07 June 2013 by Denise Slabbert

Chasing winter: Bouldering experiences in the Western Cape

American film-maker Mary Mecklenburg visited South Africa with a group of friends last year to shoot a film called Chasing Winter – a story about a young girl, bouldering and a beautiful city…

Bouldering in Cape Town

When film-maker and climber Mary Mecklenburg visited South Africa with a group of friends last year, she got a little more than she expected out of the gorgeous Western Cape. Mary and her buddies are particularly taken with a form of rock climbing known as bouldering. For those who don't have a clue, Wikipedia explains bouldering as a style of rock climbing (without a rope) that focuses (generally) on short but intense climbs.

Mary explains: 'Bouldering is more focused on the technique of climbing instead of undertaking a full-bodied climb'. She also explains about 'boulder problems' – boulder routes are commonly referred to as 'problems' because the nature of the climb is often short, curious, and much like problem-solving (so now you know!).

The group experienced some incredible climbs in and around Cape Town, and not surprisingly, also fell madly in love with the lifestyle of the Mother City.

Who did you travel with?

A great group of really fun, motivated, professional climbers. We rented a big house near the beach of Muizenberg in the Western Cape. Our group mainly stayed in Cape Town, but three hours north was the area of Rocklands, located outside of Clanwilliam. Since Rocklands is such a huge destination for climbers from all over the world, we ran into many of our friends from all over. That’s a cool aspect of travelling for climbing – you end up running into the same people all over the world.  

Don't try this at home – bouldering in South Africa

Why did you choose to visit South Africa?

There were many reasons. First of all, I had never been there and I had heard great things about the culture and the exotic landscape. Second, bouldering conditions are best with lower temperatures, so we decided to escape the hot North American summer to take advantage of the cooler temperatures in the southern hemisphere (that’s how the name for our film, Chasing Winter, was born). Third, although the bouldering area of Rocklands is extremely famous and well known for having some of the best climbing in the world, we were mainly interested in exploring the lesser-developed areas of Cape Town. We had heard rumours that there was a lot of rock surrounding the city, so we decided to make our home there for the summer to explore as much as we could. We ended up being pleasantly surprised by the amount of new 'boulder problems' we were able to establish during our time there.  

Your impressions about bouldering in South Africa?

I was amazed at the diversity of the bouldering in South Africa. There was a great variety of rocks, climbing styles and scenery between the different areas. I truly feel there is something there for every type of climber. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the scenery was in Cape Town –  there's nothing like topping out a boulder problem and seeing whales breach in the ocean below you. The views were unreal. Every area we went to in Cape Town was just breathtaking. It is rare to have such high quality rock so close to the ocean; there were many days the surfers in our group would go surfing in the morning and climbing in the afternoon.

It is rare to have such high quality rock so close to the ocean; there were many days the surfers in our group would go surfing in the morning and climbing in the afternoon.

What were your best parts of the trip to South Africa?

There were so many highlights of our trip. I’d say one of the best parts was living near the beach in Muizenberg, and really starting to feel like a part of the community there. We would go to the Muizenberg Market every Friday night and stuff our face with all the delicacies there. We were introduced to many new foods at the market. There was always live music, and lots of friends gathered to unwind from the week; it just had a really nice, local vibe. We began to feel like we actually lived there. We also loved discovering South African wine. I had never had Pinotage before coming to South Africa, so I was pleasantly surprised to add a new favourite to my wine list. We went wine tasting a few times and it just added to the never-ending list of things to do in South Africa. 

Gorgeous views in the Western Cape

Another highlight of the trip was experiencing the wildlife in South Africa. We ended up going cage diving with great white sharks, at the end of our trip. There are not many places in the world you are able to do that, so we definitely took advantage of the opportunity while we were there. It was the most thrilling experience I have ever had. We also were able to catch the humpback whales during their migration. I loved the experience of drinking coffee in the morning, looking out the window to the ocean, and seeing whales breach in the distance. I always had a sense that South Africa was truly wild. I felt like anything was possible at anytime, so everyday was exciting. 

What will you tell friends about South Africa?

There are so many things! South Africa just has so many unique experiences to offer. First and foremost, I tell my friends that they definitely have to go there for the climbing and the stunning scenery. Like I said, it's one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I also tell them they need to just go to experience the culture. I had so much fun just walking around downtown Cape Town and going into all the little stores and checking out the hip bars. One of our favourite bars in Cape Town was called The Orphanage. It had a great vibe to it, and amazing drinks. A great way to experience South African culture is going to Mzoli’s Place for a braai (barbeque), located in the township of Gugulethu.

What is the film Chasing Winter about? 

Chasing Winter tells the story of a group of professional climbers from the United States travelling to South Africa to explore the climbing in the country. A lot of it involves new climbs in the Cape Town area that we found. It shows what climbers do on a day-to-day basis while on a climbing trip, and tries to highlight each of the climbers’ unique personalities. The star of the film is Ashima Shiraishi. She is a 12-year-old Japanese-American girl who from New York City, and is arguably the most accomplished female boulderer in the world. The film is distributed as an HD download on the climbing website 27crags.com/films. It is also sold on iTunes, and www.iclimb.com.

Will you come back to South Africa? 

Most definitely I will come back! It is one of my favourite places on earth. If it weren’t so far away from my family, I would definitely consider living there. South Africa suits my active, outdoor lifestyle. It also caters to interests in cultural events, and a fun nightlife. The weather is great, and the people are friendly. South Africans really make you feel welcome and have a laidback vibe about them. There are still a ton of things I want to experience in South Africa that I didn’t get a chance to on my last trip, so I’m constantly dreaming of my chance to return!

Beautiful landscapes and moody skies. All images by Carlo Traversi

Category: Adventure

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