Tonquani Complex Trad Climbing

“Probably the most beautiful kloof in the Magaliesberg Mountains, Tonquani is the picture of what most people would class as the perfect water feature that they would love to adorn their house except that this one goes on for Kilometre after Kilometre. Stunning tree fern lined pools of crystal clear water interspersed with giant rocks go to make this walk an unforgettable experience.” (Quote  – Footprint)

The Magaliesberg Mountain Reserve

The Magaliesberg Mountain Sanctuary

Once again, I’m at a loss for words. as I mentioned in my Kloofing blog, places like these are really special. There’s just something unexplainable about being in Nature and enjoying it to the fullest! Especially when you’re there to do the impossible (at least it seemed impossible at the start of the climb). The rejuvinating affect it has on you really is something else, and this time, the sense of accomplishment was greater than ever! I never thought i’d start trad climbing so soon. Originally I did sport climbing but now there’s more to the climbing. it means more now than what it did, considering that in trad climbing there is a philosophy of ‘Leave No Trace’. Let me explain…

For those of you who have no idea what i’m talking about, Trad climbing is definately one of the most technical forms of climbing. To throw it out into the open, in sport climbing you generally climb pre-bolted routes. These are routes that have bolts drilled into the rock at crucial point along the way up. all you need do is clip a quickdraw to the bolt and attach the rope and you’re safe. In trad climbing there are no bolts. You have to take all your gear up with you and then place safety in the rock as you climb said route. Your partner then, on his way up, cleans the route (removes the gear). YOu really do ‘Leave no trace’. Needless to say, the routes are mugh higher and far more intimidating when you know that your life depends on the placement of your gear.

What an awesome adventure to say the least. Marlo and I left pretoria at around 8am on saturday morning (29 November 2008). We decided to head there on our bikes. The route itself isn’t really that far from Pretoria. It’s in the Magaliesberg mountains (about a 2-hour ride). I really never knew that there were places like this close to Pretoria. Fortunately, as with grootkloof, the area is belongs to and is protected by the Mountain Club of South Africa so that means you have to be a member to gain access to this area or have a permit. MCSA members can use the Sanctuary park to gain access to the Tonquani Complex. I was telling Marlo when we arrived at our destination that i finally am beginning to understand what the MCSA does for the country (especially when they protect places like the Tonquani Complex).

The Tonquani Complex is prottected by the MCSA

The Tonquani Complex is protected by the MCSA

Anywho, The Tonquani complex is in the heart of the Magaliesberg Mountain Conservatory. This a a mountain sanctuary park, as the name implies, and a rather beautiful one at that. The road to the sanctuary is a dirt road (I guess between 2 to 5 Km’s), and needless to say, a super bike like mine is not a good candidate for navigating the VERY sandy roads. Each patch of sand brings you closer to dropping your bike. Both Marlo and I had a few close calls. Fortunately we both managed to navigate the road without any problems, only a great discussion about the ride in.

When we arrived we parked our bikes under a tree in the caravan park in the heart of the sanctuary. Unfortunately, as we were checking our gear we found that one of our ropes had been burnt on the Exhaust of Marlo’s bike. That meant that our abseil into the kloof wasn’t going to be possible. It also meant that we were not going to be able to climb Red Column, a Classic Trad route in the Magaliesberg, renowned for the exposure (climbing jargon for a fear of heights on a particular route).

Red Column, A classic trad route in the Magaliesberg

Red Column, A classic trad route in the Magaliesberg

Due to the fact that we were one rope short for our adventure we were forced to navigate the Kloof instead. The walk into the Kloof is about 1 or 2 km’s  (I stand corrected on this). It’s a rather easy walk in, compared to Grootkloof, but still great fun. It’s a great time to take in the immense beauty of the place and get into the mood for climbing. It’s also a great opportunity to navigate the most picturesque kloof EVER. As the Intro says, it’s the perfect water feature for any household, only MUCH bigger!

Marlo in a little cave we had to crawl through!

Marlo in a little cave we had to crawl through!

As you can see, it’s beautiful! The cliffs that tower either side of the kloof, the plant life in the kloof, the water as crystal clear as it gets, it kinda makes you think that you’re in paradise, and this definitely is! If only people in South Africa knew how beautiful our country really is then maybe they wouldn’t be so rushed to leave and head off to other countries in search of such beauty! But then again, if everyone knew about places like this then it wouldn’t be the same. I guess the last thing I would want in a place like this is a hoard of people destroying it. So for now it’s better that it’s secluded and hidden from society, open only to those fortunate few who care for it!

The Tonquani Kloof

The Tonquani Kloof

After exploring the Kloof it was time for our climb. We could have hiked out the Kloof but I guess that would have defeated the purpose of out trip, to climb. Marlo had chosen Golden balls, another Classic Trad route in the Magaliesberg! This was a great choice as it’s not a difficult route but is great fun. It’s rated as a 4-star 15 (fairly easy climb in climbing terms) but it’s far more imposing as it’s a multi pitch route (about 80 – 100m). Pretty scary stuff when you reach the last pitch and you’re scaling a verticle wall! Looking down is even worse as you’re suddenly thrown into reality and dangling almost 100m above a rocky kloof! If you fall here you’re dead, and what’s worse is that you can’t bail out if you’re too scared (as I was). Trad climbing requires TOTAL commitment and trust with your partner! One mistake and you could both die, so it’s imperative that you are focused. It’s great climbing like this because you motivate each other and it turns out to be more of an experience than just plain old sport climbing.

Golden Balls - A classic 4-star 15

Golden Balls - A classic 4-star 15

Another nice thing I enjoyed was the fact that we could sit on the cliff at a stance and have a chat and just relax while swapping gear. You can take your shoes off while on belay (which helps because they are the most uncomfortable shoes in the world)! But still rather relaxing to be up there on a cliff, just chilling out, taking in the view and enjoying each moment! truth be told, i can’t think of a better experience in my life. This was probably the coolest thing I have ever done, and it’s one step closer to me being on top of the world!

Marlo chilling out at the top of the 2nd pitch!

Marlo chilling out at the top of the 2nd pitch!

Taking in the view at the top of the 2nd pitch

Taking in the view at the top of the 2nd pitch!

From here on out it was more intense. the first part of the climb was more of a scramble up a slanted slope. From here the face was Vertical! This is where exposure begins to kick in. The 3rd and 4th pitch were intense but grand nonetheless. At this point I was still good. i was moving rather comfortably and feeling good about the climb! I studied the gear placements in detail and had the chance to take a look over my shoulder a few times and take in a grander view as i climbed higher up the route!

Up to the 3rd pitch

Up to the 3rd pitch

The crux of the climb!

The crux of the climb!

I had a bit of trouble at the crux. It was higher than I’d ever climbed before and by now, after sitting on a tiny ledge at the top of the 3rd pitch i had the chance to take in an even more fantastic view! Needless to say this is when exposure kicks in! Truth be told I was a little terrified and had a few thoughts about bailing out but I couldn’t. I was almost at the top of the route and in this situation, up is the only way to go! I had the fortune of encountering a hornets nest on the route as well (which Marlo never saw). There was a great Lay-back to lean off of so, after collecting my thoughts, and a little motivation from Marlo, i took it on, and was triumphant at the top of the rout, albeit tired, but very stoked about climbing my first multi-pitch trad route! It was a great feeling, and without Marlo, i couldn’t have managed it! Thanks again Dude! You ROCK!!! (excuse the pun)

The greatest sense of accomplishment while topping out on Golden Balls!

The greatest sense of accomplishment while topping out on Golden Balls!

The top-out is a little bit of a scramble, so after packing up our gear, we made our way out and headed back to the caravan park for a nice cold beer. Along the way we stopped at what climbers call the Jacuzzi. It’s a small little pool about 6 or 7 foot deep with warm water. It was a great place to refresh ourselves, and a nearby stream provided a refreshing drink of water (as we’d finished ours on the way up the route). From here on out it was a short hike back to the caravan park for that beer!

Alas, the trip home was shorter than I’d anticipated, but we decided to stop at a pub in Hartebeespoort Dam for another beer and another recap of the days adventure! Dead tired and ready fro bed, we both headed home to be with the loves of our lives. Truth be told, i couldn’t have asked for a better day! This truly was a great chance to try something i’ve never done before, and now I know that it’s definitely the greatest thing in the world.

Marlo reckons it’s a lifestyle, whereas sport climbing, although also part of the lifestyle, is more of a sport. To Quote him “I believe climbing (all forms) is a lifestyle – not just trad. Trad is special though. Sports is about being strong enough to do the moves, the physicality of climbing, if you will, whereas Trad is about the commitment and adventure of climbing long routes in amazing places.

I’m inclined to agree with him on that! It’s definitely a lifestyle and a great opportunity to rejuvenate yourself and keep you going on a natural high for weeks to come. I’d say it’s worse than a drug because you can’t get climbing off your mind. It really does become a part of your being, and trad climbing has opened my eyes to a whole other side of climbing that I could only ever have dreamed about!

Time to get out there and enjoy EVERY moment of life, because it really is the greatest thing you can ever experience!

6 comments

  1. The majesty and sublime beauty of this country never stops amazing me!!!
    I look upon these gems in South Africa that, to me, prove the existance of God(or at least some higher power). Such perfection surpasses all art.
    No words can describe these wonders well enough….
    So a gasp and a silent moment will have to suffice….

  2. I live in England these days but I remember Tonquani Kloof and the Magaliesberg very well. Over 20 long years since I was last there and even to this day I still remember the place like it was yesterday. Right Corner Overhang, Hawks Eye, The Moke and yes Red Column….some of the finest rock climbing routes I ever climbed anywhere. The sites the sounds and the vivid colours….a truly beautiful place.

    I have travelled extensively since then all over the world and Tonquani will always be the most special of places. Magic nights lying in a sleeping bag looking at the stars, jumping into the Help Help Pool, wading down the Kloof into Cedarberg. When one is young and adventurous one always believes that somewhere else is better….its not…..

  3. I just have to say that I totally agree with Colin. I also moved to England some 10 years ago, and this is probably the place that I miss the most. We used to go tradding in the kloofs at least every other weekend, and Tonquani was always one of the favourites. Sleeping under the stars at Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum campsite was fantastic – I got to sit on one of the big boulders behind the camp and watch comet Hale Bop streaking across the sky… Every time I go back to SA, this is one place I visit almost without fail…

  4. If anyone has long arms, I dropped a shoe down a small crack at the top of Golden Balls…
    It was in ’93, but man I miss that shoe.

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