Climbing Swaziland

At a cafe in Paris one evening while I was out on assignment shooting with world class rock climber Jimmy Webb, our mutual French friend Clement Perotti was telling us about a new area he had discovered via Google Earth. He described big house-sized boulders set on top of hillsides. It just so happened to be in South Africa, the next stop on our 2014 climbing world tour. The place was Swaziland, an independent kingdom set within the borders of South Africa in its Northeast corner. The topos looked good enough, but Jimmy and I were just as stoked to go somewhere new and way off the beaten path of most rock climbers itinerary. We had never heard of climbing in Swaziland, couldn’t find any real info on the web, and figured we would have to describe where the country is to half the people we told about our trip.

"All the land is communal and the family most local to each area would welcome us to park on their land and explore their “backyard."

We arrived and stayed at a hostel in the capital, Mbane. Our crew was joined by Clement’s girlfriend Julie and Nalle Hukkataival, another amazing climber. We had a kick ass rental SUV and faint directions from the locals on where to go. Our mission was to scour any and every hillside that looked like it had potential. We would wake up, pack the car and mission out on the dirt roads to the cliffs. We quickly discovered that the rock left exposed on the hills to the hot African sun was crumbly and sharp, less than ideal to spend our time developing. Something else we discovered was that the Swazis were the nicest and most welcoming & friendly people we had ever met in our travels! And that in their country there is no private property. All the land is communal and the family most local to each area would welcome us to park on their land and explore their “backyard.” Eventually we found that the best boulders lie in the shady groves, covered by trees, protected from the sun and even sometimes surrounded by monkeys. This discovery led us to favor one spot more than the others, which of course was right across the dirt road from a school and next to a few homes populated by an extended family. They were so happy to see us each day and wondered what the heck we were doing with these big foam pads on our backs. We showed them what climbing was and they loved it! The moms thought it was funny seeing us up on the boulders and falling and cursing sometimes. The sons borrowed our shoes and chalk and gave it a try themselves, they were naturals.

Nalle and Jimmy were psyched to find some hard climbs, and I tried very hard on a big arete with Clement that we will have to go back for. We named it KingKlip, after the popular fish in the region. Nalle sent a V13 arete, a tall and proud line right in our new friend’s backyard. In between our sessions climbing, the kids would rally our pads and use them to dance or wrestle with each other on. They were also more than happy to help us hike our gear up the hill, running barefoot in circles around us laughing the whole time. On our last day they brought out some food to us! Fresh turkey, very good.

"In the end, there's nothing to it but to do it!"

We thought the rock was great, and climbing in Swaziland was a very memorable experience with a totally different pace of life. Everyone lived very simply and seemed very happy. The sunsets were amazing every day and the weather very pleasant. It was perhaps a bit too warm to climb very hard during the day but we made it work at night. The best part was waking up each day to an unknown adventure - no matter how much research we did. In the end, there's nothing to it but to do it!

By Topo Ambassador Cameron Maier