Howick Falls

Copyright: MCSA-KZN 2005 ©


People have climbed sporadically on the minor crags in the vicinity of Howick Falls for many years, however no reliable records of these routes has been found. The first significant route to be recorded in the area was Roger Nattrass' classic line 'Touchstone' that is located on a buttress downstream from the main falls. Recently there has been a surge of activity on the spectacular main face immediately adjacent to the falls. The driving force behind this initiative was Anthony van Tonder who managed to convince Mark Misslehorn to join him in the project. As a result of having routes opened under their noses, local climbers, Wigley, Ward and Dyer sprang into action and opened several more of their own. The main face is now pretty well saturated with routes, but there is still plenty of potential for development on the surrounding crags.

Route Descriptions

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General Information

Howick is located about 20 km north of Pietermaritzburg, just to the east of the main N3 freeway. There are three very well sign posted turn-offs from the N3 to Howick - take your pick. The Falls are close to the town centre. Once in the town, follow the road signs to the Howick Falls Viewpoint. There is safe parking with car guards at the viewpoint, and a restaurant to buy refreshments after a thirsty climb. There is also a caravan park / camp ground next to the river just above the falls.

Decide whether you want to walk down to the bottom of the falls to climb the whole 3-pitch wall or abseil down from the top anchors to climb only the high quality pitches on the upper part of the wall. Either way, wearing rubber sandals facilitates the river crossing. Take drinking water, as it can get hot on the rock face. 

To reach the bottom of the falls walk about 250m from the viewing platform in the opposite direction to the falls and look for the sign "Gorge Walk". Pay a small entrance fee at the Howick Falls Conservancy office and walk for 15 minutes down the path to the plunge pool below the falls. 

Otherwise, to reach the tops of the climbs, walk from the viewing platform towards the top of the falls, passing the Caravan Park on your right, and walk down to the bank of the Umgeni River. Wade ankle deep across the river at a narrow spot about 20m upstream of the falls; this must obviously not be done when the river is full! (If the river is full cross via the road bridge further upstream). At the edge of the cliff, about 40m from the falls and 10m beyond where the black rock changes to yellow, find the chain anchors at the top of 'Stagefright' or 'Encore'. Abseil 50m down to the big ledge known as 'Stage Ledge'. Take note that a 50m rope just reaches exactly; 45m is too short!

If you have only a single 50m rope, i.e. only 25m when doubled back, it is possible to abseil in 3 stages: 23m down to the stance on 'Stagefright', then 7m diagonally down to the stance on 'Encore', then 20m down to 'Stage Ledge'. It is possible to escape from the 'Stage Ledge' by abseiling from the anchors straight down 45m to the edge of the plunge pool. 

The superb route 'Touchstone' is located some distance from the Falls. To reach the top of this route continue around the top of the cliffs, above the Falls, to the end of the furthest buttress on the left as seen from the viewing platform. 

Please also note that as this is a newly developed crag there is still some loose rock around and it is highly advisable to wear a helmet! NB: Due to the noise of the falls, verbal communication between belayer and climber is impossible, so work out a system of visible hand signals or rope tugs before climbing. Cell phones can be used.