Mbundini Abbey Spire
On the first Saturday of 2020, myself and AndrewP had the bright idea of day tripping the Mbundini Abbey Spire. My guess is that you can count how many people have stood on this summit using only your fingers (and not by counting in binary, where you fingers can reach 1023). Not because of difficulty, but simply because it is a very short and random climb with a very long approach. I am not sure if it would be easiest to approach from Sentinel Car Park or via Fangs Pass - but we decided to be sensible and approach it from Rwanqa Pass. Can't make it too easy, can we?
MBUNDINI ABBEY SPIRE (E)
(Map #1 : M:35 : 3089m)
Opening Party: Paul White, 'Ginger' Cairns and Donald McDonald.
Date: July 1958.
Time: 2 hours includes return.
The Mbundini Spire is a prominent free standing spire to the west of the Abbey ridge and south-west of the Abbey. From the escarpment to climb down 15 m on easy grass towards the Mbundini Abbey Spire nek. Abseil the remaining 25m leaving a fixed rope for a later ascent.
From the nek climb a 6m D pitch leading diagonally left to a cubbyhole at the base of a chimney. Loose chockstones make the chimney dangerous so, from the cubbyhole, climb diagonally up right (5m E) then traverse right (5m E) to a ledge. From the ledge 15m of scrambling leads to the summit.
Return: Abseil to the nek and then prussik up to the top.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1958, pg 86.
Andrew carried all the climbing gear, while I only carried my personal gear - bearing in mind that personal gear is already 2kg, there is no way I would have managed this in a day with a heavier pack.
Andrew traversing on the exposed ledge to the anchor we abseiled off:
There is a good anchor to abseil to the nek. Andrew brought an old 30m length of rope, which has to be left behind to climb back up later. Being a single strand of 8.5mm, I really should have set up a prussik backup for this abseil - I was struggling to keep the rope under control on the final overhanging section of the abseil.
The 6m pitch in the RD is most certainly not D grade. Andrew climbed it fairly elegantly - although there is no gear on it, so it is a sketchy lead. I would like to argue that I didn't aid it, but I am not certain that the rope was never loaded during a move - so this is debatable (although irrelevant as I was on top rope either way). The rock is good on this bit, but the sequence is very balancy - so I can't see validity in a grading of 8 to 10.
We could not figure out pitch 2 - what was on the RD and what was in front of us did not match - despite being at the cubbyhole at the base of the chimney. We followed the chimney up till it became overhanging and then traversed right to a good stance, from which we would later abseil back down.
Ghaz starting pitch 2, photo by Andrew.
The top of the chimney before the traverse was slightly overhanging and on terrible rock. They say "if you find a good hold in the Berg, please put it back" - well, gravity rendered this impossible as the holds were long gone into the abyss below! I eventually gave up, took my 2.4m sligh out, tied it into a ladder, attached it to a cam and aided up to the ledge - which was still pretty tough. No clue what sequence Andrew used on lead - I couldn't find usable holds!
Ghaz on the traverse, photo by Andrew:
The traverse to the stance was on a narrow foot-ledge with a hand crack below a bulge. This was terrifying as it required leaning back a bit to get around it. Andrew placed a cam just before the stance to protect this section, but I was aware that a fall wouldn't be pleasant.
The RD suggests scrambling from here to the top. If you have a death wish, I guess you could - but it is quite loose and very exposed. We roped up this last bit, which included a large rock of uncertain stability.
Getting to the top was strange - yay, we have done it, but we still have to abseil back to the nek, jumar back up the rope, and hike back to the Centre. It was getting late and we didn't have time to sit recover.
I down-climbed the top pitch on top rope, and then belayed Andrew down to the stance above pitch 2.
We then abseiled down to the nek.
Our abseil down to the nek. Photo by Andrew.
I had never used a jumar before - so after a brief tutorial on how to use them, I began to climb the cliff. This took about 20 minutes, and once I was through the overhanging section, I learned it was much easier to jumar with your hands between the rope and the rock - pain is temporary, memories are for life.
Ghaz jumaring up the rope, photos by Andrew
On reaching the escarpment - I lowered the jumars back to Andrew and then found a little cubbyhole to sit in while I waited for him. I knew the day was far from over, but the relief of knowing the ropework was behind me was significant. And the added bonus was I got to enjoy the view while waiting for Andrew to climb back up.
This climb has made me consider something - most Berg E grade routes that I have done have a short overhanging section on bad rock. Perhaps the comparison of E to grades 10 to 12 is inaccurate. Someone once told me to add 4 grades to any Berg grade, and I am starting to think they are correct. The other explanation I have heard is that crag grading is based on the hardest move on the pitch, while Berg grading is the average grade of the moves throughout the pitch.
Overall, one of the most epic days I have ever had.
Full story at this link.
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Why take 3-4 days to bag one of your last khulus when you can go big and get it in a day? I had considered doing it rope solo, but I knew that Ghaz needed to get Rwanqa and Madonna Passes so thought it would be more fun this way. It was
I rate the first 5m as a solid 15 or so. You could place some gear, but hanging about that long will probably make it a 20. As Ghaz says, I could not find pitch 2 as described. I went up the chimney and tried going left. I down climbed and went right. I down climbed more and went right. I nearly climbed straight up (a lovely finger crack, probably grade 19/20). I tried going left again. In the end, I found the traverse right, but that is after a few grade 17 or so moves on not-so-solid rock, but with bomber gear.
On the plus side, a 19 hour day is good training for bigger things
The only sad part is that after all of this, I re-checked the Murch list. And saw we climbed the wrong peak Oh, we climbed Mbundini Abbey Spire. But, that is not on Murch's list. He has the Fangs instead. So, yet another big day lined up