Climbing the legendary Towerkop outside Ladismith, 2008
Towerkop (2189m) is one of the five major peaks in the Klein Swartberg range. The first known attempt to climb it was made by a Mr Ziervogel and party in 1850, but their attempt failed through a severe thunderstorm, in which several of the party nearly lost their lives. The peak was deemed unclimbable, and a bet of £50 was made in Ladismith that nobody could get to the top.
Then, in 1885, a young farmer named Gustaf Nefdt, made history in being the first person to climb Towerkop, and probably unknown to him at the time, he also opened the first rock climbing route in South Africa. [Sources vary greatly on what his age was, claiming from 19 years to 23 years of age. His first name is also either spelled as Gustaf or Gustav]
On the 24th of October 1885 Gustaf Nefdt woke early from where he and some friends have slept the night before. They were camping on the plateau on their way to Towerkop, and leaving them asleep, Nefdt slipped off towards the summit pinnacles. He had no prior rock climbing experience, but with pure determination he started off on the final face in bare feet and without a rope.
With genius use of modern techniques, he managed to get to the summit, leaving behind one of his socks he had put in his pocket. [Another version claims that he removed his boots, but kept his socks on during the climb.] The downclimb was even more difficult – Nefdt had slithered and fallen the last eight metres, escaping with only small scratches and bruises.
Arriving back in town, Nefdt found that he couldn’t collect the £50 wager since nobody believed him. A party of farmers set out to have a try – and returned disgusted. Nefdt was a fool and a liar, they said. Not even a lizard could scale that face.
Nefdt was cross. To regain his honour, he set out to climb the peak again. He mustered a party with, amongst others, excise officers Melville and Stockdale, who were to act as witnesses. At the base of the face Nefdt was searched. Then, to the amazement of his friends and witnesses, he completed the climb until he stood on a firm ledge near the top. By means of a rope Nefdt then brought up two of his friends, Wapenaar and Theunissen, and the trio scrambled the last section to the summit where they recovered Nefdt’s sock from under a stone.