Rocklands

March 8, 2023

Written by Clara Soh

There’s a well-trodden path that climbers take every year searching for good conditions: south in the winter to Red Rocks or Hueco, and north to Wyoming, Squamish or the high Sierras in the summer. For the past few years, I’ve joined the annual summer migration of climbers descending on Ten Sleep, but last summer I decided to change things up a bit and check out the bouldering in Rocklands.  

Traveling to Rocklands from almost anywhere except from within southern Africa takes a lot of time. For me, it was 90 hours of planes, cars, and busses to get there from the Peruvian Andes where I had been climbing in the Cordillera Blanca. But a previous trip to South Africa from West Africa necessitated a swing through London because there were almost no direct flights from the western most point to the southern most of the same continent. Once you reach Cape Town, it’s another three hour bus ride or two hour drive to the Cederberg Mountains. 

But once I got to Rocklands, it was almost like a family reunion. Climbers from all over the world come to Rocklands during their winter months (summer time in the northern hemisphere) for cool, crips conditions, a lifetime of bouldering, and the welcoming community. I ran into climbers I had met over the years in Squamish, the Red River Gorge, Spain, and Hueco Tanks. For the majority of my trip I was solo, and had no problem finding a great crew to boulder with. 

(Image) Teacup boulder, the first problem put up in Rocklands

As a rope climber, I had no idea what I was in for going to Rocklands. I had heard the movement was powerful, jumpy, and dynamic – everything that I’m bad at being a technical face climber. But even if you have spaghetti biceps, no power, and are terrified of high balls like me, you can still have a great time there. There’s no better place to learn how to engage every part of your body: it was quite a training ground for tenuous heel hooks, technical knee bars, and full body contortions. I’ve never done so many 3D moves on two meters of rock. 

(Image) where do you go from here (v7)

One of the things I was not prepared for was how abrasive the rock was. During the Rocklands Rally, a bunch of us who were staying at De Pakhuys (the local camp ground) created a game of Rocklands Bingo and one of the phrases that we heard most often was “ow, my skin!!!” Luckily, while Rocklands is renowned for its bouldering, there is actually quite a bit of high-quality sport climbing in the surrounding Cederberg Mountains. For active rest days when our skin is completely trashed from the bouldering, we explored some more skin-friendly sandstone sport climbing. 

Climbing aside, one of the legacies of the brutal colonial rule and subsequent apartheid government is that an entire class of people were kept from working, education, and building lives and wealth. Although South Africa has made incredible strides since the dismantling of apartheid, centuries of oppression and resource extraction has left the country more impoverished than it should be. Electricity (load shedding) is subject to regular, daily brownouts for hours at a time and almost no country has such a huge income gap between rich and poor. For visiting climbers, we should be cognizant that we enjoy the very affordable cost of living once we arrive in South Africa because so many millions of individuals are living in poverty. In the seven weeks I spent bouldering in Rocklands, I was lucky enough to meet and befriend many local South Africans, but met only a single, solitary black climber. In a country 60 million, where more than 80% of the population is black, the it’s easy to disappear into our climbing bubble and not realize how much of a privilege it is to travel so far and enjoy the amazing bouldering in Rocklands. 

 

Local Beta:

Rocklands is a huge area scattered across the Cederberg Mountains. The closest town is Clanwilliam, about a 40 minute drive from most of the bouldering. There is a daily bus from Cape Town to Clanwilliam, and although I was able to hitch hike to some of the bouldering, it is not recommended in South Africa. There is very limited cellphone service in Rocklands proper and because of scheduled power outages, internet can be unreliable. 

 

Where to stay: 

The main campground is De Pakhuys, where you can walk to the plateau and other bouldering areas. There are established campsites that can be reserved, an open field that is first come, first served, cabins, upscale “glamping” huts, and furnished RVs for rent. Traveler’s Rest also has cabins spread as well as a popular restaurant. The Hen House is a popular café with delicious breakfast options, and weekly pizza nights. 

 

Safety:

Rocklands overall felt very safe. There is petty crime in Clamwilliam, but I did not hear of or experience any of the violent crime that is endemic in larger cities like Johannesburg. I felt very safe traveling alone as a solo woman. 

Clara Soh
Author: Clara Soh

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