Corner Pass Northern High Approach

18 Dec 2013 16:30 - 27 Dec 2013 17:16 #59259 by tonymarshall
On the December long weekend, elinda, Richard Hunt, warwick shaw, Sabine, Thora, Tish and tonymarshall ascended Corner Pass using the Northern High Approach, an alternative to the usual route into Corner Pass from the Contour Path where basically the stream flowing down from Corner Pass is followed up from where it crosses the Contour Path.

We had hiked up to Centenary Hut from Injisuthi via the eMbovaneni valley and ‘Heartbreak Hill’ on the Friday, and tented or used the verandah at Centenary Hut which was very dirty inside and has almost no windows left. From the hut we would head up the ridge to the Contour Path (just above the greener grass), a short distance right along the Contour Path, and up the faint path visible above the Contour Path, and follow the path into Corner Pass. The lower paths going to the left in the photo below are followed for about 300 m to collect water from a nearby stream.



On the walk in, the escarpment was obscured by mist, and although it cleared during the late afternoon, the light on the peaks wasn’t great, so it was great to have a spectacular early morning view on Saturday. The Trojan Wall, Injisuthi Triplets, (right part of the) Red Wall, Hilton Pass, Injisuthi Lesser Buttress and Injisuthi Greater Buttress were prominent above Centenary Hut. The ridge on the left is the ridge we ascended for the Northern High Approach.



Above the Contour Path we followed the faint path up the ridge where it goes through the low point of the upper rock band in the photo below.



The view back down the Northern High Approach ridge to Centenary Hut and the ridge above ‘Heartbreak Hill’ and the eMbovaneni valley, to the left midground.



At the top of the first rock band, the path became very clear, and we followed it steeply up the ridge until later on it flattened out for a while before again becoming steep further on along the ridge. It would be possible to tent on this flat area, but water would have to be carried up from the stream near Centenary Hut. The Judge is the prominent peak visible a third in from the left skyline of the photo below, with The Corner at the right.



A view back down from the steep section, with Warwick taking a breather while Richard slogs on, with the flatter section in the background.



Up ahead the path undulated as we approached the main rock band.



The path goes up to the bottom of the rock band, and there is a scramble up through the flatter part of the rock band, diagonally up from left to right, and then the path resumes above the rock band, from right to left.

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Last edit: 27 Dec 2013 17:16 by tonymarshall.

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18 Dec 2013 16:34 - 19 Dec 2013 15:41 #59260 by tonymarshall
Sabine and Richard on the lower section of the scramble, which got quite tough just above this level. The other ladies took their packs off and Richard, Warwick and I helped to haul and carry them up.



A view back along the route from above the scramble, with the height of the scramble apparent down to the path below.



Not far from the top of the scramble, you turn the corner of The Corner ridge and Corner Pass is visible for the first time. The path descends gradually to enter the Corner Pass gully.



Looking back down Corner Pass gully, with the Northern High Approach route coming into the gully from the left behind the hikers. The rock outcrop in the background at the top left in the photo below, is the left hand end of the rock band visible in the earlier photo with The Judge and The Corner on the skyline.



Corner Pass is a narrow gully with a lot of rocks and boulders, and two major waterfall obstacles to negotiate. There is also a cave, Corner Cave, on the true right side of the gully, which we saw but couldn’t get to due to the wet, steep rock slopes.



The higher (ie: upper) waterfall is just below the top of the pass, where most of the packs were taken off and passed up. elinda climbs the waterfall while Sabine and Richard watch from above.



A view down from the top of Corner Pass, showing the ridge where the Northern High Approach enters Corner Pass.



A view back to the top of Corner Pass as we departed north-eastwards along the escarpment. The top of Corner Pass is the left hand side of the low point on the skyline, with The Corner to the left and The Judge at the right of the photo below. The mist and clouds over Natal had covered the escarpment cliffs, and we didn’t get the view to Trojan Wall from near the top of Corner Pass that JonWells and Smurfatefrog had later that afternoon, and it seems that the beers we had left at the top of the pass for them had also disappeared into the Dragon’s Breath. ;)



After ascending Corner Pass via the Northern High Approach, we continued our four day hike with a summit exploration before descending Leslie’s Pass. Write ups to follow.

Special thanks to Highlands Fanatic and Selous for assisting with information and photos of this route, and to Sabine for compiling our route gps track, to navigate by in case of mist.

This write up has concentrated on describing the Northern High Approach to Corner Pass, and not so much on Corner Pass itself. I will post some more photos of Corner Pass.

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Last edit: 19 Dec 2013 15:41 by tonymarshall.

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18 Dec 2013 19:51 #59263 by ghaznavid
Thanks for the writeup :thumbsup:

Corner Pass is on my passes-to-bag-in-2014 list seeing as it is the last pass marked on the map at Giant's Castle that I have left. I plan to do it from the Giant's side though - probably via the smugglers path from the south.

If you don't mind me throwing a few questions at you -

Do you mind posting the photo of the other waterfall?

How wet was the gully? Is the pass a completely dry riverbed or just a small stream?

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18 Dec 2013 20:07 #59264 by tiska
Many thanks for another gold standard TM write up.

I'm interested to know how much shorter (time wise) the high approach to Corner Pass is.
Does it save 30 minutes, 45 minutes or more than an hour?
One thing is for sure, the approach from the contour path crossing of CP to the summit takes in one of those demoralising, daunting views. The high approach at least puts you into the throat with some variety - even if its not shorter.

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19 Dec 2013 04:08 #59266 by Serious tribe
Ditto on the gold standard report. Excellently done as always. I love the blow by blow way you show the route, especially this one as i have always wanted to do CP via this route.

I am also really amazed at how obvious the path is once it has gone over the first slope.

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19 Dec 2013 09:40 - 19 Dec 2013 09:41 #59270 by HFc
Glad I could assist Tony!

tonymarshall wrote:


This photo shows the crux of the Northern High approach. It is important to cut back right and up through the rock band at this point. I have a hunch (including the John Hone story in Encounters), that many guys continue along below this rock band in thick mist. It eventually ends at a East facing head that can be circumvented from the ridge side, but then drops downs nastily on the other side. This correlates with the Encounters story to some extent (although obviously I am guessing here). This route will also lead into the Corner pass gully, just one rock band lower, and one ends up wasting energy going down a bit and then up again. The route Tony and the gang took, which I did a decade ago, wastes the least energy. It is tough though.

Very good going guys!!
Last edit: 19 Dec 2013 09:41 by HFc.

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19 Dec 2013 09:49 - 19 Dec 2013 14:20 #59271 by HFc

mnt_tiska wrote: Many thanks for another gold standard TM write up.

I'm interested to know how much shorter (time wise) the high approach to Corner Pass is.
Does it save 30 minutes, 45 minutes or more than an hour?
One thing is for sure, the approach from the contour path crossing of CP to the summit takes in one of those demoralising, daunting views. The high approach at least puts you into the throat with some variety - even if its not shorter.


Well, if approaching from Centenary hut, it cuts out the complete contour path section offcourse, which, although quite level, is one of those never ending - winding into a gully - winding out of a gully - into another - type of sections. I may have an unjust feeling towards this section is I have done it multiple times but always at the end of a day and exhausted. That is about it: I'd say the NH approach is slightly longer than the CP gully approach but only just; perhaps 20 minutes longer. Since one cuts out the contour path section (60-75 minutes), one may gain about 40 - 60 minutes in the process. The NH approach is however less than obvious in the dark, so unless one has a GPS track I'd avoid it in the dark. Lots of places to fall, but experienced hikers probably won't have any serious issues.

PS. Agree 100%, Tony's write-ups are the standard to which we can aim for.
Last edit: 19 Dec 2013 14:20 by HFc.
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19 Dec 2013 15:37 - 19 Dec 2013 16:06 #59273 by tonymarshall
Comparing our gps track for the Northern High Approach and the VE Corner Pass gps track, from Centenary Hut to the point where the NHA enters the Corner Pass route, confirms that the NHA is considerably shorter. The NHA route is 2.9 km long, and has a total ascent of 545 m and a total descent of only 35 m, while the Contour Path route is 5.3 km long with a total ascent of 830 m and a total descent of 320 m. The NHA route is thus 2.4 km shorter than the conventional route, and has a net reduction in total ascent of some 300 m, a significant difference. Although I haven’t done the conventional route, I would agree with Highlands Fanatic that these differences should make the NHA around an hour or more quicker than the conventional Contour Path route.

Out of interest, our group left Centenary Hut at 06h15, and summited Corner Pass via NHA at 10h45.

If the NHA route is combined with the smugglers path going out of Corner Pass towards Judge Pass up to the summit (see the 'Corner Pass Route' topic), an even more significant time saving could be achieved, say about another hour or so.

The path on the Northern High Approach is relatively new and presumably developed by smugglers. Two groups that I know of and have had discussions with tried this route 8 - 10 years ago and there was no path.

There was no water at all in the section of Corner Pass above the NHA entry into the pass, the gully floor was mostly dry with no flowing water anywhere.

As requested, some more photos of Corner Pass:

A view down the lower section of Corner Pass gully after entering from the NHA which is just visible in the background.



The bottom waterfall is just above this, and has a large chockstone which is bypassed by some scrambling to the right. (Photo courtesy of Richard Hunt.)



Some of the ladies in our group removed their packs at this section and I carried them up. In the photo below I have carried elinda’s pack up, and am returning down the waterfall scramble with elinda commencing the scramble up. (Photo courtesy of Richard Hunt.)



Similarly in the photo below, Thora is ascending the waterfall scramble, while I follow behind with her pack. (Photo courtesy of Richard Hunt.)

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Last edit: 19 Dec 2013 16:06 by tonymarshall. Reason: Add more detail

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19 Dec 2013 15:39 #59274 by tonymarshall
Corner Cave was visible on the left (true right) side of the gully near the lower waterfall, but the steep rock slopes and grass ledges going to it were too wet to try to get close to the cave.



A view down Corner Pass.



A view up Corner Pass. Although the sides of the pass were wet and dripping water in places, there was no water flowing in the gully, and the water most likely flowed beneath the boulders and sand out of sight.



At the upper waterfall, some of the group again removed their packs, and these were passed or hauled up. In the photo below, elinda and Thora prepare to climb up the waterfall without packs.



A view down from above the upper waterfall, all the packs and the rest of the group are up, with Tish and Warwick still to climb up. The rope used to haul packs up can be seen at the left in the foreground grass, although none of the group required rope assistance to ascend either of the waterfalls.



There were also several other minor scrambles on Corner Pass.

The view down Corner Pass with tonymarshall at the top of the pass.

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The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, diverian, elinda, Selous, ghaznavid, Smurfatefrog, HFc, ruthtbl

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19 Dec 2013 17:40 #59275 by Richard Hunt
An awesome write up Tony!!! cant wait to see the rest!!!

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