Xeni Peak to Organ Pipes

Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©


(Map #2 : AD:49)

There is an excellent campsite in the Xeni valley about 30 minute's walk up from the contour path. However, the longer climbs in this area are best tackled from a camp further up the valley - about two hour's walk from the contour path. To reach this spot, walk up the Xeni valley and then turn left into Cockade Pass (AE:49). Continue up Cockade Pass to some overhangs on the right, and about 150m short of two huge boulders that lie across the gully. These overhangs provide good shelter and water is available in the adjacent stream.



(Map #2 : AD:49 : 3121m)

Opening Party: Peter Urban, Peter Scott and Issy Cohen.

Date: 1961.

Time: Two hours from top of escarpment.

The Xeni Peak is the free-stander between the Elephant and Mlambonja Buttress. It is climbed from the escarpment, from which it is separated by a gap some 10m wide.

Start at the head of a gully on the escarpment near the south side of the peak. Climb down the gully for about 30m to the nek between the peak and the escarpment. Cross the nek and traverse to the right on the inside of the gendarme. Climb a 50m D grade pitch diagonally up to a stance from where the south side of the peak is visible. Traverse a few metres to the right and then climb a wide chimney for 5m to a stance. The chimney, which narrows, is followed for 20m to the summit.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1961, pg 54.


ELEPHANT: South East Ridge (F3)

(Map #2 : AD:49 : 3109m)

Opening Party: Peter Urban, Tom Kerrick and Peter Scott

Date: 1961.

Time: 10 hours of climbing to the summit.

The start of the first pitch may be reached in an hour from the campsite mentioned above. The route starts in a subsidiary crack almost directly in front of, but slightly to the left of, the main crack. After about 40m of C/D scrambling up the crack and around to the left at the top, it becomes necessary to rope up for the climb proper.

  1. 25m E. Climb diagonally up to the right (taking care on the grass) to reach an obvious ledge from which it is possible to look into the lower sections of the pronounced crack immediately to the right.
  2. 30m E. Climb for 10m up vertical rock and then traverse to the left across a face to a projecting nose which is climbed on the right. (Some loose rock). Move a few metres to the left above the nose and then continue up an open book to a good ledge to a fixed piton belay.
  3. After these preliminary pitches, scramble to the left until directly opposite a subsidiary gendarme on the south east ridge. A further 15m of scrambling up the main ridge leads to a crack where the third pitch starts.

  4. 15m E. After climbing a chimney/crack for 3m, move diagonally to the right via a narrower crack that leads to a stance on a ledge.
  5. 15m E. Traverse 3m to the right, and then climb up the corner to a recess under an overhang.
  6. 35m F. After traversing 3m to the left, climb diagonally up to the edge of the ridge. Continue up, bearing to the right, past a sling point and up a very steep section for 15m. The grade of the pitch eases off on the next 10m until a stance with a chockstone is reached. The very steep section is climbed on the right, as the rock on the left looks unreliable.
  7. 70m D. Follow the ridge to a stance at some boulders below a steep section.
  8. 20m E. Traverse 5m to the right, climb up 5m, and then move to the left to the main ridge, which is followed up to a stance on a wide ledge. A running belay point may be found to the left of the main ridge.
  9. 30m E. Climb down diagonally to the left where an exposed traverse with good grips for a tall climber leads to a stance in a gully to the left of the 'trunk'.
  10. 30m E. Climb the gully, which becomes an airy chimney, to a belay at a prominent chockstone. (Diversion: 5m of climbing from this chockstone leads to the top of the pinnacle forming the trunk, but this is not a part of the main route.)
  11. 30m F3. From the chockstone a delicate traverse to the left for 10m, past a loose looking block, leads to a formidable open book which appears to be the only feasible route through the band of overhangs that form the shadow of the Elephant's 'eye'. Use layback holds inside the crack for the take-off. Chimney up the second section of the open book to a small ledge and continue up for 3m to an exposed stance.
  12. D. After traversing to the left, 3 rope-lengths lead to the summit.

The descent via Cockade Pass to the campsite takes little more than an hour.

Note: The crux pitch starts at the chockstone. If time is running short it may be possible to escape benightment by traversing off to the left on a good ledge about 40m below the chockstone. This long traverse which probably involves a little climbing, terminates with an abseil into a gully.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1961, pg 58.


COCKADE: Frontal Route (F3)

(Map #2 : AE:49 : 3086m)

Opening Party: Tom Kerrick, P 'Taffy' Lloyd, Peter Scott and Peter Urban.

Date: November 1961.

Time: 11 hours of climbing.

The route lies up the face to the right of an enormous tower that abuts the Cockade near its centre. The face is broken by a very prominent ledge about halfway up, and by two lesser ledges evenly spaced in the upper half. From the campsite in Cockade Pass, go up the gully a short way and then climb up the Cockade and traverse left until a gully on the right of the tower is reached. Scramble about 50m up this gully.

  1. 10m E. Straddle up to pass a large chockstone that blocks the gully. This pitch is F3 when wet.
  2. 20m C. Continue up a smaller, easy gully/chimney on the right.
  3. 20m D. Traverse to the right and then climb over the large tufts of grass to a suitable stance.
  4. 20m E+. Climb a vertical face for 10m, traverse to the left for 5m then follow the grass to a stance under a cubbyhole.
  5. 10m E+. Traverse to the left for 5m. Ascend some grass to an exposed stance below a steep section.
  6. 10m F3. Overcome the steep section by following a crack for about 5m (aid may be necessary). From the top of the crack, where there is a strong bush, 5m of scrambling leads to a stance.
  7. 20m D. Traverse to the right for 5m round a corner, and continue to a suitable stance on the prominent main ledge. The next pitch begins about 100m to the right.
  8. 30m C. Scramble around and up the buttress that interrupts the ledge. From the top of this buttress two overhanging chimneys can be seen about 30m to the right.
  9. 10m D. Climb a short rock band to a stance below the rock about halfway between the two chimneys.
  10. 20m D. Climb to a stance in a dry cave below the overhang in the right-hand chimney.
  11. 35m E+. From a point 5m below the cave, traverse to the left for 25m passing some large blocks en route that may be loose. A mantleshelf move leads to the next stance.
  12. 10m D. Climb a short crack and then scramble to a suitable belay. This stance is on the second 'ledge' which turns out to be a grass gully. Scramble up the gully then to the left to a small dry cave before the gully narrows to a chimney.
  13. 35m E. Further scrambling parallel to the grassy gully leads to an awkward move 3m before one emerges onto the third ledge. The final section starts about 20m diagonally to the right, and the route follows a line of chimneys.
  14. 25m F2. Climb diagonally to the left for 5m up a very steep ramp, using friction footholds, just to the right of a crack. Step to the left across the crack and scramble to a stance below a prominent chimney.
  15. 25m F2. Climb a difficult chimney for 10m and then after a few metres, ascend a second chimney to a stance below an overhanging crack.
  16. 25m F3. Traverse 5m to the right to the bottom of a crack. Work up the crack for almost 10m, partly by using layback movements (including an exceptionally severe move), scramble for a few feet, and then climb a short chimney to a large boulder stance.
  17. 10m C. Climb the short face to the left of the chimneys to complete the climb.

The descent via Cockade Pass to the campsite takes little more than an hour.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1961, pg 55.



(Map #2 : AE:49)

Opening Party: Andrew Gruft and Brian Clark.

Date: July 1960.

Head for the nek between the Plume and Cockade. From the nek, traverse diagonally left and up across some steep grass to the base of a sort of broken pillar of rock leaning against the wall on the south west face. Start on the recess between the 'pillar' and main face. The exit from the recess is obstructed by a large, loose block that must be climbed. This first pitch consists of very loose rock and involves about 15m of F grade climbing. From above this, move diagonally left to a short traverse pitch which ends near the base of one of the cracks running up to the summit - 15m F with a peg for possible aid.

Scramble up about 15m into the base of the crack (C). The crack leads to the summit ridge, which is about half a metre wide. The crack and summit ridge involve about 40m of D grade climbing.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1960, pg 125.


COLUMN: North Face (F3/M2)

(Map #2 : AG:50 : 2926m)

Opening Party: Pitches 1 to 4: HL 'Derie' van Eeden and Johann Schoonees.

Pitches 5 to 7: Johann Schoonees and George CL Mallory.

Date: Pitches 1 to 4: April 1981. Pitches 5 to 7: July 1981.

Time: The opening party took two days, prussiking up fixed ropes to start the second day's climbing.

This is apparently an extremely serious route that should not be underestimated. From Tseke Hut walk up to the nek between the Column and the knife-edge ridge that leads to the escarpment. Descend a landslide for about 40m on the far (north west) side. Traverse out across three spurs to reach the northern slopes of the Column. The climb starts at the base of the ridge facing NNW, on the right-hand side of the north face.

  1. 50m F3. Ascend the ridge to a grass ledge.
  2. 40m F3. Climb diagonally right towards a grassy open book. Ascend the open book to a ledge. Scramble left for 8m to a large flake leaning against the face.
  3. 40m F2. Walk left to the first grassy crack. Ascend the crack and ridge until forced to traverse left past a loose pillar towards a grassy ledge. Ascend the open book above to a ledge with a block belay. This ledge is about 10m to the right of and below the big cleft that splits the top third of the Column..
  4. 20m F1. Climb the broken rock to the right, keeping immediately to the right of a smooth face. Continue up to a ledge in a recess with a good peg belay.
  5. 30m F3/M2. Climb 4m up the broken pillar to the left and use a point of aid to traverse 3m left along a sloping ledge. Place peg runners as high as possible before being lowered 10m and making a tension traverse to the left to reach a soily recess below the cleft. Climb the recess for 3m, using three shaky pegs for aid, to reach the base of a large chimney. Ascend an off-width crack in the chimney to a stance as high as possible. The second climber follows on tension from above, or by prussiking from the ledge with the block belay (does he ab back down the 4th pitch or are pitches 4 and 5 led as one?!)
  6. 40m F3. Ascend the chimney to above a large chockstone (using one point of aid) before bearing diagonally right up a steep, broken face to the large ledge on the Escarpment Arete Route. Alternatively, it may be possible to continue up the chimney.
  7. 20m E3. Scramble to the top.

Descend via Thompson's Route or preferably via the Escarpment Arete Route.


COLUMN: Thomson's Route (F3)

(Map #2 : AG:50 : 2926m)

Opening Climber: George Thomson.

Date: 9 December 1945.

Time: 7 hours up, 3 down from Tseke Hut.

From the Tseketseke Hut walk up the valley for just over a kilometre. Break out right and scramble up the crest of the grass ridge that leads up towards the rock ridge connecting the Pyramid and the Column. Walk left along the grass ledge at the base of the Pyramid-Column ridge to reach an obvious grassy chute just left of the junction formed by the Pyramid-Column ridge and the Column proper. Alternatively, approach as per the Escarpment Arete route and traverse around to the right to reach the start.

  1. 25m D. Climb up the grassy chute to the level of the first obvious grass ledge. Traverse left onto this ledge.
  2. 45m F1. Climb up a leftward diagonal line of grass to a large grass ledge.
  3. Note: From the top of pitch 1, it is possible to carry on straight up to the second grass ledge. This involves a further 25m of E grade climbing with the odd F1 move and few grass pull-ups. This single 50m pitch is far quicker and easier than the alternative described above.

    Either way, walk around to the left on the grass ledge. Continue around a corner where the ledge is very narrow and steep. The ledge broadens again around the corner and the next pitch starts, just before the ledge ends, at a slab below a recess about 15m up.

  4. 20m F2. Climb up the slab slightly to the right of the recess, and to a height level with a grassy stance. From here traverse left on a small foot rail, using an undercut grip, and up onto a grassy step in the recess.
  5. 20m F3. From the stance move up diagonally right for a couple of metres onto a small grass ledge. Climb up a couple of metres to reach a left sloping groove with a good fixed peg. Follow the groove left to regain the recess at a point below a short crack that leads to the next grass ledge.
  6. Note: It is easy, and much quicker, to climb pitches 3 and 4 as one.

    Walk around to the right to where a 5m C grade climb through a rock band leads to the next (4th) grass ledge. Walk back left to an obvious recess with deep cracks on either side.

  7. 40m F2. Climb the right crack for about 8m and then move left and up into the left chimney. Climb this chimney or the buttress to below a chute of loose rock that leads to the small nek between the two summits - the higher one is on the right (east). Scramble up a short steep face just left of a huge chockstone then walk a few metres to the higher summit.

Descent: Before you read this 'spiel' skip to the notes below, on the descent of the Escarpment Arete Route. Now, if that did not convince you then you may descend Thomson's route as follows. From underneath the huge chockstone in the nek between the summits, abseil 40m down the last pitch. Either make a 20m abseil off a bollard or scramble down to the next grass ledge by reversing the 5m C grade scramble. Abseil down pitches 4 and 3 from two pegs underneath an overhanging boulder on the grass ledge to reach the next grass ledge. Walk to the right along the grass ledge and around the corner to the top of the 2nd pitch. Abseil off a large dead root that curves up out of the ground. This 30m abseil reaches the narrow grass ledge between the first and second pitches. Descend the first pitch a 25 m ab off a peg.

The Escarpment Arete route has overshadowed this classic line. Despite this, Thompson's route provides good climbing and is worthy of more frequent ascents. Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©

Ref: MCSA Journals 1946, pg 40; 1947, pg 32 and 1986, pg 49.


COLUMN: Escarpment Arete (F3)

(Map #2 : AG:50 : 2926m)

Opening Party: Colin Shuttleworth and Dave Pullen.

Date: August 1970.

Time: 6 hours up, 3 down from Tseke Hut.

This is one of the better routes in the Drakensberg. Start from Tseke Hut and walk up Tseketseke Pass to the gully that runs down from the nek between the Column and the ridge leading to the escarpment. Scramble up this gully to the nek. The bottom of the gully is difficult especially when wet. It is easier to continue for about 100m up the Pass and then to approach the nek up the grass slopes on the left (west) of the gully. Apart from the first pitch, the route is not sustained and the belays and rock quality are good.

  1. 40m F2. Start at the highest point in the nek and straddle up the gap until it is possible to mantleshel awkwardly into a small triangular recess on the main peak. Move out right onto a ledge. Use a grass tuft to pull up awkwardly and then move diagonally to the right around the corner and then up to stance on a shoulder under an overhang. Avoid the large tempting grass ledge on the left.
  2. 20m F3. After a strenuous take-off, climb up the broken recess to a grass ledge.
  3. 30m E. From the stance traverse to the left skyline, then move up the ridge to a large grass ledge with a big flake leaning against the back face.
  4. 50m F3. Climb a rectangular recess 10m to the right of the flake, moving right onto a slab halfway up. Cross a small grass ledge to a narrow chimney and climb this to another grass ledge. When wet, this chimney is very difficult and it is possible to climb a steep scoop to its left, but this is unprotected. This pitch is sometimes split in two. Walk about 40m to the left and then around a corner to reach the start of the next pitch.
  5. 45m E. Follow the line of least resistance through the final, broken rock band to reach the lower of the two summits.

Scramble down into the cleft between the two summits and then climb a short, steep face just left of a huge chockstone. Walk a few metres to the higher, eastern summit.

Descent: Conventional wisdom is that it is best to descend via Thomson's Route (see above). However, if you scramble (or ab) back to the top of pitch 4, then three clean abseils lead straight back down the route to the nek. This is a much easier, quicker and safer line of descent than Thomson's Route, no matter which route you took to the summit.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1970, pg 70.


PYRAMID: Standard Route (F1)

(Map #2 : AG:50 : 2914m)

Opening Party: Ken Howes-Howell, Brian Godbold, Naomi Bokenham, H C 'Hooter' Hoets, Charles Axelson and Stanley Rose.

Date: July 1936.

Time: 4 hours up, 2 down from Tseke Hut.

This popular beginner's route is usually climbed from the Tseke Hut. About 30 minute's walk up the river from the hut, a grass gully on the right (north) leads up to a nek to the right of a 'shark tooth'. From the top of this gully, traverse across the 'back' (north) side of the 'shark tooth' to reach the north east slopes of the Pyramid. Continue traversing across the north east slopes to reach the main north ridge of the Pyramid. Walk up the north ridge, scrambling through a number of rock bands on the way. The north ridge is broad at first but narrows and is eventually blocked by a large prow of rock.

1. 20m F1. Climb up a recess in the middle of the prow until it is possible to traverse out left and under a small overhang along a good rail. Just past the overhang a few metres of easy rock lead straight up to a belay on the crest of the ridge. Alternatively, ignore the traverse and continue straight up to the belay (F2/3).

2. Scramble along the top of an exposed, blocky, knife-edge ridge leading up towards the summit.

3. The final rock band protecting the summit is climbed via a left sloping crack.

Note: The original ascent did not climb directly up the prow as described above, but traversed to the right around the peak until able to climb up using the same second pitch as described for the South Face Route - see below. Although technically harder, the Standard Route described above is far more direct and better protected.

Descent: Abseil down the prow. A second abseil further down avoids a tricky scramble through one of the larger rock bands on the north ridge.

Ref: MCSA Journals 1936, pg 51; 1941, pg 23; 1962, pg 90.


PYRAMID: South Face (F2)

(Map #2 : AG:50 : 2914m)

Opening Party: G 'Jeff' Thorpe, Jannie Graaff, Dennys Williamson, Phyl Goodwin and Betty Chadwick.

Date: 1947.

Follow the approach described for Thompson's Route on the Column to reach the grass ledge running across the base of the Pyramid-Column ridge. Turn right and walk along the grass ledge towards the Pyramid. Scramble diagonally right, up to the highest of the small grass ledges on the south face. At this ledge there are two obvious breaks a couple of metres apart. The one on the left looks well protected, but is very hard. Rather take the one on the right, which starts up an easy but sparsely protected slab. Continue up the line of least resistance to broad grass ledge above. The first 20m of this pitch is fairly easy and passes an old fixed peg. However, the upper 20m is solid F2.

Walk left along the grass ledge and follow it around a sharp corner onto the west face. Continue along the ledge until it peters out about 30m short of the prow of rock on the Standard (north ridge) Route. Just before the grass ledge peters out there is an obvious right-tending recess in the rock wall. Climb this recess on good clean rock, passing a small overlap protected by two pegs, and belay on top of the ridge. This belay is very close to the belay at the top of the first (and only) pitch on the Standard Route. This pitch involves about 20m of F1 climbing. Follow the ridge to the summit, as per the Standard Route.

Descent: Abseil down the top pitch and then walk back to the point where the main grass ledge turns the sharp corner. An ab off a peg at this corner reaches the main grass ledge that runs across the base of the peak. Thereafter simply reverse the approach. Descending via the Standard Route and its approach is probably quicker.

Like Wong's Route on the Bell, Winter's Route on Cathedral and Thomson's Route on the Column, this route has been overshadowed by an adjacent route. Like those routes it is worthy of far more ascents and is in many ways superior to the Standard Route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1947, pg 32.


CLEFT PEAK: Diagonal Gully Route (D)

(Map #2 : AH:52 : 3277m)

Opening Party: Doyle Liebenberg, Tony Hooper, and Hans & Else Wongtschowski.

Date: 1941.

Time: 6 hours.

The climb starts directly under the main cleft and below the highest point of the main peak. The line follows a single gully that runs diagonally up to the right and reaches the top of the escarpment at a point about one kilometre north west of the summit. The route is about C/D grade with the first pitch being the most difficult. This may well prove an interesting snow route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1941, pg 24.


CLEFT PEAK: Godbold's Frontal Route (F2)

(Map #2 : AH:52 : 3277m)

Opening Party: Brian Godbold, A Millard and Naomi Millard (nee Bokenham).

Date: July 1946.

Time: A very long day.

This route may be approached in various ways - none of them easy. Route finding is simplest if you follow the crest of the ridge leading up from near Tseke Hut. This approach has a lot of thick bush in the lower stages and requires bypassing rocky knolls higher up - not recommended. The easiest approach is to cut across the spurs starting near the stream at the sharp bend in the contour path between junctions C7 and C8. Both of these approaches will require carrying water. It is also possible to start from the top of Organ Pipes Pass and to traverse in from the south. This involves crossing many gullies and takes longer than it may appear on the map. At least this approach means that you don't have to carry water up from below and you don't have to ab back down the route. Whichever approach you use ends up near the base of the huge rock wall to the left (east) of the massive cleft that splits the upper half of the peak. Walk to the right and scramble up a couple of short grassy gullies to reach a large nose of rock some 100m left of a point directly below the start of the cleft.

Climb up on broken rock and grass on the right of the nose (it may actually be easier on the left!). This involves about 60m of exposed, unpleasant scrambling which leads to the options of a horrible gully on the left or a more pleasant chimney on the right. From the top of the gully or chimney, walk across a good grass ledge leading to the right. There is a small bivvy cave midway along this ledge, but it would be difficult to reach this with full packs. Follow the ledge further to the right and around into the cleft. (The original ascent climbed a grass gully further right and traversed left to the cleft. This is not recommended.)

The cleft itself is then climbed. This simply involves a series of chimneys, separated by scrambles. The first two chimneys may be bypassed by a difficult, exposed 80m scramble, starting up a slab on the left, if so desired. Continue up the cleft climbing chimneys where necessary. The final chimney is short and overhanging with two good cracks. It is at least F3 but may be bypassed by making a few moves out of the main cleft on the right wall and then around and up an easy gully, parallel to the main cleft, to reach the top.

Notes: This is a fairly strenuous climb but is spoiled by the long and difficult approaches. The route is also long - do not underestimate the time that will be required. Several parties have been forced to make unplanned bivvies on the route. Dislodging rocks could prove a hazard to those below. The climb may be much more difficult if it is wet during the summer or icy during the winter. Autumn and spring are probably the best times to try this route. If you did not start from the top of Organ Pipes pass, then it will probably be necessary to ab back down the route. Scramble down the last pitch and from below the final chimney, 3 full 50m abs and 3 more 40m abs with some scrambling inbetween will get back to the grass ledge with the bivvy hole. Two more abs will reach the base of the route. Bring plenty of ab cord.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1946, pg 35.


CASTLE BUTTRESS: South East Side (F)

(Map #2 : AI:52 : 3046m)

Opening Party: Bob Davies, June Slinger, Dennis Mitchell and Dennys Williamson.

Date: October 1952.

Walk up (or down) Camel Pass / Windy Gap Pass until the path crosses the gully that runs up to the escarpment wall immediately south of the Buttress. Walk up this gully for about 100m. From this point a gully or crack, including several chimneys of F standard, is followed almost to the top. One deviation is made to the right on to an easy face about two thirds of the way up. The final chimney is avoided by traversing left on a grass ledge and ascending an easy gully. The route is about 200m in length and is easily accessible from the fire look-out hut on Organ Pipes Pass. The route is likely to be difficult when wet or icy.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1952, pg 40.

Note: Roy Gooden, Mervyn Gans and Gordon Bulter opened a frontal route of about F2 grade in about 1977. They've forgotten where it went!



Opening Party: Various.

All the Organ Pipes have been climbed but none have been documented. Most of the routes are fairly obvious, starting from the gully behind. Those at the southern end are scrambles but the difficulty increases as one moves north. The last Pipe, Isithupha, resisted all attempts for many years.



(Map #2 : AJ:53)

Opening Party: Brian Shuttleworth and Charl Brummer.

Date: 1981.

Isithupha, Zulu for 'thumb', is the last and lowest of the Organ Pipes. It is about 90m high and is situated directly behind the usual lunch spot where the stream crosses Organ Pipes Pass.

  1. 20m F3/M1. Start the route on the east side of the pinnacle and climb 10m up to the overhanging bulge. One point of aid is used to reach the top of the bulge. Climb slightly diagonally left for 10m and belay on top of a block where a fixed peg is found.
  2. 20m F3/M1. Start from the block and end up on the south side of the pinnacle where one point of aid is used on the last three metres.

Note: The aid points are required more because of the loose rock than because of the difficulty of the moves.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1985, pg 98.