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Adventure Travel

Apr 26, 2017

South African Duo Nears Completion of Trans-Atlantic Rowing Expedition

Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson want you to “Do One Thing”—anything—no matter how small, to improve the state of our planet.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

To inspire people to action, they decided to do one thing as well, only theirs was considerably bigger: They endeavoured to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town to Rio De Janeiro.

UPDATE: On the morning of May 9, South Africans Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson glided into port at Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Yacht Club, thereby concluding their trans-Atlantic Cape-to-Rio rowing expedition. Their 8,200-kilometer journey lasted 92 days and required approximately two million strokes. On a bluebird Brazilian day, the duo was greeted by well-wishers, media and government representatives from South Africa, all offering congratulations on their improbable feat. To view video of Malherbe and Robertson’s arrival in Rio, click here.

On March 9, when South African Chris Bertish arrived in Antigua and became the first person to stand-up paddleboard across the Atlantic, solo and unsupported, another industrious South African was approximately one month into a similarly huge world-record attempt. Braam Malherbe had left Cape Town on February 7, along with partner Wayne Robertson, with the goal of becoming the first team to row from South Africa to Rio De Janerio, Brazil. If successful, their crossing would also be the southern-most rowing expedition ever completed in the Atlantic Ocean.

And so, for the past two-and-a-half months, Braam and Wayne have been rowing their small boat, the Mhondoro, day and night.  The Outdoor Journal caught up with Braam on April 18, his and Wayne’s 71st consecutive day at sea. They were about 1000 kilometers shy of the Brazilian coast, but had deployed their parachute anchor for the day as the currents and winds were pushing them back eastward. Once finished, they will have rowed some 6,700 kilometers.

Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson heading out to sea on their boat, the Mhondoro. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.
Braam Malherbe and Wayne Robertson heading out to sea on their boat, the Mhondoro. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.

After that long at sea, Braam and Wayne were feeling pretty worked. “Between physical and mental fatigue, and sleep deprivation, you lose it a bit,” Braam explained. But despite having faced considerable adversity, they remain positive, their spirits constantly buoyed by the knowledge that they are rowing for an important cause, perhaps the most important there is.

“DOT. Do One Thing,” Braam said. “The DOT Challenge is an app we launched that we want to get millions of people using—like a Facebook for the planet.” The goal is to get people to start changing behaviours that are detrimental to the environment. The campaign focuses on four main issues: water, waste, conservation (of all species), and energy.

How does rowing across an ocean get people to take shorter showers? Or turn off the faucet when they’re shaving? Or any one of the other “one things” Braam has in mind? “This row is a catalyst to show that ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” he said. “And more importantly, we can do amazing things if we all pull together.”

It is a lofty goal, no doubt. But just as each stroke propels Braam and Wayne’s vessel closer to Rio, each “one thing” done by those to help the planet moves us in the right direction.

Wayne Robertson (left) and Braam Malherbe (right). Photo: Braam Malherbe collection.
Wayne Robertson (left) and Braam Malherbe (right). Photo: Braam Malherbe collection.

Braam is an Honorary Game Ranger in South Africa and sees the plight of the rhino as a perfect encapsulation of the environmental challenges facing the world. “The hunting of rhinos symbolises two things for me,” he said. “Greed on one hand, and ignorance on the other. And the human racewe can no longer live in a world of consumption and greed at an unprecedented rate.”

The two rowers have ample time to contemplate big issues and questions on their journey, as most of their time is occupied with simply grinding out stroke after stroke. They take turns: one rows for two hours, while the other sleeps, cooks and communicates with their land-based support team.

When they’re not rowing, they’re liable to be dealing with snafus of all shapes and sizes. “The boat has capsized four times,” Braam said. “Once in a 40-foot wave. Completely upside down, hatch closed, for a full five minutes.”

In one of the capsize episodes, Braam’s trip nearly came to a scary end. As the boat rolled upside down, Braam and Wayne were spun from one side of the cabin to the other. Somewhere in the chaos Braam broke his rib. “Very difficult rowing for a week,” he remembered. “And I still feel the remnants of it a month-and-a-half later.”

While it’s not the first mega-endurance challenge Braam has undertaken—he previously ran all 2,610 miles of the Great Wall of China in a single push, and ran along the whole South African coastline—it may be the most challenging. Beyond the sleep deprivation and capsizing, other difficulties include maintaining morale amidst the “bland views of ocean, ocean, ocean;” procuring enough potable water with their emergency water pump after their higher-tech, more efficient one blew up after only a few days at sea; and avoiding the path of supertankers, which they have several times come perilously close to colliding with.

Braam and Wayne leaving port in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.
Braam and Wayne leaving port in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Benjamin Malherbe.

While the end of the trans-Atlantic voyage is in sight, Braam sees it as just the beginning of the DOT Challenge. He hopes the app reaches millions of individuals. And he’s already got his next crazy, endurance project lined up: In 2018, Braam and Peter van Kets will embark on a “15-month circumnavigation of the globe along the Tropic of Capricorn, using only non-motorised means.”

It’ll be a wild adventure, but if he can get enough people to start doing those “Silly, little, tiny, teeny, insignificant things that if millions of people do themlike the movie Pay it Forwardthen we can change the world.”

Check back at The Outdoor Journal for updates on Braam and Wayne’s journey. To learn more about the DOT Challenge, visit the campaign’s website at www.thedotfoundation.org.

 

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Events

Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

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The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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