Inner Tower Gully, Western/RNNP Approach

09 Oct 2017 14:17 - 09 Oct 2017 14:20 #72244 by AndrewP
This weekend I went on a little adventure into the unknown.

Literally all I know about Inner Tower gully is that Martin Winter and party ascended and descended it in the same day to make the first ascent of South Ifidi Pinnacle. Which in truth, having seen what he has climbed, tells me nothing at all. Well, the absence of further detail is sometimes a clue as well.

So, I will add to the value by saying I have now done it as well.

I intentionally timed it to be this time of year as gut feel said this is something you want to do when it is both dry and not iced up. Circumstances however meant that when my alarm went off, it was raining. So, I slept a bit longer and by starting at 6:30am meant that the really big day out was now replaced by just a big and fun day out.

The trail exiting Mahai is steep, so I walked that, but soon I was running and made a decent enough pace into the Tugela Gorge. I have come down Devils Tooth Gully, so knew in advance that the trick to bypassing the first obstacle is to take the ladder and continuation path up towards Tunnel Cave. Shortly after the second, tiny, zigzag in the path, a vague track contours out right. It is blocked off at the start, but is easy enough to follow. Contour about 100m then drop down a gully into the main river bed, hitting it just downstream of the junction between Devils Tooth and Inner Tower gullies.

I immediately hit the first obstacle. I could wade the pool, scramble over a slopey (and due to persistent drizzle slippery) rock or do some ghastly scrambling up embankments and into the vegetation. I got 10cm across the rock and slipped into the pool. Decision thus made, I took the wade.

The next 300m of vertical gain (and at most 1km horizontal), took 2 hours. There was no specific crux, but it just never let up. I waded some pools, as the only sensible way up, something I have never done before on a pass. I dodged a few 2m high waterfalls via a 100m fight in the bushes and often just scrambled straight up the waterchute itself. The rock to the sides of the water flow was wet and slippery which suggests it gets a lot of seepage and that the drizzle was actually not making matters worse. At one spot I even waded waist deep through a pool. Not fun when the sun is not out.

By 2200m, I had passed too many obstacles to remember and was starting to think this is now tie for the hardest pass I have ever done (along with Hanging Valleys and Injasuti). Soon though, it got not only steeper, but the gully now had cliffs on each side and it was obvious that there would be no further chance to sneak onto grass to dodge any further obstacles. I bypassed one undercut chockstone with tat above it thanks to a recent rockfall in exactly the right place to allow an easy passage.

The final few hundred meters are very steep. At 2 places, I misread it completely and had to downclimb a few meters of wet rock before having another go at another line. On one of them I really thought I had hit the proverbial brick wall and was going to have to retreat. I kept at it though and was soon starting to think I had done it. I know the final 100m from the saddle between the escarpment and Inner Tower, and was now within 100m vertical of that.

And then, I saw the crux! A 15m high waterfall with a typical undercut, rounded chockstone. Well, that was clearly not part of the plan.

A few meters downstream and on the true right is a very steep crack system. The bottom 4m are well protected by hard climbing moves up a rotten flake. So, I tried option B instead. A few balancy moves got me onto a narrow, sloping and very off balance ledge. I dassie crawled along this, Space Walk style. But, a camelbak is HUGE up there and I was soon faced with a simple option. Retreat now or venture onwards with no possibility of safely returning. The ledge led to a pile of loose blocks I was going to have to pull on and then stand on to gain some small ledges that would with care lead to the top.

So, I slid down and tried the steep crack line. I dodged the rotten flake by harder and more exposed moves to the left and soon hit the easy ramp. I pulled out all of my chimney skills to wiggle up the wet chimney above. At the top of this, I faced the usual dilemma and made a few committing moves out onto the open face to the right. This led easily to a grass ledge that thankfully took me back into the main gully.

I waltzed up to the saddle and not for the first time found it long and hard work to get up the side gully to the summit.

In conclusion, this is definitely the hardest pass I have done, and unless Eastern Gully has some really significant tricks up its sleeve, Inner Tower Gully is the hardest pass in the berg. The only possible flaw in that statement is that it is likely a climbing route rather than a pass.

Low down with lots of pools about for a good swim

First glance up the main event. It looks steep near the top, and is.

Delightful bush to fight through.

The dampness from drizzle did not help, but it would have been wet and slippery anyway

Yes, you really go in there

And up that!

A very foreshortened view of the crux. Take the left hand break

Looking down from just below the crux. You get trapped in there

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Last edit: 09 Oct 2017 14:20 by AndrewP. Reason: Correcting captions

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09 Oct 2017 15:11 #72246 by Stijn
Thanks for the detailed write-up Andrew! If you found it serious, that's a proper note of caution to the rest of us :eek:

Once again, I'm amazed by how narrow Berg gullies seem to always have a lucky little chimney/ledge system that leads around an obstacle and back into the main gully. As with Hanging Valleys Pass, there were so many opportunities for us to get cliffed-out, only to be presented with a miraculous little sneak at the last minute. Every time! Although the sneaks on Inner Tower Gully sound rather desperate...

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10 Oct 2017 06:46 #72247 by AndrewP
Lucky for us I guess, something about the way basalt weathers leads to lots of little cliffs and waterfalls instead of a monster.

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