Page 45 - SA Mountain Issue 64
P. 45

                                 ian at work in his ‘of ce in the clouds’. Photo Slatem collection
  Besides being a friend, Ian was a ravine, covered in the classic ’Berg grass.
 partner for mad mountain schemes. Remote, long walk-ins, uncertain outcomes – back in the 1990s Ian could always be relied on to think any such idea was a brilliant plan. We did various Drakensberg trips, but one objective we never stopped chasing was the Western Injisuti Triplet. I don’t remember our  rst attempt, other than that we failed. But I de nitely remember the second! This time we were determined to maximise our chances.
The two of us hiked in with big packs
– rack, ropes, tent, stove, sleeping bags, water. And we hiked all the way up, right to the base of the rock. We were determined to give ourselves the very best chance
of getting up the route. I remember a
cosy night in a cramped spot,  lled with anticipation, laughter mixed with nerves.
Early in the morning, Ian poked his head out of the tent door to a magni cent view
of . . . nothing. Moisture-heavy grey mist had us entirely enveloped. We waited a few hours, drinking tea, swopping the usual platitudes about how the sun would rise and burn it off. The sodden cloud mocked our best hopes. The rock was wet, the route invisible – it wasn’t going to happen. We packed up the heavy rucksacks and began back down the route we’d scrambled up the day before. Steep slopes, dropping down hundreds of metres into a rocky
ian Slatem on one of our trips into the drakensberg in the 1990s. Photo cathy o’dowd
The tufts were so solid that it was often safer to pull-up on a handful of grass than on the crumbling basalt rock. But now that grass that bent down under the weight of the drizzle, making a uniform overlapping surface that was lethally slick in the wet. Every downward step felt  lled with the treacherous potential of slipping. It took hours of nerve-wracking work to reach the river, and through it all Ian was grinning happily, caught up in the joy of being part of a wild mountain adventure, whatever the conditions.
Of course, we looked back from the car after hours of sodden hiking to see the clouds slowly parting, the peaks teasing us in the distance.
‘We’ll get it one day,’ said Ian. Life took me to Europe and Ian through several injuries and years of sailing in Cape Town. But the potential was always there. We stayed in touch and planned to meet again next time he came to Europe, next time I visited Cape Town. Now that next time will never come. Ian’s cheerful, competent, bone-deep love of the mountains has left us, and for me, the Westen Injisuti Triplet will remain in his memory, forever the one that got away.
 Cathy O’Dowd

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