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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tony Heher of the Mountain Club of South Africa

Herewith a personality profile on Tony Heher from the Mountain Club of South Africa:

As you may notice from the articles this week, and the topic for Friday's social, climbing safety is something of an obsession, arising from some of my early climbing experiences. Soon after I started climbing in the 1960's, I was the unfortunate belayer who held a 10m leader fall. Thanks to the good belay and safety techniques that had been drummed into us beginners, the leader survived, but it was a close call. In addition, in the following few years, there were three fatal climbing accidents involving friends or club members. Fortunately I was not on any of these meets, but I saw the impact on their companions and it contributed to me being a cautious climber all my life. This caution served me safely through 45 years of climbing, until in 2006, to my acute embarrassment, I was airlifted off Vlakenberg - for a torn ligament - while walking! This incident, and a couple of others on meets I was on, renewed my interest and involvement in safety matters.

At the University of Natal, where I started climbing, the Drakensberg was our main playground. Sentinel, Pyramid, Column and Mponjwane were some of the climbs we did, using an old Viking hawser rope and a few pitons. In retrospect, terrifying, but that's all we had! With leads of 30-40m with a single piton as protection, climbing well within one's limits was mandatory! Learning that critical holds do grow back again was also part of the Drakensberg 'experience', as was another tip for Drakensberg climbing - if you find a good hand hold, throw it away. As most Drakensberg climbs require many abseils to get down, abseiling became a routine - including retrieving an "illegal" banner off the 10-story library at the University of Natal - which made the front page of the local press. Little did they know what a doddle this was compared to the average rather hairy Drakensberg abseil.

In the early 1970's two years at the University of California provided opportunities to explore the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. This included climbing three 10 000 ft snow capped peaks - all with a baby on my back! Having a family is no barrier to enjoyable mountain exploits. The next 25 years of climbing were mainly in the glorious kloofs of the Magaliesberg: Tonquani, Cederberg, Trident, Grootkloof and many more. We also enjoyed many extended trips to the Drakensberg to our second home - a family farm adjoining the Drakensberg wilderness.

During this period I helped run climbing clubs at both my son's and daughter's schools in Pretoria. We had a lot of fun together and the first SA inter-schools meet at Tonquani in 1986 helped change perceptions about school kids climbing. Teaching my daughter that shorts were better than skirts for climbing was also a notable achievement - to the disappointment of the boys! The only downside was that the kids were out-climbing me at a younger and younger age every year. Interestingly, and not coincidentally, one of the St Alban's pupils I climbed with was Nigel Basel, the developer of the mailing package that the Club is now using. Climbing creates many life-long connections and friendships.

Climbing in the Cape really only began in earnest in 2006. 200 meets in the last 3 years with the Club and U3A have helped me complete most walking and scrambling routes on TM and the Peninsula and now the country routes beckon. Re-doing old long forgotten routes and opening new routes has been a fun part of these explorations. The only problem is too much to do and too little time!

During the 12 years prior to retiring, much of my work was related to economic development, including the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Park and several projects in Lesotho. This influenced my views on mountain development and use and contributed to setting up the multi-media mountain wiki This has now become a major project - contributions are welcome!

My present involvement with web and IT matters stems from 30 years in the IT industry. Intriguingly, the current use of Web 2.0 technology is directly related to my PhD in Computer Science which I started in California 38 years ago! The more the world changes the more it stays the same... Sharing what I have learnt (and am learning all the time) is a key focus, including establishing a team who can run with the changes the Club is making. If you are interested, do come and join a great team. You will learn a lot about the Club and have fun.

Well done to Tony, you have an amazing story and I loved reading it!

1 comment:

Sandy McKellar said...

Hi Tony Do you have contact info for Anthony and Leonie Jackson who I knew in the late 1950's. My email is Sandy McKellar

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