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South African Alpinism Round Up – 2013 / 2014 – Part 1

South African Alpinism

Last year I wrote an article aiming to find out what South Africans are doing in the weird and wonderful (some might say perverse) world of winter and alpine climbing.  The aim of these articles is to encourage a sense of community amongst SA alpinists and to inspire people to get out there and learn about this adventurous aspect of the climbing world hopefully under the guidance and skills of those getting the relevant experience.  What has become apparent to me is that there are a bunch of guys out there doing stuff but there is no single source of information to get these guys together and pass on knowledge and skills.

You can read last year’s wrap up here: Culture of South African Alpinism

These articles including capture non-commercial activities only.  I will most certainly have missed a bunch of people out and for that I apologise.  Please email me with your adventures so I can include these in any future round up.

We have quite a lot to catch up this year, so this is part 1 of 2

Not wanting to cover ground that has already been covered, Murray Sanders had what appeared to be a good learning experience from his first trip to Chamonix.  Be assured that there is indeed a steep learning curve when first visiting Chamonix and other alpine areas as the logistics, weather, snow and ice conditions and climbing skills required are very different to those back home.
You can read about Murray’s trip here: Getting Schooled in Chamonix

August 2013

Following on from our previous trips in 2013 (refer previous article) I arrived in Chamonix this time with climbing partner Nic Dieu, from Belgium, and we have set our sights on one of two objectives; The Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses or one of the routes on the north face of the Petit Dru.  Conditions on the Jorasses didn’t shape up so we went for the Pierre Allain route on the north face of the Petit Dru.

The route has lots of loose rock and has suffered from the massive rock falls that have affected the Dru in recent years.  Thankfully the higher sections of the route offer great climbing on solid rock. We finish by doing the traverse of the Dru’s summiting both the Petit Dru and the Grand Dru and descending down to the Charpoua glacier.  Awesome summit and my first of the classic six north faces of the Alps.

South African Alpinism
The Petit Dru with the rock scar from the west pillar collapse
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Loose rock on the glacier at the start of the north face, a scary place
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View of Mont Blanc from the Dru

September 13

Rachael and Jeremy Colenso where down in the Ecrins (Southern Alps in France) based out of La Grave.  Team Colenso climbed the North Face of the Pic de La Grave (3669m PD) and the west ridge of Le Rateau (3809m PD).  Both of these routes are classic and highly sought after mixed routes in the area.
Rachael then headed off back home and Jeremy met up with Anthony Hall and the pair set their sights on La Meije.

La Meije and its famous ridge traverse is not only a regional classic but also considered a classic route of the Alps.  Generally speaking, the rock quality in the Ecrins is not great but despite this, the traverse of La Meije and the rock climbs on the south face are highly sought after.

Jeremy and Anthony attempted the Promontoire Ridge (700m D-) which they successfully ticked to the Breche du Glacier Carre (3750m).  Up to this point, they encountered heavily verglassed rock, that is always a hindrance to speed, and not having any bivy gear, they decided not to continue the traverse to the summit of La Meije (3983m).  They down-climbed and abseiled the route.

On his way back, Jeremy managed to sneak in a quick solo up Gran Paradiso (4061m PD).

Rob Powell together with partner David Barlow head to Switzerland with the West Ridge of the Salbit and Motorhead on Eldorado as objectives.  We are rained off the start of the West Ridge.  Gutted but not too gutted as we head down and send Motorhead a couple of days later.  It must be the most sought after climb of its grade in Switzerland, it’s a 500m trad 6b/20 corner system with mostly laybacking.

South African Alpinism
Rachel Colenso at basecamp on the glacier with the West Ridge of Le Rateau 3809m in the background
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Rachel Colenso approaching mixed ground on the North Face of Pic de La Grave 3669m
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La Meije with Promontoire Ridge on the right hand skyline
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The amazing alpine rock venue of the Salbit, Switzerland
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Rob Powell having fun on perfect alpine granite, Motorhead, Switzerland


October 2013

It seems everyone felt lazy this month.  Nothing got done.

November 2013

Normally a very productive month for mixed climbing in Scotland, I managed a bunch of long weekend trips up to Scotland and did a bunch of classic mixed routes.  The Northern Corries provided excellent early season conditions and along with various partners I managed to tick a bunch routes that had long been on the tick list.  Standouts routes being Savage Slit V/6, Deep Throat V/6, Fingers Ridge V/5, The Message, IV/6 and many more.

Jeremy was able to get a quick route in between work trips and climbed Patey’s Route IV/6 at Coire an Lochain.

South African Alpinism
The Message, IV 6 T’Sneachda, Scotland
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Deep Throat, V 6 Coire an Lochan, Scotland
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Savage Slit, V 6 Coire an Lochan, Scotland

December 2013

Early December and I’m in Mexico visiting the in-laws but manage to sneak off for a bit a climbing.  After some acclimatisation on Ajusco (3930m) and together with some local mates I climbed Pico de Orizaba.  At 5610m, it is the 3rd highest mountain in North America.  We did the standard route (PD) without the need to use a rope in a cracking time of 4 hours (6-10hr guidebook time) from Piedra Grande hut.  The summit photos on Orizaba at sunrise are astounding and what an awesome mountain to ski (next year’s plan).

Back in the UK and with an upcoming trip to Patagonia, I thought it’d be a good idea to do some training in Scotland so went up to Fort William with a mate to meet Colin McCoy and his brother for some snowy action.  We certainly got that!  There had been so much snow that climbing conditions were dangerous and difficult.  We managed 2 routes in a week both in wind over 100km per hour and sideways snow.  It was good training for Patagonia indeed!  Colin’s poor brother, who had never been winter climbing before, got dragged up a route a T’Sneachda in horrid conditions and subsequently decided the whole winter climbing thing wasn’t his cup of tea.  Who can blame him?  Scottish climbing can certainly be testing at times.

On our last day and being stubborn we started walking in to the northern corries in what felt like hurricane force winds, we got about 100m in before I turned to Colin, “I’m not so psyched”, I could see the relief on his face and we turn around and drove back to London.

South African Alpinism
The amazing summit photo at Sunrise on Pico de Orizaba
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Rob Powell climbing under powder, T’Schneacda, Scotland
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Scottish team behind us seconds before the powder gave way and he took a wipper, T’Schneacda, Scotland
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Too much powder to climb, go skiing, north face of Ben Nevis


January 2014

Other lads getting out and about in the Alps are Antony Hall, Kevin Marki and Joe Mohle.  Obviously used to the frigid waters of the Atlantic, they decided to attempt a winter accent of the north face of Stockhorn (the one near Frutigen not the one near Zermatt).  It is a 6 pitch north face with predominantly mixed climbing and frozen turf.  Unfortunately, the lads were a touch slower than planned and had an unplanned bivy in the cable-car station which offered “27-deg views over the twinkling night lights of Switzerland”, no bivy kit but at least it was heated.

There is always too much climbing to be done!  I was offered the opportunity to go on an expedition to Nepal to climb a new route on an unclimbed peak with some mates I met in Pakistan in 2012.  I didn’t and they did it so when they contacted me to meet them in Patagonia for some big ice and new routing, I was in.  However, life is what happens when you have plans and their relationship hit rocky ground (they’re a couple) and 6 days before the trip they split up and bailed.  So I ended up going to Patagonia with a mate from Mexico.

Once in El Chalten, and during the first possible weather window we went straight for Supercanaleta on Cerro Fitz Roy (ED1 M5/1600m).  It seems that half the teams in town had the same idea and we were 1 of 6 teams on the route.  We got to circa 1000m up the Supercanaleta simul-climbing the whole way when the infamous Patagonian wind came up and we decided to bail.  It turned out to be a great decision as all the other teams kept on only to bail slightly higher up and after the route traverses out right.

Coming down the route was quite scary due to the now constant barrage of ice and we were certainly lucky to escape unscathed.  Unfortunately others weren’t so lucky.  After suffering the worse bivy of my life, I could bear it no more and we geared up to go back to town.

Through the haze of sideways snow and blasting winds, two climbers were shouting and waving at us.  We walked over to discover two American chaps who had attempted the route and one of them had been hit by rockfall while they were bailing.  There was blood pumping out of his knee.  I immediately applied a trauma pack to his knee to stop the bleeding.  Some other guys who had also bailed arrived.  Drawing on my walking leader course over a decade before, I made a rope stretcher and with one guy at each corner we carried that heavy bast…, I mean Josh down the glacier.

Initially there were only five of us but fortunately after a couple of hours more people arrived and soon the work load was spread but it was a long and tiring day.  We carried Josh for 9 hours before the official ‘mountain rescue team’ arrived and we could hand him over.  He got in touch with me a couple of months later to say thanks which I though was very cool.
Two weeks later on the same route, Chad Kellogg tragically lost his life to rockfall.  Scary place.

After being turned back on Fitz Roy, I paired up with a very humorous English chap, Joris Volmer.  Together we climbed and summited Guillomet (TD+ M5 450m) in very mixed conditions.  Great to finally get one of the famous granite towers ticked.  But alas, this was not the season for Patagonia and the weather continued to play havoc with our plans.  After 3 weeks with just 2 climbing days and a bad forecast for the next 10 days, I decided to join some Norwegian mates up Aconcagua.

As it turned out, Snort was out there doing some hiking with the family and we narrowly missed each other.

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Joe Mohle on the north face of the Stockhorn, Switzerland
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Josh ready for his lift out from Fitzroy north, Patagonia Rescue
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Rob Powell on the summit of Agua Guillomet

February 2014

Aconcagua is a whole lot of things; tiring, dirty, dusty, expensive, cold, high, cold, boring, cold, and very cold but all things considered it’s a good challenge and is still my highest adventure to date.  I met some very cool people and gained valuable high altitude experience for future plans.  Unfortunately the mates I went with turned around so I climbed solo on the summit day.

South African Alpinism
Rob Powell on the summit of Aconcagua, Argentina


March 2014

Thomas Mann and Kerry Kee went road tripping through Colorado and Wyoming in search of water ice.  Over an 18 day period they drove 4000km and climbed 15 ice routes from single pitch WI3 in Ouray Ice Park to 300m long multi pitch WI4 in Shoshone South Fork outside Cody, Wyoming. Some of the memorable routes were Whorehouse Hoses, WI4 200m at Eureka outside Silverton CO, Bozo’s Revenge, WI3 100m Shoshone WY and The Main Vein WI4, 300m, Shoshone WY.

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Kerry Kee below the Diamond on Longs Peak
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Looks like fun at Ouray Ice Park
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Thomas Mann below the Main Vein, WI4, Wyoming
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Thomas taking in the view of all the icefalls at South Fork


April 2014

I was back from South America with not much technical climbing done; it wasn’t long before heading back to Scotland with various partners’ ticking off two classic routes on Ben Nevis, Castle Ridge III/4 and North East Buttress IV/4.  Conditions were a touch sketchy and unfortunately on the day we climbed Castle Ridge, a fellow climber was involved in a big fall and tragically didn’t make it back home.  Always sobering.

May 2014

Chamonix is such a cool playground!  Almost every month offers opportunity to play with different toys.  May this year still had sufficient snow for skiing the Vallée Blanche but was warm enough to bring south and east facing rock routes into condition.  I met up and climbed with two Brits (Paul Maine and Peter Riley) and proceeded to find some great rock climbs between all the snow.  First we did Harold et Maud on Pont Lachenal, a superb crack climb.  Climbing on PL this time of year allows one to ski in from the Midi, leave your skis at the base, climb and rap the route and then ski out to Montenvers via the Valle Blanche.

The next day, Paul and I climbed the Rebuffet Route on the South Face of the Midi.  Some pitches of the route we very snow covered and some anxious moments were had as rock shoes and snow are not the best of friends.  Eventually we had to bail off the last pitch due to the snow and literally run back up to the Midi only just making the lift.

That was enough snow on rock so we headed to Val del Orco in Italy for some alpine granite cracks.  This venue is often referred to as Europe’s little Yosemite (often frequented by the Wide Boyz).  Big multipitch cracks and slabs.  The climbing was better than waking up next to a super model!  Definitely my new favourite rock climbing area in Europe.

South African Alpinism
Perfect Alpine Granit at Val Del Orco, Italy


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Peter climbing Harold et Maud, Pont Lachenal, Mont Blanc


We’ll continue with June 2014 to October 2014 in Part 2.

I would like to capture more information from any South Africans out there who are interested in sharing their adventures and skills with the SA climbing community.  Please drop me an email at saclimber(at)

Rob-Powell-Profile-PicAbout the author:

Rob Powell is a DEAT Registered Mountain Guide from Cape Town but resident in the UK.  He offers guiding and instruction in South Africa and the UK including winter climbing in Scotland.  He enjoys and guides all forms of climbing including rock, ice and mountaineering and has climbed in the UK, South Africa, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Croatia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Namibia, USA, India and Pakistan.

Facebook: SAMountainGuides
Twitter: @SAMountnGuide



  1. A big thank you to Rob for compiling all this information into such an entertaining read! And a big thank you to all of those who contributed. It’s great to see what other people have been up to! Jeremy Colenso

  2. Good read you bugger. Hope the ankle is coming along well

  3. This is freakin awesome!

    Love the photograph of Rob on Motorhead

    Definitely something to aspire to!

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Hey Rob… very cool write up, great to get this info and see who has been doing what!!! Cool pics, but i gotta say i am still not sold on Scottish winter climbing……..

    • Thanks Al. Honestly, Scottish Winter can be hellish at times but when it’s good, its the best. I think Colin McCoy put it best when summing up uk climbing, smaller mountains but bigger adventures. Come try and see.

  5. Al, you don’t know what you’re missing, we must make a plan if you’re still in Europe this winter.

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