There is an unspoken phenomenon, occurring within the climbing community. As climbers, we tend to visit only heavily marketed areas, climb the “popular” routes, stay at the “cool” camps, and even take the same photos.
Thus, the excitement can quickly drain and “snobbery” spread if we lose focus of climbing’s true calling. When I joined a group of friends on a road trip to climb in unknown destinations in South Africa in addition to Swaziland and Lesotho, many climbing friends questioned “why?”
“If you’re headed to South Africa, why not visit the Rocklands or Cape Town, like all the pros,” they asked? The mention of Swaziland and Lesotho also seemed wasted time to many of them. “Are there even boulders there,” they interrogated?
South Africa’s western crags have certainly received some well-deserved press in recent years, but why go where everyone else is headed? Why climb boulders hundreds have already done before? I wanted an adventure, not a guided tour. Thus, I turned my eyes east.
The potential in South Africa’s Free State region, easily rivals other renowned bouldering destinations. Mirroring America’s rugged western landscapes, the Free Stateis characterized by towering buttes, valleys lush in greenery, horses stampeding through uncultivated prairie and abandoned farm machinery rusting with time’s grace. With every road, new boulders surfaced. The local climbing community is small and the surrounding boulders only contain a few chalk marks. Needless to say, crowds are not a concern.
However, the real gems from the trip surfaced from Swaziland and Lesotho—both relatively unknown in the grander climbing world. Swaziland is a boulderer’s fantasy comprising of endless boulder fields, a variety of climbs, friendly locals, and untouched holds. Rarely do I find a location I wish to revisit immediately, but Swaziland stole my heart.
Lesotho was the most enigmatic of the three countries. With virtually no bouldering documented, we crossed the border with no expectations. However, much to our joy, we discovered the areas near Sani Pass and the city of Butha Buthe rich a variety of hard climbs. Lesotho is a trying country. Faced with poverty, a crippling HIV/AIDS epidemic, human trafficking disputes, and high rates of sexual violence, it is a country worth researching before visiting. However, climbing can be found and the potential exists.
So, here is my message to those seeking first ascents and an excursion. Pack your bags for a grand African road trip. I promise South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho will not disappoint. ■
Words + Photos by: Allen Kenneth Schaidle