This is the home of the range's best water-ice routes. They are located on the south side of the massif. Ice forms from late May, right through to late August. The best time is usually mid to late July. The ice is very consistent, even if there has been no snow. Almost all the routes form from streams and seepages. They are best approached from the Giant's Castle Camp. An eight-hour hike with full kit over the Giant's Castle Pass gives access to the upper reaches of the mountain's south face. Unlike most other winter-climbing areas of the world, these climbs are usually accessed from the top. The lip of the south face has numerous flat areas to camp, from where the climbs are then reached either by abseiling or scrambling down to the beginnings of the icefalls. The top of “Makaza” is the usual base camp.
Giant's Castle holds the best conditions for ice climbing because, in this area, the escarpment edge runs from east to west for about four kilometres. This then forms a long, cold and shady cliff-edge where temperatures seldom rise above freezing point for the entire winter. Furthermore, a long grass slope running up towards the main summit stretches above the cliff edge. This acts as a huge catchment for snow and rain, which later runs down over the edge and provides the moisture to cause “fat” conditions. There are also numerous easy-angled gullies, which fill with deep snow in this area. These do not become hard water-ice, but slowly consolidate over time to become ‘névé ice’ or very hard snow.
Currently, several major climbs have been done on this peak and numerous others still await first ascents. Most of the unclimbed falls are steep, multi-pitch routes that will require more skill and determination than the present generation of local climbers can deal with.
Grade: II, 2
Time: 6 hours from hut to summit.
Approach the Eastern Gully from Giant's Hut. This gully starts from the top of the narrow valley below which the hut is located. The climb consists of easy angled névé-ice. There is a small waterfall at the start, which can sometimes be awkward. The climb consists of a superb gully running all the way to the top of the escarpment. The exit is just south of the summit of the peak. Reliant on good snow falls. The Giant’s Hut is an ideal base camp.
Grade: II, 2 F3
First winter ascent: G. Raubenheimer, G. Stewart. July 1996.
This route is the winter version of the original rock climb.
If approaching from Giant’s hut, walk up the amphitheatre below the summit, heading for a nek on the right. From this nek, traverse right to an obvious rocky gully that leads to the upper grass ledge. This gully can also be reached from directly below. When on the upper grass band, walk left (south) past the start of Schole’s Route and the Giant’s Nostrils caves until below a short cliff with a chimney. The main head wall of the Giant is now directly above. The chimney is the first pitch. This route will only be snowed up after major snow falls and prolonged cold weather.
(1) WI 2 F3 15m. Ascend the short icy chimney to near the top, then break out onto the right hand wall and up. Move up broken ground and then left about 20 meters to the next rock band.
(2) F3 15m. Start below an overhang with a left facing open book on the left of the overhang. Ascend via a slab and layback to a large ledge with an abseil point. This pitch is free of snow. From the abseil point traverse left all the way to the main ridge. Scramble up onto the ridge crest then scramble to the summit, usually in snow.
Descent: Scramble all the way back to the top of pitch 2 and a bolted abseil point. Then scramble down to the top of pitch one to more abseil chains just right (south) of the top of the chimney.
Shisa Couloir Area - About 15 minutes walk east of Makaza amphitheatre is another smaller but very steep gully of ice. Two routes are located here. Shisa is the Zulu word for hot.
Grade: III WI 4
First asecent: G. Frost, M. Sporen 13 July 2006
Approach: Descend the route by multiple abseils . The climb begins at the bottom of a long steep section (50m) with an overhang in the face about 40m above the ground.
Pitch 1 (50m WI 4) Climb on the right hand side of the ice fall avoiding the overhanging section on the left then move leftwards with the ramp to a stance on a flat section.
Pitch 2 (30m WI 2) Continue up the ramp on easy ground to a stance on a flat spot below a rocky scramble dividing the climbing pitches.
Pitch 3 (walk)
Walk along the rocky section to below the next ice pitch.
Pitch 4 (60m WI 2)
Continue climbing up to belay at a large boulder in the ice on the
right hand side of the gully below the ice chimney that leads up to the
upper section of the climb.
Pitch 5 (20m WI 3) Climb up the face to a ledge below the overhangs above.
Pitch 6 (35m WI 3+) Climb the break on the right up to a large ledge and belay at the back of the cave section (protection from ice falling from above).
Pitch 7 (40m WI 2) Traverse leftwards on ramps and ledges to below the centre portion of the face and belay on a small ledge just to the right of the central ice pillar.
Pitch 8 (25m WI 4) Climb up from the stance then tend leftwards to the pillar. Climb the pillar directly to the top and belay behind a rock to the left of the top-out. This route needs a good season to form completely. Pitches 5 and 6 can be combined.
This is a fairly consistently forming 40m “pencil” of ice that forms on the eastern side of the Shisa gully. It has only been top-roped so far.
Grade: III WI 4
First ascent: J. Ingman, R. Guest, R. Pocock. 1985.
Time: 4 hours of actual climbing.
Makaza is a long, 300m icefall running over the south escarpment edge of Giant's Castle. The climbing is not sustained and harder sections can be scrambled around. >From the top of Giant’s Pass walk down towards the south escarpment edge and then eastwards to the first major river which runs over the edge. Map co-ordinates 29° 21’ 00’ S, 29° 28’ 20’’ E. There is a level patch of ground at the lip of the icefall where most parties camp while climbing in the area. A circular stone wall for wind protection is also located here. From the edge, abseil and scramble down to the start some 300m below in the gully.
(1) WI 3 50m. Start in a narrow amphitheatre of ice some 300m from the top. Take the middle line up steep ice for 20m. The angle then slackens off into an easier 30m ramp.
(2) WI 2 150m. Continue up the drainage, climbing several easy smears until the final 25m wall is reached. Many lines exist up this huge amphitheatre.
(3) WI 3 The classic line goes slightly right of centre up some pleasant slabs. Or left of centre there is a chandeliered curtain at half height. Start under the right edge of this curtain, climb up to it, traverse under it to the left and exit straight up. WI 3.
On the extreme right on steep slabs is a line named “Return to Fear”. (WI 4) First ascent by G. Raubenheimer 1996.
On the extreme left is a steeper wall of about WI 5.
Makaza is the Zulu word for cold.
This route has never been properly climbed. It can be located by following the stream from the summit of the pass till where it flows over the southern escarpment edge, ie. just east of the Main Event. In good winters this forms into about 5 long pitches ending in a fall 50m, plumb vertical pillar. When it is lead one day, it will probably be the most serious and longest route in the whole of Africa (considering that most of east Africa’s big ice routes no longer exist). The upper half of this pillar has been top-roped by G. Raubenheimer.
Grade: III, WI 4
First ascent: J. Ingman, R. Guest, R. Pocock. 1985.
Time: 3 hours of actual climbing.
From the top of Giant's Pass, walk straight down to the escarpment edge to the south. The top of the icefall is then located a few hundred metres west, in the corner formed by a long spit of land jutting out over the Lotheni Pass. Map co-ordinates 29° 21’ 4’’ S , 29° 27’ 28’’ E. It is a huge 150m icefall with several climbable lines possible. Abseil to the start. Belays at the top are hard to find. Some grass pitons can be useful.
(1) WI 3, 40m. >From the middle of the gully, climb steep, compact ice until the angle eases below a large bulge of rock. Move right and up to a belay 40m above the starting point.
(2) WI 2, 35m. Continue up until under the main head wall.
(3) WI 4-5, 50m. Climb any number of variations on the huge wall above.
: III WI 4
Grade: II WI 2
First ascent: Colin McCoy, Ce deCarvalho, G. Raubenheimer.
Approach as for Tight Screws... Carry on walking with the main gully on your left till the next gully runs up from the bottom at an acute angle. Abseil off the edge to where ever the ice starts. Climb 2 or 3 easy pitches of ice. The top section onto the escarpment is the steepest section.
Grade: II WI 4
First ascent: T.Mann, I.Bailey 14 July 2006.
Approach and abseil as for Walkie Talkie. At the top of the Walkie Talkie gully climb the steep ice on the left just before the final section.
Grade: III W2
First ascent: C. de Carvalho, M. Robertson, D. Robertson. 1991
This route is located in the next gully immediately east of the final pitch of the Main Lotheni Couloir. The route is usually approached via abseiling down the route. It is also possible to abseil down the upper pitch of the Main Loteni Couloirs in order to get to the start.
Climb the gully usually on névé and patches of water-ice. In sparse years the gully is loose and rocky. Exit the gully by a 35m pitch onto the escarpment.
Note: This route may have first been climbed by Jeff Ingman and party.
Main Lotheni Couloir
Grade: III, WI 4/5
First ascent: J. Ingman, R. Guest, R. Pocock. 1985
Time: 4 hours climbing.
The climb forms in the upper reaches of the Lotheni River. This climb was described by Jeff Ingman as the “plum” of the Loteni valley. It is a Drakensberg Classic of world quality.
It may be approached from Giant's Pass and by abseiling to the start. Scramble down to where the river drainage runs over the escarpment edge. Co-ordinates 29° 21’ 00’’ S, 29° 27’ 15’’ E. Abseil and scramble down three separate ice pitches to the start. It is usually possible to scramble around the short middle pitch when getting to the start. The distance between the second and third pitches is about 150 metres.
(1) WI 3 45m. This pitch starts in a deep and remote section of the gully a few hundred meters down from the edge of the escarpment. A long sustained pitch followed by walking. WI 3 if keeping to the right or WI 4 if straight up the middle. Scramble for 150m to below the short middle pitch.
(2) WI 2 15m. Climb easy ice to below the final pitch.
(3) WI 3 35m. This final pitch is usually climbed on the left until large icicles are encountered hanging from above. Traverse out right on often chandeliered ice. Exit straight up. (WI 3/4, 45m). A very spectacular pitch.
Comments: If always taking the easiest line, this climb usually goes at no more than WI 3. In very sparse years some sections may be WI 5.
Main Lotheni Couloir
This is a short “boulder problem” at the top of the Main Loteni Couloir. The river flows over a 5m drop-off some 30 meters back from the final pitch of the main route.
This is an ice smear high on the easy-angled slopes of the Loteni river above the two above-mentioned routes.