VAL­LEY CRAG IN­DOOR CLIMB­ING CEN­TRE

THERE’S NO BET­TER WAY TO SHARPEN THE MIND THAN WHEN YOU’RE WAY UP HIGH AND YOUR FIN­GERS AND FOREARMS ARE WEAK­EN­ING FAST AND, EVEN IF YOU COULD REACH THAT NEXT HANDHOLD, YOU’RE NOT SURE YOU’LL BE ABLE TO HOLD ON . . .

In Flight Magazine - - IN THIS ISSUE -

Of course, at Val­ley Crag In­door Climb­ing Cen­tre, you’re al­ways on be­lay. Un­less you’re boul­der­ing, and even then not too far up. The chal­lenge draws you on, the adrenalin flares – but it’s safe.

So you hug the wall and, fol­low­ing your gaze’s tra­jec­tory, ig­nor­ing the burn of your mus­cles and us­ing the power of your legs, you streeeetch . . . seize and swing up­wards. It’s el­e­men­tal, like you used to do long ago when you were small, when the world was young. As Val­ley Crag as­sis­tant in­struc­tor, 20-yearold Bjorn Barnard, puts it: “It’s about think­ing, body po­si­tion and bal­ance.”

NEW WALLS TO CON­QUER IN PE

Val­ley Crag was launched in Port El­iz­a­beth in the Eastern Cape last year by for­mer school maths teacher, Ian Clif­ford, and it has fast be­come an oa­sis of ex­er­cise, fun and ad­ven­ture.

Clif­ford re­calls that when he was grow­ing up in PE there was noth­ing like Val­ley Crag avail­able, and he only started climb­ing when he lived in Cape Town for a year to teach. He be­came pas­sion­ately in­volved in the sport, joined a climb­ing gym, and de­cided then that he had to es­tab­lish some­thing sim­i­lar in PE. Back home he iden­ti­fied a space on trend­ing, off­beat Lower Val­ley Road, be­low his­toric Fort Fred­er­ick, and went to speak to Werk_, the de­sign and build co­op­er­a­tive, in the hope of sub-let­ting it from them.

It turned out to be more than fine be­causeWerk_ had al­ready laid out plans and ear­marked the space for – you guessed it – a climb­ing wall. Clif­ford signed a sub-lease and dis­cussed his vi­sion with Werk_’s Jan du Plessis, who helped him shape in prac­ti­cal terms what Val­ley Crag is to­day.

Eight mul­ti­plex pan­els were erected, 1,500 multi-coloured grips were hand-tooled from polyester resin and made fast, and ropes were fas­tened and safety mats were laid.A boul­der­ing cave with 40 routes was in­cluded for climb­ing off-rope, and then came the cherry on top: an in­sanely chal­leng­ing arch that had the top climbers whistling with ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Now, the aim is to ex­pand still fur­ther with more walls and routes.

A DIF­FER­ENT KIND OF SPORTY

Clif­ford says one of his goals was to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive for young­sters who did not fit into the nor­mal ar­ray of school sports in terms of in­ter­est, physique or ball skills.

“Often it’s not that these kids are ‘not sporty’. It’s just that there’s no sport avail­able at present at these schools that’s right

Val­ley Crag is also pulling in the stu­dent crowd, and there are few cooler places to be in Port El­iz­a­beth when the mu­sic’s pump­ing and these laid-back, steely-nerved young­sters, capable of do­ing 25 pull-ups with their fin­ger­tips, are go­ing head to head on the arch.

for them. Climb­ing takes phys­i­cal skill, self-pos­ses­sion, fit­ness and strength.You can rep­re­sent your coun­try, and do it for the rest of your life. Schools should in­clude it as an of­fi­cial sport in my view, and I’m on a mis­sion to get it recog­nised in that way.”

To am­plify this vi­sion he has started do­ing talks at lo­cal schools, and although there have been no of­fi­cial changes yet, the kids are flood­ing in for climb­ing par­ties and work-outs af­ter school.

It’s clearly not just at­trac­tive to boys ei­ther. Posses of pony­tailed ti­gresses are mak­ing their pres­ence felt. Girls are often bet­ter nat­u­ral climbers be­cause they rely on tech­nique rather than strength, he notes.

Val­ley Crag is also pulling in the stu­dent crowd, and there are few cooler places to be in Port El­iz­a­beth when the mu­sic’s pump­ing and these laid-back, steely-nerved young­sters, capable of do­ing 25 pull-ups with their fin­ger­tips, are go­ing head to head on the arch.

It’s good to know that PE, the lit­tle big city of Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, is keep­ing up with the rest of the world too. Alan and Mary Carter, who re­cently brought their grand­son Daniel to Val­ley Crag one Satur­day af­ter­noon, de­scribe the pop­u­lar­ity of sim­i­lar in­door “clip and climb” cen­tres in New Zealand, where they had just trav­elled. “It’s huge over there and it’s won­der­ful that it’s now come to PE. We like it be­cause it’s good phys­i­cal ex­er­cise for Dan, and it’s a great fam­ily thing too.”

DRAW­ING AT­TEN­TION FROM AFAR

Val­ley Crag in­struc­tor Jay-D Muller is orig­i­nally from Beth­le­hem in the eastern Free State, and the for­mer chair­man of the rock-climb­ing club at North West Uni­ver­sity, as well as the for­mer chair­man of the North West Climb­ing Fed­er­a­tion. If that’s not cir­cuitous enough, he laughs, he ar­rived at his new post via Viet­nam.

“I was in Hanoi teach­ing English as a sec­ond lan­guage and I spot­ted this post on Face­book about this cool new climb­ing cen­tre due to start soon in PE. I thought, ‘This is for me.’ So I mailed Ian to say please keep me in mind when he starts hir­ing peo­ple. A month ago I got a call from him and I headed over.”

Be­sides the fun of the ac­tual climb­ing, it’s a won­der­ful way to en­gen­der trust, re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

My first time at Val­ley Crag, with my 15-year-old son Nic on be­lay, I made it to the top of one wall and called down to en­sure he had taken up all the slack and was ready for his dad’s de­scent. De­spite our train­ing, I wasn’t sure he would be able to hold me. But his tech­nique was good and I ab­seiled down, bounc­ing out gen­tly, like I learned long ago when I was his age at the Moun­tain Lead­er­ship School in Clarens.

Ini­tially hav­ing to be yanked away from his com­puter games, Nic has since re­vealed a reser­voir of muscle mem­ory and nat­u­ral abil­ity that has made us both proud.

We de-rigged, re-rigged, and he got ready to as­cend. “Climb­ing?” he asked, look­ing me in the eye to make sure I was ready. “Climb on,” I de­clared, and up he went.

Open­ing Spread Left: Val­ley Crag In­door Climb­ing Cen­tre is lo­cated in the Lower Baak­ens Val­ley, a bustling hub of ex­er­cise venues, restau­rants and off­beat en­ter­prises near the Port El­iz­a­beth Har­bour. Open­ing Page Right: Val­ley Crag as­sis­tant in­struc­tor...

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