Trip Report: Champagne Castle Summit 24/02-26/02

01 Mar 2017 09:46 #71041 by ralphcopeiv
Planned and finished a 3 day/2 night hike up to the Champagne Castle via Grays Pass. Managed to ascend the pass in one day though I got rained on half way up the pass. Decided to descend late the next morning because, last weather report I checked, there was supposed to be rain again. Made camp on the 2nd night at Blindman's Corner, where, as predicted, I got rained on again.

What follows is a brief report on the status of the trail.

Day 1
Monk's Cowl - Blindman's Corner
Nothing to really report here. Trail is well maintained, aside from some minor flooding and muddy patches before and after Breakfast Stream.

Corner - Mhlawazini Valley
Trail starts to become overgrown by long grass is some places, but is still very clear. At a couple of points, the trail splits into two, only to converge again after about 20 meters of walking. Trail is very clear just prior and up to entering the valley.

Mhlawazini Valley - Keith Bush Camp
The valley is very bushy and the trail can be very overgrown at times. Long grass completely covers trail up until knees, with numerous rocks hidden beneath. I ran into a lone Besotho smuggler, but the transaction was harmless. I gave him some fruit and water and we went our separate ways. Prior to crossing the river, I lost the trail and had to bushwalk a little. The Mhlawazini River was quite full as well and the current looked strong. I only found one place where I could cross without taking my boots off, and that required some nimble boulder hopping. Trail continues to be rough all the way to Keith Bush, and can be elusive when crossing the streams and rivers.

Keith Bush - Gray's Pass
Fairly straight forward for the first third or so. Given the "extreme" nature of the trail, it's actually in pretty good condition. Upon turning westward to walk parallel to ridge though, numerous rock and mudslides can be seen. There is a portion of the trail that appears to have been washed away about half way up the pass, though I may have just lost it. Some minor boulder hopping and scrambling might be in order, but nothing highly technical. Just keep your eyes forward and you'll be able to spot some section of the trail to follow. There are some sections where you actually need to climb a sheet of rock, and in the rain this was a little harrowing. Upon reaching the final gully of the pass, you'll want to stick to the left, if ascending, as I found more dead ends and steeper sections to the right. There's a rough boot path going all the way up that can be followed fairly easily, but you may need to use your hands. Rock was quite loose in some places as well, so caution should exercised.

The Top of the Escarpment - iNkosazana Cave
The top was a marsh when I arrived. There were a lot of little pools and boggy areas near the river and the ground was so logged with water that your boots sink a few inches without breaking the surface. Lots of goat and donkey droppings too. Since it was raining when I topped out, I sought shelter in the nearby cave which was miserably wet. There were one, maybe two spaces, available for a small scout tent, while everything else was soaked. Kept me dry enough to set up though and stay warm in the night. Next morning the skies had cleared up and I completed my ascent of the Castle without any problems.

Going Down
Same story, but better weather.

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