Monk's Cowl: "rain makes rocks wet"

22 Apr 2014 13:33 - 22 Apr 2014 13:33 #60439 by ghaznavid

ClimbyKel wrote: Well done Jonathan, thanks. Hope you had an enjoyable walk out; have a safe journey with your upcoming trip.


ClimbyKel wrote: PS - read my article/blog on my first outdoor climb. It's in the blog section. I'm living proof that shaky legs on the rock can be overcome with some regular climbing and experience.

I read it a few days ago - very interesting. 10 years ago I wouldn't have even done that abseil off Turret, so there is definitely some progress from my side. Who knows, perhaps I will conquer my favourite Berg peak some time - without the use of a helicopter that is. Neil's photos from Monk's Cowl looked pretty cool!

My 2000th post - I think a break from posting may be in order :laugh:
Last edit: 22 Apr 2014 13:33 by ghaznavid.
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22 Apr 2014 13:52 - 22 Apr 2014 13:53 #60440 by Viking
Just out of interest on our way down Keartlands pass just above where it joins the Nandi Falls route we saw a Serval.

It was totally unaware of our presence and as we were higher up, it was totally unaware of our presence.
I first noticed it when I saw a woman walking along the Nandi Falls path towards the campsite. Next thing, I saw this brown flash jump out of the grass onto the Keartlands path and crouch right down, all the while watching the woman on the other path. As the woman continued walking, totally unaware of the cat nearby, the Serval was creeping along the other path in what can only be described as a stalking move! It was quite something to behold. Very quickly the woman had put some distance between herself and the cat, which didn't follow her onto the Nandi Path.
Anyway, the cat then walked back into the grass and stayed quite low down. We watched for a while and noticed a few birds circling in close proximity to the cat's position. All of a sudden the Serval leaped into the air after one of the birds but didn't manage to catch it. After that it stayed low and was quite hidden. It didn't move for a while so we continued down the path. As we got closer to it's last know position we veered off the path towards where we had seen it last. Suddenly the cat shot off out of it's hiding place not 3 metres from us and bounded down the Nandi Falls path.

It was really an amazing scene to watch and it almost seemed as if the cat was having afternoon play time.

Here is a photo that Marc ( the same guy that left his binocs) got of the cat. It was taken from far back so isn't all that great.

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

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Last edit: 22 Apr 2014 13:53 by Viking.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, ClimbyKel, firephish, PeterHowells, Smurfatefrog, HFc

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24 Apr 2014 20:14 - 24 Apr 2014 20:22 #60479 by intrepid
Another awesome Berg climbing meet around Easter time, which is becoming a tradition for MCSA Joburg Section it seems. The group was awesome and a lot of fun, and thanks to Andrew for leading the meet.

This is my account of Day 1:

Our original intention was to bag as many summits in the Monks Cowl area as possible. We wanted to hit the bigger peaks such as Cathkin and Monks Cowl, and as much of Sterkhorn's triple summit and Turret and Amphlett that we could manage. Since most of us drove down from Joburg early on Friday morning, many were intending to go as far as Blind Man's Corner and climb the smaller peaks that day. For those that who wanted to do Cathkin on Day 2, we had to get further than that on Day 1. Day 3 had always been set apart for Monks Cowl. Ghaz has already described how the group split up, some going for Turret and Amphlett and others doing up to the North Summit of Sterkhorn. We only reached the top of the Northern summit of Sterkhorn around 3pm and this scared off most of the others who had considered going for the technical middle and main summits.

Looking down at Turret, note the two climbers on the grassy shoulder below the rock pitch (white spec on the left):

Neil and I were still very keen to go for the main, Southern summit of Sterkhorn. The MCSA route description for the standard route of the main summit is rather vague, and we all had the impression that it would be about two pitches. After all, it seems like you are almost there already, looking at it from the Northern summit, right? It turns out that the route is 4 pitches, 3 of which were pretty long distance-wise. The entire route was about 160m long. The route was not overly difficult, but the route-finding was not that obvious at times, and involved a lot of traversing.

Neil led the first pitch, and landed up going a bit too high on one of the traverses, leading to a long run-out before he reached the stance. We alternated leads, getting me on lead for Pitch 2, which started off with a long traverse along a narrow grass ledge. Getting off the ledge involved an awkward E-move and some negotiation with the vegetation, after which I could finally place my first piece of gear. The run-out was 20m, and the fall would have been a Factor 2.

Pitch 3 involved a really long traverse, taking up an entire 50m rope-length, but it was perhaps the easiest of the 3 pitches, maybe around a D grade (Pitch 2 also took up an entire length).

Neil leading Pitch 3, the middle summit visible to the left:

The final pitch was short, but including the easy scramble from there to the summit took up about 3/4 of the rope. We watched the sun setting behind Dragons Back from the summit and quickly looked for the abseil station. Getting down involved two, back-on-back, full-length abseils, needing both 50m ropes tied together, so the total abseil length was 100m. Who would have ever thought it would land up being that much - we didn't. All in all it took us 3 hours to climb up and get back down. My feet touched down at the base of the peak in almost full darkness. Now we had another surprise waiting for us. Neil's headlamp batteries had died and we only had one headlamp to get us back down, which made for a very long and laborious descent to get back down to our camp at Blind Man's Corner, and the night was pitch black. We finally got into camp at 8pm.

Our spirits were high in spite of this, and we were pleased to have climbed a summit which is not often acknowledged, yet often seen from below. It was the first technical summit to be climbed in the Drakensberg.

The others had already decided that Cathkin was off the cards for the next day since it was now too late to bother walking to Keith Bush Camp, or part of the way there.

Day 2 to continue...

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

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Last edit: 24 Apr 2014 20:22 by intrepid.
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27 Apr 2014 20:20 - 28 Apr 2014 08:20 #60498 by intrepid
Day 2: Most of the gang was keen to take it easy and just amble along to Keith Bush Camp. Philip was disgusted with everyone since this supposed to be a "climbing meet". He really wanted to get up Sterkhorn. I was just keen to knock of Turret since I hadn't done it yet, and nobody was up to my idea of lugging a full pack OVER the range to KBC, instead of around it on the trail. We struck a happy compromise and decided to climb the middle summit of Sterkhorn, then Turret, and then find our way to KBC over the range.

So I trudged up Sterkhorn for the second time in two days. We stashed our packs half way up, only to come back to find the vultures circling them, and either them or the crows had already pulled some of my stuff out of my pack!

The middle summit of Sterkhorn is a single pitch of mostly easy climbing with a short-lived F1 move which Philip led without any difficulties. Not much gear after the crux but it wasn't really needed.

Abseiling down the middle summit, with Philip sitting below in the grass:

After rescuing our packs from the birds, we traversed across to the Turret which Philip now climbed two days in a row! The shot below shows the short rock pitch of Turret:

We then maintained a level contour from the neck between Turret and Sterkhorn, towards KBC. Eventually we looked straight down onto KBC from high up on the slopes. The angles on Cathkin and Monks Cowl from up there were very unique, and something I had never seen before. It took some route finding to get us down from the high slopes through all the rock bands, but in the end it took us two hours from Turret to KBC. If we had walked back to Blind Man's Corner and then along the main trail it could easily have taken us 4 hours or more, so it was well worth it and gave us some unique views of all the peaks.

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

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Last edit: 28 Apr 2014 08:20 by intrepid.
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29 Apr 2014 09:13 #60506 by PeterHowells
Thanks for the writeup and pics - my favourite part of the berg (except for Amphletts which I somehow hate with a passion).

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29 Apr 2014 13:42 - 30 Apr 2014 10:17 #60512 by intrepid
Day 3 - Monk's Cowl. We reshuffled all the teams and came up with 2 teams of two for Barry's Route, one team of 3 and another team of 2 for the Standard Route.

Neil, Philip, Andrew and I, circumnavigated the base of the cliffs of Monks Cowl along the face that looks onto KBC (where the route Not So Auto is), in order to get to Barry's Route. When we got there we discovered it was in the cold, shady side of the mountain, and wind was blowing making it feezing cold. We all looked up at the intimidating overhang above us where the route was supposed to go up but we could not discern where the fourth and really hard pitch was supposed to be. Eventually, after studying the rock carefully, we saw a piece of sling hanging off something, flapping in the wind. It was very disheartening to see the rock looked very, very desperate at that point. Neil and Philip roped up and decided just to go for it anyway. Pitch 1 was very wet.

Philip belaying Neil on Pitch 1, with the dark-looking overhangs up above, which is very roughly where the route goes:

Andrew and I waited for them to finish the first pitch, trying to take shelter behind a crude bivy wall which some climbers had built previously. We studied the topo, trying to discern the route, while our hands holding the topo shivered uncontrollably from the cold. We only had very minimal clothing with us. I was feeling uneasy about the route, but didn’t say much because we all felt it. Eventually Andrew turned to me and said that he could easily just opt for the Standard Route today. Whenever I tie into the other end of Andrew's rope, I'm very careful to listen to where he is at. This time it didn't take any convincing at all. The Standard Route seemed very inviting at that moment, and it was on the sunny, non-windy side of the mountain.

So we set off to the neck between Cowl and the escarpment, along the same grassy ledge where Dick Barry would have landed from his fatal fall. We did have to abseil down one section, but soon we were on the neck by the caves, and all of a sudden things were warm and pleasant again. We saw the other teams above us. We thus did an complete circumnavigation around the base of Monk's Cowl that day.

Climbers on the Standard Route, indicating where the first and second stances are. Pitch 2, which is the crux pitch, is very roughly indicated by the red line, but please note this is not intended to be an exact topo.

I led pitch 1, arriving at the first stance just in time to see my wife set off on the "scary traverse". Andrew led pitches 2 and 3 together, since the second stance was too crowded, climbing over the other team's system between stance 2 and 3. We won't mention here that he clipped one of the cams that he placed into the other team's rope! When we all got off the peak and were sorting our gear, we had to deal with the mystery of why his yellow cam was on one of the Clive's harness and not on mine. This was the explanation we eventually figured out - he had clipped their rope and Clive had cleaned it thinking it was part of their gear!

While the others continued working their way trough the remaining grassy ledges and rock bands after the main 3 pitches, Andrew and I quickly made our way to find the top of Barry's Route to check up on Neil and Philip. When we got there, Neil was busy belaying up Philip, feeling very pleased with himself! It took him a very long time, but he had successfuly led the 4th pitch of the route. His comment was "That flapping sling really got you guys". It turns out that the sling was hanging above the traverse part, but was not part of the route. It must have been from someone else’s attempts either to forge a new variation, it to back off in desperation. The route is apparently very bold and scary, but not quite as bad as it looks from the bottom. Its one of those routes that seems more feasible the higher up you get on it.

Philip was coming up the last pitch as we were standing there. There was much commotion and eventually I had to help Neil set-up a Z-pulley system to help him up. It was the same "1..2...3...pull!" scenario as Malcom Moore and Matt Makowski had to do for Martin Winter when they first opened Barry's Route. Philip told us afterwards that he had fallen off on the crux crack which leads you off the traverse. He could just reach the ledge with his hands, while his body dangled off into space. He was clutching the ledge and slowly clawing his way back onto the rock with every pull on the Z-pulley system. :laugh:

The final rock band before the long ridge leading to the summit:

The summit, where enjoyed lunch and an easter egg hunt too:

Abseiling back down. Note the multiple ropes, and the simul-abseiling:

All in all we had 9 people successfully summit that day! Long live many good Berg memories! :thumbsup:

Barry's Route will need to be re-visited another time.

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

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Last edit: 30 Apr 2014 10:17 by intrepid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, diverian, ghaznavid, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, HFc, Viking

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29 Apr 2014 19:48 #60516 by Viking
Thanks for that write-up Intrepid. Looks Awesome!

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

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08 May 2014 08:18 #60611 by Serious tribe
Great write up. The pics really show the scale of this thing.

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