bouldering IN THE CEDERBERG

I want to talk about bouldering…

What’s that you say? Well it’s a ‘’Thing’’. In fact it’s a big thing in the northern Cederberg. In fact the Cederberg is one of the top 5 places in the world for it. And the season is about to start...

What is Bouldering?

Bouldering is free rock-climbing, without ropes, typically relatively close to the ground, with mattresses used to cushion any falls.

So though the top guys are truly expert climbers, we are not talking Alex Honnold-type climbing here, (who free-climbed El Capitan over several hours and starred in the Oscar-winning film Free Solo.) 

The whole ethos of bouldering is around doing short technical climbs which are only a few metres off the ground. At the heart of bouldering are large boulders (3 to 5 metres in height) and “high balls” which can be up to 8 metres.

Caveat: I am not a boulderer, I am a hiker. So I write this from an outsider’s perspective. And for other non-boulders like me. So please forgive me (or even better, correct me in the comments) if I say something slightly incorrect. 

Why is the Cederberg and Rocklands so popular for bouldering?

This is the question that most fascinates us locals. How did our beautiful mountainous wilderness get discovered by the international climbing scene?

The Cederberg is a unique body of rock. The colour – orange and maroon in the evening light – is the first thing that strikes you. Then the unique snarled formations. Gnarly is an apt description in all senses of the word. But sheer beauty is not enough.

What we have are boulders and ‘hi balls’ galore, as far as the eye can see. The quality of the rock, especially in Rocklands, attracts not only boulders but traditional climbers as well. There’s variety with steep and flat sections and so many boulders that you can grade them from easy to really hard.

And the sheer quantity of attractive ‘problems’, as routes are known, is also a draw-card. Many of the ‘problems’’ are well-documented. Some even have names such as Phronesis, Manuskripte (manuscripts), Die Skild (the shield). Plus, being one of the top 5 places for bouldering, the climbers meet each other at Rocklands to exchange bouldering problems and their solutions.

Just for interest, some of the other top Bouldering places in the world are:
• Bishop, California, USA
• Fontainebleau, France
• Squamish, British Colombia, Canada
• Ticino, Switzerland
• Horse Pens 40, Alabama, USA

When is the best time for bouldering in the Cederberg?

This is a winter pastime (May to August) mainly because our summer temperatures are too hot. But our mild winters (which are also relatively dry), offer the perfect climate.

So climbers can spend a day climbing in the mountains quite easily. The nights are also epic with so many stars to view because of our lack of light pollution.

Many climbers spend several weeks here (4-6 weeks is probably the norm). There is plenty of backpacking accommodation in the Agter-Pakhuis (See – why visit the Cederberg in winter for more about our “winter” months).

Who likes bouldering?

You will know a bouldering group when you come across them.. As they will typically be carrying giant fold-up mattresses on their backs as a form of giant crash pad. The mattresses are there to cushion the inevitable falls. But remember that they rarely fall more than a few metres.

It is also a social sport with a big community feel. The focus is on strength and skilful moves rather than the sheer endurance of traditional rock-climbing.

Other tell-tell signs are that most people are in the early twenties, thin and wiry (good power to weight ratio). Other distinguishing characteristics would give away my age (distinctly middle-aged). But I thank them for making sure that the sushi bar in our local supermarket is thriving, as is the range of healthy plant-based foods. 

Photo credit: Ryan Cloete
Can Novices do it?

Absolutely! The great thing about bouldering in the Cederberg is that the climbs are well-documented in climbing circles so novice routes are easy to find. Plus many  ‘problems’ have easy to moderate grades. So a mixed party of climbers can enjoy themselves here. Other climbers also share info readily and remember, you are not climbing high…

Are Boulderers destroying the peace of the Cederberg?

Sometimes when you see a bursting car park full of climbers’ cars at Pakhuis pass, you think... 'what has happened to my ‘wilderness’!'

But here’s the thing. Once you start walking, you still rarely see anyone else. That’s because the bouldering sites are hidden in the mountains and cracks, well off the main hiking paths. (All you see are little well-trodden paths to rock faces.)

Cape Nature is getting better at making sure that the Boulderers pay the daily park fee. So all this extra revenue is important to maintain the wilderness area in its pristine state. For example it helps to support alien species eradication efforts. And remember, all the bouldering activity is very concentrated around the Rocklands area. This is only one small part of the Northern Cederberg. The Cederberg Mountains extend 60km north-south.

Staying at Cederberg Ridge?

We understand that Cederberg Ridge won't interest many boulderers. Most are on a tight budget and want to spend as little per day in order to stay as long as possible. We get that!

But we do have some boulderers staying with us, so check us out. And yes, we do know where you can rent a crash pad for your visit. Alternatively, if you want to treat yourself to a top-notch dinner, we are ready for you! And we love hearing about your epic tales of adventure.



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