Important News (January 2016)
The land on the north bank of the White Umfolozi was sold a number of yeara ago. Officially, all climbing on the north bank has been banned by the new owner pending successful negotiations regarding liability and indemnity in the event of any accident. The current position regarding access for climbers is very delicate. Please do not jeopardize our access negotiations by ignoring the current ban on climbing on the north bank.
At this stage the south bank has many sport and trad routes. Excellent accommodation and other facilities are available and the current landowner is very "climber-friendly".
In a nutshell, what you will find at the White Umfolozi is a selection of about 250 routes, including about 90 sport routes, all on superb rock. It is only 3 hours drive from Durban and 4h30 from Jo'burg. This is a real "out-of-Africa" climbing venue and as a bonus, it is a wilderness area that will delight any nature lover.
Much effort was expended by the RD compiler in trying to uncover the history of climbing in the vicinity of the current crags - the results of this research are available on the History page.
The MCSA-KZN section organises a Grand Annual Thrash (GAT) at the White Umfolozi during a long weekend in the winter months – usually during September. We have negotiated several major concessions for this annual meet. This is an ideal opportunity for newcomers to become acquainted with the venue and non-members are welcome - contact the MCSA-KZN Section for details.
Gavin Peckham's route guide is now sold out (as at April 2015). Future printings are uncertain.
Please read the section on hazards before continuing.
The information in these pages was obtained with the help of many other people. My thanks go to: Roger Nattrass for permission to use information from his superb book, 'A Climber's Guide to Natal Rock'; the various climbers who have accompanied me into the wilderness, including Anthony van Tonder, Gavin Raubenheimer, Jonathon Wigley, Derek Marshall and Richard Knott who were amongst my primary victims; my long-suffering family who have both endured and supported my escapades - their 'pet' names are scattered amongst the various routes as a very small token of my appreciation!
There are now about 160 trad routes and about 90 sport routes at the White Umfolozi. These range in grade from 8 to 26 and in length from 5 m to 40 m. The starts of many routes have been marked with small, white arrows - these are a great help to climbers who are new to the area. A few of the bolted lines date from the early 1990s (see RDs) and the safety of these bolts is questionable. There are good belay points at the top of most routes and the majority of these can be easily top-roped.
South Bank Crags
Suggestions or new route information may be sent to Gavin Peckham at P O Box 593, Empangeni, 3880; Tel 035-792 4543 (a/h); e-mail email@example.com .
The White Umfolozi crags are situated in the heart of Zululand about midway between Melmoth and Vryheid. More specifically, they are located on the banks of the White Umfolozi River about 2 km downstream from the bridge where the R34 crosses the river. The crags on the north and south banks are in the hands of separate owners. The sport routes on the south bank are all located in close proximity to one another. The vast majority of the trad routes are located on the south bank.
The turn off from the R34 to the chalet on the south bank is located about 55 km north of Melmoth and about 75 km south of Vryheid at a point 1,0 km south of the bridge over the White Umfolozi River. If you are driving up from the south, then the turn off is on your right-hand side about 300 m after you pass under the power lines as you drive down the hill toward the bridge. The turn off has a large green gate that is set back about 20 m from the main road and has a sign saying, "Klip Kloof". Provided that you have made the necessary prior arrangements you will either have the keys, or the gate will be unlocked. Follow the track for about 1 km down towards the river until you reach the hut. Do not take the vague track that runs off to the left at one point. There is a parking terrace adjacent to the hut. However, it may be better to park on the small terrace about 30 m before you get to the hut because, on the way out, 'normal' cars may experience some difficulty in negotiating the first 20 m up the steep slope between the two terraces. My Corolla has 'escaped' on numerous occasions without too much difficulty, but less fortunate people have had to suffer the indignity of being pushed or towed out - 4x4s will have no trouble at all.
The accommodation consists of two exquisite thatched, 1-room rondavels, one containing four beds and the other two beds. Both have an electric light that is run via a converter off a car battery. The larger hut has a gas fridge, a small table, some camping chairs, a gas light, gas cooker and basic crockery and cutlery for four people. It also has a covered verandah with a bench and a great view of the river. Outside there is a flush toilet, a shower and a wash basin with a reliable supply of cold and hot water - the latter supplied via a 200 litre solar heater. Also outside there is a separate braai (barbeque) area, a sink to wash dishes, a covered dining / parking-off area and an absolutely superb sun-deck with a spectacular view out over the crags. A permanent tent is currently pitched adjacent to the huts to provide additional accommodation. No one has died from drinking the water which is supplied from a small stream adjacent to the huts, but it may be better to bring your own drinking and cooking water.
There is an abundance of dead wood in the vicinity of this new facility, but the owner rightly feels that this is a part of the ecosystem and he is not keen to have people dragging in dead trees simply for the sake of a huge, blazing bonfire. At this stage you are welcome to use small amounts of dead wood to get a charcoal fire started or to keep a small fire going. So if you are planning to braai you had better bring your own charcoal, or else you will have to bring gas cookers.
The crags are on private land. Camping and climbing without prior permission and payment will result in prosecution. Bookings and arrangements for entry must be made in advance by ringing Mrs Maryna Lingenfelder on 082 446 1777, failing which you will find yourself confronted by a rather imposing locked gate. Currently accommodation costs R150 pppn for the huts and R80 pppn for camping (children under 10 stay free). Day trips are charged at R50 pp.
Apart from its pure scenic splendour, the valley contains an amazing variety of plants, trees, animals and birds. Crowned and black eagles soar overhead whilst bald ibis frequent the crags. Pythons, dassies, porcupine, otters, water mongoose and a variety of antelope may occasionally be seen. Leopard tracks have been positively identified. Anglers may wish to pass some time in pursuit of catfish, carp, tilapia and yellowfish. Overall, this is an idyllic venue for nature lovers.
Winter is the best time to climb at the White Umfolozi, as the valley may become uncomfortably hot during summer. Fortunately, the aspects of the various walls are such that there is always some climbing available in the shade even if you have to cross the river to get to it. There is a shady, park-like area at the top of the Rocky Gully between the Power and Warrior Walls. This provides an ideal lunch spot and a refuge from the heat. There are large sandbanks at the base of the Warrior and Friction Walls. These may be pleasant on mild days, but you can really bake here in summer.
Do not get put off by weather forecasts that predict rain for this general area. The chances of rain falling here in winter are close to zero. Even in summer there is little chance of rain because the valley is in a rain shadow area and is extremely dry. Even when it is pouring with rain along the coast you will almost always find that this valley is dry - although it may be overcast, which is most welcome in summer! In more than a hundred trips I have experienced rain on only five occasions and even then it was only a few light showers.
The crags have resulted from the river carving out a gorge through three billion year old Pongola Quartzites. These are some of the oldest rocks on the planet! This ancient rock underlies the various sedimentary strata that constitute the bulk of the KwaZulu / Natal landmass. Towards the upstream end of the crags, which is highest above river level, the rock has a rough texture very similar to that of the Natal Group Sandstones. Towards the downstream end of the crags, which is closer to river level, the quartzite is extremely compact with a smooth texture that, in some places, feels almost soapy. This is probably due to the polishing effects of floodwaters and wind-blown sand.
In general, many of the edges which look good from below, turn out to be slopers, but there are also a comforting number of incut holds. In general, many of the cracks, which look as if they will provide good holds and gear, actually pinch out. This makes the holds less secure, and the gear placements more sparse than may have been anticipated when viewing the route from below. The actual quality of the rock is outstanding, especially at the downstream end of the crags. Moving upstream, the rock quality tends to decrease slightly and amount of vegetation increases. Most of the rock is squeaky clean. However, some excellent lines such as 'Day-Tripper', 'Venom' etc. are subject to occasional sanding. It is well worth brushing them off if necessary. When topping out on some climbs be careful not to dislodge gravel, stones or rocks on those below. The Cinderella Slab is an isolated outcrop of soft, on-balance shale (?) that is quite uncharacteristic of the venue but has provided some convenient beginner's routes.
There are currently more than 90 fully equipped sport routes at the White Umfolozi. Bolting at this venue began in the early 1990s when Neil McQueen, Gerald Camp and Roger Nattrass each opened a fully bolted sport route. They also placed the odd bolt here and there to supplement the protection on several trad routes. The RDs of sport routes include the number of Bolts and Chains - or some form of top anchors. These are indicated as [xB;C]. Routes without an [xB;C] are trad routes which are occasionally supplemented by the odd bolt or by top anchors.
A project to retro-bolt badly protected trad routes was started recently. There is no intention to retro-bolt routes willy-nilly. Only under-protected routes will be considered for retro-bolting and then only with the permission of the first ascentionist. The MCSA (KZN Section) has donated about R1000 towards this bolting project and Derek Marshall has donated 100 hangers. To date contributions of between R1000 and R50 have also been received from: Bruce Tomalin; Carl Fatti; Ian Cox; Martha Gurtz; Michael Carter; Cally Henderson; Craig Pearman; Grant Tunmer; Charles Hughes; Gavin Raubenheimer; Barbara Curzon and a number of climbers who prefer to remain anonymous. Apart from a couple of climbers who have bolted their own routes, the rest of the bolting project has been financed privately - i.e. by me! A significant number of routes still require bolting or replacement of old bolts.
Each bolt placing costs about R35 for the hardware alone and double that if you consider transport costs, etc. If you have enjoyed climbing these routes then donations to help cover the very substantial costs will be most welcome - please contact Gavin Peckham, chief pilferer of the White Umfolozi bolting fund!
Like many crags in South Africa, the paths and routes at this venue do not get a huge amount of traffic and may tend to become vegetated and sandy. When planning a trip here please bring along a pair of secateurs, a scratcher, a hand-broom (brush) and possibly even a small saw and use them to clear routes and paths as you go. It is no use just ripping off the leaves of grass tufts on a route - they grow again in no time. Grasp them firmly and wriggle until you can get them out by the roots. If necessary use a scratcher to dig out the roots and earth. This venue was once a subtropical jungle and a huge amount of effort has been expended to create the access paths and clean most of the routes. If each of us makes a little effort to keep these routes clear then the quality of the climbing will be improved for all of us. PLEASE DO YOUR BIT ! If you have access to a crop sprayer and a few drums of "Agent Orange" please let me know – but whatever you do, don't tell Dirk Versveld or Ernst van Jaarsveld!