Cathkin Peak to Champagne Castle

Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©

CATHKIN: Bush's Route (North Face Chimney) (F)

(Map #2 : AZ:60 : 3148m)

Opening Party: Keith Bush, Andre Leeb-du Toit and N D Harte.

Date: 20 September 1955.

Time: Approach 6 hours and 2 hours climbing.

The approach is made up the gully that enters the Mhlwazini river immediately downstream from Keith Bush Camp. The gully leads up to the col between Sterkhorn and Cathkin. Near the top and on the right of this gully, a small grassy saddle may be seen. Scramble up to this saddle. This gives to the main north gully that runs in a NNE direction into the Cathkin massif and terminates in a 100m chimney at the head of the gully. The north gully is entered by traversing slightly to the left, then around a grassy slope. About a third of the way up the north gully a 15m waterfall is bypassed by a rising anticlockwise traverse that leads to the right and around the pinnacle, re-entering the gully above the fall. The chimney at the head of the gully is about 1m wide and is ascended as follows:

  1. 30m D. Chimney up to stance straddling a block.
  2. 10m D. Chimney.
  3. 15m E. A slightly overhanging chimney.
  4. 15m D. Straight chimney.
  5. 20m F. An overhanging chimney. Pass between two chockstones into a small cave on the left.
  6. 5m F. Exposed. Start off by chimneying, and working up to a standing position. Handholds are a half-inch crack to the right and a rounded ledge high up in main fracture zone.
  7. 10m D. Chimney. Scramble to the top.

Notes: Abseil back down the route. It is essential that this line is only attempted during the drier months as it becomes very slippery when wet. Keith Bush was tragically killed while descending this route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1955, pg 40.

Below: Andre Leeb-du Toit summiting Bush's Route on Cathkin, with top belay from N D Harte. Photo by Keith Bush.

Bush's Route FA

Below: Bush's Route opening party at the summit - Keith Bush(left,) ND Harte (centre) and Andre Leeb-du Toit (right). Photo by Keith Bush.
Bush's Route OP

CATHKIN: East Face (G/A1)

(Map #2 : AZ:60 : 3148m)

Opening Party: Tony Dick and Roger Fuggle.

Date: August 1970.

Time: 2 hour approach; 7 hours climbing.

The route follows the obvious dark line on the face that may be seen when approaching from the contour path.

  1. 60m E and F. Starting from the grassed gully that is the base of the break, climb to a large platform-cum-ledge.
  2. 30m D and E. Scramble up the diedre to where it becomes considerably steeper.
  3. 20m F and G. Move to the left and then up and back to the right across some slabs to reach the foot of a steep crack (12m F). Climb the crack to a large sloping stance (8m F and G).
  4. Move up to a small overhang and then to the left side of the diedre (direct aid); move up 5m (F and A1) and back to the centre of the diedre. Climb up (3m A1) to a point from where, by moving to the right, one can easily climb to below the metre-wide crack above (5m F1). Climb onto the crack (3m A1) and then move up onto a pleasant stance below a large rock (E). (Pitches 3 and 4 are dirty).
  5. Climb through a hole to get above the block and then easily up to where 6m of pegging up of the left hand wall leads to a comfortable stance.
  6. 30m F and A1. A sloping recess on the left leads to a large grassy ledge.
  7. Scramble up and through the arch, from where a short pitch of E standard leads to the top.

Descent: The quickest descent is by the south east ridge route.

By 'Berg standards, the route is fairly sustained but is spoiled by the presence of, "a useless species of plant and a considerable amount of filth."

Ref: MCSA Journal 1970, pg 68.


CATHKIN: South East Ridge (G1)

(Map #2 : AZ:60 : 3148m)

Opening Party: Paul Fatti and Erwin Muller.

Date: 2 June 1990.

Scramble up on grass slopes from the contour path to the high shoulder on the south east ridge and continue up it toward the headwall. Scramble up to a small grassy cave just below and to the left of where the ridge runs into the headwall. The climb follows the thin crack line leading diagonally up left into a shallow slanting recess which continues to the summit plateau.

  1. 45m G1. Traverse left from the cave and then climb a bulge to the base of the steep slanting crack. Climb the crack on good rock, via a series of steep moves, to a point just below the grass ledge at the base of the recess. Step left and then climb up through a bush onto the ledge.
  2. 45m F3. Climb the recess, initially via a crack on the left, for about 25m to where it opens up. Move up to the right hand crack and climb it delicately for a few metres to where it is possible to step left and move up to where the angle eases. Continue to the top.

Descent: Traverse back to the point directly above where the SE ridge runs into the headwall. A single abseil on 50m ropes leads to the top of the scramble. This provides a very quick descent off Cathkin.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1991, pg 187.


CATHKIN: South Gully (Standard Route) (E)

(Map #2 : AZ:60 : 3148m)

Opening Party: G T Amphlett, William C West, Father Alfred D Kelly, Tom Casement, Tobias and Melatu.

Date: 12 September 1912.

Time: 6 hours from Keith Bush Camp.

There are various approaches. From Cowl Fork, keep left until able to work across to below the nek between Cowl and Cathkin, just above a major washaway. From Cowl cave, traverse around Cowl at the level of the Cowl/Cathkin nek, ie. 100m below the cave. From Keith Bush, walk up to the nek between Cowl and Cathkin and descend some 150m on the Injasuti side. Traverse into the gully just above the large washaway. Do not try to take a shortcut on the small higher ledge.

The climb can also be approached from the south east ridge - do not climb too high up the ridge before traversing as this could mean having to drop down into the gully. Allow at least three hours from 'Blind Man's Corner' before the gully is reached. (A long way!).

The first rock band on the left of the gully is broken by a grass gully which is followed up and right to the next main ledge. A narrow grass ramp then leads up and left to open grass slopes which are followed until a small rock band forces one into the gully itself via an exposed traverse. Continue up avoiding the waterfalls until a large recess is reached. Scramble up the centre, past a small cave on your left hand side, and then traverse 15m leftwards above the cave (C+) to reach a knife edge or arete. Follow this to the base of a chimney. Climb this chimney to a small grassy stance (crux, E if dry). This pitch could prove very difficult in icy conditions. Climb another short crack and traverse left across sloping rocks until a steep but easy face is reached. Climb to the top.

Note: The following variation is often used when the chimney is wet or iced up. (Opened by Mervin Gans 1977).

Start at the same level as the foot of the chimney and 10m to the right.

  1. 10m F1. There is a short crack with a block sticking out of it about 2m above the ground. Climb the crack to a cubby-hole, move left, then up, using high handholds. Scramble up to the foot of the next sheer face.
  2. 40m F1. Traverse right for about 3m, moving around a delicate corner. Climb straight up a recessed face (open book), continue to the top.

Descend via the same route, with the number of abseils depending on conditions. An alternative descent is via the south east ridge. Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©

Note: Although easy in good condition, this route is not to be underestimated, particularly when wet or icy.

Ref.: MCSA Journal 1913, pg 79; 1937, pg 77; 1986, pg 51.


MONK'S COWL: Standard Route (South Face) (F2)

(Map #2 : AY:60 : 3229)

Opening Party: Jacky Botha, Emil Rhule, Tony Hooper and Hans Wongtschowski.

Date: 9 May 1942.

Time: 3 hours climbing.

Approach the route by walking up Cowl Fork Gully from junction M5 on the contour path. Cowl Cave makes a suitable base for this approach. It is probably easier to use Keith Bush Camp as a base, then walk up the gully to the Cathkin - Cowl nek. When doing so, it is highly desirable to find the path after crossing the Mhlwazini stream otherwise some serious bush bashing will be the order of the day. From the nek, traverse clockwise around the base of Cowl on a grass ledge at the same height as the nek to the gulley below Cowl Cave. Continue up the grass gully almost to the Cowl – Champagne nek. At the base of the South face traverse counter-clockwise a short distance to the highest grass ledge. A fixed peg marks the start of the route. If approaching from Cowl Cave, cross the gully to the base of the South face and traverse counter-clockwise a short distance to the highest grass ledge.

  1. 20m E. From the highest grass ledge, climb more or less straight up following the line of least resistance. An ab point will be passed on the first grass ledge. Continue up to a cubbyhole on the second grass ledge. Belay from two bolts in the cubbyhole.
  2. 20m F2. Looking around the corner to the left of the cubbyhole, a prominent beak-shaped rock can be seen about 10m further to the left. Traverse left to a point below the beak, and then climb up past the beak to easier ground and a good belay. The traverse is across steep rock slabs on small handholds and friction footholds. This is difficult in wet conditions. Avoid traversing too high.
  3. 20m F1. Climb up easily a large grass ledge. Continue straight up through a rock band (unprotected, F1) to the next grass ledge. Or:

45m E. Climb up easily to a large grass ledge. Walk about 30m to the right, passing an ab point (two bolts), until it is possible to scramble up diagonally left through the rock band, passing an ab point, to reach the second grass ledge.

Walk left along the grass ledge and around a corner. Climb the first obvious break in the rock band above and then scramble up through a second rock band. Walk up diagonally left across a broad grass ledge and break through the final rock band at its far left hand corner.

Descent: Reverse the route to the abseil point mentioned in pitch 3 then abseil to the block below the cubby hole. A second short ab reaches to the foot of the climb.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1942, pg 34; 1962, pg 88.


MONK'S COWL: Barry's Route (West Face) (F3)

(Map #2 : AY:60 : 3229)

Opening Party: Pitches 1 to 3: Dick Barry and Colin Gebhardt. Pitch 4: Malcolm Moore, Martin Winter and Matt Makowski..

Date: Pitches 1 to 3: 29 January 1938. Pitch 4: 18 August 1963.

Time: 4 hours climbing.

This is a spectacular and unlikely line on excellent rock. If approaching from Cowl Cave, descend some 40m down the Champagne gully until able to traverse up and out to a grass ledge (10m E.). A fixed peg will be found higher up and is a useful belay. Continue traversing along this ledge until reaching the obvious break shortly before a rock shoulder at the west corner. From here continue as indicated towards the end of the next paragraph..

The best approach is from Keith Bush Camp and then up the gully to the nek between Monk's Cowl and Cathkin Peak. It is highly desirable to find the path after crossing the Mhlwazini stream at the base of the gully otherwise some serious bush bashing will be the order of the day. About 100m below the Cathkin-Cowl nek, traverse out to the right along a broad grass ledge that crosses the north face of the Cowl. Continue around a corner where there is a rock shoulder. Just past the rock shoulder it is possible to scramble up to a higher grass ledge. Walk to the right along this grass ledge on the west face. After rounding a corner, ascend a small, short gully and scramble up to reach the next rock band on the west face. Start at the base of a 10m rock slab with some overhanging blocks near the top. This is about 20m to the right of the ridge separating the sheer north face from the more broken west face.

  1. 15m E. Climb the slab to under the blocks. Traverse a couple of metres to the right and then climb up onto the grass ledge above.
  2. Cross a broad grass ledge diagonally to the right to the bottom of a small gully through the next rock band. Climb the gully and then traverse to the left along a grass ledge until the next rock band can be climbed via a shallow recess to a grass ledge. Traverse left along the ledge to a peg located just before the ledge peters out. Belay here for the next pitch.

  3. 25m E. Climb up a metre or two onto a big 'sort of' flake then move up diagonally to the left into a sloping groove/slab which is visible on the left hand skyline from the belay. Move up and around the corner onto a steep slab. Climb straight up to reach a belay on a large grass ledge. Walk to the right to the base of a large recess.
  4. 25m F2. Start up a slab and climb up to a belay in the higher of the two cubbyholes spaced about 3m apart. Protection is sparse - 1 to 2,5 cams. A few pegs may be useful.
  5. 30m F3. From the second cubbyhole, move out and up diagonally to the right for a couple of metres until it is possible to traverse to the right along a narrow rock ledge, with several fixed pegs, to reach the base of a crack. Move up through the crack (well protected) and onto another small ledge. Move slightly to the right to the base of two exit cracks. Climb the right hand crack (strenuous) to reach a belay at the edge of a broad grass ledge.

This grass ledge is the same one used when traversing left from the top of the last pitch on the Standard Route. The break through the next rock band is almost directly opposite the top of the final pitch on Barry's Route. Scramble to the top following the details given for the Standard Route.

Descent: As for the Standard Route.

Warning: The crux pitch is almost as serious to second as it is to lead. All party members should carry prussik loops.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1942, pg 37; 1963, pg 119 and 1986, pg 50.


CHAMPAGNE CASTLE: South Gully Route (D)

(Map #2 : AY:61 : 3246m)

Opening Party: Des Watkins, Pam Richards, J B Anderson and Roy Denny.

Date: July 1955.

Time: About 3 hours to the top.

From Keith Bush Camp walk upstream for about one hour to a major fork. The gully on the left leads up to the Monk's Cowl - Champagne Castle nek and the gully on the right leads straight up the north west face of Champagne Castle. Why the route is called the south gully route, heaven alone knows. Climb the gully, with a couple of D pitches, to reach the top of the escarpment about 500m from the highest point of Champagne Castle. This is possibly one of the better known winter climbs. Depending on conditions it can range from a most enjoyable snow and ice route to a 6 hour slog through slush! Descend via Grey's Pass.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1955, pg 39.



( Map #2 : AY:61 : 3246m)

This is a very quick, convenient scramble to the top of Champagne. From Keith Bush Camp, proceed up the river to where it splits up the south gully and behind Cowl. Continue up behind Cowl to an obvious easy traverse out right about halfway up onto a large grass ledge. Follow the ledge right across the amphitheatre until able to scramble diagonally up right easily to another ledge which is followed back left to below the huge overhang visible at the top of the face. Walk up to below the overhang until able to traverse out left to an easy gully which gives access to the summit. With careful route-finding, the grade never exceeds C and a rope is not necessary. However, a rope is good insurance should the way be lost.


CHAMPAGNE CASTLE: South East Ridge (F)

( Map #2 : AY:61 : 3246m)

Opening Party: J Cottrell, Ron Kinsley, Wolf Wieber.

Date: 1958.

Time: 4 hours climbing.

From Cowl cave, proceed down Cowl Fork, traverse left across the rock bands and continue along the foot of the main face, until a nek, between an isolated pinnacle and the ridge, is reached.

  1. 25m E or F if wet. Climb directly up. It may be possible to make this pitch easier by alternative routes on either side.
  2. Scramble up 20m and then traverse diagonally up to the left to an obvious nek.
  3. Cross this nek and traverse left to the bottom of a long crack. Climb the crack (D) that runs directly up for about 50m.
  4. E. From the top of the crack, traverse out to the right onto the main face, climb 5m up an open book, and then traverse back to the left. Scramble to the top.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1958, pg 95.