Trip Report: Mt. Amery via Beacon Buttress Gully

01 Aug 2014 22:21 - 01 Aug 2014 22:28 #61428 by HFc
The historical relevance of the naming of Mt. Amery has been discussed before on VE, as well as the slight confusion due to different maps indicating different places to be Mt. Amery. For me personally, whilst respecting any historical significance, it has always been about climbing one of the more striking escarpment peaks of this area. My favourite route up the Amphitheatre area is via Beacon Buttress Gully, and besides the drama of the Eastern Buttress / Devils’ Tooth / Inner Tower view, the next prominence that strikes the eye is indeed Mt. Amery. Having spent many a day up in this area but never climbing Mt. Amery, I thought it high time to make a trip that way. (I previously came as close as climbing that large dome above the Ribbon Falls Ridge, not really sure what its name would be? The one with the prominent Basotho constructed tall rock cairn)

So, I planned a day trip via Beacon Buttress Gully to Mt. Amery and back. Trip planning indicated this to be ±19km for the day, on terrain that is not too tough. I do however have an operated upon knee that, although well rehabilitated, remains untested on this length of trip. So I decided to only pick a day with clear weather, and try and get a relatively early start, just to be safe.
Wednesday morning (30/07) dawned a beautiful clear day with mild temperatures and little wind forecast. I started at 07:30 with temperatures right on freezing point, but with no wind it was quite pleasant. Made good way up to the bottom of Beacon Buttress Gully in about 65 minutes, i.e. not rushing it, but also not fooling around. At the bottom of the Gully I came across a school group from a Mooiriver prep school who was climbing and abseiling some easy routes. They also headed up Beacon Buttress and started a route about halfway up the gully on the true right hand wall. Photos below shows them heading up the gully, second shot showing some of them in various stages of the climb. Sounded like a nice bunch of chaps and ladies.





I soon headed up past them in the Gully, but not before taking a light hearted jab from the Group leader about an aborted move I made (wanted to stay out of the scree field at that point, but alas, the true left slope was blocked by this rock….lol).
Made the top of the Gully 24 minutes later, not record breaking stuff, but a pace I was happy with given that I have almost no aerobic fitness to speak of. Was greeted by the always awesome view towards the Eastern Buttress etc, and Mt. Amery, my midway destination for the day.



Heading down the Beacon Buttress I quickly realized that the next 30 minutes or so would be dreadful, as the whole Tugela valley and up and over Bilanjil Ridge was burnt, right to the banks of the Bilanjil.

Crossing the bone dry Tugela River.



The area was completely deserted, no prizes for guessing why, grazing was burnt away and there is no water around. This is what I call a harsh winter.

Crossing over the Bilanjil Ridge and down to the river, where mercifully the burnt veld and associated carbon dust kicked up around my feet would now subside. The Bilanjil was dry as well, with some stagnant pools mostly iced over. It is clear that no snow melt or rain has fallen for some weeks here, pools where fish tried to survive grew too small and iced up, with a fair number of the poor fish already turned into bokkoms….



The flat plains beyond the Bilanjil through the Kubedu Marshlands were also completely dry. This area at other times of the year requires some careful navigation especially if walking with Trail Runners as I do, as it’s usually quite boggy. Not this time around, and I headed straight through the flats onto the final ridge before Mt. Amery came into view again.

The views from this ridge just above Ribbon Falls are really superb. Here I was not alone, with a large troop of baboons expressing their annoyance at my presence with loud barks. Always funny and interesting how they fear man, here I was outnumbered probably 30 to one, with 30 sets of really looong canine teeth, yet they made sure at all times of a respectable distance from me as I headed down into the valley.

The closer I got to Mt. Amery the clearer it became that it is not a tough peak to climb at all, basically a grassy ramp with some broken rock bands that makes it look intimidating from afar, but from up close not intimidating at all. The whole climb from its base, which took 12 minutes and 125m vertical ascend, only required the use of hands on one occasion, and wouldn’t call it scramble as the move was perhaps 1.5m tall. The yellow line on the photo below shows the easy line up, which is really obvious as one gets close.



continued next

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Last edit: 01 Aug 2014 22:28 by HFc.

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01 Aug 2014 22:43 - 02 Aug 2014 07:18 #61429 by HFc
Let’s talk about rewarding climbs. We often climb peaks for the achievement of it, or just to get a nice view down onto the world we love so much. The second reason here applies in abundance: This is a khulu with a view that will count in the Top 10 of, dare I say, anyone who climbs it. The almost astonishing vertical drop on the other side of the peak is accentuated by the top part of the peak forming a narrow ledge, with humungous drop-offs on either side. Magnificent.

Down the northwestern side


Down the southeastern side


Towards Busingata wall and beyond


The narrow summit ledge


Subsidiary peak of Mt Amery as viewed from the main peak.


The trip took me 3h48m to get from Sentinel Car Park to the Top of Mt. Amery, excluding the 15 minute breakfast break at the bottom of Beacon Buttress Gully, so I summited around 11:30, a bit quicker than anticipated. With the pressure now off, I afforded myself a leisurely 40 minutes or so on and around the peak, taking some photos as shown below.

Back where I came from earlier, Beacon Buttress, Sentinel and the Witches.


Rock overhang on the large Amphitheatre dome accross from Mt. Amery, perhaps the bivvy spot described in earlier posts by Intrepid and Doctor G? (photo intentionally over exposed)


The trip back was great, allowing myself some detours to get some vistas down the several gullies that break the Amphi wall. Stopping at one of these gullies I noticed a beautiful little rock feature, which to me (from this angle) looked exactly like a cook, complete with tall cook-hat, very slightly bend forward to put his carefully prepared dish into the oven. Ha-ha.



The scramble down Beacon Buttress Gully always takes a bit longer than going up due to the excessive amount of scree requiring some careful moves. I was reminded of the time a couple of years ago, and I kid you not, where I rode a bike seat sized boulder down the gully, for about three meters in the scree field. What started out as a moment of sheer terror ended rather subdued as me and my rock landed quite softly into a soft soil cubby, left there by an even bigger rock that probably went down (maybe with another terrified passenger?) a couple of days before. I still remember managing some macho laughs after the incident, silently knowing that had it been one metre further it would’ve ended in tears, with me probably needing one of those ring-shaped cushions to sit on for the rest of my life…. It was also the most hysterical I've ever seen my wife, hysterical with laughter that is...

On a more serious note, the scree has always been plentiful inside the gully, but it really seems more unstable lately at some spots, especially high up. Anyone wanting to combine the gully with a round trip to the ladders may be best advised to head up the gully and down the ladders, instead of the reverse of this (in my opinion the scree is more cumbersome on the way down).

Back at the car park around 16:30, shared some remaining snacks with the two cheerful chaps who work/stay at the car park, before heading back to my campsite at Golden Gate.

I can really recommend this as a manageable day trip, or for anyone who is camping in the upper Amphitheatre area to go and climb Mt. Amery. You will not be disappointed.

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Last edit: 02 Aug 2014 07:18 by HFc.
The following user(s) said Thank You: diverian, elinda, Stijn, ghaznavid, brio, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, Grandeur, pfoj, Captain, Spykid

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02 Aug 2014 08:06 #61430 by elinda
Thanks, I really enjoyed your write up Highlands Fanatic ! Having done Mr Amery some years ago whilst on a mini traverse, I agree that it is a very doable scramble although it does look a little intimidating at first. This Winter has to be one of the driest in years, I can't recall having seen the Tugela that dry. So guys, get out there and climb Mt Avery , especially if the cable car scenario ever becomes a reality

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02 Aug 2014 09:37 - 02 Aug 2014 09:41 #61431 by HFc
Thanks Elinda

Some basic trip stats for my fellow data junkies...



Temperature graph y-axis is displayed in Fahrenheit, despite the summary being in Celsius. The temperature graph is a relatively new feature from Garmin on the Connect App, so they should have the display sorted out soon. Interesting to note the fluctuations in temperature especially in the first 90 minutes: low when walking in the shadow of the Witches ridge, higher when entering sunlit lower slopes of Sentinel, with temperature dropping again as I head round the back and up the cold Beacon Buttress Gully still in shadow.

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Last edit: 02 Aug 2014 09:41 by HFc.
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02 Aug 2014 11:20 #61433 by LouisvV
Great write-up & lots of info! :thumbsup:

Think I must include this route up Mt. Amery when we do our first trip up the escarpment. Are there any camping spots near this peak?

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02 Aug 2014 23:11 - 03 Aug 2014 19:45 #61440 by HFc
Hi Louis

I would like to hear other's opinion as well who may have slept over in this area, but I will base my recommendation on what I've seen.

I think this may be a very nice spot to camp in the Amphitheatre region actually. It is definitely not close to the potential areas with security issues. Note that there may still be Basotho herdsmen around, I have in fact found one of those rubberized rain jackets they usually wear lying discarded in the stream in the valley. Offcourse, importantly, the presence of Mosotho does not automatically mean theft.

The area is bordered by two ridges, the ridge coming down alongside the stream that forms Ribbon Falls, and the other ridge being the watershed and border coming down ESE off the prominent Amphitheatre Dome. Someone has to be physically on these ridges or inside the valley to see tents.

Water may be an issue. In rainy season, sure enough there is water around, right now it is very dry. This is an issue not only in this area but everywhere right now. However given the fact that the stream flowing in this valley only has this particular valley as catchment means it is likely not reliable. This paragraph obviously depends on when you guys intend going.

Some more photos of this particular valley.

As seen from Mt. Amery, the same photo as above in second post, showing the valley below.



Angled a bit more to the left of the photo directly above, showing more of the valley, the arrow indicating where I found the rain jacket in the stream, not that it is too relevant.



To the left of the second photo, showing the watershed/border ridge I was referring to (coming into shot left of picture), and the Amphitheatre dome where the biggest rock band may have some sheltered bivvy spots (Intrepid can elaborate whether this is the case).



Some additional trivia on this last photo, green arrow indicates Crows Nest peak, and yellow arrow is my pet peak, Ribbokpeak in Goldengate (2832m)

I am more the insurgent type, who camps somewhere below and take day hike stabs at the escarpment in this area: However if I were to camp up there this would be the valley of choice for me.

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Last edit: 03 Aug 2014 19:45 by HFc.
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04 Aug 2014 22:54 - 04 Aug 2014 22:55 #61462 by intrepid

Highlands Fanatic wrote: Rock overhang on the large Amphitheatre dome accross from Mt. Amery, perhaps the bivvy spot described in earlier posts by Intrepid and Doctor G? (photo intentionally over exposed)

The shelter we used on that particular trip was further to the left. It could only narrowly sleep two people next to each other and perhaps a third on the one end. It had snowed a fair bit that morning and we were not carrying a tent since it was a climbing trip and we had gambled with not needing one. We could not find a single patch of ground to sleep on that wasn't snow covered. We knew about that shelter and luckily discovered that it was pretty much the only 2-man patch of ground that wasn't snow covered in that valley! That said, you cannot call it a cave. It is a very shallow overhang and you should never head out there thinking you are heading for good shelter! And its a bit of a slog to get up there.

I did check out the shelter in your photo as far as I remember and it does not have an area to sleep on.

There is another shelter around the corner, in the Ribbon Falls valley which I checked out years ago but have never used. It is also very shallow but can accommodate sleeping.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 04 Aug 2014 22:55 by intrepid.
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07 Aug 2014 07:46 #61485 by ghaznavid

Highlands Fanatic wrote: This is a khulu with a view that will count in the Top 10 of, dare I say, anyone who climbs it. The almost astonishing vertical drop on the other side of the peak is accentuated by the top part of the peak forming a narrow ledge, with humungous drop-offs on either side. Magnificent.


From right below it is pretty darn impressive too!

I once saw a list of the "10 most impressive Drakensberg Peaks" - it included Rhino Peak, which to my mind is still one of the least interesting khulus I have ever done, even though it was the first one I ever did. It always amazes me how different the khulus are - the Carbineer's for example have incredible views. Tseke Peak also has an absolutely outstanding view (still one of my top 2), yet these peaks views are incredible for completely different reasons.

My no 1 is still a competition between Tseke and Icidi Crown. But each of the 42 khulus I have done (arguably disallow Ndumeni Dome as I did the Lesotho highest point, not the khulu which isn't the highest point of the ridge, so 41) - a few have been uninteresting, but each is individually special for its own reason, be it Popple for personal reasons or Mashai for the view. Mt Amery is one that I think everyone who is serious about the Berg must do, much like Champagne Castle or Mont-Aux-Sources (not that I have done any of those 3).

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools." Douglas Adams

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