Drakensberg Ice climbing – I know what you did last night

Drakensberg Ice Climbing 2013By the power vested in us, we now pronounce the ice season open!

Not because we may have been, in all likelihood, the first ascent of the season but because there needs to be some reward for stupidity (in my case repeated) – stupidity being lots of walking for very little climbing – and making sweeping proclamations is a tangible reward (if only in my head)

My first attempt of swinging some tools this season ended in the face of gale force winds (measured at 204kmph in Underberg) deep in the Loteni valley.  Blown off my feet a few times and having endured the might that is wind up high before, I chose to live another day and legged it.  I’d escaped the madness that was the Comrades Marathon and started in alone late Saturday 01 June with the intend of exploring the ice offerings ‘ground up’, from the South rather than the now standard approach of ‘top down’ from the North.  It is a much wilder experience coming from the Loteni side, and gives a sense of greater achievement as any climbing from the South would require a different approach to the ‘ice cragging’ we do when camped on the Escarpment. That is another story for another time though.

Drakensberg Ice Climbing 2013

Colin McCoy, Pitch 2 (WI3), Loteni Couloir

Early this week I got a message from Colin McCoy that read something like: dude, I screwed my hospital dates up…we not gonna have enough time to climb any ice this year”

Colin was arriving back from a month in North America (which I was supposed to join him on), and shipping out to work at the Medupe power plant construction – the debacle that is Eskom’s attempt at providing us South African’s with electricity.  The same plant was built in India within budget of both time and costs, of course in South Africa it is already a year over due and way, way over budget.  I digress…

So, how long did he have between arriving home and going into theatre to remove wisdom teeth?

Basutu drug smugglers, drug mules

Basutu dagga smugglers. If it weren’t for the white bags on the donkey, these folk would be very hard to spot


ONE day, Wednesday 12 June! That seemed like plenty time to walk 15km, gain 2000m of altitude – and then lose it again. Oh ja, and climb some ice!!

Somewhere on the walk-in on Tuesday evening we established that, as Colin had a pre-booked and pre-paid for bed in theatre at Medi Clinic, by default he should get the sharp end on anything that even remotely looked like it would fall down, or we’d fall off of!  We left our camp at 05:30 Wednesday morning, crested the Giants pass two hours later and dropped into the couloir to ‘have a look’.

Drakensberg Ice Climbing 2013

Colin McCoy, Pitch 2 (WI3), Loteni Couloir

The warm pre-frontal conditions were not great, and the river was flowing quite strongly.  As a result only the last two ‘core’ pitches were climbable, the last offering a very disconcerting constant flush of water behind the ice we were climbing.  It was quite exciting on the sharp end, which – somehow – I got the pleasure of leading, our ‘agreement’ of the previous evening conveniently not mentioned!  As a result I was not too sympathetic when the rein of ice zero’d in on him tethered to his belay as I knocked decomposing frozen stuff onto his head! 🙂

A quick solo of an iced exit to the (climbers) right of the couloir provided some final fun before walking over to Makhaza and then back to our camp…and the car.

For those interested, car-to-car in 22:30, approximately 30km of horizontal travel and a cumulative height gain (one way) of 2000m, makes this now a ‘day crag’ Current conditions are a wee bit warm, making for lean conditions.  The current pitches being WI3 ; WI4 ; WI2 🙂

A snapshot of my Endomondo track log is below and can be seen online HERE. It is important to note that due to power saving I only logged the ascent.  The return leg / descent was 45min to the contour path and 2.5 hrs from ‘camp’ to the car.

Tristan owns (and gear tests for) Vertigo industries

Vertigo Industries Logo

Drakensberg Ice Climbing 2013

Drakensberg Ice climbing


4 Responses to Drakensberg Ice climbing – I know what you did last night

  1. DeanVdm Jun 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm #


  2. Craig Jun 14, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Sounds like its still a bit early to me! But awesome!

  3. Rob P Jun 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Awesome. Way to go lads.

  4. Alard Jun 17, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    sweet. Thanks for that Tristan. Looking forward!!!!

Leave a Comment/Reply/Review