In the 1982 MCSA Journal, there is a route recorded in the Swartberg Pass called “A Stack of Chimneys” which did not give a very good image of the climbing on the Horlosiekloof in the Swartberg Pass. Although the main wall is 300m high with very direct looking crack lines to follow, the rock tends to be frail and the cracks off-width on much of the face. Despite these poor qualities of the area, some good routes have been opened on this very impressive rock feature. The sheer dimension of the main Horlosiekloof wall is enough to make you want to climb it. When you approach it from the Prince Albert side you don’t expect to find much worth climbing when seeing the contorted landscape of the Swartberg mountain range. A pleasant surprise awaits you as you turn the first sharp bend heading into the gorge and stare directly at the monster wall up ahead. Opposite it is also a great section of rock that produces some shorter climbs that are just as good to climb if the main wall is too intimidating. In 1991 Deon Nortje, Paul Hugo and Arthur Kehl opened a number of short routes in the kloof. Their routes are also included in this guide.
How to get there
The best route into the kloof is from Prince Albert, which is situated to the North of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape. This saves you from driving over the entire Swartberg pass if approaching from Oudtshoorn. From Oudtshoorn take the N12 passing through De Rust. Then turn left on the R407 to Prince Albert. Just before Prince Albert turn left onto the road into the Swartberg Pass. The kloof is a couple of km’s along this road. There are a couple of pull offs in the kloof to park your car and some are under trees for shade.
The best option is to stay at a guest house in Prince Albert as there are quite a few to choose from. You could also camp in the pass but you would have to take in water because I would not vouch for the quality of the water in the river.
The summer months are a nice time to climb but it can get very hot. Autumn and spring are best and the winter can also be good but it has been know to snow there when big cold fronts come through. The area is pretty dry with most rain falling in the winter and spring seasons. I have found it to get a bit chilly at nights when camping in the kloof even in the summer.
The routes opened here have so far been trad climbs and I don’t believe the nature conservation guys would look to kindly on bolts being placed in this area. I would however like to see some rap-anchors placed to make the descents safer.
DON’T OPEN THE COFFIN
A new route in the Swartberg Pass Groot Swartberg range
Location: The climb lies at the beginning of the Pass, on the Prince Albert side. From the PA/Klaarstroom road on the N side of the Swartberg, turn off onto the Pass road. About 1/2 km after the Cape Nature sign, rock walls close in on both sides of the road. About 100m further, park at the first lay-by on the RHS (this is where Deon’s routes are located). Walk up the road for about 60 meters, until a sharp right-angled turn to the right. Immediately where the road straightens out again, locate a short wall on the right, about 20m above the road. This wall is set well back from the road, and lies at the far (northern) side of a bushed ledge. The wall faces south, with a clearly visible crack system. To the left of this wall is a shattered arête that forms the RHS of Roadside Crag, the main face of which runs parallel to the road. (From slightly further up the road, the “coffin” at the start of Pitch 2 can clearly be seen, projecting out from the ledge high above).
Scramble up to the base of the short wall, easiest from a point on the corner of the road, below a large perched boulder.
Pitch 1. 18m. F1
Up the crack to belay on the lip above.
Pitch 2. 40m. F2
Continue up the edge to the large chockstone; step over this onto the small platform above. Make an exposed move left onto the arête itself, and pull up (beware loose block) to continue through a short dierdre, leading up to a point where the arête forms a horizontal ledge. Step off the huge flake at the end of this ledge, onto the “wrinkled” rock above. Trend left and then right around the corner to belay from easier rock.
Scramble up and then along the left hand side of the arête to gain a large ledge (running parallel to the road below), at the far end of which the massive coffin block balances precariously (opening it might dislodge it…).
Pitch 3. 40m. F1
About 3 m right of the coffin, take the crack (cairn) in the centre of the wall (a further crack runs parallel higher up), over a short break, and then trend leftwards, moving at one stage around a large rectangular block projecting out left. Continue up to the summit platform.
Descent: Scramble down west off the platform (some parties will rope for this). Continue scrambling along the knife-edge ridge for another 50 m until an easy break at the far end of the knife-edge allows access to the scree slopes leading down to the road (and pool!).
First Ascent: Basher Attwell, Carl Fatti, Brian Lambourne. 17 Sept 2010
40m, Grade 16
The climb is on Roadside Crag (see Gareth Frost’s route guide to the Swartberg Pass), situated at the beginning of the Pass, on the Prince Albert side. From the PA/Klaarstroom road on the N side of the Swartberg, turn off onto the Pass road. About 1/2 km after the Cape Nature sign, rock walls close in on both sides of the road. About 100m further, park at the first lay-by on the RHS (this is where Deon Nortje’s routes are located). Walk up the road for about 60 meters, until a sharp right-angled turn to the right. Immediately where the road straightens out again, locate a short wall on the right, about 20m above the road. This is where Don’t Open the Coffin is located. (The “coffin” on the upper ledge of that route is shown by the irregular red circle). Moving further left, the central wall of River Crag lies very close to the road, and has two routes described by Gareth Frost (Blues Sky Mining & Baby Boy Blue). His route description refers to “two crack lines can be seen going up the face with a small roof in between and a large ledge above”. These lines are not clear when viewed from the road but the attached pic taken from across the river suggests they could follow the lines indicated by the short red lines (Gareth to comment?).
Fossiel runs up the curving slab forming the left hand edge of Roadside Crag.
Scramble up to the LHS of the crag at its lowest point, then travers right 40m until at the open book that defines the RHS of the slab. Scramble as high as possible to belay from a solid tree growing out of the rock.
Pitch 1: 40m. 16. Climb the grey slab above (8m), then move up diagonally left towards the small roof in the centre of the slab. Traverse across the two crack lines to pass the roof on its right, thus gaining the exit crack leading diagonally right. (The route is more intimidating than it looks).
FA: Ringo Harding-Goodman & Basher Attwell, 29 September 2015.
Descent: As for Don’t Open the Coffin. Scramble west along the ridge crest (i.e. left) for about 40m until an easy break left at the far end of the knife-edge allows access to the scree slopes leading down to the road (arrow).