And the Crown goes to..................

07 Nov 2013 07:04 - 07 Nov 2013 07:29 #58980 by elinda
There has long been divided opinion as to which is the toughest pass in the Berg. For most hikers, the two major contenders for this crown are Ships Prow ( South) Pass and Icidi Pass. Having done Icidi in March this year and adjudged it ‘ the mother of all passes” I was keen to give Ships a go and find out for myself which Pass was deserving of the title ‘ Toughest Pass’ in the Berg. Of course, ones experiences of a Pass will differ with each individual and many factors such as weather conditions, fitness, hiking experience , and dare I say age… all play a part. This is my report back on my experience of Ships Prow last weekend.
7 of us were up for the challenge, myself, Richard, Geordie, Jax, Thora, Gert-Jan and Sabine. We set off in cloudy humid weather and arrived at the camping spot in the river below Ships mid afternoon. The 10km walk that winds in and out the contours from Blind Mans Corner to the camping spot is very scenic and the Berg is looking beautifully green at this time of year. Looking up at the Pass, it didn’t look so bad, or that far, for that matter………although the top bit did look really steep…………










We set off at 7.00am the following morning and tackled the 3 kms of boulder hopping and chi chi bushes that sprawl over the entire river bed. We were able to negotiate our well pretty well by way of plenty of cairns along the way. Although tiring I did not find this as bad as I had feared, and certainly quite tame compared to what you have to endure at the lower end of Icidi. The morning started with partly cloudy skies giving rise to dramatic scenes of the escarpment and thereafter the weather closed in a bit.





By the time we left the main river bed and headed up left to start the main climb of 1.5km, the mist was drifting down and thickening. We were not to see the top of the Pass until many hours later and completed the remainder of the climb in swirling mist with no views to speak of. What followed was hours of steady, relentless climbing on a never ending steep slope. I don’t think I have ever climbed a pass that has never had at least a couple of fairly level sections , even if a couple of metres, where you feel a little respite and can catch your breath before continuing. With Ships there is no let up! There is a vague path in sections, other times you make your own way through various scree fields and then continue again up more leg and lung burning grassy slopes.





We really did feel like we were on a misty sort of sadistic berg treadmill with no end in sight! From time to time we would glimpse the great wall of the Prow looming high and huge to our right. At last we arrived at the top - it was just after 1.00pm so it took us 6 hours to complete it. Celebrations, albeit rather weary were in order! (Photograph by Richard Hunt)






The view into Lesotho was cloudy and shrouded with mist with no wind to speak of which is a rare thing for the top of the escarpment. A few of us went on to climb Champagne Castle in the hopes that the mist may clear for views of the back of Monks Cowl, but this was not to be.






We set up camp in the valley a little below Nkosasana Cave and settled in for the remainder of the afternoon. It became steadily colder and mistier and we had steady rain for the early part of the evening. The following morning we awoke to iced up tents and an icy cold blustery wind blowing. It was clear on top, but thick cloud and mist was banked up against the escarpment edge. We descended Greys Pass and enjoyed wonderful views of the valley below filled with billowing white clouds with Sterkhorn and Monks Cowl as a dramatic backdrop.






As we got below the clouds and to the bottom of the Pass, it warmed up quite a bit and became hot and humid again. The hike out along the contour path past Intunja and Hlatikulu Nek and back to camp was uneventful but long. I am totally convinced that Parks Board add on another 500 metres to that trudge down past the Sphinx every time I do this route……………..thats what it feels like anyway!
And as for what I think is the toughest pass in the Berg?.........perhaps George summed it up best when he said that Ships is TOUGH but Icidi is MEAN! Both are worthy contenders in their own way and I have pondered over this for a while. Final answer – if I were to choose which one I would do again, if I HAD to – it would be Ships…………….. it would be interesting to put this to the vote amongst forum members who have done both

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Last edit: 07 Nov 2013 07:29 by elinda. Reason: insert photos

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07 Nov 2013 07:05 #58981 by elinda
I am having problems in uploading the photos, but will keep trying!

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07 Nov 2013 10:50 #58986 by Stijn
My vote goes to Icidi. Think of it like this - Ship's Prow's difficulty is mostly steepness and length, which is relative to your fitness at any given time. i.e. It is possible to make Ships easier by improving one's fitness. But Icidi doesn't care how fit or unfit you are - you still have to smash through all that bush! ;)

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07 Nov 2013 11:38 - 07 Nov 2013 11:44 #58988 by Sabine
I agree with Stijn - Icidi is relentless and no matter how fit you are, you will come out scratched and scarred!!

In fact, we found an easier route this time on Ships, boulder hopping through a dry river bed, which must have had water in last time or we couldn't find it, and bundu bashed for that section. But its still not as scratchy as Icidi.
Last edit: 07 Nov 2013 11:44 by Sabine.

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07 Nov 2013 12:45 - 08 Nov 2013 06:21 #58990 by Geordie
I looked up my " 4 passes” www.vertical-endeavour.com/forum/drakensberg-trips/55438-four-passes-ifidi-icidi-fangs-ntonjelane.html#53750
to see what I had said about Icidi, and the info is sorely lacking, which I guess says everything and perhaps nothing about poor old Icidi.

Icidi is long, with the biggest problem seeming to be negotiating the side gullies. John struggled a bit here and we wound up finding a nice flat spot among the boulders in the river bed to camp, just 500m short of Grass cutters cave.


I guess I would then be a hypocrite to call Icidi difficult and dangerous so I'll stick with my "MEAN" mentioned by Elaine. Also if it had to be a choice between the two, as my very last pass to climb, I would go with Ships.
Still, I guess the crown goes to Icidi but by a wisker only. (A hiker’s bad memory and propensity to tell lies must taken into account here)
Last edit: 08 Nov 2013 06:21 by Geordie. Reason: spelling

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08 Nov 2013 18:38 #58993 by HFc
To Elinda and the rest of the group, well done guys it is a great feat to do Ships Prow South in six hours. It's a tough pass.

Don't know Icidi at all, and have only looked at sections of Ship's North. I do think however Ships North is a contender for toughest pass, definitely a top contender for most dangerous.

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