Routes on The Sentinel


(Map #1 : J:21)

Opening Party: Roy Gooden, Rodney Owen and Alan McCarthy.

Date: October 1976.

This prominent feature overlooking the path up to Tunnel Gorge was climbed using bolts as there were no placings whatever for natural gear. Permission was first obtained from the Natal Parks Board. The route is shown on the photo in the journal of the Mountain Club of the University of Natal, Durban. It is highly doubtful that the bolts are still safe. Some people will do anything to get their names on an RD.

Ref: UNDMC Journal 1977.


THE SENTINEL (Map #1 : G:23 : 3165m)

The Zulu name for this impressive peak is Ntabamnyama - the Black One. It is the most frequently climbed peak in the Drakensberg, mostly due to the easy access from the Sentinel car park. Provided that you know where to go, the Standard Route provides a quick and easy descent for the harder routes.


SENTINEL: Standard Route (D)

(Map #1 : G:23 : 3165m)

Opening Party: W J Wybergh and Lt N M McLeod.

Date: 29 September 1910.

Time: Just over an hour from the contour path to the summit.

This is a popular beginner's route. The climb starts in an obvious recess on the west side of the Sentinel, about 100m above the contour path and about the same distance diagonally up left from the nek between Sentinel and Beacon Buttress. Climbing the recess involves only one D grade pitch of about 15m. The pitch starts with an easy ramp that leads up to a scoop. The scoop is often wet and slippery after rain. At the top of the scoop, exit to the right and belay at a good peg with a ring.

The rest of the route is simply a walk with a bit of scrambling. From the ring-peg, head diagonally right and up to a knife-edge overlooking the south west face. A path should be visible along this section. From the knife-edge, turn left and head for the base of the north west summit ridge on the left hand skyline several hundred metres away. In order to do this is necessary to make your way diagonally up and left across a huge, sloping, bushy ledge with a few minor rock bands. The path, which is initially clear, fades and splits as you get onto the huge ledge. By this stage, however, the objective, namely the base of the summit ridge on the left skyline should be obvious.

The summit ridge involves a C grade scramble that is a somewhat exposed. Beginners may want a rope here, particularly during the descent. The path then leads along and up a ledge on the north western face, giving access to the summit.

Descent: Follow the same route down. A short abseil is required from the ring-peg above the D pitch.

McLeod's Variation: Once on the huge ledge, instead of walking diagonally left up to the north west summit ridge, walk up diagonally right. Pass below the right hand end of some rock bands and then head straight up the steep grass slope to the final rock band below the summit. Climb a 15m E grade chimney. This starts off wide enough for easy foot-and-back chimneying, but tapers towards the top where it is blocked by a chockstone. Pull through over the chockstone to exit. The summit cairn is just a short walk away.

This route is somewhat quicker than the standard route and involves two pitches of climbing rather than one. Descend by the standard route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1964, pg 42.


SENTINEL: Thatcher Route (F2/A1)

(Map #1 : G:23 : 3165m)

Opening Party: Mike Scott, Paul Gray and Butch de Bruin.

Date: 12 September 1975.

This route follows a nearly straight line between the "Angus-Leppan" and the "Standard" routes. The start is from a knoll, the highest point below the bulging slab-like faces of the WNW aspect of Sentinel. This line crosses the Standard Route on the broad grass ledge below the summit. After reading the RD, the significance of the name "Thatcher" should become apparent!

  1. 30m C/D. Follow a diagonal line up to the right across faces and up grassy cracks, to reach a stance in a chute below a small prominent overhang on the wall on the right. Belay from a fixed peg behind a flake.
  2. 30m F2/A1. Climb the groove to the overhang where there is a fixed piton. Climb the overhang using either a sling in the piton or grass for aid. (laybacks and mantleshelves are involved). From here make another piton-assisted move (the knife blade piton was removed) in order to stand on a tiny foothold and gain entry to a long grassy groove. Follow this groove to a ledge.
  3. 45m E. Make a series of stepped traverses back to the left and up on easy, interesting rock. This contains only one E move next to a good knife blade-taking flake and ends in a lovely exposed traverse to the left. The traverse enables one to outflank some overhangs and then move up onto a long ledge.
  4. 28m E/F1. Climb the centre of the steep black face above, taking a meandering line in order to avoid first a bulge and then a loose block.
  5. 40m C/D. Climb an easy groove in a corner to a ledge. Traverse left and surmount some large blocks in order to gain the massive grass ledge below the summit cliffs. A scramble of a 100m leads straight up to a gigantic cleft with sheer faces on either side.
  6. 25m F1+. Climb the chimney with good protection. The move through the top resembles climbing around the eves of a thatched cottage (Wow - I really MUST try this route!) The stance is on a big grassy ledge. The "+" in the grade is for people who don't like tight jamming and chimney straddle moves in exposed positions.
  7. 25m E. Climb the continuation of the chimney past large chockstones - beware of loose debris on one of them. The summit is now only a short scramble away.

Descend by the standard route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1975, pg 116.


SENTINEL: Angus-Leppan Route (F3 or F1/A1)

(Map #1 : G:23 : 3165m)

Opening Party: Pam and Peter Angus-Leppan.

Date: 17 February 1959.

Time: 3 hours climbing from the contour path to the summit.

This is a very popular route, being sunny and exposed on fairly good rock. Although easy, it is not recommended for beginners, as the consequences of a fall could be serious. This line on the huge north face of the Sentinel used to be known as the Gendarme route and is one of the best routes in the 'Berg at its grade.

From the contour path, head for the right hand side of the large gendarme at the base of the north face. Scramble up the gully formed between the gendarme on the left and the main face on the right. Continue up the gully to a 5m rock step that blocks the gully. This blockage may be passed in one of two ways. Most people follow an easy, but unprotected zig-zag line (D) on the face of the gendarme, to the left of the blockage: Climb up 2m, traverse left for about 10m, up for 3m, and then back right for 20m (a bit thin for the last few metres) to a position in the gully at the top of the blockage. Alternatively, you can rope a pitch up the right of the blockage (F) - this is particularly tricky when wet. From the top of the blockage, scramble up to the nek between the gendarme and the main peak, climbing through an easy rock band on the way.

  1. 20m D. From the nek, climb up easily, heading diagonally left and belay on a good grass ledge below a short steep wall.
  2. 20m E. "Grotto Pitch". Climb the wall to a small, vegetated cubbyhole, with one awkward move on the way. From the cubbyhole traverse to the left for 3m. Continue up an easy section for 10m and into a short grassy gully. Belay near the base of an open book / large recess(*) and adjacent to the start of a good rock ledge the runs off to the left. (*) = See variation below.
  3. 25m E3. Traverse left along the rock ledge (exposed) which leads around a corner and then up a narrow ramp. Belay at the top of the ramp adjacent to the huge recess that splits the north face. Take care in setting up this belay, as some of the rock is loose.
  4. 15m F1. Traverse to the right across an exposed slab, using spaced footholds, and continue on to the corner. Climb up and belay at a large block on the ledge above. From here, climbers following the leader can be safely top-roped across the traverse. The only significant gear for the leader during the traverse is a 3½ cam in a crack at foot level after 3 or 4 metres.
  5. 35m D. Traverse to the right along a good rock ledge for 20m, crossing a recess and continuing around a corner in the process. Climb easily up to a belay on a large blocky ledge.
  6. 5m F3. Move up into the cubbyhole a couple of metres above the stance. Clip a good peg under the roof of the cubbyhole and then, at the highest point, reach round for a good hold and use this to move diagonally up and right through the overhang. One intermediate sloping hold is needed to stand up and reach good holds. This pitch was originally aided up a line a couple of metres to the right of the cubbyhole. It is also possible to climb this short section further to the left of the main cubbyhole. From the top of this pitch you can walk to the right along a broad ledge and join the topmost part of the standard route. Alternatively, complete the route as it was opened, by climbing the final pitch.
  7. 10m D. Climb the easy chimney in the rock band above the previous pitch and then stroll across to the summit cairn.

Descend by the standard route.

Variations: Pitches 3, 4 and 5 can be bypassed by a direct route of two pitches that follows the open book / large recess near the start of pitch 3. Although somewhat quicker, this line bypasses the best pitches on the climb! Angus-Leppan's original Journal article makes reference to this open book as a, "particularly evil looking, green chimney . . . narrow, choked with growth and smooth sided." but Dodding claims that it has been cleaned and is a reasonable prospect using modern climbing gear. The details of this variation are as follows:

Opening Party: Russ Dodding, Chris Lesley-Smith and Steve Kelsey. Date: 7 August 1998.

Pitch "3". 27m F3. Ascend the groove (unprotected at first) to an obvious traverse line at 8m. Step delicately right, traverse around the arete and walk to the right along the break to a large stance next to a gully which is on the right.

Pitch "4". 20m E. Climb the arete easily to the blocky stance at the start of pitch 6 on the usual route.

There are also other variations to the start of the route. These all begin lower down in the gully but all end with much the same pitch 6.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1959, pg 104.


SENTINEL: North Face (G/A2)

(Map #1 : G:23 : 3165m)

Opening Party: Roger Fuggle and Colin Shuttleworth.

Date: September 1970.

Time: 7 hours climbing.

The route follows the obvious break in the centre of the north face. It is located just left of the Angus-Leppan gendarme and is clearly visible from the car park. This is an impressive line which is fairly serious.

  1. 45m F. Starting on the line on the right hand (northern) side of the break, climb easily to a small overhang. Climb directly through the overhang (2m F) in the back of the recess.
  2. 40m G. Climb the wide crack in the large recess to where only the short and thin could chimney comfortably (30m D and E). Move to the left on the face and up (2m G with direct aid) to a diagonal grass line which provides easy climbing to a stance above the chimney.
  3. 35m D and E. Scramble up to below an overhang with a short, steep, rotten-looking recess to its right.
  4. ?m A1. Climb around the overhang on the left (3m A1), then to the right, to a point from where a line up towards the left leads to a very steep section of rock that obviously contains some tricks.
  5. 35m F2, A1. Move to the right (6m F1) and then up, moving gradually to the right as you ascend (18m A2) and avoiding a loose flake high up on the right. The small ledge moving back towards the crack is a cul-de-sac, so avoid this and instead, move up (3m F) and then to the right. From here a ramp leads up diagonally to the left to a largish platform (8m F1).
  6. 45m F. Move back into the recess and climb through a small overhanging section (3m F). Continue climbing up then traverse to the left along an obvious line (24m E3). Move back to the right to the base of the final chimney (15m E and F).
  7. 12m E3. Climb the chimney to the top.

Descend by the standard route. This route has been done completely free at least once, grade unknown.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1970, pg 69. Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©


SENTINEL: Here Be Dragons (H1 / 23)

(Map #1 : G:23 : 3165m)

Opening Party: Mike Cartwright and Paul Fatti.

Date: 25 July 1992.

Time: 8 hours.

The route follows the north east ridge, i.e. the left-hand skyline when viewed from the car park. It takes the centre of the buttress to the prominent terraces at approximately half-height and then continues up a vague weakness past a white patch of bird guano to easier ground. The final pitch breaks through the top overhangs via a prominent left-leaning break.

  1. 30m G3 (22). The key to this pitch is a conspicuous flake (3½ cam) on the middle of the buttress about 12m up. Start just left of the very prominent flake at the base of the buttress. Climb the slab past a mantleshelf to the small overhang. Pass this on the right and traverse left to the base of the flake. From the top of the flake, a tricky sequence right and up leads to easier ground and a good ledge.
  2. 25m G3 (22). Gain the prominent recess up and to the right via a large suspect flake. Climb the recess past a steep section to a stance below some overhanging blocks.
  3. 45m G3 (22). Straddle up through the blocks to a thin rail up and out left. From here, steep grass leads up to easier ground, which is followed to the highest terrace.
  4. 35m H1 (23). The pitch follows the vague break up the slab just left of a loose-looking flake at 5m and continues up to the recess above. This recess leads to the white patch of bird guano. Steep slab climbing leads to the flake. Step left to rest on a bulge and continue up and slightly right into a resting place in a short recess. Move up steep rock on the left past a good hold to a tricky sequence on rounded handholds and then right into the main recess. Stem up and out right and then up and left to stance on a narrow ledge.
  5. 30m F3 (18). Climb diagonally up left to a large horizontal break and continue up and left to a stance in a blow-hole below the final roofs.
  6. 45m G2 (20). Climb the obvious diagonal left-leaning break through the final overhangs (suspect rock) and scramble to top.

This is a bold line in a prominent position. Poor protection on the crux pitch makes this a serious proposition. Descend by the standard route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1992, pg 108.

SENTINEL: South East Arete (G/A2)

(Map #1 : G:23 : 3165m)

Opening Party: Tony Dick and Roger Fuggle.

Date: 5 April 1969.

Time: 7 hours climbing.

This line faces across the Tugela gorge directly towards the Devil's Tooth. It is more spectacular and probably less serious than the north face route. It is approached by a pendulum abseil from an expansion bolt just on the east side of the north-east corner of the Sentinel. The bolt/s should be tested and replaced if loose. Climbing begins on the arete proper where the south face falls away into the gully between the Sentinel and Beacon Buttress. Recent reports indicate that the rock on several pitches is dangerously loose.

  1. 40m F2. Climb up 3 m to the right of the arete, returning to the left to a comfortable, sloping stance.
  2. 40m F3 and A2. Hand-jam up the cracks above the stance. Move left onto the south side of the arete and climb past several pegs to a small stance. (This pitch has been freed by climbing to the right of the pegs (20).
  3. 40m F3 and A2. Climb an open book to a triangular overhang. Peg through the roof on sound channels, moving out to the right and up into the large levelling on the arete. Small cams are particularly useful on this excellent pitch.
  4. 50m F2 and G. Follow the only break which, after 10m, traverses to the right under a large block, and then up to the right of this block (G). Continue diagonally to the left to a comfortable stance at the base of the large overhang that blocks the route. (An awkward stance lower down has better belays.) There is a lot of loose rock on this pitch. Climbers on the belay ledge should be tied in on long lines so that they can move out of danger if necessary. Route finding is tricky and much grabbing of grass is required.
  5. 30m E. Traverse to the right along the obvious break to a grassy stance below a peculiarly rounded face. Easy, but quite loose and airy.
  6. 40m F2. Climb the face bearing slightly to the left (lacking runners), past a ledge with protection to a sensational stance on the nose of the arete. Chossy.
  7. 30m F3. Climb an open book to the right of the nose. The rock is poor but nut runners are found to the right, half way up. Continue to the left more easily onto the arete which is followed to the summit.

Descend by the standard route. Only the roof on pitch 3 has not been done free at some stage. Although the rock is loose on many pitches, all the belays are good - a small consolation

Ref: MCSA Journal 1969, pg 78.