Rainbow Glen Climbers profile: Andre Schoon

Dave Webster of Rainbow Glen chats to climbing legend Andre Schoon...

Tara and I have lived in the same road as Andre Schoon for about 15 years (there is one house between us). 

He was the President of the Mountain Club of South Africa when I joined in 2001.

We moved to Montagu in 2009 and I remember going to his house to buy a copy of “Table Mountain Little Fifty,” a calendar of photos he produced celebrating the Cape Floral Kingdom. Andre has always been a respected climber but there is so much that I don’t know about him.
So, I decided to find out more about my neighbour . . . . .

Andre lives right at the entrance to the Montagu Mountain Reserve.  Climbers heading into Bad Kloof will often park outside his house, and the word on the street is “it’s okay because the guy who lives there is an old climber, so he won’t mind”.

Born in 1938, Andre turned 86 this month.  He and his wife, Sandra, still walk Bella, his beautiful black labrador, on a regular basis.

Andre grew up in their family’s home in Kenilworth and went to school in Wynberg where the gym master was a guy called Alf Morris.  Alf was a mountaineer and introduced Andre to Table Mountain and climbing.  Andre’s great-uncle, Dr Benny Hewitt, was also a president of the Mountain Club of South Africa, and so growing up, Andre was exposed to a full set of the journals and as an avid reader, this helped spark his enthusiasm for the outdoors and mountain adventures.

“1958 – Andre Schoon, Hans Graafland, Hilton Wittle & Paul Schoon – Mount Kenya Expedition”

Andre graduated from studying Civil and Structural Engineering at Stellenbosch University in the 1960s, and this is when he really started to enjoy climbing with his fellow students Hans Grafland and Henry Snijders.

He and Hans organised their first expedition – climbing Mount Kenya via a new route on the North Face.

Andre was part of the opening party for big country routes like the South Face of Mount Superior in the Hex River Mountains, and Via Centrale at Castle Rocks in Mitchell’s Pass close to Ceres.  Champs Elysees, a classic on Postern Butress, 12 Apostles, is also one of Andre’s routes.

It was around this time that Andre won a scholarship with The Federation of British Industries to work in London.   Living right in the heart of London, close to Oxford Street and exposed to the arts, theatre, and opera, it was quite a change from Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

Andre joined the North London Mountaineering Club which was helpful in developing his climbing with frequent trips to North Wales.
He spent 5 years living in London which was a stepping stone to The Alps (Chamonix) and the Italian Dolomites and during this time met Sandra through mutual friends. 

Together they took an old Ford Anglia on a 6-month road trip around Europe, camping in farmers’ fields and discovering European adventures.

After returning to Cape Town in the late 60’s Andre Joined a top-notch engineering firm Liebenberg and Stander, where he was involved with some cutting-edge big construction projects for those times, like building the Gouritz River and Bloukrans Bridges on the Garden Route and the Cartwrights Corner building in Cape Town. 

“Climbing Papillans Arete – Mont Blanc Masiff”

Andre went on to become a senior partner with Liebenberg and Stander, whose maritime division was involved with the design and building of the SAS Drakensberg, the largest SA naval ship ever to be built in South Africa.

In 1970, Andre (together with Greg Mosley) was a member of the South African disaster relief expedition to the Cordillera Blanca Mountains in Peru, after a massive earthquake had caused huge loss of life.  With his engineering background, he helped to evaluate the earthquake’s damages and made recommendations on the many water control works built on the high moraine lakes.

Andre and Sandra lived in Hout Bay during the 1970’s and had three children.   Sandra was the school secretary at Llandudno Primary School until the 2000’s and basically ran the school.  Many ex-Llandudno school students have fond memories of her.

“Andre has been to some spectacular mountains- from top left clockwise:
Alpamayo, K2, Uli Biaho & Laila.”

“Opening party of Eclipse: Geoff Ward,
Alastair Schoon & Pete Du Preez.”

In the late 70’s, Andre, together with Pete Du Preez, Geoff Ward, Mike Scott, and others, were involved in the opening of many of the classic routes at Wolfberg above Sanddrif campsite in the Cederberg. Routes like “Eclipse”, “Omega”, “Day of the Jackals”, and many more feature his name.

Into the 80’s, Andre was the leader of several Mountain Club of South Africa expeditions to Peru and Bolivia. His amazingly detailed diary with accompanying photos can be found here:  https://sites.google.com/view/eight-expeditions/home.

“Drop-Line practice.”

Andre was the head of the MCSA Search and Rescue Team for many years and helped to develop the “Drop-Line” rescue technique that is used to rescue injured climbers. 

The MCSA awarded him with the Gold Badge of honour in 1993 for significantly furthering the cause of Mountaineering.

He served as the National President of the MCSA from 1996 to 2002, a period when he was also the South African representative of the UIAA (International Union of Alpine Associations). 

Andre and Sandra retired to Montagu in the 2000’s. Here he has continued with his appreciation of nature through his hobby – photography.

They bought a piece of mountain side called “Venster-Bank” in the Koo on the crest of the Langeberg and built a small mountain cottage that they have enjoyed staying at with their family and friends.

So, the next time you hurriedly park your car outside Andre’s house on your way into Badkloof, just remember that the person that lives there is one very interesting guy!!

David Webster

Rainbow Glen Climbers
Rainbow Glen Climbers