Climbers flock to South Africa's "rock farms"

Fri Aug 5, 2011 11:21am EDT
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By Anton Ferreira

CLANWILLIAM, South Africa (Reuters Life!) - They carry mattresses on their backs, and in bars they are the ones gesticulating like crazed semaphore operators.

They are initiates of the sport of bouldering, and they have invaded the sleepy town of Clanwilliam in South Africa's remote Cederberg mountains in their hundreds, bringing an economic shot in the arm to the region 250 km (155 miles) north of Cape Town famous for producing rooibos herbal tea.

"The whole climbing thing has caught us a bit by surprise," said Thys Kruger, owner of De Pakhuys outside Clanwilliam, one of a half dozen farms offering no-frills accommodation for climbers.

"It's grown tremendously from 2004, when we had maybe 34 climbers. This year I'm expecting in excess of 500, mostly international climbers. Some of the top guys in the world climb here," Kruger said.

"When I bought the farm, I thought 'what can I do with all these rocks?' Now I'm farming the rocks."

Kruger estimated that climbers would pump from 4-5 million rand ($591,000-$738,394) into the economy of Clanwilliam this year.

Climbers flock to the bouldering mecca, dubbed Rocklands, during the southern hemisphere winter. Cold weather is essential, because sweaty fingers cannot grip the rock.

Jason Crase took a two-month break from the San Francisco climbing gym where he works to explore the zone of spectacular rock formations, caused by glacier action aeons ago.   Continued...

<p>Visitor Matt Ballard of Tennessee, U.S. climbs a boulder near Clanwilliam in South Africa July 18, 2011. REUTERS/Anton Ferreira</p>