Words by Sam Haddad photos by Bearcam Media
Google Earth has opened up myriad new frontiers for travel and exploration. It's been especially exciting for the climbing community, as they can zoom in on cool-looking spots remotely before a trip and get some idea of their scaleability. Which is exactly what the pro rock climbers Cameron Maier, Jimmy Webb and their friend Clement Perotti did last year.
At a cafe in Paris one evening, Clement Perotti told his pals he'd found "big house-sized boulders set on top of hillsides" in Swaziland, an independent kingdom within South Africa.
As Cameron Maier says: "The topos looked good enough, but Jimmy and I were just as stoked to go somewhere new and way off the beaten path of most rock climbers’ itinerary."
"We had never heard of climbing in Swaziland. We couldn’t find any real info on the web, and we figured we'd have to describe where the country was to half the people we told about our trip."
Here, Cameron Maier introduces himself and talks us through their epic Swaziland trip.
I’ve been climbing since 2005. I prefer bouldering but I spend about a fifth of the year on sport climbing trips as well. They also have their appeal, it just depends on who I'm rolling with.
I’m based in Colorado so I’ve spent most of my time climbing there, but I now travel more than half the year so I spread the volume out in various countries.
Before Swaziland the most unlikely place I’ve climbed at was probably Chile, bouldering on the coast next to these working-class fishing towns. We were kind of just right in the mix there, not far from town with graffiti and other items that had drifted to these caves by the sea.
My friend Clement Perotti had the idea to visit Swaziland after he spent some time google-mapping the area and finding lots of what seemed to be sizeable boulders. It made sense to check out areas within striking distance of Rocklands, South Africa, because that’s a relatively common area for many European climbers in summer.
The trip wasn’t so tough to put together, the climber Jimmy Webb and I were in South Africa so we met the rest of the crew in Johannesburg and drove up to Swaziland after a quick flight from Cape Town.
Topos are what we call maps, just an overview of the topography of an area. I think ten years ago to make this trip happen you would have had to just roll out to Swaziland on a whim. You probably wouldn’t have made a flight down from Europe. But like I said, it’s just a quick hit from Rocklands. So we decided it was best to just to go and see!
My first impressions of Swaziland were: make sure you go to the three different buildings at immigration check-in in the correct order! That was a fun experience late at night, haha. Other than that, I really enjoyed the scenery’s various shades and hues of colour, and the people were very nice and happy to welcome us.
We learned quickly that even though the people in the countryside didn’t have a lot of money, they were very happy.
The climbing was quite good! Technical proud lines on solid stone.
My hardest climb was a sweet V8 that Jimmy put up called Reve de Ron. He named it for me, I spent a couple days on it and sent at a really nice moment once the sun went down. It felt great to climb it! The last move was kind of loco, I didn’t know if I would stick or not.
The locals seemed very happy and somewhat surprised to have us. As it turns out, there is not really a concept of private property in Swaziland, the land is communal so we weren’t stepping on anyone’s toes as it were by checking out boulders.
Some of the best boulders were in our new friend Walter’s backyard and he was eager to try out climbing with us! Another spot that had many boulders was on a hill behind a family’s residence that had a lot of kids.
I really enjoyed the scenery’s various shades and hues of colour, and the people were very nice and happy to welcome us.
They were pretty stoked I think, they even carried lots of our gear all around the hill. And wrestled on our crashpads when we took breaks.
They ran around on the hill climbing and hanging out with us, having a good time. It must have been funny for them to see us foreigners out climbing these boulders in their backyard, super random!
We stayed at Bombaso’s Hostel. A great backpackers’ hostel located close to the climbing and with a great hang for beers after climbing! We rented a Landcruiser or something similar. A 4x4 is mandatory.
The highlights for me were just cruising around these hills, especially at sunset, and finding new clusters of boulders. Some good 4x4 romps were had. We even got stuck and had some ladies come out and help us with a shovel!
At the beginning of the trip we were unsure if there would be any climbable rock! We were just cruising around on a whim. It took a few days but eventually we found a method that worked: go to areas with more vegetation, so the rock is protected from the elements like sun and wind.
These spots produced some really outstanding stone, the best of which we found on our last day! Haha! That’s just how it goes sometimes. Anyways, what we saw is enough for a return trip.
I’m in Spain right now shooting some climbing, then I’ll head to South Africa, where I might just return to Swazi! Off the beaten path adventures are far and away my favourites.
I am down to go anywhere I haven’t been before and usually hesitate when I am offered travel to a location I’ve been to before. For sure if I return again I will have to mix it up with a trip to Namibia or Angola
Cameron Maier is sponsored by TopoDesigns.com