Giant’s Castle Traverse

24 Mar 2014 11:43 #59948 by ghaznavid
Flanking the giant

Carl (Viking) and I decided that a fitting way to spend a long weekend would be to get off work early on Thursday and get a head-start on the long weekend. Seeing as we have both had teams called “Barbarians” at some point in the past (his was a touch rugby team, mine was a wargames team), this seemed to be a fitting name for our team.

The objective was for the Barbarians to slay a large dragon that lives in the central lair of the Dragon. They call her “Giant’s Castle” or the “Giant” for short. Her lair is surrounded by a barrier of spears and has pushed back many of the strongest knights in the land. So to up our odds of success, we decided it would be wiser to approach the sleeping dragon from a distance, come around its flanks and plunge a trekking pole right into its head…

Ok – enough pretending this is a childrens story :lol:

Project Giant’s Castle

A few years back I decided to try to bag every pass and khulu at Giant’s Castle. I define the northern boundary of Giant’s as the ridge coming off Corner Peak, seeing as no official boundary exists and anyone who knows the area will see how this is a logical boundary. I called this “Project Giant’s Castle” and defined it as having 3 phases:

Phase 1 is every defined pass at Giant’s Castle. Basically a combo of all Giant’s Castle Passes listed on VE, berg.co.za, in books or on maps. The 10 passes being (N-S): Corner, Judge, Bannerman, Thumb, South Hlubi, Langies, North Central and South Jarding and Giants Pass.

Phase 2 is every khulu at Giant’s Castle. Initially this list was (N-S): Corner, Judge, Popple, Auditor, Gypaetus Point, Sanqebethu, Bannerman Face, Thumb Spur, Erskine, Bond, Potterill, Mount Durnford, Kambule, Carbineers Point, Katana and Long Wall. This last weekend I discovered that the summit of Corner is on the Injisuthi side of the split and Long Wall’s summit is shown on the map as being within Lotheni’s bounds. So this means there are only 14 khulus at Giant’s Castle.

Phase 3 is every undefined pass at Giant’s Castle that I can identify. So far this has been North Hlubi Pass, Gypaetus pass as well as any other possible route I can find.

Around the Corner Pass (the local variation route on Corner Pass) is a bit of an anomaly. I am not sure if I should include it under phase 1 or 3, but more on that to follow.

The objective of this hike for me was to knock our my last pass and thus complete phase 1 – that being Corner Pass, and knock out Corner, Judge, Auditor, Durnford and Long Wall to complete phase 2. Seeing as it largely makes Giant’s Castle an area where I don’t have much left to do, we went with the option of a full traverse of the area. We wanted to walk into the bounds of both Lotheni and Injisuthi while on the escarpment, covering the most northern and most southern passes of the area.

Days 1 and 2 – turning a corner

Day 1 was simply a case of arriving at Giant’s Castle, getting permits and then walking the 10km to Bannerman Hut. We completed this in just over 3 hours (which surprised us both) – meaning that we walked into the hut before sunset. Only point of note for day 1 was that we saw 20 eland near the start of Bannerman Ridge.

So the objective for day 2: hike from Bannerman Hut to Corner Pass via the contour path, up Corner Pass, khulu bag Corner, Judge, Popple (although I had already done Popple) and Auditor. We then planned to camp near Gypaetus Point. Anyone who knows the area well will know that this is actually very ambitious and not necessarily a reasonable goal.

So we set off at 6AM from the hut in the mist. Before long the dew had soaked through our shoes and we were pushing forward with wet feet. Long story as to why I wasn’t wearing my Tibets.

At the large hill on the contour path we lost the trail. We must have added at least 1km onto our route before we slogged up the large hill to find the trail again. We only reached the pass at 8:30, mostly because of this detour.

We began to head up the ridge next to the river that comes down Corner Pass. It was wet and slippery, loose rock didn’t help much either. Going back and forth across the river hunting for a trail that we could always see in the distance, but could never find.

We plodded along, taking a 10 minute break every hour and keeping up a slow but steady pace. We wanted to be on top by 12, but eventually realised that 1 was more realistic.

Soon, still in the mist, we were forced into a narrow gully that one could probably walk around. But with the mist, we thought this may be the main gully. By this point there was a large dam of water in my shoes. When stopping for a break I drained the shoes, squeezed the water out of my socks and was relieved to only have wet feet, rather than feet in pools of water.

Before the gully there was a clear path leading off to the left (true right) – presumable the turnoff for Around the Corner Pass.

We continued to climb, finally getting out of the mist just before the actual narrow gully. I have to say, it neither looked nor felt as difficult as I expected.

Soon we reached the first obstacle. We had both run out of water, and the stream was almost dry. I noticed a little trickle just below the first obstacle, but it was too far in to reach a bottle. So we took out a plastic packet, shaped it into a funnel and placed it under the drip. Shortly thereafter we had a descent flow of water heading into our water bottles.

The first obstacle in the gully looks much easier than it is. Carl started up it with his pack on, but had to put his pack down half way up. My boots were so wet that I thought they wouldn’t grip the route. So I ditched them in favour of the old pair of climbing shoes I was carrying for this exact reason. Carl hauled the packs up, and soon I followed up the slope. I love climbing shoes – wet moderately sloping rock and it sticks to them like glue!

Having lost time on the first obstacle, we were now up with our packs – and I was back in my hiking boots. We continued up the pass, convinced that the top we saw was a false top. The pass looked too short and we knew there had to be 2 more obstacles, but we couldn’t see them.

Anyway, we kept going, found a terrible shelter on the way up. It would be great if one was to get caught in this narrow gully in a storm, and with grass on the floor it was clear that someone has used it at some point.

The second obstacle has a large cave under it – although it would get flooded in a light drizzle, so it wouldn’t be of much use. This obstacle is easy and we both got up without taking our packs off.

Shortly thereafter the final obstacle is reached. It looks easy, but was muddy and wet. I ditched my pack and grabbed my rope to haul the packs. The first move wasn’t looking great in the wet – so I decided to stem up (back against the one wall and legs against the other). Huge mistake!

I got to reaching distance of the top in a few seconds, but then the spot became too wide to complete by stemming and my back was against the left hand wall (true right), while the holds I needed to get out of the stemming position were on the right had side. I found a good hold for my right hand, and was very quickly reminded of the old saying “when you find a good hand hold in the Drakensberg, please put it back”. After throwing 3 chunks of rock over Carl’s head and dislodging a large amount of mud on to him, I tried to reverse the last few moves, but found myself very close to falling.

Soon Carl decided to get up the route and give me a hand from the top. He is actually very good on slippery rock, this proved to be of great use in this situation. After a few minutes he was able to give me a hand where I needed a hand hold, thus getting me up after being stuck in a stemming position on cold wet rock for around 10 minutes. He then climbed back down, we hauled everything up and he shot back up.

There was nowhere to stand in the top grass ledge of the pass (which is very steep), so I basically had to drag my pack up with no space to put it back on.

So with that – Corner Pass had fallen and phase 1 of Project Giant’s Castle was complete.

We proceeded from there to the summit of Corner Peak – 2 locals were sitting on the slopes above the pass, and we traded some sweets for a photo of them with Popple and the Judge in the background. I will neither confirm nor deny that this may photo may have had something to do with an upcoming VE photo competition :p

The summit of Corner Peaks is actually quite far north of the pass – the long flat top continues for a while before reaching a jagged rocky summit. The view from this is one of the best I have ever seen. We had a clear view of Red Wall Falls, Cathkin, Ships Prow, Popple etc.

We sat here for a while, enjoying a well-earned lunch break.

From here we followed the watershed to Judge Peak, unfortunately our choice of line meant that we were far from the river, and had not refilled since the first obstacle on the pass.

En route between the 2 peaks we met up with 2 locals, one spoke English. Carl noted a gully that may be passable, and on closer inspection it had a good trail coming up it. We asked the one local if people use it and he said yes. So it would appear that we had found the summit of Around the Corner Pass – about 1km south of the conventional Corner Pass summit.

These 2 locals walked with us to the top of Judge, 2 more were on the top already. They were very polite in matching our approx. 2km/h speed! The top of Judge Peak is also spectacular. You look square on the wall of Gypaetus Point, giving it a dramatic feel. You can also see Bannerman Hut and Giants Castle very clearly.

We sat up there for a while, they asked us to take photos of them, so we did. After a while we said we must go.

From here we once again followed the watershed towards the Popple ridge – hoping to keep as much altitude as possible. One of us really should have gone and fetched water when we were close to the top of Judge Pass. We knew there was no water on the ridge we were about to climb and we were both about to run out. It’s always hard to motivate yourself to collect water when you are about to climb a ridge, but it has to be done.

We soon reached the col between Popple and Auditor. Perhaps it was the keeping of altitude, or perhaps it’s the fact that Popple is much easier to climb from the north, but this ridge proved easy to get up. We dropped our packs and walked up my old nemesis. Its summit was inviting – although a tad windy and cold as the sun moved closer to setting.

From here we walked back down to the col, picked up our packs and walked along the long slope to the summit of the Auditor. Anyone who thinks this peak doesn’t deserve khulu status needs to climb it – it is well over 1km from Popple and has close to 60m prominence – topping out at 3288m. It is right on the escarpment edge and has a really good view.

From here we dropped down into the Sanqebethu valley. The sun had already set behind Popple as we dropped down the ridge. We walked part of the way up the valley behind Gypaetus Point, finding a well sheltered spot near the river to pitch the tent. Not long after then tent was up it was already dark, but every goal we had set for day 1 had happened – 1 pass, 4 khulus – not a bad way to spend a day in the mountains!

We had had no water for over 2 hours now, and were both dehydrated. 1 rehydrate and 1 soup later we both were feeling much better. Sometimes we need to be reminded that water is vital and one should never assume that there will be more water available later. Dehydration can be serious and we are very fortunate to have come away from this so lightly. That being said, I have already had close to a litre of water today (by 10:30) and am still very thirsty…

Day 3 – Mount Durnford

With a slightly lighter day, we decided on a slightly later start. By 6:30 we were slowly trudging up the Sanqebethu ridge. I don’t know why, but both times I have done this from the south it has felt incredibly difficult and steep, yet both times I have done it from the north it has been rather difficult. Hmmm – I’m sure a N-S and S-N GT are equally difficult :p

Sitting on top of the ridge we enjoyed the view for a bit, before dropping down with the goal of finding Bannerman Cave.

We first found Smurf’s Cave (as it shall henceforth be known). It was wet and lacked a sleeping area, but could be a way of getting out of a storm. A short distance later we found Bannerman Cave. The tunnel was very wet and the well sheltered area to the left was also mostly wet. Definitely not a cave I would want to use!

We proceeded to drop down. We had planned to use the GT rivers route through this valley, but seeing as we were already almost at the corner of the ridge that one would take if heading to Langies Pass, we decided to walk to the top of Langies instead.

We stopped near the top of the pass, had a good second breakfast and filled up our bottles. We walked past the top of the pass to keep as much altitude as possible, this was followed by passing the Carbineers’ graves and passing below the fake Erskine Peak marked as such on the map. We contoured from here to the river that flows from the top of North Jarding Pass. Knowing the monster that is Mount Durnford, we stopped at this river for another break, filled up the bottles and the plodded on.

We knew we were looking for Durnford Gap, and we could not see any gaps that looked usable without going a fair distance into Lesotho. We noted a weakness in the cliff line about 500m from the escarpment edge. On reaching it it turned out to be very gentle with good holds. We didn’t even need to take our packs off to get up there.

It was great to reach the top of this ridge after how savage it had been to me on the GT 2 years ago. We put down our packs and bagged the khulu. Unfortunately the mist had picked up to the south, but we got a great view north. As we came off the top the mist cleared and we had that spectacular side on view of Giant’s Castle. At the time I still though that Long Wall peak was in Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve and thus did not realise that this was the successful completion of phase 2 of my project.

We kept high, looking down the central and south Jarding Passes before eventually dropping down to the river below the col that separates the Long Wall from the Carbineers. At the river we saw 2 locals gathering their livestock. They greeted us as they went past, but did little else. We sat at a small pool on the river and washed off.

We decided that the planned camping spot in the Giant’s basin wasn’t wise seeing as it’s a high traffic zone. We decided instead to get as close to the top of the ridge as possible before pitching the tent.

We passed the large pool on the river, it was the most full I have ever experienced it. At about 3130m we found a nice flat spot near the river and pitched the tent.

The day had been tough, and we had technically not completed the route for the day, but we had still done pretty well to get over the Sanqebethu and Durnford ridges, as well as most of the way up the Long Wall ridge. Mist came over as we made supper. Seeing as it cleared just after sunset, we knew we were in for a cold night!

Day 4 – Slaying a Giant

The remainder of the Long Wall ridge fell to the Barbarians in about 15 minutes. As always, this ridge is covered in false tops.

It was quite hazy, but not cloudy. Not ideal, but not bad.

On reaching the top of the ridge I decided to go for Lotheni Peak – after all it was right there. No, as a matter of fact it wasn’t. That was the false peak near the false peak that is near a false peak next to the real high point. Carl was sitting with the packs as I went off, I had to gain close to 100m, and as it turned out I had to cover over 1km to reach the real summit. It is a truly spectacular ridge with a great view down into Lesotho, and included a view of Mohlesi (yes, the peak at Vergelegen), Redi, Hawk, Tent, Tarateng, Long Wall, Giant’s, Durnford, Popple, Mafadi and some others. It also had a great view into Lesotho.

From here we headed to the summit of Long Wall Peak. The view from this summit is quite something. It makes Giant’s Castle look very daunting. Incidentally you can see Thabana Ntlenyana and Makheka from there. The 2 highest ridges in Southern African almost feel like they are encircling you. This summit is well worth a visit.

From here we dropped down to the top of the pass, headed a way up the opposite ridge and hid our packs in a recess in the cliff line. From here we traversed around the large ridge that is one of the summits of Giants Castle. Incidentally this 3229m is more than 1km from Long Wall and Giant’s Castle and is actually a khulu. I have added it to my list as “Giants Pass Peak”.

We continued around and eventually started climbing the ridge up the Giant. It is a real slog, and if you don’t walk other the middle ridges it is well over 3km from the top of Giants Pass. It is a very different feeling escarpment valley – well worth a visit.

Eventually we were looping down the Eastern Gully – looks like an interesting route.

The top of Giants requires a scramble along a narrow knife ridge, followed by a B grade scramble up a rocky top. From here it is a scramble through boulders to the actual high point.

Initially I was rather concerned about the exposure, but with a lot of encouragement by Carl I sat on the summit and placed a rock on the summit cairn.

So we had set out to bag 8 khulus, and here I was sitting on the 8th. Giant’s Castle has a very unusual view – looking at Giant’s Castle area frontally, but from a high angle. It’s worth a visit!

On the way back we stopped on the nearby summit, the one a few hundred metres from the khulu. It has roughly the same view as the main peak.

On the way back to our packs we noticed some locals with colourful clothing. We were moderately worried, but didn’t need to be – our packs were exactly where we had left them.

We were soon on the scree covered trail down the pass. Below the true right caves the trail crosses to the true right slope, and then disappears in the scree field. Seeing as there wasn’t much in the way of rock bands we simply set a target point on the contour path and just aimed for that.

There was a snake on the way down, but it disappeared so quickly that I didn’t see what it was. I thought I saw the typical beige stripes of a skaapsteker, but I am not entirely sure.

We returned to the car park around 4PM, all in all a good weekend!

Approximate distance: 64km
Total photos: 548

Photos to follow soon.
The following user(s) said Thank You: diverian, kliktrak, Smurfatefrog, Viking

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24 Mar 2014 12:35 #59950 by Viking
Replied by Viking on topic Giant’s Castle Traverse
Go Barbarians! :woohoo: :woohoo:

What a great way to spend the long weekend. Surprisingly my leg aren't too stiff!

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”

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24 Mar 2014 13:22 - 24 Mar 2014 13:37 #59952 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Giant’s Castle Traverse
Litter left in Bannerman Hut - its really horrible that people feel they can simply leave this kind of stuff in the hut :angry:


Carl coming down from Bannerman Hut


The mist clears briefly with the Judge coming into view


A butterfly on Corner Pass


The initial ridge on Corner Pass


Finally through the mist, the gully comes into view


Forced into the gully


The first obstacle in the gully


Corner Cave - little more than an emergency bivy stop


Looking down Corner Pass


Carl negotiates the 2nd obstacle


The final obstacle of the pass


The top of the pass


Looking south from the top of the pass


Looking north from the Corner


Khulu bagged - I put a tick next to Corner Peak


Red Wall Falls


The top of Around The Corner Pass


The view from the top of the Judge


Popple from Judge


Bannerman Hut from Judge. This is what 18X optical zoom and cropping a 14 megapixel photo quite heavily looks like...


Locals watch us as we head off Judge Peak


Judge from the Auditor


The shadow of Popple from the top of the Auditor. Note the rainbow around the peak


The Sanqebethu valley from the saddle between Auditor and Popple


Smurfs Cave


A tunnel near Smurf's Cave - big enough to stuff your pack into...


Bannerman Cave


Carl coming down the Sanqebethu ridge


The Carbineers and Durnford


Donkeys below the Carbineers

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Last edit: 24 Mar 2014 13:37 by ghaznavid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: kliktrak, HFc

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24 Mar 2014 13:32 #59953 by Smurfatefrog

ghaznavid wrote:
Khulu bagged - I put a tick next to Corner Peak

ahha, if thats Corner Peak then we did bag it, we sat on it having sundowners. I thought it was this "peak" on the actual corner which seems to have a cairn

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24 Mar 2014 13:43 #59954 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Giant’s Castle Traverse

Smurfatefrog wrote: ahha, if thats Corner Peak then we did bag it, we sat on it having sundowners. I thought it was this "peak" on the actual corner which seems to have a cairn


The khulu is always the highest point - that is the highest point on the Corner Buttress, therefore the peak :thumbsup:

Incidentally - it does have a summit cairn now. Same with Lotheni, Long Wall and Auditor - none had a summit cairn previously.

I'll finish loading photos soon.

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24 Mar 2014 13:47 - 24 Mar 2014 14:04 #59955 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Giant’s Castle Traverse
Not sure if this is actually Durnford Gap - but it functions just as well. Easy to walk through.


Mount Durnford from the top of the first rock band. The other bands can be walked around


Carl coming through Durnford Gap


Looking north from Mount Durnford


Giants Castle from just south of Mount Durnford


Top of Central Jarding Pass


Giants Castle and Katana


Central Jarding Pass


Carl enjoys the view


The large pool on the Long Wall ridge


Carl relaxes while I take some photos - what a tough life :lol:


The stream near our campsite




The sun rises - Mount Durnford


Sun Rise over the Long Wall


The view south from Lotheni Peak


Giants Castle from the Long Wall


Thabana Ntlenyana


Long Wall from Giant's Pass


Looking down the Eastern Gully


The summit ridge of Giant's Castle


Looking south from near the top of Giant's Castle (and yes - I did actually stand on top of the main summit - just didn't get any good photos from the top)


Carl on the eastern subsidiary peak of Giant's Castle


Some locals enjoy the view above Giant's Pass


The Northern Gully on Giant's Castle


The Long Wall


Looking south


Large rock that has left a big scar on the slopes of Giant's Castle. A clear example of hikers being at fault for erosion as cited by the Cable Car Feasibility Study :P


Looking up at the Giant


Clouds looking ominous over the Giant - but no storm struck


It got more and more hazy


Here's some contrast - bit of errosion on a heavily used hiking trail, massive errosion scar across it

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Last edit: 24 Mar 2014 14:04 by ghaznavid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, JonWells, Trev, Selous, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, Viking

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24 Mar 2014 13:51 #59956 by Smurfatefrog

ghaznavid wrote:

Smurfatefrog wrote: ahha, if thats Corner Peak then we did bag it, we sat on it having sundowners. I thought it was this "peak" on the actual corner which seems to have a cairn


The khulu is always the highest point - that is the highest point on the Corner Buttress, therefore the peak :thumbsup:

Incidentally - it does have a summit cairn now. Same with Lotheni, Long Wall and Auditor - none had a summit cairn previously.

I'll finish loading photos soon.

Yup, fair enough. We didn't check heights, just walked to the best viewpoint

ghaznavid wrote: We first found Smurf’s Cave (as it shall henceforth be known). It was wet and lacked a sleeping area, but could be a way of getting out of a storm.

I don't think thats it based on the pic, its south of Bannerman Cave and big enough to pitch a tent in, had a slab like roof, but I could be wrong cos we didn't go right up to it

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24 Mar 2014 14:07 #59957 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Giant’s Castle Traverse

Smurfatefrog wrote: I don't think thats it based on the pic, its south of Bannerman Cave and big enough to pitch a tent in, had a slab like roof, but I could be wrong cos we didn't go right up to it


Ok - I though it was above Bannerman Cave.

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24 Mar 2014 16:56 #59964 by firephish
Replied by firephish on topic Giant’s Castle Traverse
sounds like an epic hike, my legs hurt just thinking about it :thumbsup:

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24 Mar 2014 21:26 #59966 by HFc
Replied by HFc on topic Giant’s Castle Traverse
Great expedition guys, and really great photos Ghaz!

I especially loved this one.

ghaznavid wrote: Looking north from the Corner


:thumbsup:
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