Hilton Crags

Route Descriptions:
  • Atom Smasher Crag
  • Serengeti Crags (Access prohibited - no RDs provided!)
  • Beacon Buttress (Access prohibited - no RDs provided!)


Many thanks to Roger Nattrass for permission to use information from his excellent book, "A Climber's Guide to Natal Rock" and also to the other climbers who contributed to the information in that publication. Corrections, comments and further information, especially about the Serengeti Crag, were obtained from Gavin Raubenheimer.


IMPORTANT NOTE : The new landowner has refused climbers access to Beacon Buttress and Serengeti Crags. You will be trespassing if you attempt to climb at these crags. Climbers still have access to Atom Smasher Crag thanks to the Hilton High School.

The crags are located on the estates of Hilton College, one of South Africa'a most prestigious private schools. Access to the crags is conditional upon the goodwill of the Headmaster and the Estate Manager. Any climber who jeopardises access to these excellent crags by his / her behaviour is liable to find themselves on a Mafia hit-list - paid for by other climbers.

Climbers wanting to access the crags must follow the correct procedure as required by the College. This entails requesting permission AT LEAST 3 DAYS prior to visiting from the staff and estate managers concerned via e-mail. The e-mail for permission must be sent to one of the following mail addresses and include details such as dates, times and numbers in the party. (CC the others for a quicker response)

Once permission has been granted, a visitors permit will be issued and will be ready for collection at the main entrance gate. This must be collected upon entry, and an indemnity form signed. The Permit must be carried for the day and HANDED BACK AT THE MAIN ENTRANCE GATE when leaving so as to let the staff know that you have returned safely!!


To reach the Hilton crags, take the main N3 toll road from Pietermaritzburg, head north up 'Town Hill', then take the 'Hilton' off-ramp (Exit 94) about 10 km north of PMBurg. Turn right, over the freeway and follow the tar road for about 6 km to Hilton College. To reach Beacon Buttress and Serengeti Crag, take the first turn to the right after entering the main gate and continue along this road for about 3 km, ignoring all side-roads, until it goes downhill and then makes a sharp turn to the left. At this point, Beacon Buttress will be clearly visible about 100m straight ahead. To reach Serengeti Crag, go around the sharp corner and continue for a further 1,4 km . Park on the side of the road (currently at the edge of a wattle plantation) and walk about 50 m straight down the grassy hill to reach the top of the crag - not visible from the road.

To reach the Atom Smasher crag, drive straight on through the main entrance gate and continue until you reach the imposing library building on your left. Immediately after this, take the sharp turn to the left and follow the road that winds down past the staff houses to a gate at the edge of a large cultivated field. Follow the track along the edge of the field, and at the end of the field follow the track around to the left and down the hill. Anyway you go after this, you will end up on a road that contours along the edge of a wattle plantation on the uphill side, with steep grass on the downhill side. Park anywhere along here, where you can get off the road and walk downhill to the top of the crags, which are not visible from the road. Walk up and down along the top of the crag with these RDs in your hand until you can identify some landmark - good luck - it is far easier to get a local to show you around on your first trip!


There is virtually no security risk in climbing at Hilton. You, your car and your possessions should be completely safe at the edge of the crags. There is good cell phone reception almost everywhere along the crags.

A General Description of the Crags

Climbing at Hilton dates back many years with sporadic, unrecorded ascents by various people including the Hilton pupils. However, it was only in 1983 that crag's potential became more widely known and the first routes began to be recorded. The rock at Hilton is sandstone, but belongs to the Vryheid Formation and is thus different from the Natal Series sandstone found at Monteseel, Shongweni and Kloof Gorge. There is currently a total of about 90 routes at Hilton. Most of these are fairly short, averaging between 10 m and 15 m. The climbing is mainly fairly technical face climbing, but there are also a number of cracks, corners and aretes. There is a mixture of sport and trad lines on all three crags. The Serengeti Crag is only recently been 'discovered' and is currently being developed. There is still plenty of potential for new lines on both the other crags.

Beacon Buttress and parts of Serengeti are slightly higher than Atom Smasher. The crags all receive morning shade but come into the sun by late morning. You can really bake here on a hot summer afternoon. Beacon Buttress is somewhat shadier than the other crags and has several overhanging trees to provide shelter. The crags overlook Albert Falls Dam and the Umgeni Valley nature reserve, which provide a really impressive backdrop. There are not many places that you can climb with giraffe etc. wandering around in the valley below.