Old Baldy (Valley of 1000 Hills)

Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Roger Nattrass for permission to use information from his excellent book, "A Climber's Guide to Natal Rock".  Roger in turn obtained much of his information from Gerald Camp's earlier guide "Natal Rock".


Location

Old Baldy is located in the Valley of a Thousand Hills roughly half way between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. From either city, take the N3 toll road and turn off at the "Hammersdale" off-ramp (Exit 34). If approaching from the Pietermaritzburg side, then turn left at the end of the off-ramp, follow the road round a sharp bend and back in the direction of Pietermaritzurg. If approaching from the Durban side, you obviously turn right at the end of the off-ramp, cross the bridge over the N3, then follow the road round the same sharp bend. Continue on for about two kilometres, cross a bridge over a railway line, and then, a couple of hundred metres further, take the turn-off that leads sharply back to the right. This road winds up a hill, past Cordies Hotel (formerly the Colorado) on your right, and reaches a T-junction about a kilometre from the previous turn-off. At the T-junction, turn right up Inchanga hill and then, after about 100 m, take the first road to the left. This tarred road winds down into the valley below the Monteseel crags which may be seen up on the right. Follow the road down the valley and after about 9 km you will pass the Ndunakazi Trading Store on the left and then the Ndunakazi School on the right. After 11,3 km from the turn-off you will reach a steep dirt track on the left, which leads up to a collection of houses. This track / driveway may be easily identified by a red and yellow striped pole a few metres off the main road. Drive carefully up this short, steep dirt track and park in front of the houses.

Access

Climbers have no 'right' of access to the crags and are dependent on the good will of the local community. On arrival at the parking area it is essential that you greet the most senior (oldest looking) person present them and ask if you may park on their premises. A donation of at least R10 per vehicle is suggested for this privilege. Old Baldy, or Isitumbe to give it the correct local name, is clearly visible up behind the houses. Despite this, it is virtually impossible to describe the devious track from the houses up to the crag. Fortunately the local youngsters usually flock around and are eager to show you the way. Please take several R2 or R5 coins along to reward these youngsters for their efforts. They will also be grateful to have any food that you may have left over at the end of the day. Also, take a panga along, because the track up to the crags becomes very overgrown and the youngsters will be quite happy to hack the way clear for you. Before reaching the base of the main crag it is necessary to scramble up several steep granite bands - this will give you a taste of what lies ahead and more cautious climbers may even want to put on their rock shoes to facilitate these scrambles.

Security

Strange as it may seem to some, you are probably much safer climbing at Old Baldy than you are walking down the street in any urban centre. The local people have a friendly, rural disposition and we have never suffered any form of theft or personal threat. Please treat them with the kindness and respect that they deserve. Despite this, it would be wise to keep temptation at bay, by keeping all money, cell phones and other valuables out of sight in your pack whilst climbing. There is marginal cell phone reception at the crags, but don't rely on this.

A General Description of the Crag

Old Baldy is known to the local population as Isitombe. It is a large granite dome with routes up to 200 m long - the only routes on granite in KZN. Only four routes have been opened to date but there is reasonable scope for new routes. The granite has virtually no natural protection and all the routes are bolted. Most of the bolts are ancient, home-made death-traps. Only Frail Illusion has been adequately re-bolted, but even this route will take a party of four the best part of a day and so if you are looking for 'something completely different', then Old Baldy is well worth a visit. Plans are currently being made to re-bolt the other routes so hopefully you will be able to take your pick of routes in the near future.

Except for the first pitch on Snake Bite, the climbing is all to a greater or lesser extent, 'on balance' an requires delicate moves on tiny holds. The climbing is not strenuous, but exercise caution nevertheless, as the cheese-grater effect of a fall down the rough granite is obviously undesirable. You will need to use double ropes for the abseils on all routes.

Take a hat, sun-block and plenty to drink. Being stuck at a bolt-belay several pitches up on a blazing hot summer afternoon can be a nightmare. It is suggested that you climb here in winter, or on an overcast day.

Route Descriptions

The RDs were originally described by Charl Brummer in the MCSA Journal, 1981, pp 50 - 53 and 1985, pg 97. The routes are listed from left to right as you walk along the bottom of the crag.

The photo above shows Old Baldy viewed from a distance with routes marked (L-R) Snake Bite, Frail Illusion and Cripple Creek.

1. Snake Bite (18, A1) * * * * (200 m)

First ascent: Charl Brummer and Jimmy Frew (1982)

After getting to the base of the crag, walk to the right until you see a line of closely spaced bolts. These start just above a slab at the base of the crag and disappear up over the skyline.

  1. (A1) Friction up the slab to the first bolt, then aid up the bolt ladder (11 bolts) to the hanging, bolt belay which is just over the skyline when viewed from the start of the route. This pitch has been climbed free at an estimated grade somewhere in the mid-20s. The bolts on this pitch are all new and reliable.
  2. (18) Climb straight up from the belay following a line of ancient bolts through a sort of scoop. Head for a prominent 'knob' of rock which may be passed on the left or on the right. From the knob, move up diagonally left to reach a solid, new bolt. Say a prayer of thanks that you are still alive and then head straight up the steepening rock for the next bolt belay (new) on a narrow ledge just below the skyline. ??? draws required if you use all the manky old bolts - even these are quite led out.
  3. (13) Climb up diagonally left to a bolt and then head straight up over very easy rock to the next bolt which is a long way away. About 20 m after this second bolt (if you spot it) head slight right for a ledge with a bolt and a chain (new).

Descend by abseiling back down the route - double ropes are required.


2. Frail Illusion (18) * * * * (200 m)

First known ascent: Charl Brummer, Jimmy Frew, Steve Cooke, and Dave Freer (1980)

About 80 m to the right of Snake Bite you will come across a huge 10 m high triangular flake leaning up against the side of the crag. This is clearly visible from the parking area if you know where to look. The route starts at left-hand edge of the flake. All the bolts on this route have been recently replaced.

    1. (12) Climb the left-hand edge to the top of the flake. Continue up to a small ledge with chain anchors, continue rightwards to a second ledge and set of chains.
    2. (14) Follow the line of bolts straight up the black water streak to a bolt belay.
    3. (18) Continue on, straight up the water streak.
    4. (12) Climb up past two bolts to the final bolt belay on a small ledge. The ledge may or may not contain an Aloe. If you have an older route description, do not waste your time searching for the "... big tree on a large ledge and abseil off this."

Note: Abseil back down the route. Two 60 m ropes will get you down in two raps (two ropes recommended).

 

3. Quiet Desperation (16) * * * (200 m)

First ascent: Mike Roberts, Steve Cooke, Brian Shuttleworth and Alan Manson (1977) but pitches 1 & 2 were first climbed by John Poppelton, Barrry Anderson and others (1952) - see MCSA Journal 1982, pg 94.

    1. (12) Climb the first pitch of 'Frail Illusion'.
    2. (8) Follow the obvious traverse line to the right along a partly vegetated ledge passing a couple of old pegs to reach a new bolt belay.
    3. (16) Follow the line of bolts for about 40 m !!! - these were non-existent when I was last there !!!
    4. (?) Continue up the (non-existent?) bolts for another 40 m.
    5. (?) Traverse diagonally left aiming for a bulge on the skyline (belay)
    6. (?) Climb up and right to the big tree on the ledge to belay - the same tree mentioned on 'Frail Illusion'.

 

4. Cripple Creek (13) * * * (150 m)

First ascent: A large contingent of the MCSA-KZN Section (1977)

Follow the obvious large break to the right of the previous routes. The bottom of the route is quite vegetated, but it is hoped to sort this out soon. The top pitches are very pleasant. To quote the original RD: "There is no hard and fast rule about where this route goes as long as you stay in the left-hand crack. The right-hand crack has been climbed at about the same grade but is unnamed."

Comments