Cathkin South Gully (standard route)

05 Aug 2019 22:31 #75209 by ghaznavid
On Saturday, AndrewP and I decided to have a go at Cathkin Standard Route in a day. And before there are a bunch of people saying "if Ghaz can do it, I can do it" and heading out and trying it as a day trip - Andrew carried all the gear and lead all the pitches, so I was more of a passenger than actually doing anything :lol: To be honest, I am not actually sure I would have made it up that gully with anything more than I was carrying. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We went up Shada Ridge, and then followed the South East Ridge to 2430m before traversing to the Cowl Fork River. The traverse was pretty standard foot-killer side slope. There was a dodgy washaway, but the rest was fairly solid.

Cowl Fork was not too bad, with the occasional side grass slopes to avoid obstacles and a bit of scrambling up waterfalls.

The Cathkin South Gully starts off fairly tame - we stayed on the grass for a lot of it. But as you start getting higher, you end up having to traverse insane side-slopes to avoid obstacles.

Here is Andrew on one of them. It doesn't look too bad in the photo, but bear in mind there is more than a 50m drop next to that corner he is going around.

From the ledge itself:

I wasn't counting the grass ledges as I had bigger problems to worry about - but it was somewhere between 4 and 6 really bad ones.

To be honest, getting to pitch 1 is more of a crux than anything else. This gully is not to be underestimated - with a light pack it took me ages to get up, and there were numerous places where I wasn't certain I could get across safely - but there was no safe way to rope up due to lack of anchors.

Pitch 1 is graded C, and is fairly easy. Mostly just walking on exposed ground.

Pitch 2 is badly sandbagged, Andrew suggested F2 rather than the official grade of E. The crux is the exit from the chimney and short sequence above this.

The gully itself is spectacular, with massive towering cliffs on both sides. It takes your breathe away, but that might have just been exertion.

We couldn't figure out what pitch 3 was from the RD, so Andrew made up his own line. From the top of pitch 2, he went about 5 to 10m right, scrambled up some easy ground, traversed back left and then went up some interesting sequences. Luckily there is no photo or video evidence of what Andrew described as me looking like a beached whale coming up this pitch :lol:

The obligatory summit shot:

My take on this route: I could only do it because Andrew did all the hard work. It is far harder than the grade suggests, and very dangerous in places. It isn't to be taken lightly and in my mind can't really be done with an adequate degree of safety due to the lower section of the gully. If you are strong enough, rather do the South East Ridge.

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05 Aug 2019 22:35 #75210 by ghaznavid
Regarding descent - we went down the South East Ridge. The RD says that it is a 50m abseil - it is actually 60m. I didn't have to undo my belay device at the bottom, I just flicked the end of the rope through it. Notice on my photo of Andrew coming down how the rope is just above the ground with a short bit coiled on a rock.

We did 3 abseils in total, the second one was about 20m and was just easier than looking for a gap in the cliffs. The 3rd was about 30m and ended at a small cave on the nose of the ridge.

There is actually a cave at the base of the South East Ridge route, so anyone wanting to use that route - it is easy to break into 2 or 3 days.

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06 Aug 2019 19:14 #75225 by AndrewP
Please bear in mind than Ghaz's worries about exposure are from the viewpoint of a hiker. A climber will barely flinch at any of the grass traverses. They are no worse than anything on the bell traverse and are way easier and safer than the approach to south ifidi pinnacle or the scrambles on the std route of outer horn.

You can easily do the abseil with a 50m rope and then casually scramble down. The SE ridge is a really cool ridge to follow
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07 Aug 2019 08:27 - 14 Aug 2019 12:13 #75227 by ghaznavid
The first traverse on Outer Horn is similar in exposure to the grass traverses - a fall means death, but I did that on a rope, which makes it feel a lot safer. That was also on rock, which felt solid and wasn't as slippery as grass on Cathkin. I don't think anything on Bell Traverse is in the same league as those grass traverses. I found Pyramid overall easier than Cathkin - the crux move on Pyramid was harder (we went straight up rather than bypassing the main crux), but the overall route was easier. Notably I aided the crux (only the crux, nothing else) on both.

The comparability of grades on Berg routes remains ridiculous:
- pitch 1 on Rhino Eastern Arete (by the line I took) is supposed to be F1 as per Gavin R, while the top pitch there was graded E. Pitch 1 was easy, big moves on very good holds. The top pitch was far harder.
 - Cathkin was supposed to be E, but that chimney exit was also very difficult.
 - Pyramid pitch 1 was supposed to be C, but was much harder than the D pitches higher up (well, the first 4m anyway)
 - Sherman's Route grading of D and E seemed fair
 - Mitre's grading of E on the original RD is too high, there are almost no moves on the route.

I have also learned that F1 at Monteseel and F1 in the Drakensberg aren't the same. Gavin R and the original RD grade Adam's Apoplexy at Monteseel as a F2/14 - and I have lead it multiple times. Most E pitches (supposedly 10s) in the Berg are at least at the same level as that route. I've lead a 15 chimney at Umgeni and it was far easier than Cathkin's chimney that is supposed to be a 10.
Last edit: 14 Aug 2019 12:13 by ghaznavid.

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