Cathkin Mountain Pass (Ships Prow North Fork)

05 Feb 2013 11:28 #55981 by Stijn
Soooo... I'm considering another light & fast mission in April, this time up Ship's Prow North Fork and down Judge Pass (I've done neither). From the descriptions on this site, I'm not concerned about Judge Pass, but the north fork of Ship's is infamous for being loose, unpleasant and potentially dangerous.

Are there any technical sections on this pass or is it just steep & loose scree?
Is it loose enough to consider taking helmets along?
Is there a recommended route to follow other than just boulder-hopping straight on up the riverbed?
Any other hints, tips or photos?

I know Intrepid has done this pass but if anyone else has some first-hand experience, your advice would be most helpful!

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05 Feb 2013 14:52 #55982 by ghaznavid
I want to hear the answer to this one!

That's a monster route, would you be going from Injisuthi side? I assume you'd overnight in Upper Injisuthi Cave?

If you want info or pics off Judge Pass, let me know. Its a fun pass (especially coming down it at night)...

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06 Feb 2013 09:02 #55985 by Stijn
Ja - starting/ending at Injisuthi with a night at Upper Injisuthi Cave. 32km on day 1 & 23km on day 2.

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06 Feb 2013 10:13 #55986 by Sabine
32km on day 1 - Wow that is ambitious! We did the South Fork in October last year starting from Monks Cowl, total distance 21km. Left at 7am and topped out at 6.15pm, half dead! The last couple of hundred meters were a killer, and we were all strong hikers. As for the North Fork, you would be in the river bed all the way, fighting those boulders....not sure how the scree the last bit will affect progress??

Good luck with this one! :unsure:

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06 Feb 2013 16:03 #55988 by intrepid
Its not technical at all, other than the usual boulder-hopping and small waterfall-clambering that belongs to passes such as these. In addition to the 5km pleasant approach that it shares with the South Fork, it just gets even worse till you reach the base of the real climb. At this point you are rewarded with a considerable scree field. Its probably the worst that I know of in the Berg and you can easily see it from a distance. This is the most dangerous section of the pass, see story of some narrow escapes from a rock avalanches and falling boulders here . Personally I wouldnt bother with a helment. Its still a risk even with one on. We had to cross the scree field and walk right in it at some point, its pretty unavoidable, though you can find strips of more stable terrain, and walk next to it a little higher up. After the scree field its just plain long, steep and never ending, but grassy - much like Manxome.

I will look at some pics and see what I can add here a little later.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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08 Feb 2013 05:35 #55999 by Stijn

Sabine wrote: 32km on day 1 - Wow that is ambitious! We did the South Fork in October last year starting from Monks Cowl, total distance 21km. Left at 7am and topped out at 6.15pm, half dead! The last couple of hundred meters were a killer, and we were all strong hikers. As for the North Fork, you would be in the river bed all the way, fighting those boulders....not sure how the scree the last bit will affect progress??

Good luck with this one! :unsure:


Since when are there only 12 hours in a day? :P

Day 1 is going to be a killer for sure - we'll be starting at (or before) first light and will have to keep a consistent pace going... hopefully the weather plays ball!

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09 Mar 2013 13:47 - 09 Mar 2013 13:58 #56204 by intrepid
This is roughly what I am remember of the route (I'm learning these days that unless you draw these kind of topos directly after a trip, the exact memory of minor details becomes increasingly difficult to remember). But you will get the gist.



The warm-up section after the split with the South Fork is basically done right in the gully. When we started hitting the scree section we first stayed on the true right until we were forced right into the horrible loose stuff. This we crossed diagonally right (looking up) towards the true left were we at some point gained a somewhat more stable, vegetated strip (the green tongue surrounded by scree in the picture). This enabled us to gain critical altitude through the scree section. I seem to remember needing to circumvent the large, dark boulder at the bottom, necessitating a short foray into the nasty stuff to the left and back onto the tongue. We did not walk this tongue right through to the end (though you probably could). A quicker escape to the upper grass slopes became evident, but which involved recrossing the scree diagonally left towards the true right again. This proved effective, but this is also where a rock avalanche was triggered onto two members of the group, who luckily managed to crouch behind a large boulder, with the avalanche parting around them on both sides, to avert a serious situation. I was on the dark green patch just above this part when it happend, close, but out of eye-sight. Even this dark green patch is pretty steep with lots of loose delights. I remained there until those behind me came into view and as they were busy relating what had just happened, a microwave size boulder started bouncing down towards us (having been indirectly loosed by the guy ahead of us), missing me by a few meters, and narrow missing one of the members that had just survived the avalanche.

Once beyond the dark green section, the risk calms down considerably, but be aware that this upper section is longer and steeper than what you might think by looking at it from below.

This is the warm-up section after the South Fork split:



The scree section:




Reaching the more stable tongue in the scree section:


Bear in mind that the severity of the gradient and the depth is definitely lost in these shots.

Hope this helps.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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Last edit: 09 Mar 2013 13:58 by intrepid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn, ghaznavid, HFc

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09 Mar 2013 15:55 #56209 by john mark 1
Whoa, first time I've ever seen photos of the North Fork. :blink:
I know this is a bit off the topic (feel free to move this Intrepid if you think as much :thumbsup: ), but could somebody please explain to me how the true right and true left stuff works? I'm rather confused when Intrepid says they moved diagonally right (looking up) which was to the true left, or something to that effect.

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10 Mar 2013 09:44 #56211 by Guardian
For true left and true right:
Stand facing in the direction that the river is flowing to, Left of you is true left, right of you is true right.

The idea is to avoid confusion by using a feature of the landscape that wouldn't change and shouldn't be mistaken as a fixed point direction. (River flowing downward) Looking in the same direction will be true.

You will not find me doing the North fork anytime soon, south was scary enough. And the walk up the river bed is pretty terrible without any real paths

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10 Mar 2013 18:44 #56213 by john mark 1
Ahh, thanks for explaining that. Makes a ship load of sense now! ;)

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