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Though Rocklands has been known to people since a time immemorial (see cultural history), the story of its importance to the international rock climbing community began only recently. Legend has it that American climber Todd Skinner made this bouldering wonderland known to the climbing world. With an upbringing beneath the Wind River Mountains in Pinedale, Wyoming, Todd was best known for difficult free ascents of big wall and alpine climbs. With the rise of sport climbing in the early 1990's, Skinner journeyed to the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa to investigate routes put up on the region's towering buttresses. While searching for lines, he stumbled upon the Pakhuis Pass, and what is now known to the community as Rocklands.
Skinner was absolutely stunned by the seemingly limitless potential of the area and contacted his friend and renowned bouldering specialist, Fred Nicole, encouraging him to come and open problems. In the years that followed, Nicole made a home for himself on the Alpha Excelsior farm and set himself upon the adventure and artistic endeavor of developing new climbs. Today, ascensionists will notice that his (and others) name is affixed to many of the first ascents in the Pass, especially around the Roadside area.
In the intervening years between those opening days and the present, numerous climbers have contributed to the expansion of Rocklands climbing. In the early 2000's Klem Loskott and others made important contributions to areas around Camp Sallie and elsewhere; and in 2007 Wills Young, Lisa Rands, Todd Daniels, and Nate Peach opened the 8-Day Rain sector. With its vast (overwhelming?) climbing potential, Rocklands is a place for those looking to repeat lines as well as those seeking to develop new areas and establish first ascents. An examination of the Scott Noy guidebook will make it clear that many of the world's most active and innovative climbers have spent time in Rocklands, leaving behind important, physical, and aesthetically beautiful contributions to the discipline.
The climate of Rocklands and the Western Cape Province can best be described as Mediterranean. As such, those who have spent time in Southern California will find the climate of Rocklands familiar. Unlike continental weather in the northern hemisphere which moves predictably from west to east, the tip of Southern Africa follows no such pattern. In Rocklands, as elsewhere on the western coast, air moving west from the Indian Ocean and down from the central plateau predominates during the summer. As a result this time of year is warm and relatively arid. With onset of winter the balance of atmospheric circulation shifts in favor of cold, moist, oceanic air moving with the Atlantic up from the Antarctic. This ensures that rains and cooler temperatures (relatively speaking) prevail in the winter months (precipitation coming mostly in late July and August).
In Rocklands, nights at de Pakhuys and elsewhere can occasionally bring frost in late July and early August. Yet, temperatures during the day are warm enough to warrant a t-shirt. Up in The Pass, the area with the highest elevation in Rocklands, cold nights have even brought a light dusting of snow at this time of year.
With this dramatic swing in temperatures and precipitation during peak climbing season, visitors to the area should pack a warm sleeping bag (if camping) and a wide variety of clothing from rainwear, tees and shorts, to long pants, warm jackets (a down or synthetic puffy works great), hats, and even gloves.
Flora & Fauna
Rocklands is situated within what is known as the fynbos biome or Cape Floral Kingdom, a biological environment found nowhere else on earth. Fynbos is characterized by its rich diversity of shrubby plant life and mediterranean climate and it occupies most of South Africa's Western Cape Province. As you haul your pads around the various boulders of de Pakhuys or 8 Day Rain, take notice of the plants around you. It should immediately be obvious that very few shrubs and bushes are alike. In fact the area which includes Rocklands is home to at least 9000 different species of plants, of which roughly 6,200 are unique to the region. To put such figures into perspective, that's roughly the plant diversity found in many tropical rainforests. Climbers who stay on into late August or early September will get a chance to see the hills and mountains explode in flowers, a phenomenon that makes the area's designation as a "floral kingdom" quite obvious.
Though perhaps less conspicuous, Rocklands is also home to a fascinating diversity of animal life. Species seen around the various climbing areas include the large spotted genet, a long, slender yellow and black-spotted carnivore not much larger than a house cat. While this animal may appear feline or mongoose like to some, it belongs to an evolutionary lineage distinct from either. The hyrax or dassie is also common; though marmot-like in appearance this animal is not a rodent at all, but rather a distant relative of elephants and aardvarks. Another common sighting in the area are chacama baboons. With males weighing up to 45 kg (99 lbs.), chacamas are among the largest of old-world monkeys. Omnivorous by nature, these non-threatening primates spend most of their day foraging for plant material as well as insects and other small animals. Baboons are highly social, forming groups of up to 40 or more individuals usually controlled by an oligarchy of large males. In the evenings and early mornings the roar-like territorial calls of male chacamas can often be heard at Camp Sallie in de Pakhuys.
In the past, Leopards were also common in the region. However, due to heavy persecution by farmers until relatively recently, only a tiny number of individuals remain today. For this reason the population in this part of South Africa is critically endangered. Due to their skittish temperament and dwindling numbers, leopards pose no threat to climbers in Rocklands and are unlikely to ever been seen among the boulders. However, if you do catch a glimpse of this majestic animal count yourself extremely fortunate and please notify the Cape Leopard Trust with details of the time and location of your sighting.
What is now the Western Cape Province, including the Rocklands area, has been home to the human lineage for nearly a million years. Approximately 130,000 years ago the regions inhabitants are thought to have become anatomically modern people who survived off the land as hunters and gatherers. These first peoples (and perhaps some migrants from the north) are thought have given rise the !Kung, Nusan, Khoi, and Naro cultures which are often collectively referred to as the San.
The San are famous throughout Southern Africa for the wide array of beautiful rock art associated with their cultures. Most of these paintings are found in mountainous regions not only because one can find more rocks there, but also because it is thought that the San may have sought refuge from the encroachment of various herding and farming peoples from northern Botswana and equatorial Africa; a process that began several thousand years ago. Though they are no longer living on the land in the Western Cape as they once did, the influence of the San can be seen in the aforementioned rock art and heard in speech across South Africa. It is thought that the clicks found in the Xhosa and Zulu languages (two major South African languages) may have been adopted from San peoples when these cultures first encountered one another long ago.
As history approached the age of European colonialism and the industrial revolution, San habitation in the Rocklands region gave way to that of their close neighbors and occasional rivals, the KhoeKhoen. The Khoekhoen engaged primarily in the herding of sheep and cattle and it was this culture that the Portuguese and Dutch first had contact with in the 1500's and 1600's while travelling to and from the East Indies.
For a more in-depth exploration of South African history, and the events of the 20th century, visit one of Cape Towns many excellent museums and historical sites.
If you've been considering a trip to Rocklands or have followed the exploits of sponsored boulderers, you are likely familiar with some of what Rocklands has to offer. Beyond a collection of some of the finest 8B+ and 8C boulders, Rocklands has a multitude of excellent easy-to-moderate problems and many high quality lines between 6C+ and 7C+. Rocklands sandstone is comprised of large, coarse, sand grains and it is quite rough on the hands. In the first week it is not uncommon for a climber to punt off a problem for no other reason than a hold being too painfully coarse. With proper nutrition and some rest, skin will adapt quickly however. Top-out cruxes are an exception rather than a rule, with many climbs having absolutely gargantuan jugs at the lip of the boulder. Many Rocklands problems are on the tall side but rarely enter the "no fall zone" (Welcome to Rocklands being a notable exception) and the landings are almost always quite flat. For this reason, the bigger pads from your favorite brand are preferable. Despite this, climbers looking to stay closer to the ground will not find themselves feeling limited by the offering of established lines. As dyno problems are numerous, those with a powerful gymnastic style will find many climbs against which to test one's skills . The area also offers a large number of roof climbs and those that utilize aretes to one extent or another. Technical face and slab problems are present but less common.
Access and Etiquette
Thanks to the efforts of locally based climbers, a new permitting system (as of 2014) has been put in place for Rocklands. Permit purchases (see fees) now cover access to all of the properties spanning every major climbing sector.
In order to make good on this unprecedented collaboration between the climbing community, private landowners, and local government, it is imperative that climbers follow minimal impact practices by carrying out garbage, properly burying feces, and avoiding the unnecessary trampling of sensitive vegetation.
In recent years relations between the climbing community and the ownership of the property encompassing the Tea Garden have been somewhat unstable leading to past closures of this area. This property is included in the new permitting system but the landowner has asked that climbers seeking to enter the property visit the house first for a brief and friendly greeting. It is strongly advised that climbers oblige this request in order to maintain good faith with the ownership (she won't bite).
When to Climb
Ideal climbing temperatures in Rocklands occur from May through September with late June through early August being the best and most popular time to climb. Climbing outside of this recommended period of time is possible but may require visiting climbs that are exclusively in the shade, and climbing only around sun-up and sun-down. This is by no means a problem for the local climber, but this may result in a disappointment for the international visitor with limited time.
Where to Stay
This is probably the most popular accommodation in Rocklands with offerings ranging from camp sites at Camp Sallie, to five different cottages suitable for groups ranging from 2-5 (perhaps even 6) persons.
For those interested in steeping themselves heavily the peak-season Rocklands "scene", Camp Sallie is the place to stay. With a communal social area, ablutions with proper hot showers (kudos to Chris Kelk), and a kitchen, camping at de Pakhuys is an excellent way to meet other climbers from around the world. Share beers and stories of the days climbing exploits around the fire and hatch a plan for the coming sesh tomorrow.
It is also important to note that Camp Sallie is also by far the most inexpensive place to stay in Rocklands.
Of the properties found in Rocklands, Traveler's Rest is the farthest east making it an ideal place to stay for those who wish to spend a great deal of time in the 8-Day Rain sector. This property does not offer any tented camping but has a numerous array of cabins and cottages spread out over a wide area.
Groups looking to buckle down and focus in on quality sleep, cooking more extravagant meals, and all the comfort that a permanent structure has to offer, might consider staying in Traveler's Rest. Rates are variable but with a full house, prices are quite reasonable.
The Traveler's Rest Farmstall is close to many of the cottages and is the central point of payment for your stay. It also offers a nice selection of gifts and even a cooked meal for those that are interested.
Where to Buy Supplies
Ensuring that one is properly outfitted and that the campsite or cottage is properly stocked is not a challenge in Rocklands so long as you plan ahead.
Clanwilliam offers a Spar grocery store with a great selection of food including some relatively obscure items (by rural SA standards) for those with gluten allergies or a picky palate. The attached liquor store stocks all the major brands of liquor and a fine selection of wines, many of which do not exceed $4 in price.
Ramskop butchery offers a great selection of quality meats for grilling back at camp and also offers some of the best biltong (South African style jerky) around.
For those planning to stay at Camp Sallie for three weeks to a month or even more, it is important to consider acquiring some proper camping hard-goods as it can really improve quality of life in the long run. After three weeks of bouldering and having put another hard day in on the proj with only minor progress, the last thing you'll want to be doing is sitting over your ultra-lightweight backpacking stove trying to cook rice, chicken, and some veggies.
To solve this problem visit Agrimark a small farm supply store in Clanwilliam. Here you can buy 3-7 kg propane tanks with threaded nozzles that accept a large and specialized burner top (also sold here). These work great for heating up large pots and pans full of ingredients quickly. Agrimark also sells a number of other convenient items such as large plastic storage bins and the like.
For climbing equipment it is important to plan ahead. Aside from tape, chalk, and little tins of Climb-on available at de Pakhuys main office, no climbing or outdoor specific gear is available in Clanwilliam or the surrounds. To stock up on what you need, visit the City Rock Gym in Cape Town or places like Cape Union Mart in malls around the city (note that Cape Union does not sell technical climbing equipment but does have an extensive selection of camping and hiking gear).
Rest Day Activities
Climbing in a world class location like Rocklands day-in and day-out for a month or more on end is the stuff of dreams for many climbers. Despite the fantasies however, none of us are capable climbing every single day without taking a break. Eventually, muscle fatigue, damaged skin, or crummy weather will force a non-climbing day. Fear not however, if a little R&R is in order, there is no need to sit around camp and twiddle your thumbs if you don't want to.
The Baths Natural Hot Springs near the town of Citrusdal is about 59km south of Clanwilliam off the N7 highway (on the R303) offers a great opportunity to escape sore muscles and/or crummy weather. For day visitors a hot and cold pool are available along with changing rooms. On the weekends fees are R80 per person, and during the week prices are reduced to R40. Be sure to bring your own towel (Seethebaths.co.za for more info). Contrary to what is stated on the site, a reservation is not required for a day visit.
In additional to the baths outside of town, one can find a few restaurants along Park Street in Citrusdal proper.
If a bath does not appeal but the Atlantic Ocean does, head west out of Clanwilliam for the seaside town of Lamberts Bay. Though the Agulhas current flowing up from the Antarctic ensures that sea water temperatures are brisk, bold spirits are welcome to take a dip. If you're lucky, you may also spot a few penguins.
For rest days spent a little closer to home-away-from-home. Travelers Rest, Alpha Excelsior, and Clanwilliam all offer hangouts with tasty food, wine, and a good cappuccino (some also have Wi-Fi).
Nearby Climbing Locations
Below is a list of some of the most popular climbing areas and destinations in the Western Cape Province. By all accounts 200 or more kilometers is generally not considered to be "nearby" but when you've traveled half-way across the world to be here, it is. Also, it's important to point out that this is by no means a comprehensive list. It does not capture the nearest climbing areas to Rocklands, as there are plenty that are much closer than what is listed. What it provides is a listing of some of the most developed and highest quality climbing areas in the region. For an exhaustive list of climbing areas in the area with a limited descriptions of routes visit:climbing.co.za/wiki/Western…
Popular for sport (single and multi-pitch) and traditional climbing. This area is favored by many Cape Town based sport climbing enthusiasts as it offers a high volume of climbs in a wide range of grades. Distance from Clanwilliam: ~283 Km (Approx. 4 hrs. driving).
Many, if not all, climbers visiting South Africa for the singular purpose of ascending the boulders in Rocklands will be flying into Cape Town International Airport. As such, most visitors end up spending at least several days in the city on the front and back ends of their journey. If adjusting to the nightlife on Long Street seems a little jarring--or you're the type that can't go more than a few days without climbing on something-- you need not worry, this city has you covered! Check out the areas listed below and be sure to visit the folks at City Rock Gym for latest beta and climbing conditions.
1.Echo Valley - When it isn't wet this bouldering destination just beyond Table Mountain has some great lines up to a reported 8b+ (V14) contributed by Paul Robinson.
2. Table Mountain - This is the place for exciting multi-pitch Trad and challenging day hikes. Jacob's Ladder is a classic route to ascend but, as any who gaze up at the mighty Table will see, it is only one of many...
3. Lions Head - Single-pitch Sport, Mutli-pitch Trad.
Distance of all three locations from Clanwilliam: ~235 Km
(Approx. 3hrs. driving)
Visa and Immigration Information
For the majority of visitors to South Africa and Rocklands, immigration related issues are a breeze. Current as of 2014, climbers hailing from the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Western Europe do not need to obtain a visa before arrival. Rather, people holding valid passports from these nations are stamped for a stay of up to 90 days at the customs desk at the port of entry. Many other countries are included in this policy; check out home-affairs.gov.za or your country's embassy page for more details.
For those wishing to stay longer than 90 days (Current as of 10/2014)
Unfortunately, without making prior arrangements in your home country by applying for a formal visa, it is not possible to stay continuously in South Africa for more than 90 days (legally speaking). After this visa-free visitor's period has ended, foreigners are required to leave the country for a period of 30 days before being allowed to re-enter for another 90 day visa-free period. Gone are the days of racing to the borders of SA's many neighbors for a quick jump-in-and-out to extend a stay.
**WARNING: DO NOT OVERSTAY THE 90 DAYS**
It used to be that "dedicated" visitors could merely overstay their 90 day tourist visa period and only pay a fine when passing through customs on the way out of the country. So long as this overstay was not more than an additional 90 days, a fine of R1500 was assessed. Unfortunately, this policy is no more. Overstays will be treated harshly and customs officers reserve the right to black-list violating visitors for up to 2 years, during which time one will be barred from entering the country. Of course, if one should fall victim to a crime or be hospitalized due to disease or injury such rigorous discipline will likely be withheld.
From Cape TownDrive time: 3 hours 30 mins. approximately
Distance: 256 Km approximately
The overwhelming majority of climbers bound for Rocklands will be arriving by way of Cape Town. Some like to spend a few days in the city before heading out, others pick-up a car and head up almost immediately. Regardless of where you are in the city the driving beta is quite straightforward.
Head for, and get on to, the northbound N7 highway, also known as the Cape Namibia Route. Signs will likely read that you are headed for Malmesbury. If so, you're on the right track. Sit back and relax. Once you've passed the turnoff for Citrusdal which, is the 4th town on the journey, begin paying a little more attention to the signage and surrounds. The turnoff for Clanwilliam will be a right onto the R364 about 50 minutes (give or take) after Citrusdal. The mountainous segments of this drive are very dark at night and Clanwilliam will not be clearly visible from the N7 so keeping an eye out for your turnoff is key as things are not as well marked as in America or Europe. After passing through Clanwilliam the right turn onto the sandy driveway to Alpha Excelsior and de Pakhuys will be at approximately 24 to 25 kms from Clanwilliam. This turn is marked with a sign but depending on how the scrub growth is in a given year you probably will not see it until you're almost upon it.
After you've turned down the sandy track there will soon be a left turn marked for Alpha Excelsior. Those bound for de Pakhuys stay straight. The drive will seem long but keep on it until you come to a narrow auto gateway made of cobblestones on your left. Stop here to make your deposit, initial payments, and collect your campsite gate key. From here continue on the dirt track which ends at Camp Sallie.
Classic Climbing Routes at Rocklands
Days w Precip