Digital Warfare, First Ascent
It has been a wild few weeks at the Wow Prow in South Africa’s Free State – I’m not sure this part of the country has ever seen so much action. We conducted a puppy rescue, six new routes have gone up, and a serious amount of wine and boerewors have gone down. It’s been a pleasure to have such enthusiastic locals guide us around the country and teach us a thing or two about South Africa livin’ (thanks Andrew, Jahne, Ivan, Dylan, and James!). Most notably, we’ve learned the importance of a diet heavy in meat, the proper moment to inject the statement “Oh my hat!”, and how to fit six tall lads, one lady, and climbing packs into a Subaru Outback.
[Dylan on the second ascent of rage against the machine, 5.12d]
But in all honesty, this week has been special. Along with a few other locals, Andrew Pedley has contributed to the development of the Wow Prow over the last year. He sank bolts into what he told me in an email was “the most brilliant rock I’ve ever seen”. Without ever having met Andrew, for some reason I decided to believe him. I built this mythical route up in my mind, which Andrew referred to as the Digital Warfare Project for the strain it puts on one’s ‘digits’ – 15 degrees overhung, smooth, orange and grey streaked sandstone with just enough shallow pockets and thin edges to go. Hard, just my style, perfect. Andrew generously passed this golden prize, the opportunity to make a first ascent of the world’s coolest route, off to a random girl from the States (a million thanks Andrew!). There’s no way this route could live up to the expectations I had when I arrived in South Africa.
When I first saw Digital Warfare, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Andrew pointed to 80 vertical feet of smooth, sweeping sandstone, “there’s your projie”. Just enough holds to get up the wall, nothing more. The setting was special in a unique way as well. Set in a cliff band at the top of a hill, I could look up at some of the most flawless rock in the world, then down to see some of the most impoverished people in the world. The constant herding of cattle, rolling of wheelbarrows, and shouting to children down the dirt road made climbing seem quite silly. Between that and the 40 plus mile per hour gusts of wind, I knew a serious mental battle lay ahead.
On day one, I quickly linked the route in four sections, thinking this might not be as hard as I expected. While each hold is relatively positive, large pebbles occupy most of the larger pockets, leaving room to just barely crimp the outer pocket edge. As I put in redpoint attempts and tried to link the crux sections, I realized Digital Warfare would take some serious effort. My tips were splitting and quickly accumulating blood blisters from each hold’s razor sharp lip. Four big right hand moves left me tired for the longer dyno crux. If I got through that, there was another extremely thin piano match crux awaiting my shaking, bleeding hands near the top.
[Digital warfare, 5.14a, photos by jon glassberg, LT11]
[digital warfare, 5.14a, photo by Jahne Theron]
After a few days of frustration, taking me through the typical rollercoaster of emotions that comes with projecting, I sent Digital Warfare. This was the first ‘first ascent’ I’ve ever made, and despite the fact that I didn’t put in the effort of bolting the route, it’s certainly a special experience. Before I arrived, I didn’t expect to be able to do the route. But once I began trying, I knew I was capable. Then the time pressure set in, along with the knowledge that, as an open project, anyone could walk up and climb the route whenever they wanted – it wasn’t mine. Although this certainly elevated my stress level because I so badly wanted to complete the most beautiful route I’d ever seen, I still would have been happy if I made the hundredth ascent – it’s that cool. As for grades, it felt like hard 5.14a/33. Only future ascents will tell, so people – get to the Wow Prow! It’s better than Rocklands ☺
[photo by jon glassberg, lt11]
The totally lekkar (another South African phrase I’ll adopt, given my Dutch heritage) part of establishing Digital Warfare was being part of the development of such an inspiring crag. Andrew bolted and established Born Free (5.12c/27), named for the pocket rest that takes your arm in up to the shoulder; Dylan bolted Spirit Bird (5.13d/32), featuring a super boulderey undercling roof section, of which Jon made an impressive first ascent; Andrew bolted Future Life (5.13c/31), which Jon quickly completed; Two new starts went in to routes that previously started after the roof twenty feet off the deck, making Rage Against the Machine (5.12d/28) and Death Camp (5.13b/30), both of which Jon snagged the first ascent, with Dylan and Ivan making inspiring second and third ascents of Rage. In summary, these guys are bolting machines, and Jon is becoming a fervent sport climber, with the help of his knack for long powerful moves.
[Jon sorts out Spirit bird, 5.13d]
[andrew works through future life, 5.13c]
[Jahne going for the crux on rage against the machine, 5.12d]
And a key part of the Wow Prow, which I just can’t leave out, is Lily, the soft little puppy who followed us to the crag each day. Her boerboele counterparts, easily mistaken for lions, huffed their way partially up the mountain, but Lily always bounded past us, even going as far as to get herself trapped in a dassie den. This lively lass had to spend a cold windy night in the den before she finally made her way out via the rescue ramp we dug. We’re happy Lily is alive to greet future climbers – it seems as though past pets of the farm at the base of the cliff haven’t been so fortunate…beware of baboons and leopards.
[Susan the giant boerboele]
We’re 10% of the way towards our goal of raising $10,000 for Room to Read South Africa, which builds schools and libraries and provides reading materials to children in their native language. Help us get to $10,000 at http://www.crowdrise.com/SouthAfrica-RoomtoRead