Rocklands Bouldering Access Restricted

Micky Page - Rocklands  © Nick Brown - Outcrop Films
Micky Page - Rocklands
© Nick Brown - Outcrop Films

The Rocklands, South Africa, has become a Mecca for boulderers from all around the world in recent years. The main draws being an endless sea of quality boulders of all heights, angles, aspects and styles, the good weather and conditions when it is hot in the Northern Hemisphere, and the wilderness of South Africa, along with the associated flora and fauna. However, the future of climbers' access to the Rocklands is uncertain due to a lack of respect for the area, and a disregard for the programme put in place to allow climbing whilst at the same time protecting the environment found there. 

Delaney Carpenter, Chairperson of the Mountain Club of South Africa Rock Climbing Committee, Cape Town Section sent the following access restriction and warning to UKC to spread the word about how to climb responsibly and legally within the Rocklands, to prevent further access restrictions:

"For years climbers have been enjoying the world-class bouldering in the area known as Rocklands in the Western Cape, South Africa. Many climbers have been oblivious to the fact that Rocklands is owned by five different landowners: four farmers and Cape Nature.

When climbing became a prominent activity in the Cederberg, the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) and Cape Nature (CN) drew up the Cederberg Environmental Management Programme (EMP) to jointly manage climbing in the Cederberg, including bouldering in Rocklands. It was agreed that permits would need to be purchased in order to maintain the pathways and environment of the bouldering areas, which all cost money, and that climbers would need to adhere to certain rules in order to prevent irreparable damage to the environment. It was found through the EMP that bouldering has quite a substantial negative impact on the environment – more so than sport or trad climbing. The private landowners have been allowing climbing on their land under the assumption that climbers would manage their climbing the same way that they would for Cape Nature Land.

The Rocklands   © Nick Brown
The Rocklands
© Nick Brown

Unfortunately, when Rocklands became internationally famous, this set of rules was not communicated effectively to the international climbers. As a result, the land began to suffer and the environment has sustained significant and continuous damage. This complete and utter disrespect for the land has caused both Cape Nature and the landowners to start viewing boulderers in a very negative light.

All land belonging to one of the farmers has as of Saturday 28th June 2013 been closed to climbing; this includes Tea Garden and all areas from Klein Kliphuis down to Clanwilliam on both sides of the road. Anyone caught climbing in these areas will be prosecuted and probably fined by the landowner. To continue climbing in this area will only damage the reputation of boulderers even further.

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

The 'Wild Card' is no longer accepted for Cape Nature Land and the permit is R60 per day, per climber. The MCSA is scheduling meetings with CN to find a middle ground for this recent development. Fortunately, CN has agreed to accept the 'Wild Card' for the 2013 bouldering season.

Delaney Carpenter (Chairperson of the MCSA Rock Climbing Committee, Cape Town Section) recently stood up at this year's Rock Stock to inform all climbers of the current deteriorating relationship between climbers and the Rocklands' landowners and has urged all climbers to adhere to the below rules when climbing in Rocklands:

1. Bury your faeces and carry out your toilet paper. If the ground is too hard to bury your faeces, please carry it out with you and dispose of it in the campsite bins. Poop bags are available for free at De Pakhys. (A special note about this: Tea Garden has been closed primarily due to this problem. Animals such as baboons may eat human faeces and could contract diseases such as Tuberculosis and hepatitis, which could prove detrimental to the population)

2. Do not litter – carry everything you bring in with you back out with you and dispose of your litter in the bins at the campsite.

3. Stick to the allocated paths marked by cairns and as illustrated in the guidebook. Diverting from these paths causes far more erosion than is necessary and may cause the extinction of certain sensitive plants in the area.

4. No graffiti on rock surfaces. (Black Shadow boulder has been closed to climbing due to graffiti)

5. No pof is allowed in Rocklands. The resin damages the rock surfaces and this damage is irreversible.

Kingdom in the Sky  © Nick Brown
Kingdom in the Sky
© Nick Brown

Most climbers have the attitude that things are not as bad as people say they are; that Rocklands will always be available to boulderers; that as long as they aren't caught, there's no problem. Boulderers don't need to be caught defying these rules. Human faeces, filthy toilet paper, litter, cigarette butts, trampled vegetation, graffiti and pof are all evidence of the disobedience of climbers.

There are four farmers who make their living off of their land – the land that boulderers are trashing. One farmer has already closed her lands to boulderers. It is only a matter of time before the other three do the same. CN is clamping down on boulderers; their rangers are making more visits through the bouldering areas, insisting on permits.

The complete disrespect of boulderers for the land on which they climb is a very serious and very real threat to bouldering in Rocklands:

  • Rocklands bouldering is in peril.
  • Rocklands does not belong to the climbers.
  • Our access is not a right, it's a privilege and our treatment of the land is the difference between us being allowed to climb in Rocklands and us being banned from climbing in Rocklands altogether.
  • Irresponsible boulderers have caused this problem and boulderers are the only ones who can fix it.
  • Please respect the land you climb on in South Africa and adhere to the above mentioned rules. Your privilege to climb in Rocklands depends on it.

The Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) is doing all that they can to try to mend the relationship between the bouldering community and the landowner but this may prove futile if climbers continue to ignore the ban and boulder there anyway. This will no doubt prove the complete undoing of bouldering in Tea Garden indefinitely. It was reported to the MCSA that the Sunday following the announcement of the closure of Tea Garden, a known white vehicle was seen parked alongside Tea Garden – evidence that climbers continue to ignore the rules and completely disrespect the wishes of the landowner.

The MCSA urges all boulderers to please obey the rules and the ban on Tea Garden. We cannot help you win this fight if you continue to give climbers a very bad reputation. Continued climbing in Tea Garden may result in it being closed to climbing for good. The landowner can and will put measures in place that will make it impossible for people to access her land such as electric wire fences, armed guards and the like. We do not want to see it come to that. Please don't climb in Tea Garden? Allow the MCSA to speak on your behalf as we have been doing for many, many years – mostly completely unknown to you. Let us work together to re-open Tea Garden."

Much of the Rocklands is still open, but it is very important that if bouldering there, you ensure that you climb at unbanned areas, purchase a permit and leave as little trace as possible. You can contact the Mountain Club of South Africa here.


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30 Jul, 2013
hm, the common problems we know from our big areas in switzerland like chironico and cresciano... a shame that even in relativly remote south africa the same shit (literally) causes problems. it's a sad story that our community does not seem to have the manners to go along with landowners and the rest of the evironment.
30 Jul, 2013
What a disaster. Basically it sounds like the problem is simply litter and crap - why can't people work this out? Don't drop litter, and if you can't satisfactorily dig a hole for your crap to bury it don't go, or get organised and go in bag. It's not rocket science.
30 Jul, 2013
An trails - there seems to be a lot of work in the states at places like Bishop and RMNP to get people to stick to defined trails, but that doesn't seemed to have made it to SA yet.
30 Jul, 2013
Nasty boulderers. Ethically moribund. Cheapskates all round.
30 Jul, 2013
It's surprising that boulderers are so much more of a problem than trad or sport climbers. It seems there's problems with resin and graffiti (who on earth would consider either a good idea?) but perhaps they also have less respect for the environment?
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