In September 2012 a group of 3 hikers decided to explore a possible route up the slopes of Gypaetus Point at Giant's Castle. The goal: a non-rock pass alternative to Bannerman Pass. The result was a non-rock pass that is very steep but incredibly scenic - well worth the effort.

Rating:
* * * * (7/10)
Difficulty of the pass is rated from 1-10 (10 being very difficult, only to be attempted by the fit and experienced). A subjective quality rating is indicated by the number of stars (1 being low, 5 being the highest). Factors such as scenic beauty and overall experience come into play here, which may differ from person to person.

Access:
The easiest access to the pass is from Giant's Castle car-park via the Bannerman Hut route. The pass starts one stream north of the Martial Eagle Stream (the stream that flows down at Bannerman Hut).

Details:
The pass is approximately 2.7km long and gains 810m from Bannerman Hut. It includes a short traverse, but is otherwise very steep. There is no trail at any stage and no cairns to mark the route. A GPS is highly recommended.

Route:
Instead of taking the turnoff from the contour path to Bannerman Hut, follow the contour path for about 100m further till you reach a stream with a fairly rocky bed. Follow the south slope of the stream gully (don't hike up the gully itself). Most of the rock bands are easy to walk through without any scrambling. Near the top a small amount of scrambling is required. Continue to follow this gully through a few rock bands till 2850m. At the GPS co-ordinates of 29°14’55.9”S 29°25’33.3”E 2849m (WGS84) (a point known as "help point") you reach a large rock band. Do not attempt to scramble this rock band or climb one of the grassy routes through it (you can easily get through this rock band, but you don't need to). Traverse under this rock band until you reach a small waterfall (you will be looking head on at Bannerman Face). Continue to traverse until you are past the waterfall, where there is a steep but wide grassy bank. Climb the slope till you reach around 3060m. Traverse further toward Bannerman Pass under this 3m high rock band. The route turns around a sharp corner (very exposed) and then suddenly you are on the escarpment!

Finding the pass from the top:
This pass doesn't look like anything from the escarpment. The summit is roughly halfway between Gypaetus Point and Bannerman Pass' summit. There is a small cairn at the top.

Overnight Spots:
Bannerman Hut is an easy to use overnight spot near the base of the pass. There is also an easy-to-access cave in the second layer of the bottom rock band of the pass (it is a simple traverse to reach it) - this cave has not been inspected and it should therefore not be relied on till it has been properly checked out. At about 2500m there are some small flattish spots on which a tent can be pitched. There are plenty of good spots to pitch tents near the river between Bannerman Ridge and Gypaetus Point on the escarpment.

Water:
There are a surprisingly high number of rivers and streams on the pass. The first gully of the pass is near a fairly large stream (it may be dry for parts of the year). Once the traverse is started there may be water on the waterfall that is traversed under, but otherwise the next water will be in the stream that runs between Bannerman Pass and Gypaetus Point on the escarpment.

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ghaznavid's Avatar
ghaznavid replied to: #69942 03 Oct 2016 22:16

Smurfatefrog wrote: I think if you did Tseke along the actual path you'd find it quite easy

Mayhaps. After you do Gypaetus Pass you can do the necessary comparison :P
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Smurfatefrog replied to: #69936 03 Oct 2016 12:45

ghaznavid wrote: I would say harder than Mashai Pass, easier than Tseketseke.

I think if you did Tseke along the actual path you'd find it quite easy. Langies would also seem tough if you tried to go directly down the gully ;)
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ghaznavid replied to: #69935 03 Oct 2016 12:40
The full writeup for our trip this last weekend is on the Mini-Hike-Reports thread. But a few notes on the pass:
1) I'm going to give it a 6/10 difficulty rating, mostly for steepness, but partly for route finding. Farouk rated it as "harder than Mnweni Pass" - it has been too long since I did Mnweni Pass for me to make a similar comparison. I would say harder than Mashai Pass, easier than Tseketseke.
2) Clearly someone is using the general area as there is a trail developing on the lower half, and the summit traverse also have a trail now. No signs of trail in the middle, though.
3) Gypaetus Cave won't be great in summer as it looks like it will be wet, but with some rock moving and flattening out with a trowel, the cave should be quite comfortable. It is very well sheltered, and there was dripping water about 20m away on Saturday. The stream in the gully was still flowing at the height of the cave - from the car to the cave in a day would make a solid day out, and would cut the pass neatly into 2 bite sized chunks. E.g. Saturday to Gypaetus Cave, Sunday up to the top and walk out via Bannerman, one of the Hlubi's or Langies.

With a much greater degree of knowledge than what I had roughly 209 weeks ago (and 3395km of Berg hiking ago), when I did this pass the first time - it is a very different pass to most others. Scenically it is much more impressive than the likes of Bannerman Pass, but not even close to the likes of Organ Pipes Pass. I guess it wouldn't crack my top 10*, but definitely above average.

Navigation - I annoyingly forgot to get the GPS track onto my device, and hadn't read up on the pass in about 4 years (baring AndrewP and TonyM's comments on it), but was able to find my way up by memory. The directions are basically:
1) Hit the gully till 2840m when you hit a cliff
2) Turn left and traverse till you pass a waterfall
3) Climb up the ridge working around into the next gully to the left, ascend till you hit another cliff
4) Turn left and walk onto the escarpment

Not a pass for a team of newbies, but a great hike for the experienced explorer (cough, cough, Smurf :P )

We found half a rusted set of those things they use for cutting thatch (or possibly wool, not 100% sure) near the top of the lower gully, and found fresh bones with blood on them near the top of the pass. There was also a clear trail from about 2500m to 2700m in the lower gully, and the final traverse had a trail developing. So something is happening on the pass.

Here's a photo of the lower trail developing:



*= my top 10 passes in terms of scenery:
1) Cockade Pass
2) Cockade Pass
3) Cockade Pass
4) Cockade Pass
5) Cockade Pass
6) Cockade Pass
7) Cockade Pass
8) Cockade Pass
9) Organ Pipes Pass
10) Cockade Pass
AndrewP's Avatar
AndrewP replied to: #69153 14 Jul 2016 17:56
Here is a link to a forum post for Gypaetus Pass
vertical-endeavour.com/forum/11-drakensberg-passes/3154-gypaetus-pass.html
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ghaznavid replied to: #69070 06 Jul 2016 15:01
We took 8 hours from where we camped on the pass to the top, but I wasn't very fit at the time, Fitness had done basically no High Berg hiking and Hobbit was 11.

I am planning on using Gypaetus Pass on my "Pizza and Poker on Popple" MCSA trip in October (part of their 125th anniversary 125 peaks goal) - so the difficulty and speed was worrying me a bit. But we'll do Bannerman Hut, up the pass and up Popple in a day - so that is a very short day.

So we now have 3 known uses of the pass, with 7 individuals - probably caught up to Uklebe pass then :laugh:
tonymarshall's Avatar
tonymarshall replied to: #69069 06 Jul 2016 13:45
I'm not that big on rating things, and expected the pass to be a bit easier than it was, mainly because I had underestimated the steepness of the gully and upper grass slope. We did the pass - from the stream crossing near Bannerman Hut to the top (including visiting Gypaetus Cave) - in 4 hours, so it wasn't that bad. My thoughts are, however, that the rating of 7 is a bit high and it should probably be more reflective to give Gypaetus Pass a rating of 6, from your example of Fangs Pass, it is definitely easier than Fangs and other 7 rating passes.
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ghaznavid replied to: #69068 06 Jul 2016 09:01
Thanks for the writeup - it is great to see this pass getting a bit of use :thumbsup:

At the time of doing it, I thought it was a 7/10, but I had done very few passes at the time, so it is hard to gauge whether or not my difficulty rating was any good. That rating would be as hard as Fangs Pass - which I suspect is not the case. What would you rate it in terms of difficulty?
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tonymarshall replied to: #69067 06 Jul 2016 08:55
Higher up the gully I estimated we were at about the height of Gypaetus Cave, and left my pack and traversed to the left to look for the cave. The photo below gives a good idea of the steepness of the terrain as I headed off to look for the cave. Photo courtesy of Lorinda.

It was fairly easy to access the cave, just visible at the centre of the photo below, along a sloping grass ledge.

Gypaetus Cave is quite large with a levelish area at the back where about three people could sleep, although it’s far from any water and probably not on most peoples to do list.

A view out of Gypaetus Cave over the valley below.

We were glad to be reaching the top of the steep gully, and below the next rock band began a traverse to the left.

We were now at the level of the mist that had moved in earlier in the afternoon as we traversed below the rock band for quite a long way.

At the end of the rock band we ascended a very steep grass slope, but in the mist it wasn’t possible to get any photos that showed this. Near the top of the pass we got above the mist and enjoyed seeing the late afternoon sun on the slopes across Bannerman Pass.

A short traverse left below the final cliffs and we were at the top of Gypaetus Pass, quite close to the top of Bannerman Pass. In the photo below Lorinda is at the top of the pass, the final rock band is at the middle of the photo, and Gypaetus Point is on the left.

We set up our tents at Bannerman Campsite as the sun set, and it soon got very cold, with the temperature dropping to 0°C at about 18h00.
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tonymarshall replied to: #69066 06 Jul 2016 08:50
On the June long weekend Lorinda and tonymarshall ascended Gypaetus Pass, spent a day on the summit exploring and summiting some khulus, and descended Judge Pass.

We walked in from Giant’s Castle office using Bannerman Path up to the Contour Path and followed the Contour Path to Bannerman Hut before commencing the ascent of the pass. The photo below was taken from the Contour Path on the ridge before Bannerman Hut and the red line shows the route we followed up Gypaetus Pass. We chose a slightly different approach to the pass than ghaznavid’s group, going off the Contour Path past Bannerman Hut, having lunch at the stream just upstream of Bannerman Hut and then using the ridge north of the stream coming down Bannerman Pass.

Another view up the ridge from the stream, with Gypaetus Point in the background and Bannerman Pass at the left of the photo below.

We would follow the ridge almost to the lower rock band, traverse left below the lower rock band and then ascend through the rock band in the gully to the right.

Looking back down the ridge with Bannerman Hut way below.

We entered the gully just below the lower rock band and ascended up the gully to pass through the lower rock band.

We spotted the cave mentioned in ghaznavid’s write up, above the lower rock band to the left (true right) of the gully.

We stayed in the gully which was steeper than we had expected, preferring the boulders which we could use as steps to the steep grass slope next to the gully.

A view back down the boulder filled gully.
ghaznavid's Avatar
ghaznavid replied to: #69152 26 Sep 2012 21:10
Rating:* * * * (7/10)Difficulty of the pass...

In September 2012 a group of 3 hikers decided to explore a possible route up the slopes of Gypaetus Point at Giant's Castle. The goal: a non-rock pass alternative to Bannerman Pass. The result was a non-rock pass that is very steep but incredibly scenic - well worth the effort.

Read more...
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ghaznavid replied to: #55324 25 Sep 2012 08:44
This is what the top of the pass looks like from just a bit up the ridge towards Gypaetus Point. The summit passage can be seen on the left, it disappears behind the jutting out land and then on the right you can see where it meets the escarpment.


Our final route up the pass was as follows:


I wouldn't recommend doing the bottom section the way we did. Rather follow the contour path for a bit longer rather than heading over the first ridge...
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ghaznavid replied to: #55316 24 Sep 2012 16:19

ghaznavid wrote: Looking at my photos from Bannerman Pass I have notice a possible route up the side of Gypaetus Point, it looks steep but less rocky than Bannerman Pass.




Has anyone ever tried going up this route? Does anyone know whether or not it is worth looking into?


So - this weekend myself, Fitness and Hobbit tried this route. Did we reach the top? Did we get lost in the mist? Did we all get sick from contaminated drinking water? Stay tuned to find out - a thread called "I am crazy, but I am not stupid" will follow soon B)
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ghaznavid replied to: #54786 03 Aug 2012 14:59
Ok, the photos got really stretched somewhere along the line...

My approx GPS track is as follows:



Interesting stats on the pass, its about 2.5km from Bannerman Hut and gains 800m over that distance :woohoo: average incline is 30 degrees, so not too bad and a steepest of about 60 degrees, so no more difficult than Bannerman Pass - I hope!

If the hike ends up happening (which it should), I will have a nice long write-up on the route...
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ghaznavid replied to: #54778 02 Aug 2012 19:29
Ok, final plans of the route, I hope to try the pass on the long weekend in September, provided I can put together a group - probably day 1 up to Bannerman Hut, day 2 up Gypaetus Pass down Bannerman Pass and hike back to the car park the next morning. The only worry is the part marked with an "X".









I will use the above to put together a rough GPS track with aid of GE.

Anyone interested in joining can let me know. It will be tough, the route up will be slow, but whether or not we succeed in finding a route up, its likely to be a really cool hike. If time permits, Gypaetus Point will be added to my "khulus bagged" list...
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ghaznavid replied to: #54550 28 Jun 2012 10:08

BobbyStanton wrote: Tis better to explore from the bottom to the top than to get stuck on a ledge on the way down with no climbing experience or equipment!
I think Confucius said that.


:laugh: Often true, eg False Tseke, but not a chance I wanted to hike up Hlubi Pass, that was too steep! If I can't see a definite route down Auditor Pass I will head down Judge Pass instead, I am a careful hiker, I don't take big risks - a failed hike is still a good story and an enjoyable weekend (well, if someone doesn't die, get severely injured and you don't have a miserable time of it...)

Btw would have loved to come to the MBC social tonight, armed with GT 2012 and Hlubi Pass photos for the open screen (2500 photos is enough to put any hiker to sleep!), but I will be in a meeting at the time :(
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BobbyStanton replied to: #54548 28 Jun 2012 08:18
Tis better to explore from the bottom to the top than to get stuck on a ledge on the way down with no climbing experience or equipment!
I think Confucius said that.
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ghaznavid replied to: #54540 27 Jun 2012 16:09
I have been looking at photos of the area again and I see caves on the route, gaps in the rock bank, very doable.

Anyone up for some exploration in October this year? My plan is to head up this pass and camp by the river northish behind Gypaetus Point, then head over the Popple ridge and try Auditor's Pass (see the thread that I am about to put up), assuming we can see a route down, otherwise Judge Pass.

The exact date is not yet finalised, but it won't be November as I am writing Board 2 in November, in December I am hoping to do a 6 day hike at Garden Castle and a 7 day attempt on the highest point in every province, so October will have to be it.
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ghaznavid replied to: #53988 22 May 2012 09:43
On the GT when we stopped for a break in this area I had a good look at the possibility of this route and I am now even more convinced than before that there is a possible route up and in late spring or summer I will hopefully finally get a chance to try it out - and hopefully climb Gypaetus Point while I am there. Pics from the GT that suggest a slightly different route to what I thought in the past (although my original route gets through the lower rock band in without rock scrambling on what looks like smooth wet rock):



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ghaznavid replied to: #3200 23 Jun 2011 18:02
This photo from one of my hikes earlier this year shows that it looks like getting to near the top is easy, the top rock band looks difficult though (excuse the angle of the photo, it was taken at a 45 degree angle for artistic reasons!)

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intrepid replied to: #3173 20 Jun 2011 17:37
I've noticed the route before too. Has lots of potential, just watch out for those potential little snags as mnt_tiska mentioned. Whether or not it has been done before is hard to say (it is impressive how much the early pioneers did do, and not all of it was recorded), but I am not aware of any official record. The Giants area actually has potential for several unmarked/new passes, interesting enough.
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tiska replied to: #3155 17 Jun 2011 11:35
Looks like a nice line! One of the great things about the Berg is the sheer diversity of these kind of approaches to the escarpment. The more you visit, the more you see the potential.

Whether these routes work out can often be determined by whether the route is closed out at some point by as little as 3m worth of blank basalt or else some steep and loose rock with a bit of a view underneath. Its hard to tell whether these features properly block the way until you are right on them. So I would advise taking a short length of rope and a light harness - maybe even just a sling to help you through those sections or help you reverse a section if there is worse higher up.

The chances are you'll be the first up this way.