THE DOG FOOD MONEY
"they are wounded, but they just keep on climbing,
and they sleep by the side of the road"
“Nice arse” said Sebastian, as his headlamp flashed across the ruined remains of my shorts. “Huh !” I thought, “if Sab can admire my butt while crawling down the Spitzkop scree slope on hands and knees at 10 o’clock at night with the last drink of water but a distant thirsty memory then he must be missing Michelle”. Still, a compliment is a compliment. “Thanks Sab” I grunted and gingerely eased off into yet another black abyss.
Scree slopes are a silly place to be any time of the day of the night. A scree slope covered in gigantic granite boulders at 10 o’clock at night with a leftover moon that has yet to rise is ludicrous. The overlanders comfortably ensconced in their deck chairs sipping Cape wine obviously thought so as they watched our headlamps bob and inch down the nighttime slopes of Spitzkop and every now and then flashed their torches at us in encouragement . More likely they were falling about laughing. Bastards.
Abseiling off into the sunset might sound all very romantic but generally it means you’ve stuffed up somewhere. So maybe we shouldn’t have sat around on the summit reading the summit book and admiring the view and eating oranges. But, hell, when you’ve driven 2000 km, slogged up a hot and nasty approach, squozed through dark and grungy squeeze chimneys and climbed and climbed and climbed its hard not to. Apart from the fact that it was a phenomenally great place to be.
Actually, we wouldn’t have even been abseiling to the tune of a sinking sun if we’d started climbing a little bit earlier – we’d climbed pretty fast all things considered e.g. that Sab and Graeme were both sports climbers and this was their first ever real mountain, and the supreme-leader-experienced-mountaineer-and-trad-climber (i.e. me) hadn’t actually been climbing for a very long time (think decades here). And the climbing had been superb – clean, rough granite with runners here and there and even the odd a peg or two for comfort. And the solid airy stances had been wonderful too ! And the exposure had me hiding in chimneys at every opportunity (thus answering Graeme’s question about the difference between sports climbers and trad climbers. Trad climbers get scared).
And we’d left at 7 that morning, thinking that it would be a GOOD thing to have a couple of hours in hand.
So, really the problem was that the guide book had lied outrageously when it said 6 hours camp-to-camp for a party of three. It had taken us about 6 hours just to scramble up the approach (admittedly we had followed the wrong set of cairns about halfway up and had spent an hour or two finding the right route again).
Ah, what the hell – it was a great climb and huge experience and Spitzkop is truly one of the more beatiful places on this planet.
Driving out of Usakos and yakking about something or other while listening to Tom Waits (again – we had three tapes in the car and they were all Tom Waits. Sab didn’t mind – he likes Tom Waits) I’d laughed when Sab and Graeme caught sight of Spitzkop and suddenly went extremely quiet. Ten minutes of silence was followed by an awestruck question: “We’re climbing THAT??”. “Yup - the route’s on the north face”. Silence. “F#$%”. More silence. “It’s a bit big isn’t it ?”.
We found a very lekker campsite that looked directly on to the route and with 2000km of driving to shake off just wandered around the huge granite boulders and arches that inhabit the place. Tuesday we climbed Azur on Pontok 3 just to get our gear and routines a bit shaken down – funn’ish, despite 30m leadouts, a hot sun, a late start, and some very dubious rock. Wednesday seemed like a good day to watch lizards so Thursday … even Sebastian leapt out of bed at the crack of dawn and by 7:30 we were trundling our way up the scree slope. Three hours later we reached a nasty blank wall – and realised that the cairns had been misleading and that we’d have to go back down at least halfway. Slip, slide, skid and find a route that looks more or less right. And then its over a neck and spacey step around a boulder perched over nothing and then chimney and chimney until we reached the squeeze chimney and jeez was it a squeeze eventually reaching the abseil to the start of the route at midday – where we decided to climb even if it meant coming off in the dark. Huh ! Who were we kidding. Sab lead the pitch and I whimpered my way up the second pitch on tiny but nice holds. Graeme huffed up the straightforward but exposed third pitch leaving Sab to lead the crux pitch – an elegant friction slab with a belay stance on a huge boulder. The last pitch was yet another nasty chimney and the exposure had me crawling deep into a chimney and refusing to come out again until it was safe (Graeme and Sab found it dead easy). And the summit - it was so satisfying to be on top. The next day we roared off to look at the White Lady of the Brandberg (who is not as big as expected) and then cruised down to Swakopmund for a meal. The White lady is not white and is not in fact a lady. Instead it is a drug addled pagan with soot on its legs. Another 2000 km back through the Kalahari to get home all very happy and tired and pleased.
Now if I can just get the Dog Food Money song out of my head …