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History of the Chain Ladder

A tribute to all the volunteers from the Johannesburg Hiking Club and those from the Mountain Club of South Africa, for the prescience, perseverance and erection of the chain ladder at Foothold.

As the JHC did not have any routes up the mountain on it’s own property, it was decided in 1995 to reconnaissance for a suitable route in order to reduce our dependence on our neighbours. An environmental study was conducted and with assistance of Neil Margetts, Patrick Douglas-Henry and Bruno Vogt from the MCSA, the Foothold administrator, Robert Douglas, four possible sites were recommended. The water gully was chosen.

Heavy duty mining grade chain was donated by McKinnon Chain and after weeks of cutting and welding, a low priced chain ladder evolved. The installation came next. Many abled bodies assisted in the Great Chain Haul lugging this weighty object to its resting place. Who will ever forget the backbreaking work! On 20 January 1996, the chain was doubled up and carried by volunteers to the gully.

This was followed by getting a hired generator to the site so that the drilled holes in the rock could be made to secure the pins of the ladder. This aspect took weeks as it was the wet season and often the venture would be overwhelmed by lightning flashes, thunder and heavy rain, almost as if the "Mountain God" was trying to keep us away from our succeeding in this venture. Too many names to mention individually, but with all the willing volunteers, the chain ladder was installed and a dedication ceremony was conducted in March 1996.

The JHC is indebted to all those who contributed to this event and made the chain ladder a reality – even those who made the tea and cake!!!

Neil summed up the proposal on 24 July 1995 thus: "Although this site has quite a steep route to follow, it is not apparently as intimidating as it could be, due to the fact that the gully is largely concealed by a large tree, and a huge choke stone which looks quite spectacular, but makes the place feel safe. The person with a fear of heights will be more confident here. In spite of the many rungs of the ladder, the top is reached surprisingly quicly. Without realising the distance, one is walking up the ledge to the top of the escarpment, - this ‘surprise’ adds something to the route. This route is challenging without being intimidating. The gully has a definite excitement to it."


Total chain required 26 meters of heavy duty chain and 25 meters of lighter chain. The ladder was constructed from twin 13mm gauge short-link inswell free chain (grade 800 Tocalloy), held apart by rungs 400mm long of galvanized water pipe, outer diameter of 21mm. U-shaped rock staples of 12mm mild steel welded over mild steel galvanized M10 nuts, anchor the ladder away from the rock face. Total project cost R7 793,51.

Phase 1: Holes for anchoring the ladder to the rock were drilled in the late 1995.
Phase 2: Transport the ladder to the site.
Phase 3: Test – one very heavy hiker.
Phase 4: Official opening of ladder 2 March 1996. 

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