Hilton Pass

03 Apr 2010 13:09 - 03 Apr 2010 15:54 #1057 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Hilton Pass
Serious tribe wrote:

Hi mnt tiska

You mentioned that you ascended the pass on the grass slope of the western triplet side, and then dropped into the pass below the waterfalls.

Why did you have to drop into the gully, could you not continue up the grass bank?

In short, yes, we could have carried on up the grass bank, but it would take us up into the basin below the Red Wall waterfall which would be high above the fork of Hilton Pass.

When I read your posting (#884) which went:
"It is better not far after LIC to get on the lhs grass slope and then about 500m from red wall to traverse over the river and hit the rhs to the base of the pass, that seemed to be the quickest route, and it is the route we used to get up to and down from the base of the pass on our second attempt."
it sounded like the approach we took. The discepencies might just be the added (vague) detail on my part.

So, to rerun, I would take the same approach we took last time - from the walk in (my first ever approach to Hilton Pass proper) we just took what seemed to be the best line. In retrospect I think it was (apart from another detail I will cover at the end). From LIC we walked up the main river, hopping out onto the river terrace/bank on the triplet side where we could because its always easier there than boulder hopping. This approach takes you past the ridges leading up to the Western triplet where we made a great camp some years ago prior to one of the more demanding days I can remember in the Berg (Western Triplet itself). Once on the escarpment side of these ridges which lead up to the triplet, we stayed in the main river bed (I seem to remember the water being underground a lot of the time) until the bush started to get too thick. Then, like you (I think) we opted for the south grassy bank and walked up an arete of grass quite high up the valley. It was easy walking, though steep of course. Looking down into the river bed on our right made us think it was definitely the best option. We left this left (south) grassy bank because if we'd stayed on it, we would have been taken up into the basin below the waterfall over the Red Wall and would have then been too high for the fork which goes off to Hilton Pass. It is at about this altitude (possible 2550m and possibly near 29 11' 06.5" S, 29 22' 05.90"E) that the fork of Hilton Pass itself starts leading off to the west from the confluence of several gullies. The left grassy ridge is several hundred meters from the Hilton Pass fork. Note that I fished the Lat longs off google earth and not from the walk in itself. I have the GPS point somewhere - I'd have to look. But the point at which to leave the ridge/grassy arete is fairly obvious. We had to drop down 50m or so into the river bed, cross a small, steep basin with shoulder high bush (it must be fire protected).

Was this below all 3 of the waterfalls, and how did you surmount these obstacles?

yes - well below. From the grassy ridge, we crossed the basin and got into the steep gully that belongs only to Hilton Pass. The waterfalls were another 30-40 minutes further up. The first was OK. The problem with the second was that a lot of water was flowing over it and slime covered the obvious way up. We tried everything - even bare foot but it was radically slippery - we just couldn't stay on the rock. If dry, I don't think we'd bother to take our bags off. Its certainly wasn't much harder than the last stem move out of Corner Pass. We could see another slightly higher water fall further up. We were tempted to go out left from our high point below the slimy waterfall onto the steep basalt slabs, but these too were slippery (it had rained and was misty) and we weren't confident we could reverse those moves (a 20m static line would have done the job).

How many hours did it take to get up?

From LIC about 5-6 hours to the point where we turned back - i.e. the second waterfall which I think is only about 40-50 minutes from the top of Hilton.

On the descent, you stayed on the north grassy bank only after crossing a gully, was this leading into the main gully ,and was this easy?

The decent was messy.

I'd defintely take the grassy ridge on the south side if I were to go down again (not the way I described for the decent). In the case of our decent, mist had completely closed in. We just went down the main Hilton Pass gully - but were worried about all the bundu we'd seen in the main gully on the way up. When the bundu closed in, we travered left, out of the main gully (towards the Inj Buttress side) hoping to find another nice grassy ridge (which we only found much, much further down). Initially this decent wasn't nice. We knew we had a long way to go - we were keen to get up the escarpment and were faced with the long way across to Corner pass. We were descending as fast as we could and were being pretty wreckless. My mate fell in a short, steep gully and broke something in his wrist (but still made it up Corner the next day!).

You also mentioned below the "hard stuff", explain?

nothing technical at all - just grungy - like when you are faced with chosing from two gullies for a 20m stretch, each v.steep and choked with bush and which ever one you choose its always the wrong one!

Do I understand from your description, that you descended the entire pass by the northern grass slope?

We'd hoped to pick up a grassy slope/ridge on the decent, but this only pitched up 2/3 or more on the way down. I don't think there is a convenient grassy ridge on the northern side and to get to what does exist (when descending) you have to work through lots of time consuming terrain. Better out on the south ridge.

Good luck with it all. We were keen to check out the basin under the Red Wall. With the Western Triplet taking off into the sky it looked like there'd be some awesome photography. For 30 seconds (no more) the mist cleared, leaving the arete on the Western Triplet searing into a purple sky. It was the photo of a life time (and we missed it!).

About that detail - I wonder if it is quicker to get onto the ridge above LIC - leaving it to descend into the main river 1.5 km or so upstream. Boulder hopping up the river from LIC to the where the western Triplet ridge takes off takes such a long time (this is well below 2100 m and not to be confused with all the ridge/river bed stuff we've discussed above.....)

Typing this on an Easter weekend in Oxford - why the hell am I not in the Berg?!
Last edit: 03 Apr 2010 15:54 by tiska.

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04 Apr 2010 05:49 #1058 by Serious tribe
Replied by Serious tribe on topic Hilton Pass
Hi Mtn tska

I am writing this from Sydney, planning our trip out to sa, which includes a trip to the berg. So i know how you feel.

Thanx for the added descriptions. I had initially thought that you had got up and down the entire pass in one day, including the 3 waterfalls. That would have indeed been a tour de force.

When I was staying at lic, i took part of one of the days and followed the ridge from lic and hiked up to between 2400-2500m. This ridge goes closer to the Eastern triplet, however i think that the set of valleys between the western and eastern triplets would be not be a good route to follow. A lot of time would be spent going up and down these valleys and ridges.

The idea of getting some images from red wall across to the western triplet, is one of the things that i want to achieve on this trip, so we will see how it goes.

Anyhow, back to the planning.


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09 Apr 2010 14:38 - 22 Nov 2013 09:50 #1119 by gollum
Replied by gollum on topic Hilton Pass
Hi guys

I see I promised some photos earlier but never delivered... Africa is contagious! These are from our trip between christmas 2009 and new year 2010.

Our view of the Red Wall basin the day before tackling Hilton's pass. Just after this this mist close in and only opened up the next day around 12:00

Our first view of the pass after the mist started clearing. I believe the correct route would be to try and get on the left-hand grass slopes visible in this pic - not heading straight into the gully as we did!

Magnificent views of the Western Triplet. Has anyone here ever climbed it? It's one of my long-term targets.

Red Wall waterfall

Really, really great views. I wish I was a better photographer with a better camera!

The first 2/3ds of the pass (as we did it) is plain boulder scrambling.

We negotiated the nasty bits by Klipspringer leading the climbs and setting up a pulley system with which the rest of us were hauled up.

This is the third waterfall that defeated us and sent us on a dodgy traverse to ascendable grass slopes. The most rotten rock I've ever saw! This was the morning after we were caught by a thunderstorm and had to benight in the pass without closing an eye for fear of flash floods.

Klipspringer after somehow surviving the downclimb...

After a 20m exposed traverse on grass knolls, we ascended this grass slope to access the walkable left-hand grass gully. From here it was only about 250m to the summit.

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Last edit: 22 Nov 2013 09:50 by intrepid. Reason: Fixed broken image links

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12 Apr 2010 01:08 #1126 by Serious tribe
Replied by Serious tribe on topic Hilton Pass
Hi Gollum

Great pics man! Your images of the Western Triplet through the silhouette of the pass with the mist is a great shot.

Also the images of the 3rd w/f, really show how difficult it really is. Just a few questions on this. Your last pic shows you on a grass slope, at which stage of the 3 waterfalls, could you have exited the gully and started moving on the grass slope, or was it only negotiable at or near the 3rd waterfall? The question arrises from the fact that you mention in the caption on the 2nd image, that you thought the lhs grass bank might be an option instead of the gully.

Also on the last pic, I assume to exited near the skyline to the left of the rock dome in the middle of the pic, because the rhs f this wld have put you back in the gully?

Would it be posable to send me a high res of image 2 to my private email, i wld like ti look at it in some more detail?


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12 Apr 2010 11:11 #1129 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Hilton Pass
Yep, those pics are fantastic gollum! Am keen to get out there again. My bet is to get out onto the grassy slopes as quickly as possible, though sometimes thats easier said than done.

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

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12 Apr 2010 15:29 - 12 Apr 2010 15:30 #1131 by gollum
Replied by gollum on topic Hilton Pass
@Serious tribe:

Thanks, I appreciate the compliments!

We exited the gully about 15 - 30m below the 3rd waterfall. Up till then the gully had seemed the obvious route and we never really checked for exits. Our exit was pretty hairy (a traverse right below a rock band on very steep grass slopes), after which we reached the climbable bit seen on the last photo. At the bottom of the photo you can see a bit of the broken rock band that was the "crux" of the climb up to the grass slopes. It's not that bad but a slip could have some serious consequences (We used a fixed rope with a Petzl shunt as safety).

Yes, looking at the 2nd pic (which due to the mist which was in the process of retreating at that stage is my best pic that can act as topo) there might be a way onto those grass slopes, but it will be very steep and you might have to climb through rock bands ( \m/ :woohoo: \m/ - oh, sorry, wrong kind...). I'm curious to read your reports, especially regarding the best exit out of the gully! B)

Yes, we passed just left of the dome. On the RHS of the dome is a 30-60m vertical drop back into the gully. At the dome the grass slope's gradient eases off and only a 150m trudge is left to the top.

When we topped out I was extremely relieved and vowed never to climb that pass again, but now I'm really keen about routes on the grass slope. But I'll never tackle that gully again - way too chossy and certain death in the event of a flash flood.

Yup, I'll gladly send you the original of the 2nd pic, just PM me your e-mail address.

Last edit: 12 Apr 2010 15:30 by gollum.

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12 Apr 2010 19:26 #1134 by anthony
Replied by anthony on topic Hilton Pass
HI gollum not been a climber but always been very interested in climbing just as a matter of interest how much does your kit weigh when you take climbing gear with?

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13 Apr 2010 10:07 #1142 by gollum
Replied by gollum on topic Hilton Pass
Well, I only started climbing recently, and the Sentinel Standard route and Hilton's Pass is the only climbing I've done in the berg. I would guess a climbing rack for two would add 6 - 10 kg's to your packs, and can be distributed. It depends on the size of your trad rack and the type (single, half), length and number of your ropes (A 50m single rope, the minimum you'll get away with, weighs about 3.5 kgs).

I've never weighed my climbing gear - perhaps I should do it? From what I've read it seems that mnt_tiska and Stijn would be better people to answer this question.

For Hilton's Pass we carried a spartan rack: a 30m single rope (which JUST made it!), 3 or 4 cams, 5 largish nuts, a couple of slings (which we used to improvise harnesses with), a couple of karabiners, and some accessory cord. It totalled only about 4kgs and we split it between three people.


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14 Apr 2010 11:49 - 22 Nov 2013 09:55 #1155 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Hilton Pass
In an earlier post in the thread, Gollum wrote:
"Magnificent views of the Western Triplet. Has anyone here ever climbed it? It's one of my long-term targets."

A few years ago we successfully climbed the North-west ridge route on the Western Triplet. We camped on the river terrace at the bottom of the ridge and set off at about 4:30am in winter with just climbing gear and water. We were at the start of the route by 7am (sunrise) but had to wait about 45 minutes because the wind was too strong to stay on the rock. (The westerlies blow over the top of a surface (radiation) temperature inversion in winter. The inversion top is a smooth (as it is just an air layer) and so the winds tend to accelerate at night when the inversion is in place. When sunshine starts breaking down the inversion, the momentum of the wind gets mixed downwards to the rough surface and so the wind slows down).

The technically hard pitch of the W Triplet is low down - probably the second proper pitch of climbing. The route goes through a small overhang. There's a peg at the top of the overhang which you either clip or hang on to! I actually found the first pitch (the one below this) even harder, though we may not have been on the precise route. This is the issue generally with longer routes, you can't really afford the time to perfect the route finding. There are pitches higher up which I found difficult too. They were not as technical as the crux (pitch 2). One can practice for technically difficult pitches and get fit enough, for example, to spend time on overhangs. The problem with the pitches higher up was that they were steep, in some cases vertical, walls of mixed grass and lumpy boulders with not much gear. The sort of climbing you never do (and therefore never practice) at a crag. The particular pitch I'm thinking of was not one I led (I didn't lead my fair share that day) and I was amazed at the gear that my climbing partner Bruce had managed to place (wires jammed behind boulders - solid pro but not somewhere I would have looked to place it). The other aspect of the climb is the exposure. Almost all the other Berg routes I did were not extremely exposed (including Devils Tooth, Column, Mponj) as they tend to have ledges below. Useless to arrest a fall but not as intimidating to the head. On Western Triplet there is a pitch pretty close to the top which goes out right onto the wall which you see from Hiltom Pass side. The exposure here was insane. It was like looking down on an aerial photo.

We topped out just after 3pm and spent a mad 3 minutes trying to find the usual tin box in the summit beacon which contains paper and pencil. Three minutes was up before we found it. We had a quick, queasy look down the south side and then rapped off the arete we had climbed. The ropes only got stuck once - on exactly the rap we wouldn't have chosen (off 2 rickety pegs on the main wall). We found gear left by Chris Lomax near the last few rapps (he'd gotten off later in the day than us a couple of years before) and were off at last light (>5:30pm) and back to camp about 8pm. It was a long day. I later gave Chris his gear in Cape Town when he called round to our place to visit a housemate.

An alternative is to stage WT in 2 days - with an overnight at the obvious notch/gendarme. There is plently of space for a tent here. But this would mean spoiling the first part of the route (including the crux) by bringing a haul bag. I prefer getting on and off quickly.

On the photo, X is the really exposed pitch and Y is the notch. You'll see its Gollum's photo I've used.

There is an approach from the escarpment side. Its a much shorter route but the rock is v.v.rotten. Malcolm Moor, Berg pioneer, told me he did the 3 triplets from UIC over 3 days once. I don't think that has ever been repeated. Malcolm said 'never again' to the Western Triplet route from the escarpment because of that rotten rock.

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Last edit: 22 Nov 2013 09:55 by intrepid. Reason: Fixed broken image link

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14 Apr 2010 12:15 #1158 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Hilton Pass
Awesome stuff mnt_tiska! Every time I look at the Triplets it makes me tingle...I'm not sure I'll attempt the Western one, certainly a longer-term project as with gollum, and then with someone that knows the route.

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

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