2022 Black Diamond Tradathon Report

Read what Tim Larsen has to say about the stupendous 2022 Black Diamond Tradathon...

By Timothy Larsen

When I ask people why they haven’t tried trad climbing, the usual answer is: “Trad is just too hard to get into”. This is true – unlike sport climbing and bouldering, trad isn’t something you can just go out and start doing. Yes, the gear is expensive, but gear doesn’t keep you safe if you don’t know how to use it… and figuring out how to use it properly is the real kicker. Although YouTube is good, it’s not nearly good enough to teach you to climb safely – what you really need is to find an experienced mentor who can guide you through the complexities of traditional climbing. Now, most of the time it can be almost impossible to find someone to be your mentor, BUT once a year it becomes very easy… once a year at the Black Diamond Tradathon!

Photo by Tim Larsen.

The ninth Black Diamond Tradathon climbing festival was hosted at Karbonaatjies Kraal in the Karoo on 24 & 25 September 2022, and it certainly was one for the books. Over 100 climbers gathered to climb rocks the traditional way – without bolts.

Located two hours outside of Cape Town on the property of the Karoo 1 Hotel Village, the Karbonaatjies Kraal kloof offers seven walls of fantastic trad climbing laid out in a horseshoe shape. The highest wall is the main amphitheatre, which towers at 100m with a whopping 20m of overhang. There is a relaxed ten-minute minute stroll to reach the entrance of the crag, after which you can access the walls either by making use of one of the seven bolted rappels or scramble down the west or east ridges. The most popular wall was The Junction which holds the easier multipitch routes. For beginner traddies, the Three Pillars and Princess Di Wall were the first choices, with aspirational route-openers finding new lines at the far east end walls and between the established climbs on the Princess Di Wall.

While most of the attendees had been climbing trad for many years, there were a whole bunch of new climbers stoked to get into the sport. I had the privilege of helping two guys, Zane and Gary, hone their trad leading skills and stoke the psych by taking them up the stellar Dinkum Dog (17) multi-pitch on The Junction wall. We had some extra lessons in self-rescue by mistake…

To access the west side of the Karbonaatjies Kraal crag, one has to either scramble or do a 60m rappel… exactly 60m, not 50m. I didn’t think to check my climbing partner’s rope – he thought it was 60m, so that was good enough for me… until it wasn’t and I was stuck 10m in the air with no way to communicate with my climbing partners. After getting myself off the ropes onto a very convenient bolt, I waited for Gary to make his way down the too-short ropes. Once he arrived I helped him swap onto the 60m single rope, which I secured to the bolt, and he rappeled to the ground off the bolt. I did the same for Zane, once he got to the ground he shouted up, “I feel like I’m getting full value out of this ‘Learn to Lead’ course!”

I then tried to pull the ropes to rap off the single bolt… but the ropes were stuck. Shoot. Fortunately, I was saved by the fact that the long end of the rope was against the knot so I could safely rap off the single rope and run around (in my climbing shoes) to the top, undo the ropes and toss them down, then run back down (still in my climbing shoes) back to the base of the rappel. Problem solved!

Gary and Zane dressed to impress. Photo by Tim Larsen.

The highlight of Saturday was Dinkum Dog; in the last two hours of climbing ten of us climbed the route, Yosemite style. I lead directly behind Vittoria as she followed Rob up. The second pitch is where the money’s at – it climbs over a bunch of bulges in the rock that would be hard if there wasn’t a gorgeous jug waiting at the end of every reach. And then you reach up again, and there is another jug! And another! On and on for the 50m pitch the jugs go… what a dream! If you don’t harden yourself before the climb, you might just cry – it’s that good.

But the tradathon isn’t just about climbing. It’s also about meeting people, good conversation at the crag, and the social evenings. On Friday and Saturday evenings everyone piled into the dining hall and bar for good food and great conversation about the day’s climbing. The hardest part of the evening was deciding who you wanted to sit with, because there were just so many incredible people! Many stayed up very late, but I opted for a relatively early bed so I could get an early start the next day.

The chain of climbers on Dinkum Dog. Photo by Tim Larsen.
Vittoria Camisassi on Dinkum Dog. Photo by Tim Larsen.

Sunday was the day for pushing – the easier bucket list routes ticked off on Saturday, it was time for something spicy. I set my eye on Rastarock (21). The route travels through a highly improbable break in the big roof on the monster wall. Pitch one is graded 19 and pitch two is graded 20… but the route is graded 21?!

Initially, the grading may seem off, but go climb it and you will see why it’s a 21. Run out at the top of the crux with gaping space below you, suddenly the jugs stop feeling juggy and the small reaches feel huge. Twice during leading that top pitch I had to refocus and stop death gripping the rock… but in the time between those moments, it was one of the best routes I’ve ever climbed! 

Looking up at Rastarock (21). Photo by Tim Larsen
Ollie tackling the fierce 21, belayed by Steve. Photo by Tim Larsen.
The fight is tough, but the view is worth it. Photo by Tim Larsen.

The 2022 Black Diamond tradathon was a major success, and you can bet we will all be back next year! If you are interested in trying out trad and sadly missed this year’s event, follow @blackdiamondsouthafrica on Instagram to get notified about the next Tradathon as soon as the venue is chosen

Click here to check out more stunning pictures of the action from David Naude and Paul de Villiers.

An infectiously joyful snap of the author by Paul de Villiers.

Click here to check out Tim’s official event report for Black Diamond.

Congratulations to the winner of the Tradathon raffle Trad Rack, Anthony Bertasso.
Timothy Larsen
Timothy Larsen