Monk's Cowl - Grays & Ship's Prow hike report

07 Apr 2018 16:07 #73139 by grae22
30th March we kicked off a six day hike - the plan was to do a route along the lines of Blindman's, KBC, Grays Pass, Ship's Prow Pass and then back to Monk's Cowl camp along the contour path. We didn't have the best weather... but it could've been worse :)

Day 1

Easy hiking out from the camp to Blindman's via Keartlands (spelled Kaartlands on the Slingsby's map). Took a stroll up the lower sections of Sterkhorn before setting up camp - path(s) going up Sterkhorn was seeing a lot of traffic and isn't looking great (multiple tracks, some becoming eroded quite badly).

Day 2

Set off for KBC - mist settled in quite early and the KBC valley was quite wet. A short day of hiking giving us plenty of time to explore around KBC - some evidence of cycad poaching in the valley north of KBC above the boulders.

Day 3

A misty start followed by light rain, clear, mist, repeat... made us decide to spend another night at KBC in hopes of better weather in which to head up Grays the following day.

Day 4

An early, clear start to the day so we packed up quickly and made a start up Grays. Cathkin, the Monk and the Dragon's Back give some pretty spectacular scenery and the pass itself is very manageable. Things got a bit misty towards the top (below the vertical cliffs) and there's a bit more exposure than I was expecting (made more interesting by the generally damp conditions), but still very straight forward. In rain things must get a bit interesting as the paths in the upper reaches seem likely to become mini streams.





If memory serves we started at around 8:30 and topped out around 13:00.

We were in two minds about either coming back down Grays or Ship's Prow the following day - concerns about the weather and also the rather long last day we'd be in store for, but opted for Ship's in the end and headed up the valley to camp closer to Ship's. A fair amount of thunder threatened from a fairly large thunderstorm to the North, but thankfully it left us in peace.

Day 5

Another early start rewarded us with overcast, but otherwise clear conditions and we began to descend Ship's. The upper sections are fantastic - a decent path (although I suspect locating it while heading up would be challenging) and massive walls of rock, giving way to lush, stepped, green hills lower down.

A quick look at the North fork:



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07 Apr 2018 16:20 - 07 Apr 2018 16:26 #73140 by grae22


And then you get to the bush. And it starts raining.



We just slogged through it, thankfully we had two GPS tracks to keep us relatively sane... but the paths (where applicable) are wildly overgrown and some cairns are somewhat misleading (presumably indicating routes long lost to the bush). The river crossings were also a little challenging due to all the recent rain, but nothing too wild.



We'd broken camp near the top of Ship's at around 7:30 that morning and a little before 18:00 we packed it in and set up camp in a tiny clearing next to the river - well aware that any heavy rain would likely put us in danger of flash-flooding.



Day 6

Another early start (needing to cover around 17km to get back to Monks Cowl camp) and after dispatching a Dwarf Chameleon from our tent we packed up, fought our way out of the Ship's valley for another 2 1/2 hours and finally slogged it up to the contour path. The contour path around the Ship's valley is easily some of the worst maintained I've encountered.



I think we started around 8:30 and got back to Monk's around 17:00.

The Ship's valley was quite grueling, but I can't say I didn't love it ;)

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Last edit: 07 Apr 2018 16:26 by grae22.
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, Stijn, JonWells, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, AdrianT, Andreas, Biomech, Dave, Christinejvr, Gudstff

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07 Apr 2018 20:17 - 07 Apr 2018 20:18 #73141 by swordfish
Thank you for your story. I was planning to do the same route at the same time but plans changed.

Can you please tell me, did you go down the north fork of Ship’s or just took a picture? Also, do you mind sharing your GPX tracks?
Last edit: 07 Apr 2018 20:18 by swordfish.

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07 Apr 2018 21:19 #73142 by grae22
Hey swordfish, we just had a look at the north fork and then used the south fork to descend (it doesn't look like I can edit my post to clarify). I got the tracks from the downloads section ( www.vertical-endeavour.com/downloads/category/8-drakensberg-passes.html?limitstart=0 ) - the two I used are called "Ship's Prow - South Fork" and "Cathkin Mountain Pass" (this is actually for the North fork, but useful for the lower sections, too).

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