Sani Pass and Black Mountain Area

This area gives the most accessible ice climbing in the Drakensberg.  The easiest way to get to the falls is by driving up to the top of Sani Pass and using the Sani Top Chalet as a base.  From the chalet the ice  is approximately one hour’s walk away, while Black Mountain is thirty minutes drive.  There are three grades of accommodation at the chalet. Choose either DB&B (R300p/p) or the cheaper back-packer dormitory (R85p/p) or camp in the grounds (R45p/p).  The pub located here is also a major attraction after a good day on the ice!  

Valid passports are needed as an international border-post must be crossed.  Take note that both border posts open at 8am and then have different closing times. The Lesotho side closes for down-traffic at 4pm and at 5pm for up-traffic while the South African side closes at 4pm for both up and down-traffic.  In recent years the Sani Pass road surface has been upgraded to allow two-wheel-drive traffic.  However it is still advisable to at least travel it in a bakkie (van) with lots of ground clearance and a low first gear.  If the surface is wet or snowy it is likely that two-wheel-drive bakkies will find things impossible.   Luckily, during the winter when the ice is good, the road is in fact usually dry; that is between cold fronts.

Sani Pass Ice Bouldering

Located on the road edge in the upper reaches of the pass are several long slabs of ice with steeper sections of a few metres in height on the roadside. These are well worth playing around on to develop good technique.


Cool Bananas

Grade: II  WI  3

First ascent: G. Raubenheimer, C. de Carvalho, D. Gramkow, J. Bentley, S. Roberts.  August 2001.

A very pleasant route that is not committing and usually on very good ice. It is reliant on good snowfalls.  Walk along the Apostles for 3.5 kilometres in the direction of “Phinong”. The route lies in the first of two major cutbacks in the escarpment edge.   Two abseil bolts are located at the top of the gully.

Do one abseil down into the cutback then scramble down next to the ice to the start. (It is best to leave the abseil rope in place to aide in the event of a retreat.)   Scramble a few hundred meters down the gully to where the ice ends. The route consists of four to five easy ramps of ice. The gully  then narrows just below the top and where the abseil is.  Climb  a  narrow ramp to a platform in  the  small deep gully. Either exit out the back of the gully or up the easy, but loose rock and grass on the right.   In 2001 the ice extended some 300 metres below the escarpment.          

Note: On the 8th August 2003 well known local climber, Greig Stewart suffered a heart attack, and fell to his death while leading the first pitch. He will always be remembered for his  great companionship, on and off  the hill.

Split Banana

II  WI 3 F3.

First ascent: G. Raubenheimer, C. deCarvalho, J. Benson.  July 2002.

This route is a variation of Cool Bananas and has the same approach and abseil. It splits off to the right (east) of  the main route just before the final pitch.

Climb a short steep section to a large ledge (WI 3). Continue over the ledge and up a recess consisting of easy ice and rock at the top. Bolts are located just back from the edge of the escarpment.


French Wench

Grade: II WI   4

First ascent: G. Raubenheimer, M. Maxfield, J. Farquharson , C. de Carvalho, I. Bailey.  August 1997.

Approach as for Cool Bananas but carry on for another ten minutes in the direction of “Phinong” to the second large cutback.   Scramble down 30 metres at the very back of the gully to the top of the last pitch, which is located in a narrowing of the main drainage.  Bolted abseil point located just back from the top pitch.  Abseil down a 15 metre pitch  to a platform, then down another full-length abseil or to wherever the ice extends.

The first section consists of easy angles and sometimes thin ice until the final pitch is reached.  This pitch consists of steep overlaps and chandeliers at grade WI 4.

NOTE: On both French Wench and Cool Bananas there is a danger of falling ice on the lower pitches. This danger is from slabs of ice located on the eastern sides of the respective gullies.  It is particularly bad in the late afternoon when they receive direct sun.

Black Satin Couloir

Grade: I WI  4

First Ascent: G. Raubenheimer, D. Marshall.  July 2001.

From Sani Top drive for approximately twenty kilometres into Lesotho and over Black Mountain Pass.  On the other side of the pass a large corrugated iron wool shed is located on the right. Turn off here and drive up a track for 500 metres to near a hut. Park there, cross the river and proceed up the far slope. The ice is located in the drainage above and about 30 minutes walk away.

The route consists of four distinct steps of steep and often thin ice.  When this route was opened the ice was thin and involved delicate leading. However, in better conditions the climbing should be no more than grade WI 3.   It is possible to walk off between pitches.