Escapes

Q:

What are South Africa’s best climbing spots?

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” —Nelson Mandela

Cederberg Mountains, South Africa.     Photo: jonwade/Flickr

A:In the days following Nelson Mandela’s death, journalists reminded us of Mandela’s love of sport—of his pre-jail foray into amateur boxing and his shrewd use of athletics to unite post-apartheid South Africa.

Lesser known but no less impactful was Mandela’s passion for outdoor recreation and conservation. In 1997, he co-founded the Peace Parks Foundation to help preserve wild habitats in South Africa and Mozambique. He also supported the formation of Open Africa, which seeks to bring tourists and their much-needed dollars to remote corners of the continent. 

Call it cosmic (or merely coincidental), but two days before Mandela passed, I asked Majka Burhardt, author and pro climber for the likes of Patagonia and Osprey, for her favorite climbing areas in the once-embattled country. “There are hundreds of places to climb on rock in South Africa,” she says. “Some of them are among the world’s best.” 

Burhardt’s suggestions double as an ode to some of the wild places prized by complex, peace-loving Mandela. Her favorites:

Waterval Boven 

“Seven hundred-plus routes on hard quartzite, plus bucolic surrounds. If you’re looking for a quick-hit sport-climbing trip in South Africa, this is hard to beat. It’s two-and-a-half hours due east from Johannesburg.”

Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga

“Gorgeous ribbons of quartzite mesas with superb climbing. Lodging comes in the form of quaint bungalows and cheap camping. Mpumalanga is 264 miles northeast of Joburg.” 

Magaliesberg

“This 100-plus-square mile greenway and mountain range is a World Heritage Site and has fantastic trad and sport climbing to boot. It’s just an hour from Johannesburg. Contact the MCSA for access details.” 

Cederberg Mountains 

“With routes up to six pitches of difficulty, including the famous Wolfberg Arch, swimming and vineyards, this area north of Cape Town is climbing heaven.”

Table Mountain, Cape Town 

“One of the largest massifs in any major city, Table Mountain has brilliant overhanging and exposed climbing at all grades. I’ve had days there that feel like full-on high-consequence alpine ascents and days that have all the anxiety of eating cotton candy.”  

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