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Climbing

 ©SA Tourism ©SA TourismSouth Africa has some fabulous climbing, a fact that was hidden from the world for many years during the isolation of the apartheid era. The Western Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal have the most concentrated climbing spots, but there are some wonderful venues in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Northwest and Limpopo provinces. Beyond South Africa’s borders there is some excellent, but isolated, climbing in Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia. While there is good bouldering almost everywhere, there are a number of places that just offer so much in terms of rock, scenery and general vibe that they just stand out.

There are a number of climbing guides, many of whom also run climbing schools, in various parts of the country. If you have no idea whether you will enjoy climbing, the best way to decide would be to go out for a day’s simple climbing with a professional guide/instructor, or pop in to a climbing gym. And then, if you decide you like it, get some training before going much further. Like most adventure activities, climbing is relatively safe if you know what you’re doing, follow some basic rules and stay within your limits.

If you are an experienced climber and intend visiting South Africa or southern Africa to climb, please be aware that we have a zoning approach to bolting so it is only allowed in certain, pre-negotiated areas. Liaise with local climbers or get information from climbing shops or clubs before you start bolting. Some of the more popular sport climbing venues are very organised with camp sites and/or chalets.

Climbing grades are not internationally standardised. In South Africa, we use a numerical grading system similar to the one used in Australia, having recently changed from an alphabetical one. It is now much simpler and allows for the grading of more and more difficult climbs. As the sport develops and the previously impossible becomes possible, the system can just be expanded to include newer, more extreme grades. We have included the old SA grades in this table, as you may have come across them in old books or articles and will find it handy to be able to compare.


SA Old SA France USA UK UIAA*
9 C 3 5.4 Diff III
10 D 3+ 5.5 V Diff III+
11 E1 4- 5.6 Mild S VI
12 E2 4 5.6 Severe IV+
13 E3 4 5.7 Hard S IV+
14 F1 4+ 5.8 Hard S V-
15 F2 5a 5.8 VS V
16 5b 5.9 VS V
17 F3 5c 5.9 HVS V+
18 6a 5.10a HVS VI-
19 G1 6a 5.10b E1 VI
20 G2 6a+ 5.10c E2 V1+
21 6b 5.10d E2/3 VII-
22 G3 6b+ 5.11a E3 VII
23 H1 6c 5.11b E4 VII+
24 6c+ 5.11c E4/5 VII+
25 H2 7a 5.11d/12a E5 VIII-
26 H3 7a+ 5.12a/b E5 VIII
27 7b 5.12b/c E5/6 VIII+
28 7b+/7c 5.12c/d E6 IX-
29 7c+ 5.13a E6/7 IX
30 8a 5.13b E7 IX+
31 8a+ 5.13c/d E7 X-
32 8b 5.14a E8 X
33 8b+ 5.14a/b E8 X
34 8c 5.14b E9 X+
35 8c+ 5.14c E10 XI-
36 9a 5.14d E10/11 XI
  • International Union of Alpine Associations.

To put the grades into simple English: Anything under grade 8 is a scramble, not a climb. Grades 8 to 13 are relatively easy – not too steep with nice big handholds close together. Grades 14 to 16 may be a bit steeper, possibly with very small overhangs, but the handholds are still good. Grade 17 to 19 are quite a bit steeper and the handholds are much smaller and further apart – starting to get somewhat challenging. Grade 20 seems to be a big barrier, especially for trad climbers, and 20 to 24 are for very skilled climbers. Grade 25 and above are very acrobatic and only for seriously skilled hard-core climbers. These grades take no account of exposure so even a grade 8 climb may be very high and exposed.



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