Super Babe

Faye Brouard (not Super Babe) on the scary section of Forbidden Fruit (7b)

A day at the crag follows a predictable routine. Wander in, warm up, decide on ‘the business’, and then get on with the task at hand. We all ponder powerful, complex sequences and shout like banshees when one of us decides to step up and try to pull it all together. We talk a lot of rubbish, fall off and say things like, ‘Damn I am thrashed …’ We pack up and then wander off for a glass of the foaming goodness before tottering home with a smile on our faces. This works for me. Occasionally, though, you witness something that is outside of the ordinary and is burned into that place in your brain that is labelled ‘Memorable’.

The regular crowd was gathered at the base of a new line at Umgeni Valley – Forbidden Fruit, 26 (7b). Typical of Umgeni climbing, this brilliant line has many themes. A classic technical stemming corner, a scary off-balance and led-out arête to a powerful roof move which delivers you to a classic Fontainbleau slab crux. Kind of like one of those huge ice-cream sundaes – with everything on it. My friend, Super Babe, was giving it a go and was doing nicely. She danced up the corner and was coolly contemplating the arête. We were sharing lunch below – nattering away while seeing how many different things we could squeeze onto a cracker. Questions drifted down from above and advice wafted up from below.

Super Babe kicked it up a gear but soon found herself trapped between two bolts – unable to reverse and rather unkeen to move forward. With stuffed cheeks (and sometimes without even looking up as we reached for the cheese) we muttered the usual sentiments ‘Come on … you can do it’ … etc., etc. Fifteen minutes later though we were ignoring the food as a titanic battle was undoubtedly unfolding as she became more and more fatigued. No more wisecracks from the buffet spread below.

Then came the unexpected – a sob. This was not good. This was even more than real. We were stunned into silence as one sob followed another until soon she was howling and shaking like a widow all the while battling her enraged forearms. We panicked and ran around in circles at the base before deciding that a rescue was obviously in order.

Fortunately her boyfriend was on rap taking pictures. Like a true photographer dispassionately recording everything to ensure that she would never forget that day. We snapped him out of that mode as the situation was now truly dire. He rapped down, stretched out his arm and said “Babe – grab my hand’. We were completely nauseous and stressed by this stage, everyone focusing on the outstretched hand – a true cliff hanger … Will she make it? … Come on, please! Then the unexpected.

‘No,’ she said. Then incredibly, ‘Go away!’ We were in agony down below, hands sweating and pulses racing. He (and silently us) pleaded with her but she remained resolute, slowly piecing back together her fractured psyche until in silence (bar the occasional sniff) she stepped back into the arena. This was no ordinary individual. This was strength of character to inspire epic poetry! We screamed till it hurt when she got to the next bolt and incredibly kept on going – up the wall, through the roof only to be finally spat off the impossible slab. She lowered off and sat quietly at the base. She didn’t look relieved, only disappointed and perhaps a little embarrassed. I on the other hand had to lie down, drained yet completely inspired.

Todd Skinner used to say ‘You are the product of your mountains’. If that’s true then this girl has a resolve of steel. Super Babe I salute you.

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