intrepid wrote: It can easily be argued that they are too close, and that Cowl View is just an extension of Champagne Castle.
According to GE, by walking distance (i.e. not "jumping over" Ship's Prow north fork) measured from the 3377m Champagne the distances are as follows:
- 900m to Ship's Prow (which is 600m from Bothlolong)
- 1.3km to Cowl View
- 1.5km to other Champagne Castle Peak (3246m)
Cowl View to the other Champagne Castle is 1.7km
So theoretically the highest peak wins and thus Ship's Prow (which looses to Champagne Castle) and Mlwazini (which is overruled by Cowl View) are Khulu Tops, not full khulus. I need to update my list some time...
Home on the 18th.
We have 2 tents. Myself, wife and son (12). My mate and his daughter (14).
I hope we get to meet some of you guys up there.
PS. Please can someone give me the link so Stijn's description of Gray's pass. I can't seem to find it.
There is a link at the bottom of the forum "Info on Berg Passes"
You can approach the pass via Keartlands Pass, this route assumes you are taking the easier Sphinx Route.
From the car park you briefly follow the road till you see a large rock with a sign pointing to the left, with, amongst other things, the Sphinx. Take this turnoff.
The path is obvious and easy. It crosses a large stream that I wouldn’t drink from via some large wooden bridges (remember that people do live upstream from here). About 2km in you cross the stream just under Crystal Falls – I usually get water here if necessary. The waterfall is tucked around the corner, but you can hear it and see it without deviating from the path.
Shortly after Crystal Falls you will walk under the Sphinx. The path then turns around sharply and winds up toward the top of the Sphinx.
The path then turns around sharply again and rises toward breakfast stream (another good water spot). Breakfast stream is crossed on the small Berg escarpment. You will have a nice view of Cathkin, Sterkhorn, Turret and Amphlett from here. Old Woman Grinding Corn and Ntunja are clearly visible from around here as well.
Keep following the path as it rises gently toward the contour path. You gain around 150m in this 1km stretch. It’s slightly more tiring than it sounds!
As you reach the contour path the path splits in 2 in almost a triangle shape – while it doesn’t really matter which side you take, the right side is a bit shorter, and on hitting the contour path, turn right. There is a large green sign here that tells you that you have reached Blind Man’s Corner.
The walk from here to Hlathikulu Nek is flat and easy. The path winds in and out of gullies just like what we are all used to on the contour path. 2 of these have good water in them – remember that you will have good water in about 3km, so you don’t need too much here.
To me, explanations of what Hlathikulu Nek is made no sense, but when I saw it it was obvious. The contour path suddenly goes around a corner with a large ridge extending out. There is a turnoff to the left here which is the turnoff you must take. The big giveaway is the view of Intunja straight in front of you (for those who don’t know, Intunja is Zulu for the Eye of the Needle, referring to the large hole clearly visible from Hlathikulu Nek).
Apparently Hlathikulu means a great forest – referring to the large forest on the slopes below the nek on the south side.
From here the path gradually loses altitude as you approach the Mhlwazini River – the great Sterkhorn towers above you. At some point there is a path that splits to the right which you need to take (not sure where the other path goes to).
From there the path relatively steeply drops to the river, which you cross at around 1980m (a bit painful after being at 2150 on the contour path). This is the last water you will have before the escarpment – remember that Gray’s Pass mostly follows a ridge, not a gully.
You now begin to slowly gain altitude again as you walk further and further into the cutback carved out by the Mhlwazini River. The path is still very good and clear.
Keith Bush camp is off to the left near the base of the pass, by a tree near the river. In winter its visible due to the fact that it is a flat grassy patch of different colour to the surrounding grass. It doesn’t look like you could get more than 2 tents in there – but I haven’t been to that spot, so I’m not sure.
The pass starts by crossing a dry riverbed and ascending a steep eroded bank that will probably collapse in the next 2 or 3 years – much like the official start of Mashai Pass opposite Pillar Cave Annex.
The pass starts off with a sustained altitude gain of roughly 50m in altitude for every 100m covered. The path is very eroded and there are false paths all over the place. Prior to 2500m, if there aren’t erosion barriers, you’re on the wrong route! There is also a 3 rung wooden ladder on the path here.
You continue to follow this steep route for a while, often walking over big rocky areas that look off-route. If you aren’t sure, look back and you can see if you are on the most prominent path or if you are on a false path.
The initial phase of walking steeply up the nose is long and slow, but fortunately it does eventually end! The supposedly easier traverse stage starts around here.
There are 2 paths for the initial phase of the traverse section – we used the high path for the way up and the low path for the way down (I would recommend doing it this way round, it works out easier). The split comes around a large rocky outcrop that you can either traverse under to the right (low path) or climb to the left around (high path). The join up later anyway.
The path is still good, and is rather steep – although slightly less steep than before. Note: slightly!
As you get higher and closer to the gully, the path swivels around in a large S shape to avoid a few rock bands before it eventually swings around to enter the dreaded summit gully.
The entrance to the summit gully doesn’t look or feel exposed, but apparently there have been incidents here in the past – so be careful!
The path soon hits a rock wall – probably a difficulty A or B as far as climbing grades go (for non climbers, A is ah – that’s not climbing, B is Barely Climbing, C is come on that’s not really climbing, D is Darn Easy, E is Easy ….. I is impossible and J is you Joking). Its 2m high, has beautiful holds on it and is only slightly more difficult than a staircase
The path continues from here into the final scree gully. Fortunately the gully is short, and no steeper than the similar gully on any other pass. The problem is it’s very lose and a bit like walking on marbles. I set off at least 2 large rock avalanches while climbing it.
Personally (after figuring it out on the way back down), I would stay against the left (true right) wall. Almost climb up the rock (as in use the rock wall for at least one of your footholds), it’s much more stable and considerably easier/less demoralising than climbing up the loose stuff on the right.
From here you soon hit the escarpment and will find the Nkososana River which should have good water.
Don’t forget to take a walk down to Vultures Retreat (about 1km from the top of the pass) – the view is well worth the effort!
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The join up about 100m further on, one zig zags & one is more direct going side to the side stream.
ghaznavid wrote: From here the path gradually loses altitude as you approach the Mhlwazini River – the great Sterkhorn towers above you. At some point there is a path that splits to the right which you need to take (not sure where the other path goes to).
This is where the path splits on the way up the pass, as mentioned either path is fine and they meet up at about 2900m
29° 4'26.17"S 29°19'59.06"E at 2722m
This is the spot where you need to go left, there is a false path going right.
29° 4'23.55"S 29°19'37.49"E at 2951m
The gully: it is very loose but I didn't find it too bad. There is a path all the way up, its not always the best line but help avoid some of the bigger rocks.
Tent city at Keith Bush camp. There are 6 tents there and still plenty open space, 3 groups had just left.
View up the pass to the gully
Nkosazana Cave, at the moment a 2 sleeper. The good thing was that it was at least 5 degrees warmer than down by the river which had sheets of ice in
Looking down Gray's from the top
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However all nine of us were in good spirits before starting off at Monks Cowl with the sun shining down on us. Once past breakfast stream the cloud came in and we were hiking in pleasant overcast conditions. Water was in reasonable supply all the way to the Mwhalzini stream crossing. Seven of the hikers were first timers but all were fit enough for the challenge and we kept a fairly good pace.
After Hlatikulu neck it started to drizzle but not hard enough to make it unpleasant. The mood changed a little on the last leg to KBC after crossing the stream as this part is a bit of a slog after the “easy going” path from MCC to Mhwalzini stream. However we arrived at KBC in good time, after missing the path that goes down to KBC and doing a bit of “bush whacking” to find KBC.
The views were stunning with snow covering the tops of most of the mountains surrounding KBC. We found water at KBC so no issues there and the only problem was the un-expected cold. Fortunately there was hardly any wind so it was bearable with the kit we had. All went to bed fairly early but none had a good night’s sleep, although judging by the amount of snoring some people slept better than others.
The next morning the clouds had lifted and the morning started off sunny and bright. Again the views of the snow covered peaks were stunning. Not being experience climbers we were not sure if we could make it through the snow but decided we would go as far as we could and turn back if the snow was a problem. During the early parts of the climb up the ridge above KBC the clouds came and went, so we had some amazing views and then within a few minutes we were climbing in the mist, this continued on and off for most of the day.
When we reached the altitude of the snow the going became a little tricky as some members of the party did not have proper hiking shoes or boots and were in running shoes. We also struggled to find the cutback as the snow was hiding any signs of a path. None the less we found our way to the entrance of the scree gully near the top of Gray’s and apart from a few cold feet all were in good spirits. Two of our fellow hikers suffered from vertigo and I must commend them on keeping going to this point. We also came across our first group of “smugglers” who appeared out of the mist as we were starting to round the corner to the gully. In total we passed three groups of them during the day.
I went ahead to examine and test the conditions in the gully as the snow was quite heavy here. After checking it out three of our group decided they would remain where we were, as conditions in the gully were quite difficult especially for those in running shoes, whilst the others went ahead to summit the gully.
The snow on top was approximately 100-200mm deep on the eastern side (west facing slopes)but fortunately the wind was mild and we were in the sun once on the summit. Unfortunately we could not experience the stunning views owing to the cloud forming in the valleys below and up the face of the Champagne ridge and Dragons back. We did still manage to get some amazing pictures. We reached the top of Gray’s in around 4 hours.
The hike back down was uneventful and ended up being a relay between us and the third bunch of “smugglers”. They would pass us at pace and then stop for a long break and we would pass them, and so it went on until we reached KBC. There were no issues with them at all. The front “runners” of our group made it back in 1hr45 minutes, the stragglers about 40 minutes later.
The third day we again woke to a clear sky and majority of the snow melted except for a fairly deep snow drift in the neck between Monks Cowl and Cathkin Peak. The cloud again came up as we started back and stayed with us all the way to breakfast stream. Most made it back to Monks Cowl feeling a bit wobbly but in good spirits. One of our eager front runners from the day before was feeling the effects and struggled down from breakfast stream with sore knees and ankles.
All in all a very enjoyable hike and everyone has memories that will last a life time. I must also mention that two of our group come from disadvantaged backgrounds and said that this was the highlight of their lives to date.