Ship’s Prow Pass

22 Jun 2016 11:26 #68910 by Riaang
Replied by Riaang on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
@Redshift3

You overshot a couple of nice campsites by a few hundred meters. The top arrow is the nicest spot with the most space. It is found diagonally opposite the erosion wall pretty much in the middle of the riverbed. Another way to find it is if you look at the left side as you descend there is a waterfall on the left (was dry when we went down now but still slightly wet). The lowest arrow is the second camping spot, possibly it didn't exist when you went down the pass? There is a sort of half circle shaped erosion wall and there are 3 small tenting spots about 10m or so from the true right hand side of the riverbed, again diagonally oppsite the erosion wall.

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22 Jun 2016 18:35 #68912 by supertramp
Replied by supertramp on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
Hi guys,

I was part of Riaang's group last weekend and opted to pickle my SLR and tripod along for the trip with the hope of getting in some time-lapse shots. Needless to say that having my tripod protruding from the side of my backpack whilst bush-wacking through the bottom of Ship's riverbed was not one of the wisest decisions I've ever made .:P The tripod basically just gets stuck everywhere. At one point we had to make our way over a dead horse that just happened to be in the middle of our "path" in the overgrown section. I stopped, put my buff over my nose, closed my mouth, calculated all my vectors and approach angle and just as I got over the horse's corpse the 'inevitable' happened and a branch took a relentless hold of the tripod and stopped me in my tracks. So I found myself literally staring the dead horse in the eyes or let me rather say his eye sockets trying to wriggle myself free from the clutches of death itself :hike: :blink:

All is well that ends well though and I was rewarded for my effort by the most beautiful landscape up Ship's Prow with the full moon lighting up the valley. The snow capped peaks were absolutely stunning. Definitely one of the most picturesque moments the berg has ever shown me...


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22 Jun 2016 18:57 #68913 by elinda
Replied by elinda on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
Magical photo Supertramp, thanks for sharing!

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22 Jun 2016 19:32 #68915 by AdrianT
Replied by AdrianT on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
Is this the mare in question? :( She had recently aborted her foal. It was terrible to see.

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22 Jun 2016 19:38 #68916 by supertramp
Replied by supertramp on topic Ship’s Prow Pass

Is this the mare in question? :( She had recently aborted her foal. It was terrible to see.


Hi Adrian,

Yip, that is very same one :(
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22 Jun 2016 20:11 #68917 by AdrianT
Replied by AdrianT on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
Jeez that is terrible. I showed my wife who specialises in horses and is an equine vet. She said no she has seen worse and that made me feel 10% better afterwards. But her behaviour was very odd when I tried to walk past and reported it to Mark Robertson from Monks Cowl via e-mail. I knew she wasn't far. My heart still goes out to her, and her foal. I cannot even think about it now :( Damn it makes me angry. Thanks for the update.
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02 May 2017 16:38 #71451 by TheRealDave
Replied by TheRealDave on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
Here are some further notes on Ship’s Prow, which I descended last weekend. The pass is very similar to Leslie’s, and as a descent I would rate it as slightly harder, given the longer pass and the somewhat tougher riverbed. But the view back up the pass to the towering prow enswathed in mist is worth all the effort. It is by far the most majestic pass in the Berg that I have done.

Pace Tiska, the top of the pass is not hard to find. The top of the North Fork is right on the other side of the saddle at the head of the Nkosazana Valley, and the South Fork starts at the saddle of the valley on the other side of the ridge, as per Slingsby’s map.

As you approach this ridge you will see two prominent cairns. If you head slightly to the left of the farther one, you will pick up a path that leads you straight to the top of the South Fork, exactly according to Slingsby.

The path in the upper regions of the pass is somewhat faint. It begins towards the right, beneath the cliff-face, then gradually moves into the middle of the pass as you go through the rock-bands:

There are cairns at most of the crucial points:

Some evidence of smugglers or Basothos using the path (this particular article was collected):

The view back up the pass, with the North Fork to the right (these photos really don't do the pass justice):



(I don’t know how the North Fork acquired the name Cathkin Mountain Pass. When I first came across it, I went scouring my Slingsby again looking for another passable valley near Ship’s Prow. But the name only seems confusing to me, so I suggest it be dropped.)

At this point my battery unfortunately died, so a description will have to suffice. The path through the riverbed leads through some dense bush and forest, and one can’t beat around the fact that it is not easy going (and yes, you will have to walk through the remnants of the horse carcass). Nevertheless, the whole riverbed section took about two hours, and I’m sure it would take a fitter person less. As others have mentioned, the key thing is to keep to the left of the valley.

Where my frustration began was in trying to follow Tony and Ghaz's shortcut over the toe of the spur at the bottom of the riverbed:

N.B. if you are descending the pass for the first time, please do not attempt to find this shortcut! You will waste a lot of time and energy, as just below the single pine that Tony mentions (this is a good marker, but it is not where the contour path crosses the valley), there is a very large cairn marking a clear path into the forest on the left bank, but once you enter this (very, very thick) forest the path completely vanishes. Whether there used to be a path through the forest which is now overgrown, or whether Tony and Ghaz found some other point of access, I do not know, but I wasted about three hours battling the forest and tramping up and down the riverbed looking for an alternative point of entry. Simply carry on to the three pines at the bottom of the valley (the true crossing at M6), go around the toe of the ridge, head back up the adjoining valley on the left (as per Slingsby’s map), and you will find the contour path much more easily:


(Incidentally, it was here, at 16:45, that I was surprised to encounter two day-hikers, who were heading back to Injasuthi! I asked them if they had a map and headlamps, which they did, but I was quite worried about them finding the contour path out of that riverbed. I ended up camping on one of the ridges above Cowl Fork, and I didn’t see any lights moving along the ridge above Cataract Valley, which is where they should have been if they’d been keeping a decent pace.)

For me, the part that diminishes this pass’s appeal is the disgraceful state of the contour path between Ship’s Prow Stream and Cowl Fork. EKZNW have got to start maintaining the contour paths! Over-night hikers cannot be expected to pay when the paths are so overgrown that you trip over your own feet. That said, the Cowl Fork riverbed, another potentially tricky bit, is very well marked with cairns, and you don’t spend much time in the boulders and bush before you find the path (though, again, very overgrown) down the left of the valley. It is much easier to see the contour path on the far side of the valley when coming from Ship’s Prow than it is to see it if you’re going to Ship’s Prow. In fact, you can’t see it at all if you’re going to Ship's, so if you plan on ascending for the first time, please note that once you get into the riverbed, you must continue up through the bouldery section (following the cairns), and not directly across. You do lose some altitude here, as I think Ghaznavid mentions somewhere, and perhaps the path could have been cut higher, but then it would also be longer.

In conclusion, a circular route up Gray’s and down Ship’s is a definite option for the fit and experienced and adds some variety to the Monk's Cowl area, which is not abundant in passes. The Pass itself is not that steep (Cockade is steeper), but it is quite long, and the riverbed is quite hard going. So, it is not for people who get grumpy going through dense bush or boulders. But it is quite manageable for a hiker of average fitness.

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02 May 2017 19:04 #71455 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
Thanks for the write-up, Dave.

I have used that walkout twice - when Tony and I did it, it was perfectly clear and overall a lovely trail through the trees. When Hobbit and I came down North Fork last year, we used the track from my trip with Tony, but found the trail entirely grown over. We literally had to crawl under bushes and took well over an hour to move 1km.

I mostly agree with your assessment - except that I rate Leslie's as harder than Ships Prow (although for the life of me, I don't know why). Ships Prow is best approached with a good sense of humour and a desire to get badly cut up and clothes ripped by vegetation! Hopefully if the locals are using it, there will be a good trail to walk out soon.

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02 May 2017 19:39 #71456 by TheRealDave
Replied by TheRealDave on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
I was also literally crawling through trees and undergrowth, but once I started swearing at everything in my path, I realized the insanity of what I was doing and promptly crawled out, looked at the map, and walked around. :laugh: I would claim that my behaviour was less insane than heading down North Fork.

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02 May 2017 20:02 #71457 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Ship’s Prow Pass
I actually quite enjoyed North Fork. It is a pass that should not even be considered by someone who hasn't done 35+ different passes, but with careful navigation and due care when on loose stuff (about 15% of the pass, if you pick your line well) is all that it requires. Hobbit and I do loose scree routes very often, so we barely disrupted any rock on the way down.

That was a crazy day - after a horrible storm the day before (Marble Baths to Nkosasana Cave via Leslie's with 3 khulus along the way), we only started walking when the sun came out - seeing as all our clothes were soaked. got down North Fork reasonably quickly, then lost hours on the contour path, took an age to do Shada Ridge (although we averaged almost 5km/h on this), ran down Van H Pass, and we got to the camp at 3:56pm, just in time to buy our permits - we got permission from the camp in advance to buy them at the end, due to starting the hike at 6pm on Friday.

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