DESTINATION GUIDE: Rocklands, South Africa

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Rocklands, South Africa

In the past decade, Rocklands has emerged as one of the worlds most popular bouldering destinations. Each summer, the Northern Hemisphere empties and boulderers flock to the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa. Rocklands is a beautiful desert landscape situated roughly 3 hours north of Cape Town. The area was first developed in the early 90s for trad climbing, but soon became popular with top boulderers like Fred Nicole and Klem Loskot who visited the area several times. Now most people visit the area because of the likelihood of stable weather and the small matter of the incredible bullet-hard sandstone.

Rocklands has been at the forefront of the climbing media for several years now, with some of the hardest problems in the world being climbed consistently every season. Fred Nicole added testpieces such as Monkey Wedding (8c), Oliphants Dawn (8b+) and Black Eagle (8b+) and the current generation of top climbers spent many years trying to repeat them. It would be understandable to believe that Rocklands is only suitable for hard climbing, but one of the areas greatest strengths is the variety of all grades. The climbing is particularly suited to indoor climbers; many of the problems are gymnastic, thuggy and steep. A good level of finger strength wouldnt go amiss either.

Black Eagle  © Nick Brown
Black Eagle
© Nick Brown

Good areas to start your trip in are Roadside (the name must be ironic) and Roadcrew. These areas are full of well known classics, set in a quiet wilderness overlooking the surreal, rocky terrain. There are hundreds of boulder problems in close proximity, similar to areas in Font and you can get a lot of mileage done in a day. Another good option is the campsite area at De Pakhuis. If you have travelled alone, here would be a good place to find people to climb with, or to climb by yourself as many of the problems are quite a bit lower here.

If you're heading to Rocklands, it's strictly climbing I'm afraid. The valley only contains farmland and accommodation for the climbers – it's not a holiday, you're there on business. There are several main areas and each has enough bouldering to keep you occupied for several weeks. The area is within the Cape Nature Conservation and in the past couple of years they have been clamping down on people climbing in the area without permits. These can be obtained from the nearest town, Clanwilliam or from De Pakhuis in the valley itself. Please obtain these permits; they are only about £3/day and if climbers are not buying them it will jeopardise access to the area. Many of the farmers also charge a fee to climb on their land.

The Hatchling  © Nick Brown
The Hatchling
© Nick Brown

Must Do's

  • Creaking Heights 6C - A vertical, balancy highball at Roadside. Exhilarating.
  • John Denver 7A - Power endurance is the name of the game. A tricky roof with long moves.
  • Cedar Spine 7B+ - A beautiful arete with technical moves and a perfect landing.
  • Out of Balance 8A - A great line with dynamic moves, toe hooks, nice crimps and a highball finish.

Tea Garden Roof  © Nick Brown
Tea Garden Roof
© Nick Brown

Access is sensitive in the area. Most of the climbing is on private land or within the CNC and there has been a huge influx of people in the past decade. Treat the area with respect and leave no trace; access is a privilege not a right. One area was banned in 2013 because climbers were leaving litter and faeces. The Mountain Club of South Africa are attempting to mend the relationship between climbers and the local community, so please respect the rules.

Kingdom in the Sky  © Nick Brown
Kingdom in the Sky
© Nick Brown
Lucinda Whittaker on Caroline  © Nick Brown
Lucinda Whittaker on Caroline
© Nick Brown

A standard Cederberg Road  © Nick Brown
A standard Cederberg Road
© Nick Brown


Logistics

When do I go?

October to May are an absolute no. Its far too hot and the Cederberg reverts back to desert status. The best months are June-September and you should be able to get some cold weather, although be prepared for early mornings and late finishes. There will be occasional days with heavy downpours, but these are usually followed by a cold snap every cloud.

How do I get there?

Fly to Cape Town. From here most people hire a car and drive three hours north to Clanwilliam. It's advisable to have a car, as the bouldering is spread out along roughly 20km of road. Without one you will be restricted to a single area or hitchhiking. If a car isn't an option, there is a shuttle service from the airport to a bus station which has a Clanwilliam service. Once in Clanwilliam, hire a taxi or grab a lift from someone heading into De Pakhuis valley.

Where do I stay?

There are a number of options for all budgets; camping at De Pakhuis is very popular and they also have some houses to rent. Traveller's Rest have several houses of different sizes, as do Alpha Farms. It's worth booking these well in advance, as the area has become increasingly popular.

What's the scoff like?

Meat – lot's of it and it's dirt cheap. If you like BBQ's (Braai in ZA) you're in luck, it's the national dish. Vegetarian's, do not fear – the Spar in Clanwilliam has everything you could possibly need. There are several restaurants in town where you can get mouth watering steaks or pizzas.

Which guide do I buy?

There is only one guide called Rocklands Bouldering. It's available in most climbing shops which stock internation guides.

Where can I buy gear and food?

The nearest place to buy food is Clanwilliam where they have a supermarket and butchers. There are a few restaurants and cafes there too.

What else is there apart from the climbing?

Very little. Many people have a day out at Lambert's Bay on the coast, which is a 45 minute drive west. Another option would be to head north to Namibia for a section of your trip and go on a safari.

The lovely accommodation at Traveller's Rest  © Nick Brown
The lovely accommodation at Traveller's Rest
© Nick Brown
Inside the kitchen  © Nick Brown
Inside the kitchen
© Nick Brown


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30 Jan, 2017
Well that's not really true - unless all the bolted routes have been debolted?
30 Jan, 2017
Sorry, I meant in a sense that there isn't a great deal to do other than climb. I've changed it to reflect more what I meant. Nick
30 Jan, 2017
Does anyone know when a new guide book is coming out? The old guide is from 2010 and there has been considerable development out there the last few years with a plethora of new areas created.
30 Jan, 2017
A word of warning about car hire. Car hire companies in SA tend to impose a massive damage excess (sometimes 100%) for accidents occurring on gravel roads - see the photograph of the "typical Cederberg road". I would advise taking out a separate excess insurance in the UK before you go. Try insurance4carhire . I've used them when intending to hire in SA, and did unfortunately have a, thankfully, relatively minor accident. I had to pay the excess which was the cost of the repair, but insurance4car hire honoured the policy and re-imbursed me on my return. For an interesting sight seeing day off near Rocklands, Wuppertal, a village founded by German Missionaries is an interesting half day out.
30 Jan, 2017
I went at Easter for my honeymoon - you had to time problems for the shade but whilst I might choose the winter season if I had no other constraints I think I could certainly have a good trip there again if that sort of time was the only time I could go. Admittedly, this was bouldering up to about 7A, so not "proper" bouldering more requiring of prime conditions, but still.
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