Howick Falls Route Descriptions

Copyright: MCSA-KZN 2005 ©

The routes are described from left to right when viewing the main face (see photo below). Identifying initials have been painted on the rock next to all the top anchors.


1. TOUCHSTONE

First Ascent: Roger Nattrass (1992)

Approach. This route is not on the main face adjacent to the Falls, but on a separate buttress (and out of the photo). Walk around the top of the cliffs to the end of the furthest buttress on the left as seen from the viewing platform. Abseil or scramble down to the bottom.

Single pitch (27) ***** 27m ; 9 bolts.

This is a superb 27m route that follows the arête all the way. It involves face and arete climbing on excellent rock with technical moves. It is a spectacular and exhilarating line if you are capable of the grade. It was the first route to be opened at the venue.

 

2. CURTAIN CALL

First Ascent: Mark Misselhorn and Anthony van Tonder (14 May 2005)

Approach: This route can be reached by abseiling down from the top anchors, or by climbing the first pitch of 'Kyk Daai Dom Donders' to the stance.

Single Pitch (24) **** 20m ; 5 bolts ; 2 anchors at the top ; 2 anchors at the bottom.

Start as for the second pitch of 'Kyk Daai Dom Donders' i.e. climb the crack on the right of the stance for 3m. Traverse left across the face below the small roof. Bypass the roof on the left and climb up diagonally right to a good rest on the sloping ledge above the roof. Climb the crack in the middle of the face (crux) to reach a small wedged flake on the left (it looks loose but is solid). Continue up the crack system to the top.

Comment: As the bolts are a bit widely spaced and the 4th bolt is strenuous to clip, it is best to climb this route with twin ropes alternating clips to avoid pulling up a lot of slack on a single rope.

 

3. KYK DAAI DOM DONDERS

First Ascent: Anthony van Tonder and Mark Misselhorn (19 March 2005)

Approach: Get onto 'Stage Ledge' by abseiling 50m down from the top anchors of 'Encore' or 'Stagefright', or by climbing the first pitch of 'Stagefright'.

Pitch 1 (17) *** 32m ; 13 bolts ; 2 anchors.

Climb the first pitch of 'Encore' for about 13m to the 6th bolt. Break away left doing a rising traverse for 7m with an awkward step across move at the end. Climb directly up a recess system for 10m on very good rock to reach a stance on a large ledge to the left.

Pitch 2 (16) ** 24m ; 7 bolts ; 2 anchors.

Climb the crack on the right of the stance for 3m to reach a ledge with a small tree to the right. Traverse to the right across this ledge and step across a recess onto the face. Climb the face to a ledge at the base of a pillar. ( Danger : do not touch the stack of delicately balanced loose blocks in the recess to the left of this face). Climb up in the recess to the right of the pillar and/or on the arête of the pillar to a large ledge on top of the pillar. Climb the short face at the back to the top.

Comment: Named after a remark by a tourist.

 

4. ENCORE

First Ascent: Mark Misselhorn & Anthony van Tonder (24 September 2003)

Approach: Get onto 'Stage Ledge' by abseiling down as described above or by climbing up the first pitch of 'Stagefright'.

Pitch 1 (20) **** 20m ; 8 bolts ; 2 anchors.

Start near the left end of 'Stage Ledge' and climb up the open book/recess for 20m to a stance on top of a pillar on the right. Good rock with interesting footwork using many stemming moves on sloping footholds with good friction.

Pitch 2 (23) **** 34m ; 12 bolts; 2 anchors.

Climb up the arête above the anchors for 7m then traverse left into the open book and continue up this for 3m. Traverse right 2m (crux) then up and back left to continue up the middle of the face to the top. Excellent rock with positive holds. The crux can be aided by pulling on a bolt, reducing the grade to 20/A0.

Comments: Note that you need 16 quick-draws to climb this route, as you need to be able to clip both the top and the bottom anchors when climbing pitch 2. From the stance at the top of pitch 1 it is possible to move right and continue up the upper part of Stagefright. All the bolts are 100mm-long stainless steel expansion bolts seated to their full length in the rock.

 Gavin Peckham on Stagefright (20)

5. STAGEFRIGHT

First Ascent: Anthony van Tonder and Mark Misselhorn (31 August 2003)

Approach: Walk down to the bottom of the falls as described in the section on "General Information". Cross the Umgeni River easily where it emerges from the plunge pool below the falls. Walk and scramble around the left side of the plunge pool towards the waterfall, mostly staying about 3m above the water, until reaching two adjacent, flat, triangular rock platforms that jut out into the water and are usually wet with spray. At the painted arrow scramble 5m up to a large platform about 7m above the water. When wet with spray this easy scramble gets slippery and a bolt has been placed for protection. Walk about 3m to the base of a vegetated blocky ramp and belay from here.

Pitch 1 (11) ** 50m ; 10 bolts ; 2 anchors.

This pitch serves mainly as an approach pitch to Stage Ledge where the best climbing starts.

Scramble about 7m up the vegetated blocky ramp (1 bolt for protection) heading slightly right. Where the ramp abuts against steep rock, traverse 2m right across a short steep face on good hand holds (2 bolts) then climb 1m up a crack onto a large vegetated ledge. Walk right for 5m then scramble up an obvious right diagonal blocky line for 20m through black broken rock (4 bolts), passing below the overhangs that undercut 'Stage Ledge' above, until a large ledge is reached on yellow rock. Walk 2m right and clamber up 2½ m to a second large ledge. Scramble 7m diagonally up and back left to a black arête that runs for 7m up to the right hand end of 'Stage Ledge'. Climb up left around this arête and up an open book (3 bolts) to 'Stage Ledge'. Now that you are on the "Stage", you will have acquired an audience on the viewing platform above!

Pitch 2 (20) *** 27m ; 10 bolts ; 2 anchors.

From the middle of Stage Ledge climb the recess for about 12m until just below a vertical rock fin. Move 1½ m left into another recess and using crimper holds and smearing on the adjacent left nose work your way up (crux). Continue straight up (passing the stance on Encore to your left) then follow a series of steps up diagonally right to a comfortable stance on a ledge, big enough for two people to sit on. This pitch involves some awkward friction moves with rounded holds on good rock. 

Pitch 3 (18) ***** 25m ; 10 bolts ; 2 anchors.

From the stance climb up diagonally right to balance on a small crescent shaped ledge on the rounded arête. Make one more move up to the right then traverse back left for 3m and continue diagonally left up the headwall to reach the base of a right tending recess, which is followed to a ledge. Climb the open book above exiting to the right. This pitch is absolutely superb! The rock is excellent with very positive holds and interesting moves. The exposed position right next to the thundering falls makes for a sensational line!

Comments: This was the first route opened on the main face and it has become a classic. It follows the most natural line and provides an excellent introduction for climbers new to this venue. The nature of the rock and character of the climbing change with each pitch. Pitch 1 is actually better than it appears from below, but it is mainly scrambling on poor rock and has little aesthetic merit from a sport climbing point of view. However when linked with pitches 2 and 3 it enables one to walk to the base of Howick Falls and climb them completely from bottom to top providing a very satisfying 3 pitch climbing adventure experience on a 95m high wall, in close proximity to Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The diagonal line chosen for pitch 1 avoids the wet rock down on the right and protects the belayer from loose rocks perched on ledges that could be dislodged by the climber or the rope.

Note that you need 14 quick-draws to climb this route, as you need to be able to clip both the top and the bottom anchors when climbing pitches 2 and 3. This route is best climbed with twin 9mm ropes clipping alternate bolts. If using a single rope, to reduce rope drag, extend the second and third runners on pitch 1.

All the bolts are 100mm-long stainless steel expansion bolts seated to their full length in the rock except for the first and the third bolts on the first pitch, which are 75mm long.

 

6. THE CROWD GASPED

First Ascent: Anthony van Tonder and Mark Misselhorn (26 December 2004)

Approach: This route finishes up the arête just to the right of 'Stagefright'. Abseil down from the anchors, going slightly right, to reach the stance on a ledge at the base of a corner and just above a rock fig. This stance is shared with the route 'Amateur Dramatics'. Alternatively reach the stance by climbing along 'The Link Traverse' (described separately below).

Single Pitch (22) **** 24m ; 12 bolts ; 2 anchors at the top ; 2 anchors at the bottom.

Climb the recess directly below the small green tree for 5m then move left onto the face. Climb directly up the face for about 7m passing left of the small green tree (crux). When the face becomes blank above a thin handrail, traverse left along this rail to the arête. Climb the arête for 11/2 m, then do 2 moves to the left of the arête before regaining the arête and continuing to the top.

Variation: Start from the stance at the top of pitch 2 of 'Stagefright', beginning as for pitch 3 of 'Stagefright' i.e. climb up diagonally right to balance on the small crescent shaped ledge on the rounded arête. Break away from 'Stagefright' by continuing 2m diagonally right up the face to join 'The Crowd Gasped', which is followed to the top. The disadvantage of this variation is that the climber will be out of sight and earshot of the belayer when doing the crux moves.

Comment: Named after spectators’ reaction to a fall. Excellent rock.

 

7. AMATEUR DRAMATICS

First Ascent: Rob Dyer and Jonathon Wigley (15 January 2005)

Approach: Abseil directly down from the anchors to the same stance as below 'The Crowd Gasped'. Alternatively reach the stance by climbing along 'The Link Traverse' (described separately below).

Single Pitch (23) *** 21m ; 9 bolts ; 2 anchors at the top ; 2 anchors at the bottom.

Start up the thin crack to the right of the corner and continue up just right of the corner. Move left at the small green tree to stand on the block in the corner just above the tree. From here move right on thin footwork then up (crux). Tend slightly right to the top.

 

8. WAITING IN THE WINGS

First Ascent: Jonathon Wigley; Mike Ward; Rob Dyer and Wayne Peddle (18 December 2004)

Approach: This route climbs the obvious black chimney to the right of the previous routes. Abseil down from the top anchors to the stance on a ledge at the base of the chimney or reach the stance by climbing along 'The Link Traverse' (described separately).

Single Pitch (16) **** 24m ; 10 bolts ; 2 anchors at the top ; 2 anchors at the bottom.

Climb the chimney.

 

9. FLOODLIGHT

First Ascent: Jonathon Wigley; Mike Ward; Rob Dyer and Wayne Peddle (18 December 2004)

Approach: This route, which is often wet, is in the middle of a face between the main falls and a much lesser subsidiary waterfall to the left that flows only in summer. If the bottom of the climb is wet it will be very slippery. Abseil down from the top anchors to a stance on a ledge.

Single Pitch (19) **** 25m ; 11 bolts ; 2 anchors at the top ; 2 anchors at the bottom.

This is a very direct route. Basically follow the same line as you abseiled down. The crux is a small bulge about two thirds of the way up.

 

10. THE LINK TRAVERSE

First Ascent: Mark Misselhorn and Anthony van Tonder (26 December 2004)

Comment: This traverse starts from the stance at the top of pitch 1 of 'Encore', crosses 'Stagefright', and links with the stances at the bases of 'The Crowd Gasped', 'Amateur Dramatics' and 'Waiting in the Wings'. It is therefore possible, by climbing this traverse together with the various pitches above and below it, to do a 4-pitch route from the plunge pool to the top of the crag, or 3 pitches from 'Stage Ledge' to the top.

Approach: Get to the stance at the top of pitch 1 of 'Encore' by abseiling down from the top anchors, or by climbing the lower pitches of 'Encore' or 'Stagefright'.

Single Pitch (15) *** 15m ; 7 bolts ; 2 anchors at the beginning ; 2 at the end, as well as 2 anchors below Amateur Dramatics.

From the stance on 'Encore' move right and climb up 'Stagefright' to the second bolt above the stance. Break away by traversing right for 8m (stepping down to round a corner) to reach the anchors below 'Amateur Dramatics'. Climb down and right easily for 3m to reach the anchors below 'Waiting in the Wings'.

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