Ships Prow North ang Grays Pass hike

13 Aug 2021 15:10 #77086 by Riaang
On the morning of 6 August 2021, Ian, myself and Sanet left Gauteng for another super awesome hike in the Drakensberg.We had planned to do this hike in June 2021, but on the drive down towards Moncs Cowl we saw that Giants Castle was covered in snow, so I was ordered to turn the car around and head for Giants Castle instead. Happy wife, happy life they say, so we went to Giants Castle instead. It was a good decision as we had a super time in the snow on Giants, but we still had a score to settle with Ships Prow North.

And so, with no snow on Giants Castle, we parked the car at the Moncs Cowl office at just after 9am.It was a lovely morning. It wasn't too hot, and a slight breeze was blowing as we climbed up towards the Sphinxs. We usually stop at the top of Breakfast stream, but decided to push on towards Blind Mans Corner as it offered some shade. By now the sun was out and it was hot. It was looking like our winter training program was working as we were all feeling strong and making good time. I was a bit concerned about the water situation though, as the stream at BMC was barely flowing. Fortunately I had consumed about a litre of coffee and water in the car, so was properly hydrated, and was carrying about 1,3L of water in my backpack. We had a bite to eat and 16minutes later we saddled up again. It's been a while since I'd done Shada Ridge, so was looking forward to walking in. Towards the last section to the top, as we went around a bushy section immediately past a small stream, I nearly stepped on a 45cm long Berg adder. I did a quick C-step around it and gently, slowly moved it off the path. Sanet refused to move forward until I had performed a detailed site inspection, ensuring her that no, there were no family members lurking around. Mama snake appeared to be alone. I was quite surprised to find the snake outside as it was still generally cold, although we were hot from walking. It moved very slowly and didn't bother getting away after I moved it off the path.

Well, with that bit of excitement out the way we hiked to the top of Shada ridge and then turned down towards Cowl Fork stream. The views on the escarpment form here are some of my favourites in the Berg. 


We got down to the bottom, and finding the path across the riverbed to the opposite hill proved once again to be a challenge. There is a specific rock I always use as a marker, but I wanted to see if I can find the actual path by walking a bit further north, then cut back south. The short answer is, I didn't find any trace of a path here. We ended up overshooting and climbed a bit higher than the level of the path. The troops weren't too happy when I informed them that I could see the path a good 50m asl below us. Oh well, that's part of the price you pay for exploring, I guess :-)

We continued following the footpath for a while. Shortly after we were looking down the Ships Prow river valley. Beautiful as always. Intimidating as always. From here it didn't look like the rain in March had cleared the riverbed like at Mnweni and Cathedral peak. As we started dropping down the valley we could clearly see that a rather large fire had burned away a lot of the vegetation. Soon after entering the riverbed we were covered in soot. I looked like I had put on cammo paint as I was covered in black stripes where the burnt, black trees scraped against my pack and clothes. One of the benefits of walking in the front, I guess. This was Ian's first Ships hike, and I had warned him about the riverine growth in this valley. It looked like, for this trip at least, he was going to be spared the worst of the typical bundu bashing. We soon entered the riverbed and made our way across to the southern side, where my favorite campsite was previously located. The going was rather slow as we had to find our way over loose boulders and through burnt down protea trees. As per usual I had to search around for our campsite, but soon found the meter high cairn we constructed a few years ago. No flood damage here at all, so at least our sleeping spot survived natures onslaught for another year. We dropped our packs,made camp, washed in the river, had a super hot Mexican chicken for dinner and went to bed at around 9pm.

The sunrise in the Ships valley is spectacular, and Ian woke me up a few minutes before my alarm went off. To see the soft glow in the east is always special. Then, a bit later, the entire escarpment is covered in burning orange as the runs' rays hit it full on. Magnificent!!!


We had coffee and rusks for breakfast, packed up camp and by 8am we started up the riverbed towards the pass. It was looking fairly intimidating from here. I've done the southern variation up and down a couple of times, but the north gully was looking much steeper and much more rocky. We kept to the right of the riverbed. However, progress was at a snails pace as the thicker trees weren't burned down, most of them had just lost their leaves. We still had to fight our way up the riverbed, and every so often we would come across a pile of rocks, which was a very welcome reprieve as we could move faster. As we approached the bottom of the pass, we took a quick brunch break to try and get a lot of the dust and soot out of our clothes. Man, this was dirty work!

We had a very lekker scramble up a rather large, smooth rock at the bottom of the pass. This would be a challenge to get over if it was wet, but as the rock was dry, grip was good. Sanet was too short to get up it, so she went around the rock on the left. From here the going got quite a bit steeper. We were soon reduced to klipspringers, as we were stepping from rock to rock. The higher up we went, the steeper the pass became. It was covered in small loose pieces of rock, which made the going difficult. It was a case of one step forward, followed by sliding three steps backwards. It was proving to be quite difficult to move forward on these loose rocky sections. In order to make forward progress, we had to either try the greener bushy sections on the left, or venture into the dodgy scree field on the right. It was very much a case of the grass looks greener on the other side. A few minutes in the green stuff and the rocks started to look appealing. After some time here, the green bushy section started to look like an attractive option. And every time you had to venture across via the super loose pebble section. Jisliaak, this was proving to be a bit tougher than it looked from the bottow.

We stopped for lunch at the point in the pass where the steepest section ends. If my memory serves me correctly, it's about 300m from the top of the pass. What a view we had from here. In the photo below, Sanet is coming up to our lunch spot.


After lunch we all stuck to the scree field which was simply the easiest (and possibly safest) way to get to the top. I'd kicked off a couple of loose rocks on my way to the lunch spot, and it was scary to see how far they went down before they came to a stop. We eventually topped out and a freezing wind was blowing. We had hiked up for most of the day in the shade, and in summer this would be nice, but getting to the top now the heat from the sun was very welcome. We all put on warmer clothes as the wind felt like it was blowing in from Antarctica. And there wasn't even any snow around!

We went up Champaigne castle and then turned Northwards towards Moncs Cowl. The views from here on the Cowl was intriguing, it's entirely different from below ships or from Grays pass itself. When you see it from here, you realize that pretty much anything in the berg is massive. We turned south west again and made our way towards Nkosazana cave. Bbbrrrr, this wind was bone-chillingly cold. Well, the best way to get warmer I reckoned was to walk faster, and so we upped the speed. I could see we were going to have to beat the shade from the ridge if we wanted to have a warm(ish) washing experienced, so after dropping my pack I trotted down towards the Nkosazana river. I had to strip down completely as the soot was halfway up my upper legs, and so I walked into the river butt-naked and sponged myself down. I got to about halfway done when the sun disappeared behind the ridge. It was as if somebody had suddenly opened the freezer door. To top it all, the same icy wind we experienced at the top of Champagne Castle started blowing again. Wow, I nearly froze my butt off - literally! My hands were so numb I battled to get my clothes on. I dried off, got dressed and speed walked back to the cave. The inside of the cave was wonderfully warm compared to the freezer outside. Nevermind the rather large block of ice at the cave entrance. Just being out the wind made a huge difference.

I made the mistake of letting my core temperature drop a bit too much, and it took me quite a while to feel comfortable again. Note to self - when you start feeling cold, do something about it immediately, don't wait for later. Do it now! Well, I can tell you that the first cup of hot, steaming soup went down wonderfully. With every sip I could feel my core heating up. I will never complain about the weight of my stove again :-) We finished dinner, went outside for a wee and brushing teeth, admired the amazing light show above our heads and by 8H30pm hit the floor, er, I mean the bag. 

I had an uncomfortably cold night, sliding off my sleeping mat numerous times. My watch informed me that I was awake for nearly 3 hours. It felt like more. It was every bit as cold as the previous afternoon. Maybe my new down jacket simply isn't up to the task, but I never felt like I heated up properly. We had breakfast and at around 7H45 we hiked down towards Vultures retreat. Man, the wind was absolutely pumping. It felt like it was trying to blow us off the escarpment. We didn't dare get too close to the edge as one gust could send a person flying off the escarpment. We turned back and headed towards Grays pass. Near the top we met 3 Basothos, said hello and 100m further had to stop to take our warm gear off as we were starting to overheat. This side of the escarpment had balmy weather. On top it was super windy and very cold, here was virtually no wind and it was warm. Two different worlds separated by a few hundred meters. That's the Berg for you, sometimes.

We made good time on the descent and 1Hr55min later were saying goodbye to KBC. By now the sun wasn't playing and we were plastering ourselves with sunscreen. We stopped for a final bite to eat at the river crossing about 800m below KBC, by now sweating profusely. From here it was an easy walk to BMC, and, as a first for Ian, took Kearlands pass down to Moncs Cowl. I'm still undecided between which one is the worst for a descent. The sun cooks you on both, but I think the last part of Kearlands is a bit easier as you walk on relatively flat and even terrain. The middle section is steeper than going down the Sphinxs though, I think.

Anyway, we got down safely to the camp and had a WONDERFULLY hot shower. It felt so nice to be clean again. Now all that remained was the drive back home, which was uneventful and we arrived back home at around 8pm. Thanks to Sanet and Ian for making this hike a very memorable one.

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13 Aug 2021 15:16 #77087 by Riaang
A couple more pics to whet your appetite :-)



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13 Aug 2021 15:20 #77088 by Riaang
Final batch of images:


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13 Aug 2021 15:29 #77089 by mike_crom
Dit lyk baie steil Riaan!

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13 Aug 2021 15:47 - 13 Aug 2021 15:47 #77090 by Smurfatefrog
I was also there this weekend and still saw this sign 

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Last edit: 13 Aug 2021 15:47 by Smurfatefrog.
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