitch is the hardest of them all, starting with a clean, beautiful crack. My gear was secure and easy to place, this made me relaxed and confident. There's a traverse onto a blank looking face and then you find another crack system higher up. I traversed onto the face, my feet felt good and then while climbing up to the last crack the “good” foothold I’d be relying on blew. I fell about a metre and then, somehow, I caught myself! I couldn’t believe it. Henko stared at me in dismay as I thrashed around trying to find a foot but I’d broken the only one! I shouted a frenzy of self-motivating phrases as I lunged for another hold only to rip a large horn-like hold from the mountain, luckily not hitting my belayer below.

Topping out at Rooiberg was a relief and we felt triumphant. I had sadly got a cam stuck during the route, which is costly and depressing, nonetheless losing gear, getting scared, feeling tired and beaten up is what makes the summits so beautiful. I missed this most of all about climbing.    

Thanks t Henko for the pics: