Cathedral Peak to The Outer Horn

Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©


(Map #2 : AC:46 to AE:43)

The Cathedral Ridge and its associated peaks form an impressive skyline when viewed from many parts of the central 'Berg, particularly from the Cathedral Peak Hotel. After the Amphitheatre, this is probably the best known and most photographed part of the 'Berg. The ridge extends at right angles from the main 'Berg and runs for more than four kilometres in a SW - NE direction.

Climbs on the Cathedral Ridge are usually approached, either by taking Mlambonja Pass to Twins Cave (AC:46), or by taking the Cathedral Peak path to Bell Cave (AD:44). The Twins-Bell traverse path that runs between these two caves then gives access to most of the routes. The nek between the Horns is approximately the halfway point along the traverse, which takes about 3 hours to complete. Note that Bell Cave is actually on the flank of Cathedral Peak, and not on the Bell at all.


As mentioned elsewhere, Cathedral Peak was originally, and appropriately, known (around 1900) as Mponjwane. This Zulu name means something along the lines of, 'the small horn of a young beast". A view of Cathedral Peak, side-on, from the north or south shows the summit cone rising as a slight bulge from the bulk of the peak, and hence the name. At the same time Rockeries and Mponjwane were collectively known as the Cathedral, with Rockeries being the 'body' of the church and Mponjwane the spire. Due to a cartographic error, the names Cathedral and Mponjwane were inadvertently transposed. The error remained unchallenged and by 1916 this most inappropriate nomenclature was well entrenched.

Ref: Reg Pearse, "Barrier of Spears", 2nd ed, pg 176.


CATHEDRAL PEAK: North East Ridge (E)

(Map #2 : AE:43 : 3005m)

Opening Party: Martin Winter, Ian Cuthbert and Pam Angus-Leppan.

Date: 11 May 1958.

Walk in along the main path to Cathedral Peak. The route forms the right hand skyline of the peak when viewed from the traverse between the top of Orange Peel Gap (AG:43) and Bugger Gully (AE:43). Walk up Bugger Gully to a grassy shoulder at a point where the gully steepens significantly and becomes very eroded. This is about 50m below the nek between the main peak and the gendarme on the left. From here walk a couple of hundred metres to the right along a very broad grass ledge to reach the north east ridge which forms the right hand skyline.

Scramble straight up the crest of north east ridge through a series of rock bands alternating with grass ledges. This involves about 200m of C grade scrambling, with the odd D move, and leads to a point where the overall gradient steepens sharply. From here a 20m C grade scramble leads to a smooth, rounded ramp of about 5m. Belay at the start of the scramble because there is no belay to be found on the ramp. The ramp ends in a short, vertical rock band which is climbed on its right (crux). This is about D grade with one or two E grade moves and is very exposed. Further C grade scrambling with the odd D move, leads straight up the ridge to the summit.

This route is appealing in that it is an easy, direct line on excellent rock. The last 80m of this line coincide with the standard route.

Note: After I published this RD in the 1996 Journal, every man and his dog laid prior claim to the route. Of all these responses only Martin Winter produced any significant evidence by means of detailed notes and sketches, written just after his ascent. He did not publish his RD because he said that, even at that time, there were vague rumours of an earlier ascent.

Ref: MCSA Journals 1966, pg 136 and 1998, pg 137.



(Map #2 : AE:43 : 3005m)

Cathedral Peak itself is one of the most frequently climbed peaks in the Berg. It was first climbed by D W Bassett-Smith and R G Kingdon in 1917. The normal route from the hotel is up a well-worn path to Orange Peel Gap, along a ridge and up Bugger Gully. The top of the gully (between Cathedral Peak on the right and a gendarme on the left), is badly eroded. Start approximately 30m below the nek at the top of the eroded gully. Traverse out to the right across steep but easy rock for about 5 m to reach a continuation of the path on a grassy ledge that is visible from the gully before starting the traverse. The path continues traversing around and up to the right. At the next rock band traverse left over a slab. Not far to the left of this slab, a fairly exposed but easy slab is climbed to a path leading left to the chain ladder. After the ladder, which can be by-passed on the left, the path winds up to meet the north east ridge which is then followed to the summit. This has been done in two hours from the hotel, but normally takes about four and a half hours.

Note: Apparently a recent, severe wash-away in Bugger Gully has made the approach described above quite tricky. An alternative approach is to start about 150 m below the top of the gully at a flat, grassy section situated just before the last, loose slope up to the top of the gully. Walk out along the grass ledge to the right and then take the line of least resistance up a series of slabs and rock bands until you locate the path described above. On either approach, some of the scrambling is fairly exposed and a head for heights is required. If you are in any doubt it may be wise to hire one of the local guides from the hotel or from the KZN Wildlife offices.


CATHEDRAL PEAK: Winter's Route (South West Chimney) (E)

(Map #2 : AD:43)

Opening Party: Martin Winter.

Date: May 1952.

Time: About 2½ hours climbing.

When viewed from the Bell-Cathedral nek, the route runs up the recess / chimney that separates the large gendarme on the right from the main bulk of Cathedral Peak on the left.

The original ascent started from the Bell-Cathedral nek. This involves some tricky and unnecessary climbing which may be bypassed by starting up the steep grass slopes just right of Bell Cave. From Bell Cave walk about 100m back along the path towards Cathedral Peak and then head straight up the steep grass slopes towards the base of the large rock amphitheatre that forms the south face of the peak. At this rock face scramble left up a grass ramp that leads to the left (west) skyline. The ramp ends on a grass ledge that leads around a corner. The deep recess at the start of the climb is about 20m past the corner.

  1. 40m D. Scramble up the steep gully towards the rock band. Move out left on thin holds, then move up diagonally left to reach a belay towards the left hand side of a grass ledge. Walk to the right along the grass ledge and around a slight corner to reach the base of the chimney and set up another belay.
  2. 40m E. Climb the chimney to the nek. Make a short deviation onto the right face to avoid a tricky section if necessary. Very pleasant climbing.
  3. 30m E. From the nek traverse out left on good holds (very exposed) until able to move up onto a grass ledge. Climb about 5m through the rock band above, starting up a tricky, left-sloping ramp with a good peg and belay on the grass ledge above.
  4. Walk to the right on a grass ledge to a point directly above the nek and either climb 15m of steep but pleasant rock, or continue further around the corner until it is possible to scramble up easily on mixed rock and grass. Belay on a grassy shoulder. From here a 500m long ridge with some C grade scrambling leads to the summit. Most people don't bother.

Descent: From the top of the last pitch, ab straight down to the nek. Two more 40m abs down pitches 2 and 1 reach the start of the route.

Note: This is a good route and deserves far more ascents. The route is often wet during the summer, and is best attempted during the drier parts of the year. Don't bother trying to climb the chimney on the opposite side of the gendarme - its is absolutely rotten. The two chimneys are barely a couple of metres apart, but the difference in the rock quality is amazing.

Ref: MCSA Journals 1952, pg 38 and 1962, pg 90.


CATHEDRAL PEAK: North West Face (F3/A1)

(Map #2 : AD:43 : 3005m)

Opening Party: Charl Brummer and Mike Roberts.

Date: Easter 1984.

Time: All day.

Walk around Cathedral from Bell Cave to the nek between Cathedral and the Bell. Remain high up at the rock band and continue for roughly 250m to the commencement of the first major ridge that runs down to the Ntonjelane valley. This ridge intercepts Cathedral at a very distinct 15m high buttress. A cairn marks the start of the climb.

  1. 20m F3/A1. Proceed via the very obvious thin crack using aid to a point where a ½ m by ½ m fall-away has left a smooth undercut surface. This is 20m above the cairn. Above the smooth patch which interrupts the obvious crack is a bolt station from which a belay allows the second pitch to start.
  2. 20m F3/A1. Climb up the crack using aid and some free climbing to a belay directly beneath an overhang. Use the crack in the top of the roof as well as some bolts for the next belay.
  3. 7m F2. Now 40m above the cairn move horizontally to the right beneath the roof. A single step down is required.
  4. 7m F2/A1. Midway between the black water gully and the roof break up, with aid, to a belay on a massive stance 4m above the roof.
  5. 7m F2. Use some obvious broken steps to proceed diagonally left and then diagonally right to pass to the right of the broken rocks on a nose. The nose blends in with the lip of a waterfall which is 20m above the last stance.
  6. 3m A1. After reaching this lip walk up the river gully and aid up a second waterfall to an obvious scramble/climb out onto the summit.

Ref: "Rock Climbs of the Drakensberg", pg 49.


THE BELL: Wong's Route (North East Face) (E)

(Map #2 : AD:44 : 2930m)

Opening Party: Hans and Else Wongtschowski.

Date: 17 January 1944.

Time: 3 hours up, 1 down from Bell Cave.

This is a pleasant and sunny route that deserves more ascents. Unfortunately, gear is a little sparse on the first two pitches and the first belay could be better. The route is overshadowed by the adjacent Hooper's route, which is shorter and slightly harder, but which is better protected. However, Hooper's route is often wet, cold and/or icy. From the nek between Bell and Cathedral walk around the Mnweni (north) side of the Bell until a major break in the rock band is reached. Scramble high up right and then traverse left, via a rock slab initially, to return back to the front face. By various routes, scramble to the highest grass ledge. The route starts on the south east end of this ledge, just past a large abseil flake, and a couple of metres before the ledge turns a sharp corner onto the shady south side.

  1. 30m E. Climb up diagonally right towards two old fixed pegs under an overlap with a grassy, half metre wide exit crack to the right.
  2. 30m E. Move right and then up the grassy crack, or much more pleasantly, climb the rock on its right on good, thin holds. Continue up until further upward progress becomes difficult. Traverse to the right along a ledge and around a tricky corner then continue more easily along the ledge to a belay in a cubbyhole.
  3. 30m E. From the cubbyhole, move out and up diagonally right for a couple of meters to a small grass ledge. Reach the next grass ledge by climbing a smooth 3m rock band by one of various possible routes. The easiest is an excellent hand traverse off the right hand end of the ledge, around a nose of rock (very exposed) to a steep recess that leads to the grass ledge above. From here head up diagonally left and belay at a good block. Note the nearby abseil point. Scramble to the summit via the south east corner.

Descent: Scramble down the south east corner to the abseil point near the top of the final pitch. A full 45m abseil ends on the grass ledge adjacent to the start of the route. Another abseil reaches the next grass ledge. After this, reverse the remaining part of the scrambled approach line. Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©

Ref: MCSA Journal 1944, pg 23 and sketch facing pg 24.


THE BELL: Hooper's Route (South Face) (F1)

(Map #2 : AD:44 : 2930m)

Opening Party: Tony Hooper, Howard Fish and Jacky Botha.

Date: 25 April 1944.

Time: 3 hours.

This has proved the most popular route on the Bell, if not in the 'Berg. Climb up to the start of Wong's Route as described previously. Continue to the left, around the corner, across a very narrow, exposed section to where the grass ledge widens again. The route starts at a short open book that faces to the right.

  1. 10m F1. Climb the open book, which has a tricky exit, to a large grass ledge.
  2. 30m F1. Walk left along the ledge to a position just before a small overhang about 10m above the ledge. Climb up a black face, decorated with bits of grass, tending left to the overhang. Move out left from under the overhang onto a slab. Keep moving left until it is possible to move up (tricky) near a small rock nose and exit onto a large bushy ledge. Walk diagonally up to the right, across the ledge to reach the SE ridge and then scramble up this to the top.

Descent: As for Wong's route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1944, pg 27.


THE BELL: North West Face (F)

(Map #2 : AD:44 : 2930m)

Opening Party: Peter and Pam Angus-Leppan, Jim Thomson and Warwick Keating.

Date: 7 April 1962.

Time: 4 hours.

The route begins at a projecting nose of rock, located on a grass ledge at the junction between the NE and NW faces. This may be easily reached by traversing to the right from the Cathedral-Bell nek and ascending to a higher grass ledge where the smooth basalt cliffs provide a break. From here traverse a short distance further to the right to reach the nose.

  1. 30m F. Climb 5m up the nose, then traverse to the left at the level of two grass tussocks(*), to the small block. Delicate climbing leads diagonally up to the left, then continue to the right to the slightly overhanging corner where there is a single bush(*) of heather. Move up the corner on small holds to a good grip well up to the right of the corner. 2m higher the climbing eases off and short distance further an adequate stance is reached. It is preferable to climb up past this stance for another 10m, first traversing to the right, above the overhangs and across a gap, then continue up on to a slope where there is a block, ideally placed for belaying, at the foot of the vertical cliff.
  2. (*) You have to be an optimist if you believe that this vegetation still exists !

  3. 25m D. Ignore the various possible upward routes and descend 8m below the block to a narrow ledge. Traverse to the right along the ledge, around a grassy pillar and onto a grass ledge in front of a small cave.
  4. 12m D. Climb up to the right of the cave, over large steps, to another narrow grass ledge. A convenient piton crack will be found above the centre of the ledge.
  5. 15m F. Proceed to the right hand extremity of the ledge and continue around a projecting rib to a small recess. Climb the recess, at first on rock and then by making use of the grass.
  6. 25m F. Traverse to the left along a narrow ledge, step over the gap at the end, and pull up onto a small triangular platform. Step out towards a block on the face to the left and then step onto it. Climb the vertical recess to a roomy grass ledge with a shallow overhang at the back.
  7. 15m D. Continue upwards at the left hand end of the overhang, and work up towards the right. After scrambling up the rock band above, traverse to the right along the grass and heather covered ledge until it turns a corner.
  8. 10m D. Climb the final cliff.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1962, pg 83.



It is not immediately apparent why two adjacent peaks with large, flat tops should be called the Horns. Anything less 'horn-like' is hard to imagine. Apparently the name derives from the fact that when viewed from near the hotel, the gap between the peaks has a shape remarkably similar to the distinctive horns of a kudu.


OUTER HORN: South East Face (Standard Route) (C+)

(Map #2 : AD:45 : 3011m)

Opening Party: Doyle Liebenberg, Mike and Liz Burton, Hans and Else Wongtschowski.

Date: 1940.

Approach along the path from Bell Cave. Leave the path and scramble onto the broad grass ledge that runs completely across the NE face of the Outer Horn. The grass ledge turns a sharp corner around the prominent east ridge of the Horn. Head up and over a large shoulder on the east ridge and onto the south east face. Scramble through a series of minor gullies, heading for a large ravine that runs down the SE face, starting from a point not far below the summit. This scree-filled ravine tapers towards the top.

The ravine may also be approached from the opposite side. In this case, walk to the nek between the two Horns and, keeping to this level, follow a grass ledge across the SE face of the Outer Horn until the ravine is reached.

Either way, scramble to the top of the ravine to reach a narrow, horizontal ledge that leads out across the entire SE face to a small shoulder opposite the Inner Horn. Traverse the full length of this ledge. It starts with an exposed and unprotected traverse across a smooth slab (3m). After this, the ledge continues more easily with only two, exposed 'step-across' moves of any consequence. On reaching the small grass shoulder at the end of the ledge, climb up on very easy rock to reach the summit plateau.

Note: Although very easy, this is a fairly serious scramble because of the lack of protection and the severe exposure.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1940, pg 20 - this reference contains only a few basic details. The names of the opening party were obtained from Doyle Liebenberg's book, "The Drakensberg of Natal", page 155.


OUTER HORN: Western Buttress (D)

(Map #2 : AD:45 : 3011m)

Opening Party: Doyle Liebenberg, Tom Wood, Hubert 'BR' Botha-Reid, L P 'Doc' Ripley and F S Brown.

Date: July 1934.


A deep gully is distinctly visible from the Ntonjelana Valley. Beginning in a narrow cleft at the highest corner of the summit plateau, it opens into a wide recess on the north west buttress, dividing the buttress into two halves. From the nek to the north of the Outer Horn, ascend the north west ridge, up short faces and corners of C grade, to reach a small stance. From here make an awkward traverse to the right under an overhanging block. Continue up more easily to a point 'some way before'(?) the vertical arete that leads upwards for about 100m to the summit. Drop down to the right, off the ridge and scramble across to the large gully. Continue traversing to the right across the gully on an easy rock ledge for at least 100m or more. After crossing the gully, move onto a fairly broken, broad ledge and continue up the extreme edge of the buttress that overlooks the drop into the valley below the Inner Horn. Climb up past a very distinctive, 2m deep, cubbyhole and up the final 5m of exposed rock. Continue up left to finish at the head of the large gully. Descend by the same route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1936, pp 49 and 55.


OUTER HORN: North West Gully (D)

(Map #2 : AD:45 : 3011m)

Opening Party: Brian Godbold.

Date: July 1936.

This route summits via the top part of the gully mentioned in the previous route. The middle part of the gully is not climbable and it must be entered at a point above the difficult section - the previous route traverses across the gully below this difficult section. To access the upper part of the main gully, it is necessary to continue further up the ridge and first climb a lesser gully, on the left of the main gully. A traverse then leads across to the right to reach the upper part of the main gully.

Start up the main NW ridge as per the previous route but instead of moving into the major gully on the right, continue up the ridge, climbing two short, difficult faces, until a point is reached where the ridge abuts onto the final, vertical arete about 100m below the summit. Another, smaller gully reaches this point. Climb the first 20m up the back of this gully, or up easy rock on the right. Next, climb a 5m crack, escape to the left and scramble to the top of a shoulder. Traverse to the right, across the rock face. The first 20m (D) goes out to the skyline and around a corner on broken rock and grass tufts. Continue past a comfortable stance and then across 8m of solid rock to reach a roomy grass shoulder adjacent to the top section of the main gully. The traverse ends with a further 10m of traversing across easy rock into the back of the main gully. Walk up the gully for 30m, passing a large chockstone on its left, to reach the base of a chimney. Climb the chimney (15m D), passing a useful chockstone where the chimney narrows 2/3s of the way up and a more difficult one at the top. Scramble to the summit and descend by the same route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1936, pp 46, 48 and 57; 1942, pg 42.