Nalle Hukkataival in The Realm
What the hell do professional climbers do, anyways?
If you religiously watch climbing videos and try to divine what you can from them about the lives of pro climbers, you could be forgiven for believing that the pros are simply living a dream life of sorts; drinking beers and sending boulder problems whenever and wherever they please. In the case of Finnish bouldering legend Nalle Hukkataival, there was a relaxed nature in our first few meetings in South Africa that gave me the impression he might actually indulge in such a hedonistic lifestyle. We would hang out, roast meat over a fire, drain a few bottles of wine, and usually go to bed around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.
What would happen during the day, however, was anything but laid-back and hedonistic. Every single time I tagged along with Nalle as he developed The Realm - a new bouldering area in the Bideouw Valley near Rocklands - I would watch with horror as one of the best climbers in the world spent countless hours scraping up his hands while clearing brush, building landings, stacking cairns, cleaning new lines, and occasionally climbing. Often times he would give first ascents to friends who were tagging along to help him develop this new zone. Many individuals would get the privilege of swooping up a first ascent, perhaps unaware that the (literal) path for them to snag that FA was paved almost exclusively by Nalle. Even in a place like Rocklands, where the rock takes virtually zero cleaning, finding and establishing a new sector is an immense labor of love, and often times means sacrificing a significant amount of time that you would otherwise get to spend simply climbing in South Africa.
For Nalle, there aren't many established climbs left to climb in Rocklands. I remember one night in particular, where I rattled off every hard climb I could think of in this massive climbing area, one after another. "Yup", "of course!", "yeah, hard one that", "actually I put that one up", Nalle would say after mentioning climbs like Monkey Wedding (V15), Speed of Sound (V14), Noise vs. Beauty (V14/15), and Get Railed (V14). The globe-trotting Finn has spent at least one month of every summer for past the decade in this remote corner of South Africa, and this fervor and dedication to the orange-and-black sandstone of Rocklands means that every year that he returns, there is an ever-dwindling list of existing problems for Nalle to climb. The only solution is to venture out into the bush, and see what new boulders might sleep dormant and unclimbed in the Cederberg Mountains.
"That's the cause of the soreness these days, much more than the climbing." I remember feeling absolutely shattered after my first day hiking and developing with Nalle. We met a crew of South African climbers in The Realm (which of course included the Rocklands guidebook author, Scott Noy), and I felt like I was going to faint on the hike up to the hillside that housed the new sector. The only pre-requisite for me tagging along and filming was that I agreed to carry at least one pad. Nalle's decision was to ratchet-strap two Black Diamond Mondo pads together, stuff his shoes, rope and water inside, and sling what looked like the real-life carcass of Spongebob Squarepants on his back. His daily routine seemed to be the following:
9AM - Wake Up
10AM - Eat the biggest breakfast available at the Traveler's Rest farmstall, with a cappuccino (thanks Aubrey!)
11AM - Put 80 pounds on your back and hike uphill for 30 minutes
Noon->8PM - Go absolutely bananas exploring the area, building a sensible trail network, finding new boulders, envisioning lines, and hopefully climbing a few.
8:30PM - Race back to the Traveler's Rest farmstall
9PM - Beer. Burger. Fries. Salad. Malva Pudding.
10PM->2AM - Wine!
The coolest part about The Realm to me, was that the boulders seemed to form a lot of problems for mere mortals. My thought going into this experience was that pro climbers were mostly interested in just finding and sending the next big challenge, leaving us mere mortals to plow through the brush and establish our own "easy" climbs. I couldn't have been more misguided. Nalle was actually quite pleased that The Realm was forming more climbs in the V0 to V10 range, and kept referring to boulder problems as "the product".
"Ah, that one doesn't suck! I'm glad."
"Wow, what a sequence!"
Far more important than the difficulty of the line was the quality of the lines (err sorry, the product), and The Realm certainly delivered on that front. One of the best lines that was established was The Eye of Sauron (7C+/V10), a contender for the best V10 in Rocklands (and I guess by extension, the world). That's a huge boast, but that's just my opinion, not Nalle's.
In the end, I only filmed for three days up at The Realm, but every problem I shot was an instant classic. While I didn't do a good enough job showing how much hard work went into developing this new zone, I hope I captured some of the stoke and drive that Nalle has for development. Sadly, it looks like I'll be missing out on the South African festivities this year, but if there's one thing that seems clear it's that the Cederberg Mountains are far from being tapped out for climbing. Look for The Realm in the upcoming edition of the Rocklands guidebook (wink wink, nudge nudge, get that thing done, Scott!).