Monk's Cowl Camp to Cowl Cave (late April '17)

06 Jun 2017 18:19 - 07 Jun 2017 16:04 #71704 by grae22
Our initial plan was to do a four night circular route overnighting near Blindman's Corner, Shada Ridge, Keith Bush and finally somewhere beneath the Amphletts... but that didn't quite work out as we totally underestimated the slog that is getting up and over the Cowl saddle (in order to get on to KBC).

Day one was easy going to Blindman's and we camped near the stream beneath Sterkhorn.

Day two was even easier going, just following the contour to Shada Ridge. We camped along the descent into the valley and had sweeping views of the Old Woman, Champagne Castle, the Cowl and Cathkin.

Day three... well we started a bit late, after 8:00 I think. We hadn't worried with getting GPS tracks since we thought this would be a very straight forward hike, but it would've been super handy because we battled to find and stay with anything resembling a path.

A bit of bush to start with...

A quick bite for lunch at the river - anybody familiar with the route would probably know just how far behind we were at this stage.

We diverted onto the grassy hills to the north of the river quite often rather than following the river - this cost us a lot of time and was probably largely unnecessary.

At about 15:00 we realised there was no way we would still be able to get over the saddle and down to KBC in the light, but we were also very loath to turn back and head down through everything we'd already battled through... which is when we realised Cowl Cave was probably within reach, before dark.

Shortly before (finally) descending into the boulders beneath the saddles - little did we realise that the cave was still a long way (vertically speaking) from this point.

A longer than expected session of boulder hopping...

...followed by a really tough (after the day we'd had) 'climb' up the grassy slopes below the cave.

A note on Cowl Cave's location, I don't believe the Slingsby maps are accurate on this one - in terms of GPS co-ordinates they may be correct, but in terms of contour lines the map (the edition I have, at any rate) shows the cave to be below the saddle, but if anything it's actually slightly above the saddle. To state it plainly - if you're aiming for the cave you must get to the top of the saddle (well, the low point between Champagne and the Cowl).

We ended up reaching the cave at around 18:00.

The view the next morning:

We weren't sure what the descent down the other side of the saddle was like and heading down and then up the other saddle seemed like a lot of work too, so we headed back down the way we'd come.

No water near the cave and only hit water about 90 minutes into the descent, otherwise plenty of water this hike.

Heading back down was surprisingly slow going and we only reached our previous camp site at around 18:00 again.

In fairness our fitness slowed us down a lot and this route could be done much quicker (particularly if you're following a GPS track). An unexpectedly tough two days (padded with three extremely easy days), but still a fantastic hike.

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Last edit: 07 Jun 2017 16:04 by grae22.

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12 Jun 2017 12:45 - 12 Jun 2017 15:11 #71724 by andrew r
Thanks for sharing your story.

the description of Cowl Cave on concurs with your location:

Cowl Cave
Monk's Cowl / Mdedelelo Wilderness Area, Northern Drakensberg. At over 3 000 m, this is a high berg cave, although it is not located on the escarpment. It is situated slightly above the saddle between Champagne Castle and Monk's Cowl, in the foot of Champagne Castle itself. It can be reached either from Keith Bush camp, or from the Cowl Fork campsite, which are situated respectively at the bottom of the north and south gullies leading up to the saddle between Monk's Cowl and Champagne Castle. The route from the Cowl Fork campsite is only for the very fit and adventurous, since it involves clambering up the river over boulders and bed rock, around a waterfall via a steep, grassy slope, and finally up a steep, shaly slope.

The route from Keith Bush camp is far more pleasant and within the capabilities of more hikers, especially if only on a day walk without full backpacks, but keep to the right going up the broad, rock-strewn slope. Both these routes come out at the top of the gully between Monk's Cowl and Cathkin Peak. Reaching the cave from this point involves traversing around the south side of Monk's Cowl at a height slightly above that of this first saddle. This traverse can be done safely in good weather, but in mist it could prove difficult to find a safe route. Once around the corner behind Monk's Cowl, you then have to climb another gully for a further 150 m or so before arriving at the top of the saddle between Champagne Castle and Monk's Cowl. The cave is small and in mist it may still be difficult to locate.

GPS Coordinates:

Cowl Cave is not much of a cave at all since it is very shallow and has a crack in the roof at the one end. Add to this the fact that in summer it is very damp, with water seeping down the back wall and dripping from the roof elsewhere, there is no guarantee you won't be better off sleeping in the open on the deep, soft grass in front of it! However, in good winter weather it should be quite homely, especially with some snow to block the hole in the roof! Both saddles offer some level ground for pitching tents, and this is a much better option in wet weather. There is, however, another smaller, drier cave around the corner from Cowl Cave which can accommodate 2 or 3 people.

Seems you may have had an easier time if you'd pressed on over the saddles to KBC (maybe next time :))

If you have GPS co-ordinates I'm sure that they would appreciate the info (at to add to their cave data).

make a difference. today.
Last edit: 12 Jun 2017 15:11 by andrew r.
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12 Jun 2017 20:40 #71726 by grae22
Doh! :blush: Ja will research the next route more thoroughly as I usually would haha.

We found Cowl Cave to be pretty cosy, although we did have good weather. In hindsight I would definitely block that hole in the wall with something to stop a bit of a through-draft.

Unfortunately we only checked GPS co-ords while descending and did a rough comparison with the Slingsby map. They seemed about right, but can't say for sure.

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