Climbing Monk's Cowl

20 Jan 2017 20:49 - 20 Jan 2017 20:50 #70710 by Viking
Climbing Monk's Cowl was created by Viking
Somebody once told me that a sure sign of aging is when ambition and ability depart. I’d prefer that to read “A possible sign of lack of fitness” but either way our plans, as so often happens, were severely curtailed once we were out in the mountains. What our ambitious plans were is a whole other story so let’s rather focus on what actually did happen.

In our relatively short climbing career, Monk’s Cowl is the only ‘berg peak we have had a failed attempt on so far although I am sure there will be loads more. Our first attempt was documented in a write-up here when we got to the top of Cowl Pass from the KBC side only to be stopped in our tracks by 1m deep snowpack and an iced up “grassy traverse”. After this first attempt we subsequently made up for previous lack of failures when a number of other planned attempts were cancelled without us ever leaving home due to various reasons including illness and very wet forecasts.So, after climbing 5 ‘berg routes in 6 months in the first half of 2016 we finally managed to settle on the December 16th long weekend for another attempt on the highest free-stander in the Republic.

Macc and I set off at a leisurely pace from the car-park on Friday morning with our packs weighing a lot less than previous climbing trips due to our minimalist approach - no tent, no mattress, minimal clothing, bivvy bags etc – you get the idea. This made a big difference on the approach hike and we were fortunate to have misty weather for most of the day. Part of our ambitious plan was to approach from the Cowl Fork side but by the time we got to BMC, the mist was low and we decided to turn right instead and go via KBC in order to avoid potentially frustrating navigational challenges. The water levels were all up but not too high to necessitate taking off boots whilst crossing the Mhlawazini. The gradual but sustained incline of the Mhlawazini valley passed by surprisingly faster than we both had anticipated and we soon found ourselves stopped for a lunch break and nap at KBC.

Macc approaching KBC


After lunch we pushed on to the river crossing, which is also the last water, before starting the long slog up the slope below the neck between Monk’s Cowl and Cathkin. Not long after this and with the forecasted poor weather threatening , we decided to call it a day about a 3rd of the way up the slope and found the nearest “reasonable” bivvy spot. The term reasonable is of course exceptionally subjective and dependant on the surrounding terrain. What I’m trying to say is our bivvy spot was rubbish with about half a square metre of flat ground and the rest being around 40 plus degrees slope. It required building a “platform” utilising boots and backpacsk, covered by a groundsheet which then enabled really bad sleep exclusively in the foetal position. Ok, so I am jumping the gun a bit and before any sleep and “platform” building was attempted we set up our bivvy spot against a rock wall of sorts using a second ground sheet – held taught with some cams and accessory chord tied to plants - as a cover from the rain.

Views from the bivvy spot.



We had just set everything up when it started to rain and rain it did – with many showers and downpours through-out the evening and that night. Despite our rudimentary shelter we remained quite dry, but as mentioned above did not sleep very well at all and at about 3am we decided we had had quite enough sleep and started the usual morning routine of coffee and breakfast by headlamp before setting off at around 4 up the remaining slope making the neck in time for second breakfast and a short sit-down in the sun to dry our dew-soaked trousers.

Although its’ not from quite the same angle these pics shows a comparison of the August and December views from the neck towards the grassy traverse.



After a brief break we set off along the grass traverse that was impassable 4 months before. This grass band contours around the South side of Monks Cowl and although it gets narrow at one point it is nothing like the camel route or the approach to Roland’s. Once around Monks you enter a final grass gully of about 60m that tops out between Monks and Champagne Castle. The two caves are visible from here and it is a short walk from here to the start of the climb.

Macc on the start of the grass traverse with Cathkin in the background.


A view down towards Injasuthi.


Macc rounding the corner crux of the traverse.


Looking up the final grass ramp.

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

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Last edit: 20 Jan 2017 20:50 by Viking.
The following user(s) said Thank You: ChrisPatient, Macc

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20 Jan 2017 20:55 - 20 Jan 2017 20:57 #70711 by Viking
Replied by Viking on topic Climbing Monk's Cowl
A different perspective of the climb.


Looking across to the two caves.


The poorly named Champagne South Gully.


The climb starts opposite and slightly to the right when viewed from the cave, “at the highest point of the grass band”. It was now time to put on sunscreen, harnesses and our big-boy pants, the whole reason for the trip was about to start.

The climbing went well overall and we made good time to the summit with the weather changing constantly due to mist blowing up from the KBC side that resulted in a disappointing view from the top.
Ok yes I agree that seems like a very boring and standard summary – an answer almost pre-recorded in response to the question of “How was the climb?” Well in truth berg climbing always entails a bit more than “it went well”.
The interesting thing about climbing is how it challenges you on so many levels and demands constant decision making. What do you take up with you on the climb and what do you leave at basecamp or the base of the climb? How much and what protection to take? 8 cams or 4 cams? How much abseil chord? Do I take my boots? How much food and water will we need, how long will we be? Jackets? Warm gear? What is the weather doing? How much time is left? What contingencies do I have if we get stuck or become benighted on the peak? Then you need to make route-finding decisions whilst hanging on to a piece of basalt. Left or right? Is this piece of rock ok to pull on? Are you sure we are on the right track? What does the route-guide say? Dig around in your pocket for the piece of paper with the route-guide on it – try not to let it blow away or disintegrate in your increasingly sweaty hands –“better chalk up my hands – ah crap I left my chalk behind”. Keep going….
Despite climbing well within our physical abilities and dealing with the mental aspect mentioned, there is also an emotional game playing out with thoughts ranging from “This is great” and “need to be a bit careful here” to “this is not fun anymore” and “what the f#ck am I doing here, I want to go home”.

Climbing is an all-encompassing sensory experience.

In no other aspect of life have I ever learnt to fight and face fears as with climbing. You learn to put away the irrational fear (with practice) and deal with and assess the actual risks and the potential rewards thereof.
Now all of the above can be experienced every time you head out and soon becomes the norm which then leads to seemingly nonchalant answers like “Ja, it went well thanks”. At the end of the day if you go out, tag the summit and get back safely, it’s always remembered as a successful trip.
So in summary the climb went well and was a success!

Monk’s Cowl standard route is made up of 3 pitches of climbing and some scrambling higher up – some of which may require roped climbing in the very wet. We underestimated how much of the route was left after the actual climbing and it seemed to go on a bit (not unlike this write-up)….

Macc exiting the crux on Pitch 2.


Macc approaching the summit cairn in misty conditions.


Summit selfie.


Summit entry - Interestingly the previous entry was Intrepid and co's 2014 Easter climb.


About to touch down safely.


Once we touched back down at the base of the climb, we collected our gear, high-fived each other and set off back the way we had come, tired yet elated at finally ticking off this climb. We made good time back down to KBC for another, even wetter, night of bivvying, with the difference being this night was at least spent on level ground. Although it rained hard early on in the evening, by midnight it had cleared completely and a very bright moon came out to play – so bright in fact, that I had to pull a buff over my eyes. Nevertheless a reasonably good night’s sleep was had. Oh, and we remained quite dry in our bivvy bags.
The next day we “slept in” a bit and took our time packing up for the last very hot 14kms back to the car park. A shower and something to eat at the purple Giraffe rounded off another great berg trip and a successful year’s ‘berg climbing.

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

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Last edit: 20 Jan 2017 20:57 by Viking.

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20 Jan 2017 22:43 #70712 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Climbing Monk's Cowl
Well done guys, and thanks for the writeup :thumbsup:

In photos the crux section on the second pitch looks insanely scary - how did you guys find it?

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23 Jan 2017 08:07 - 23 Jan 2017 08:10 #70718 by Viking
Replied by Viking on topic Climbing Monk's Cowl
The crux is not technically difficult but there are other factors at play like exposure, traversing (Who likes a traverse, right?) and finding gear whilst trusting trusting the friction foot holds without any positive hand holds.



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

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Last edit: 23 Jan 2017 08:10 by Viking.
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23 Jan 2017 08:58 #70719 by Macc
Replied by Macc on topic Climbing Monk's Cowl
Yeah, the crux is just a mind game, complete trust in the grip on your shoes, you standing on a slab that you don't really trust your foot on, but if you don't sink your weight onto your feet, they will come off. But you just edge along one step at a time and it is fine.

Actually, the harder moves were up on the third pitch due to wet rock and loose rock.

"The three rules of mountaineering: It’s always further, taller and harder than it looks."
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23 Jan 2017 09:20 - 23 Jan 2017 09:30 #70720 by Macc
Replied by Macc on topic Climbing Monk's Cowl
Here a few more photos I took:

A different view of our bivvy spot on the first night - you can see the slope

Rain pouring off our little roof we constructed

The view looking down from the top of the first pitch

Carl belaying at the start of the third pitch

This was suppose to be the first of the 'scrambles' to the top, but in the wet, it became a little too dicey so we roped up and climbed it

My bivvy spot for the second night at KBC

Carl in his bivvy spot at KBC

Our last look back at Monk's before leaving KBC in the morning

"The three rules of mountaineering: It’s always further, taller and harder than it looks."

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Last edit: 23 Jan 2017 09:30 by Macc.

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