You’ve heard about Boven Open Weekend – here’s how it went down

This blog is a thank you letter to every individual and entity who made Boven Open Weekend possible. And it is a showcase of what is possible when you put politics aside.

Like any industry – especially one with so much growth potential – the climbing industry in South Africa is rife with politics, sensitivities, old wounds, and intricacies. As an independent media house, the Send Space aims to work outside of those issues and towards a common goal which we believe every climber and climbing brand holds. What goal? Read on.

The rise of an idea

A few months ago, Mienke and I were invited by the MCSA JHB chairperson, Stephen Hoffe to join the MCSA at Large – “an initiative to promote and pursue projects for the benefit of the club and the outdoor community by utilising more of the MCSA’s potential”. Steve made a smart move. He understood that there are individuals in our community who are prepared to push for a common goal – and he was right. Together with about 10 other people, we started brainstorming some priority projects which would help transform the industry, attract diverse climbers, and promote sustainability.

It was probably in our first meeting that the Emgwenya Climbing Club came up – the local climbers from Waterval Boven. They had received an amazing gear donation some time back and it was envisioned that a meet was needed to officially hand it over. My reaction, naturally: “You want me to create an event? Now you’re speaking my language. Let’s have a massive party and invite everyone!!”

Enter: Boven politics, raw wounds, sensitivities and about two decades of complicated interplays that Mienke and I didn’t know much about. We decided to learn just enough to get by without stirring the pot (we hope), and move on with our vision. We had chatted to the Emgwenya Climbing Club and they said that they wanted to show us their favourite crags, take us on an epic hike, and rig a bridge swing for all to enjoy!

The individuals who made it

We pulled together and before we knew it, we had the support of Boven locals who were excited at the prospect of a weekend event where they could show off the hidden gems of the Emgwenya lower valley – things which many of us Boven regulars miss completely in favour of upper valley camping.

Now we know, if you want to make things happen in the town of Waterval Boven, you’ll do well with the help of these amazing individuals:

  • Morris Nkosi from the Emgwenya Climbing Club
  • Claire Taylor from the local Community Policing Forum
  • Viv Brown from the Emgwenya Heritage Centre
  • Gus and Alex from Roc n Rope

An explosion of attendees

A few happy coincidences later, we had the involvement of the Wits University Mountain Club and a busload of students eager to join in the fun. Between these kids and the Emgwenya Climbing Club, we had achieved a critical mass which snowballed into a weekend which saw the lower valley crags “busier than I’ve seen any crag before, in my life” (a sentiment I heard from many). We never did a proper headcount but estimates range from 80 – 100 people spread over three crags and the market at the base where two local businesses were selling food and drinks.

The atmosphere at the crag on 8 October 2021 is hard to put into words. I saw climbers from every age, ethnicity, and competency level trying their best, and trying together. Gear everywhere. Hammocks. Dogs. Teenagers. Children. Old toppies. Dirtbags. Fashionistas. ROPE BELOW!

A fun day out culminated in a braai at Roc n Rope where I saw all these unique and diverse people come together once again. We cooked for each other, we ate together, we saw the “old toppies” putting the students to shame over a bottle of whiskey.

A long walk together

Sunday was a mildly soggy but altogether breath-taking hike led by the Emgwenya Climbing team. They had been working for weeks to clear a good quality trail which took us past several waterfalls and a bridge swing rigged at the Five Arches Bridge. Mildly hungover but altogether enthused, the MCSA and WUMC attendees abseiled down the arch (using a figure 8 belay device, many of us for the first time). Once on the ground, a walk to the bank next to the arch got us to the jump-off point for the swing which didn’t fail to make you smile as you Tarzanned through the historical arches.

The start of a journey

We know that politics, perceptions and misconceptions don’t change in a weekend. Two days of socialising does not magically create a transformed and integrated industry. But you’ve got to start somewhere. Despite the politics at play, I believe every brand, entity and individual who participated in Boven Open Weekend wants the same thing. We want to see our industry grow and integrate, become accessible and sustainable. We are on the same page. Let’s create the next chapter for SA climbing – together.

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