New ground on the Western Triplet

02 Nov 2019 08:21 #75424 by AndrewP
Way back in 2012, I saw a photo of the Western Triplet in Serpent Spires.  I have wanted to climb it ever since. Te magic line as I saw it would start up the original route, and then when that moves right on pitch 5 to some of the worst rock in the berg, the new line would move left / go straight up.

In 2016, Neil Margetts and I had a good look at the peak from the escarpment and decided it would indeed go. We climbed the Eastern Triplet then, and took a whole lot longer than planned, so never got around to the Western Triplet.

In 2018, Chris Sommer and I were planning the Western Triplet but at the last minute switched plans to climb Inner Mnweni Pinnacle instead.

By now, things were getting silly, so once Chris announced plans to visit SA in October this year, Neil, Chris and I immediately jumped at Western Triplet.

I am never one to stick to easy when you have an option to go big. So, we set off at lunchtime and made our way to Lower Injasuti Cave. Chris and I have never used this before, so the we got a 'first'on day 1. The next day we set off up the valley, aiming for the break between Greater and Lesser Injasuti Buttresses - we did after all have climbing gear to help if needed. At the base of the gully, I had to admit it did not look promising, so we took the tried and trusted line up Hilton Pass instead. Doing this is hard work at the best of times - doing so with climbing gear is a whole lot worse. Once on the escarpment, dodgy weather chased us southwards across the Red Wall. We decided to use a lovely bivvy spot on the ramp leading down to the Middle Triplet. This would give us a quick start the next morning.

Neil took the first pitch up the chimney, which was mostly a walk. First E - tick.  Chris lead the traverse out left. Also at E, but a bit of route finding at least made the grade seem worthwhile. A made a meal of the 3m down and 3m up climb at the start of the arete. The next 60m went in a few minutes, and then Neil set off up a tricky looking slab. He took us as far as the point where the original line splits off right (and the arete becomes a whole lot steeper and more intimidating)

I then took over. I traversed left, into a recess and ambled up to a ledge a few meter above Neil.  I conveniently created enough rope drag to justify calling the pitch. Neil was not impressed. Considering that the weather was not ideal, it was great through to be at an established abseil point, and this was logically the stance from which to launch into the crux.

Neil negotiated some grass and lose rock and promptly reached the start of the crux. Here he found a peg with some tat on it - our guess is that this is the high point for another attempt by someone else. He placed another peg and then decided to come down.

I top roped to his high point. I then hung on his peg, while placing a peg of my own. I carry pegs into the berg, and have even placed a few. Never in a position where I expected to load it though. Neil thought we should just aid up the seam through the roof above, but I had other ideas. I pulled down on the peg I had placed and hiked my foot up to a high ledge out right. I was forced to let go of the peg to get established on the ledge and was now on lead for the first time.  I placed a useless black alien. Almost - it was above me so took the weight of the rope off my harness, and Chris and Neil thought I had gear in so they calmed down. I promptly learned how to place a peg on lead. The next move entailed pulling onto a small ledge above. I tried freeing the move, but the grass was really weak and my arms were in truth not much better. So, I placed another peg. It was inside a left facing corner which means you have to use a left hand to hammer it in - not great when the corner is high above and to your right. The resultant peg was probably useless, but I pulled on it anyway - I just pulled sideways so it would cam in place and hoped it would work. Apparently it was snowing lightly at the time. I was too absorbed to notice :-)

From here, the ground got easier and I set off upwards. Rope drag sadly stopped the pitch 5m from the top. Neil took us to the summit.

We were terribly disappointed to find a soggy summit book. We left our names and climbing details on a piece of paper and abseiled down. 

We were back at our bivvy spot by about 2pm. This is probably the quickest route to the top.

Route Description:
Climb the first four pitches of the original route. You are now on the arete at the point where it gets almost vertical.
5. 15m E Move left around the arete into a large recess. Climb easy up for a few meters and move right onto a good ledge on the arete. You should see a peg and tat for the abseil down.
6. 35m F3,A1 Climb straight up the arete, aiming for a short left facing corner just below an overlap. We found a peg with tat here suggesting a high point for an attempt by another party. Use pegs, hopefully still in place, to get onto a little ledge to the right. A commiting mantle gets you onto the next ledge, we pulled on the peg to the right. Hint, pull sideways not down. From here, easy ground takes you to a ledge a few meters from the top.
7. 15m D traverse right until able to step onto grass. You are now above the black groove of original ascent. Follow this to top.
First ascent: 26 October 2019 Andrew Porter, Neil Margetts and Chris Sommer.
Note: The leader pulled on 2 pegs and hung on 3 others while placing pegs. The first hard move will probably go free at about G3, the second at about G1

Original line in red, ours in green. It is interesting to note that every topo I have seen of the original line incorrectly shows the line we took and fails to show the black gully

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05 Nov 2019 22:22 - 06 Nov 2019 00:40 #75436 by intrepid
What an incredible experience on a very classic Berg peak! As many may be aware, typically this peak is climbed via the North West Ridge, which is the standard route (opened in 1969). Though a classic line, it is a long, committing climb and route finding can be tricky on the upper sections.

The Western Triplet viewed from Hilton Pass, with the left-hand skyline being the NW Ridge:

The Western Triplet appears far more accessible and quicker to climb from the escarpment, and it is indeed from that side that the first ascent was achieved in 1951. However, the original route has a very serious crux pitch on bad rock. The RD mentions that "the opening party attribute the G grade to the unsound nature of the rock and poor protection". This route has reportedly only ever had one repeat ascent - by Martin Winter and co, who described it as being "rather hairy" - noteworthy coming from a climber such as he was. The view of the Western Triplet from the escarpment has always left me with a good mix of fear and awe, especially with the legend of this "rather hairy" route in "the black recess". The sketch of the original route in Martin Winter's dairy as published in the book "Encounters with the Dragon" only add to this legend in my mind:

You could say that the Western Triplet is shaped like am empty toilet paper roll that has been flattened. The two major faces that is has are extremely shear and vertical, offering no easy climbing, let alone much protection. It remains that the climbing for the current time is on either of the two ridges (technically the crux pitch of the original route is on the East face, but it is still strongly associated with the South East Ridge, which is the ridge seen from the escarpment). I knew that the original route was not for me, as I could never reconcile its legendary "hairy-ness" as a risk worth taking. I think most climbers arrive at the same conclusion. So I always thought I would climb the peak one day via the NW Ridge. When Andrew and Neil identified a potential route from the escarpment side and we started studying high res photos that we had of this angle, I was naturally interested but was honestly filled with a fair amount of fear too. This calibre of Berg peaks always evokes feelings inside of me which are a blend of "dreams and dragons" , but whenever I studied the potential new line on photos, there seemed to be a lot more of the "dragon" feeling. This persisted over a few years as Andrew mentioned, up until the day we actually finally stood on the summit.

It turns out that the new route is a very good one which totally avoids the black recess and thus nullifies the "hairy" nature of climbing the peak from the escarpment side. Technically it is the South East Ridge. Unfortunately there already are two well known South East Arete's in the Berg on other peaks, as well as a well known Escarpment Arete. So it remains to be seen what name sticks for this new line. Don't be fooled by the F3/A1 grading, as some of the actual aid moves are not easy. There are several aid moves and one of the pegs that you pull on is placed upside-down and is not driven all the way in. I am very impressed at how Andrew managed to lead that pitch and place the pitons in the first place. It was a very fine moment in Berg climbing history watching him inching through the crux sequence with snow flakes swirling around him! The rock quality of this pitch is good by Berg standards.  While the NW Ridge will always remain a classic line, hopefully the new route will offer a more efficient access to the summit of this amazing Berg peak for future climbers. The experience of this climb will always remain vivid, golden and immortal inside of me. It was thoroughly worthwhile. And if indeed we do see a shift happen in how the peak is climbed from now on, then it is all the more reason to be extremely grateful to have been part of this.

I will close off my blurb now on this note (far more interesting photos of the climb will be coming in subsequent posts): in my personal journey of exploring and enjoying the Drakensberg, I have for some time identified "the Big Five" of climbing peaks. These are classic, iconic peaks which present a high degree of challenge, and which produce that unmistakable "dreams and dragons" mix of feelings inside of me. This is simply a concept which has a lot of personal meaning to me. The Big Five are: Devil's Tooth, Inner Mnweni Pinnacle, Outer Mnweni Pinnacle, Column, and the Western Injisuthi Triplet. With the Western Triplet now having been climbed, only the Outer Mnweni Pinnacle is outstanding for me. A big thanks to Neil and Andrew in this! They are both stronger climbers than I am and without them I would not be where I am today in pursuing the Big Five. In the words of Reg Pearse from "Barrier of Spears", these legendary Berg peaks have "a wild beauty of their own that tugs at the heart strings". And for those that manage to set foot on them, the memories will be cherished for a life time.

Summit shot on 26 October 2019:

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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Last edit: 06 Nov 2019 00:40 by intrepid.

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08 Nov 2019 04:05 - 08 Nov 2019 04:56 #75448 by intrepid
Classic view of the South East Ridge of the Western Triplet from the start of the descent gully to the base of the climb. The black recess of the original route is also visible towards the right.

Like every good write-up on Berg routes, usually little to nothing is said about the approach scrambles. This is the view down the gully which has to be down-climbed to reach the base of the route. Like every good Berg gully it has its share of loose rock and little obstacles which have to be overcome. Not surprisingly the down-climbing is the tricky part. The going up afterwards is easy.

Pitch 1 for the Western Triplet is actually on the Middle Triplet and this is the same chimney that was used on the first ascent of that peak. The chimney pretty much runs up the entire length of the Middle Triplet but the rock becomes very dangerous and loose later on (are we picking up on a theme here?):

Pitch 2 is a traverse which aims for the knife ridge that forms a bridge between the Middle and Western Triplet. In Winter's sketch the route is shown to traverse below a cubbyhole - I found that literally climbing through the cubbyhole and then across afforded better protection. This knife ridge then rises towards to the Western Triplet in the form of the familiar arete that can be seen from the escarpment. I found this ridge/arete system to be really fun and truly spectacular.

The knife-ridge at the stance at the end of Pitch 2:

Pitch 3 negotiates a distinct notch in the ridge (clearly shown in Winter's sketch). The pitch has to be kept short because of rope drag management. Here Andrew is climbing up the other side of the notch:

From the other side of the notch, the remainder of the ridge is easy climbing and even walking. The view of the Middle and Eastern Triplets from this point on get really cool and they stay fully in view for the rest of the climb:

And of course, the Western Triplet really starts towering above you when you are on the ridge. Andrew can be seen at the stance, which appears to be about a third of the way up in this shot. But there is loss of depth in this view, as we haven't even climbed the steep parts of the ridge-arete system yet and thus are still a little distance away from the actual peak. The original route is also clearly visible on the right (the black and grassy weakness in the face).

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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Last edit: 08 Nov 2019 04:56 by intrepid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, firephish, GetaPix, MarkT, tonymarshall, AndrewP, Riaang, Dave, GriffBaker

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11 Nov 2019 09:05 - 11 Nov 2019 09:11 #75457 by intrepid
After the ridge, the route steepens again into the arete which can be seen from the escarpment.

Looking down the arete, showing the knife-ridge nature of the ridge connecting to the Middle Triplet:

Where the arete abruptly ends into the much-more-vertical rock, is a good, well-established stance & abseil station (with an old peg and a wormhole for tat). This is where the serious climbing started. Neil established the first half of the pitch. In this shot a crack can be seen under the dark roof above him, running down to a grass tuft. In this crack he discovered a peg with not-too-ancient tat on it, suggesting that someone had tried this route but had lowered off at that point.

From this piton onward one of the crux sequences involved traversing slightly right, then up, then back left again to get around the overhang. Eventually you can stand on a ledge above the overhang and get a break before the next sequence. Here Andrew has traversed a little right, has placed a few pegs and is continuing upwards:

The last few moves before cracking that sequence and getting to the ledge above the roof on the left:

Unfortunately Andrew was not in view very well to get any good shots of him on the sequence above that ledge. Eventually Neil and I could tell he had pulled through the crux section because the speed of his climbing picked up. He was out of sight at that stage. Once he had established the next stance, he belayed both of us simultaneously.

Looking down at Neil setting off from the stance below. This shot was taken from the ledge above the roof referred to above:

The exposure on this pitch was exhilarating! The valleys below looked like you were looking at them on Google Earth.

Unfortunately I was not able to take any shots on the next sequence because it was too strenuous. I did get this shot of Neil on the somewhat easier parts just after the last few crux moves:

The final pitch was short and was an easy traverse around the corner to join up with the terminal end of the black recess of the original route:

A happy Andrew about to top out on the final pitch:

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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Last edit: 11 Nov 2019 09:11 by intrepid.
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25 Nov 2019 07:47 - 25 Nov 2019 08:06 #75471 by intrepid
Unfortunately the white tin serving as the summit cache is not holding out the wet and it was waterlogged when we retrieved it. The summit book was totally wet. We left a note with on a food wrapper we had with us and dug a hole under the summit cairn to try and hide the tin from the weather. Please consider replacing the summit cache if you are planning on climbing the Western Triplet! We did bring the summit book down with us. I have painstakingly been drying it and separating the pages. Luckily some of the names are retrievable!

View of the summit cairn with the Red Wall in the background:

Getting up is only half-way there! Luckily our descent went smoothly and the weather held, but tt was fairly windy on the summit and we did have to stack the rope in saddle-bag style because it was too windy to throw it:

Sometimes the descent can be more epic than the ascent and so here is a guide for getting down on the escarpment side.

The block for the first abseil is very obvious and at the terminal end of both the new route and the original route. We know of one party that also descended this way after climbing the NW Ridge, but the amount of tat on this block that is not from the 1950s suggests that other parties may have done the same.

The first abseil brings you back down to the ledge at the base of pitch 7 of our new route. There is an old but good peg in place as well as a good wormhole created by two boulders pinching together. We cleaned a lot of old tat from the wormhole and created an equalised anchor from both points. I believe this ledge is at the top of "the blocks" depicted in Winter's sketch and that this is were the original route splits form ours.

The second abseil is down to the obvious grassy slopes. These are the two longest abseils and the 2 x 60m ropes we had were ample in length tied together.

There is a short walk along the grass slopes to the next abseil which is off of a rounded boulder. It is a short abseil but seemed very necessary to do in order to get to the final abseil point which is at the V notch mentioned in earlier posts. This shot, taken partway down the 2nd abseil, gives the perspective:

Note that the MCSA RD only describes a total of 3 abseils. We did 4.

The rounded block serving as the anchor for the 3rd abseil - the tat was held in place by stacking more boulders against the block but the tat held quite well and did not slip in the least, in spite of how dubious it looks in this shot!

The third abseil:

The final abseil into the gully is off of two pegs, which are old but very solid. The pegs can easily be spotted from the stance for pitch 3 (which is at the distinct V notch in the knife ridge, talked about earlier and also shown in Winter's sketch):

Be sure to land in the gully very close to the start of the ascent route, above a major chockstone. Abseiling off the two pegs mentioned above does position you to do this very easily.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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Last edit: 25 Nov 2019 08:06 by intrepid.
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25 Nov 2019 08:51 #75472 by ghaznavid

intrepid wrote: The third abseil:

That is such a cool shot!

Well done guys, sounds like it was super epic.

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