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- Bouldering at the Cavern
Bouldering at the Cavern
A normal story of “me in the Berg” would usually include some substantial distance covered with as little weight as possible, lots of photos and a khulu or 2. This is not one of them…
By the way, all GPS co-ords are in WGS84.
Myself and “Bugs” Sprouse went up to The Cavern (a resort on the road to RNNP) for 3 days this last weekend – the goal: bouldering.
As has been mentioned on this forum many times, Drakensberg sandstone can be really dodgy to climb on. So naturally lots of potentially good boulders would prove unsafe for the purposes of our mission.
So on Friday we set off for the Cavern, equipped with sufficient gear to do a fair bit of multi pitch climbing. We arrived at 11:30, giving us enough time to do a bit of exploring before lunch.
We found the resort to have a rather substantial pool, a tree with indoor climbing holds on it (although be careful, some of these holds are loose), numerous dams and quite a few horses. With its location up a side gully in the small Berg, it tends to be a very quiet area.
After lunch (which was a really nice buffet, and included what is probably the nicest cheese cake I have ever had), we headed off with light packs to explore the nearby rock. We followed a low path through the valley and soon found ourselves at a very promising looking crag.
This crag was tucked away behind some serious overgrowth. There were 2 lines of interest – one was a narrow crack, looked solid and had holds the entire way up. The top had a tree for a top rope/final gear placement. There was also an interesting line to the right (true left) of this line, but seeing as it was wet in mid-July, it would probably never be dry. The GPS co-ord of the latter is 28°33.429’S 28°57,425’E. I would imagine that approaching from the top and abseiling in would be the best approach. Consider doing the route on top rope before properly opening it just to ensure the holds are good and solid.
We did not open this route as it was a mission to get to this crag and we thought it was unlikely that anyone would be keen to repeat this route due to the approach.
With the time moving on, we decided to head back. Not far from the resort we found a large boulder that I named “Saddle Rock” due to its shape (28°38.482’S 28°57,328’E 1819m). The rock is descent, but not completely solid, so maybe a top rope or bouldering pad would help here. Bugs climbed the line up the middle of the saddle, the line is about a grade 12. There are much harder lines, but as I say, I would recommend a rope or pad.
The next morning (after a rather substantial supper and breakfast – seriously, the food at this place is amazing!), we decided to head up to Surprise Ridge and check out the boulder field on the top of the ridge.
After getting a few photos of the Northern Berg we followed the path that leads toward Cannibal Cave (you could do a circular hike up to the cave, up Surprise Ridge and back to the resort), and at 28°39,021’S 28°57,060E 1862m (near the end of the cliffs that Cannibal Cave is found in) we found a boulder which we named “Blockhead”. It’s a large boulder with 4 distinct faces, and is probably the best boulder we found.
Being Berg sandstone we decided to go the top roping route (its also about 5m high, so possibly dangerous without a rope or a boulder pad). Its western side has many doable lines – I used the easiest of them (about a grade 6-7) to reach the top. There were plenty of spots on the flat top to put slings around to anchor a belayer (or a top rope), so I sat on top and belayed Bugs up as he did 3 different lines.
The first 2 lines he did were on the east face, the rock on this side seems to be solid, and the hardest line would be around grade 16. He did climb the south face (on a line of probably about 18), but the holds broke on 3 different occasions before he got to the top – a good thing we had a top rope! Having cut his hand quite badly on the climb, we decided to move on. The north slope felt solid and I did climb about 2m up it, but without a rope I was wary of going any higher.
There was a nearby crag that looked promising, but neither of us were willing to lead after the breaks on nearby rock, and there was no feasible way of setting up a top rope without abseiling in from above.
While walking back to the path we found a rather promising slab (around 5m from Blockhead), around 3m high and around 6m long. It looked like a rock with a good traverse line on it. I soon was 1m up on and traversing across when suddenly I found myself on the ground lying on my backpack. A hold had broken and had caused me to take a ground fall, fortunately I landed on my backpack, missing bashing my head on a nearby rock by centimetres. I came out with a nasty cut on my finger, a few long but shallow cuts on my leg and some sore muscles. Could have gone a lot worse!
We headed back down to the resort for lunch and decided after lunch to only carry some accessory chord, slings and biners for a top rope (based on sling harnesses and munter hitches). The morning session had been slow with the weight of gear, and we hoped to cover more ground in the short afternoon session.
This time we went straight for Cannibal Cave – after all, it’s by far the most famous landmark in the area, and one of the biggest caves in the Berg.
Near the entrance to the cave there are 2 large boulders. Both feel solid and have great holds on steep inverted sloping rock.
Bugs didn’t rate the one further into the cave as being that good, although it was about my level of climbing. 4 moves gets you up. Bugs took a few seconds to climb this rock, I struggled with the last move and was nervous after the fall earlier in the day.
The further, more featured rock was more challenging. Bugs climbed up 2 different lines, one of which could be done via a sit start and would be around a 20 from sit start, probably 16-18 from a standing start.
After getting some shots of the cave we headed back to the resort for supper.
After breakfast on Sunday we checked out of the resort, put our bags in the car and prepared for our final assault on the sandstone.
Seeing as we had no lunch time to be back in time for, we pretty much had the full day to look around.
We decided to head up to Cannibal Cave again. We went from the cave to head up “Cavern Gap” – a small Berg pass just around the corner from the cave. There is a good path, but it gets very steep, exposed and hits grade C (very easy) climbing on spots where you don’t want to fall.
From the top of the pass there is an amazing view of the valley at toward Mnweni area. We sat on top of the minor hilltop and enjoyed the view before continuing toward Sugarloaf peak.
There is a minor basalt dyke which had some climbable cracks. Probably grade C-D, looks well protected, but we didn’t bother checking the quality – I doubt anyone would haul a rack and rope up here for a minor crag.
We continued around the ridge to the pointy summit that is Sugarloaf Peak (2085m). The peak lies on the border of KZN and the Free State and has a great view of the Free State Berg, Rensbergkop and Phuthaditjhaba (as well as the Cavern valley). Cold Ridge blocks the view of most of the Amphitheatre, but from Eastern Buttress south is also clearly visible.
There is lots of solid looking rock up here, but we didn’t try any of it out – nothing looked overly interesting.
We followed the ridge further away from Cannibal Cave for about 1km before hitting Sugarloaf Gap – another small Berg pass. Its easier and far less exposed than Cavern Gap. Soon we were walking past Top Dam and shortly thereafter we were back at the car and driving back home.
It was definitely a great way to spend the weekend, special thanks to The Cavern for giving us this great opportunity to check out the general area – I often don’t look at small Berg gullies and can easily forget that these too are often well worth the effort.
On the point of the resort (and no, they didn’t tell me to say this ), the biggest standout features are the food and staff. The food was of a great standard, I am a very fussy eater and I didn’t leave anything on my plate for any meal! The staff was very friendly and helpful – always service with a smile.
The resort has a nice family atmosphere. The rooms don’t come with TV’s, so there is definitely a focus of outdoor/family activity. There is a pool, table tennis, a bar, a library, a general lounge and a pool table – so there are activities for rainy days.
The resort also has daily guided hikes that seem to be child friendly. Both Bugs and I agreed that we would recommend the establishment for a nice relaxed holiday. The day hikes in the area are also worth doing.
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Incidentally, that's the same area where the top teams in Expedition Africa got cliffed-out for 10 hours, looking for a gap in the cliffs above Cannibal Cave, to get back down to the Mont-aux-Sources hotel. It was dark, raining and very misty at the time, which explains their GPS track below! Eventually they resorted to throwing rocks of the cliffs and counting the number of seconds before they hit the ground to decide where the cliffs were at their lowest to look for a way down
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Its interesting to know that that valley you explored has some decent stuff to climb. thanks for the report, and I will check it out one day.
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ah ok, thanks. I go to Ficksburg quite often for business so know the area, in fact was there this weekend
Stijn wrote: Ja sorry - I didn't realise anybody would have heard of Clocolan, so I included Fouriesburg with reference to DoctorG's post above. The crag is actually just outside Clocolan (5 mins drive North of the town).