Thaba Nchu

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Thaba Nchu
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Climbing TypeSport, Boulder & Trad
Rock TypeSandstone
SeasonAll year round
ProvinceFree State

Drive from Bloemfontein to Ladybrand via Thaba Nchu on the N8 and just after going through Thaba Nchu on your right you will see a lane of trees with the sign “Glamorgan.” Turn in there, and at the end of the road you will find a Parking spot underneath some bluegum trees(MCSA signboards show the way).

The walk in will depend on where you want to be. From the car park, follow the track, marked with a white footprint, past an old ruin. About an hour later you should reach a nek, turn 90 degrees right and follow the ridge to the highest poin. At the north face of this buttress is War Zone. Walk left around the top to get to the Newsroom (with potential for a number of great routes). Sky News—currently the only route in the Newsroom area. The top is a good place to enjoy the view.

The walk to the cave from the car park is very confusing, but the best thing to bear in mind is that the basic idea is to play connect-the-dots with the few boulders at various levels along the mountain, until you reach the South side of the last of main crags directly above the farmhouse. From here go straight over the neck, and when you see the cairn, just follow the path to the cave. Please use the long drop to answer nature’s calls, and not for your rubbish, and please do not use anything but the long drop for nature’s calls. When walking back to the cars from the cave.

The boulders on top of the mountain have been named (chiefly by Noki and Jaco Venter, but with a little help from their friends) on the basis of what they look like on a late afternoon from the top of the War Zone. Starting from the right, you have the Submarine (too small to climb), the Seal, the Tortoise, the Battrian, the Frog, the Toad and the Snake (two adjacent boulders), the Turtle.


To Visit Thaba Nchu you must obatain a permit at R15 per person.

Permits can be obtained by contacting Nico Combrink (0827755100, or Uwe Siegert (, 072 175 6119). They will respond with a pro forma, you deposit the fees, they issue the permit. And yes, if you get a permit, and suddenly someone wants to tag along, they can really sort that out afterwards. The main thing is just to be able to notify the farmer (there is a strong security motive behind this). The money that is collected is used for two things. A) to do any necessary maintenance on Thaba Nchu. The ladder we use to get to the cave was paid from that money and put up by volunteers from the MCSA. The toilet was put up by the MCSA. The path markers were covered from that money. B) the balance of the money is paid to the farmer, which is fair compensation for being so gracious to let us use his property and even bolt routes on it.

The cave:

Boulder problems in the annex cave

The cave on Thaba Nchu can host more than 30 people, there is a drip in the cave that provides water all year round, and even a long drop. Please use the long drop to answer nature’s calls, and not for your rubbish,and please do not use anything but the long drop for nature’s calls.

There is a drip in the cave which provides drinking water all year. (Even in the driest times) Take a container along to collect water. The cave used to be well sheltered from the wind by a lush growth of trees, but these have sadly been broken down by some idiots looking for firewood . Please carry your own firewood along and refrain from cutting down more trees.


Sunrise from the cave

The routes:

The War Zone

Climbers on Warzone,(left: Cry of the Dolphins, 16; right Johann's route 18)

Cry of the Dolphins (6B) 16 ** The leftmost route. An easy and short route, but the crux can be confusing to climbers near the top of their grade. Shares the first bolt with CDDF.

F. Prinsloo & D. Turton, 2000

Crazy Dogs Don’t fall (7B) 15 ** Just next to COTD is a line that goes straight up to the chains. The bottom bolt may be considered a belay bolt. End right for grade 17 moves.

F. Prinsloo, 2000

Sunshine & Moonlight (10B) 20 *** A fine (in both senses of the word) route starting with CDDF’s first two bolts, and then tending right over some fine holds requiring good balance to the chains.

F. Prinsloo, 2000

Battle of the Bulge (10/11B) 19 ****

Battle of the Bulge (19, ****) at the War Zone

A prominent bulge runs diagonally across the face. Climb up directly below the start of the bulge, and then follow the bulge through some tricky moves. The route has two end variations, the first exits the bulge prematurely, and has a total of ten bolts. The other variation follows the bulge to its end before heading straight up, and gives you one more bolt for your money.

Noki, 2000

Johann’s route (8B) 18 *** A pleasant line going straight up the face, following a black water streak. Thin in the middle, but jugs for the rest.

J. Papendorf, 2000

Analysis of Paralysis (11B+ 2 belay bolts) 27 **** Climb up the easy ground to the start with a crack which quickly narrows and runs almost to the top of the crag. The route follows the crack and then up the blankish section to the top.

BB J. & D. Venter; FA Heinrich Kahl, March 2010

The Newsroom

Sky News (20, ***) at the Newsroom

Sky News (4B) 20 ***

When you approach the War Zone from the Power Pylon Path, the first bit of rock you will see is a small face jutting out into thin air. Start in the smallish corner on the right of the face, traverse out left to the arete, and then up to the chains.

Plaque Boulder (The Seal)

This boulder is quite high, and has some good routes, although the rock generally does tend to be a bit loose. It is recommended that both climber and belayer wear helmets, and that the belayer stand well clear of the bottom of the route. Access to the top is on the South-West side, and five bolts have been strategically placed for setting up abseil belays on the North side of the boulder (covering the routes AIW to TAOPR). Note that, because of the loose rocks, the bolts are closely spaced. This does, however, increase the possibility of making Z-clips. Be on the lookout for this. Also, AIW to TAOPR were all rap-bolted, although I think the bolt positioning is quite good (but then I bolted them…). The bolted routes on this boulder have, thus far, been given names which reflect the current state in my life: having young children. That is, of course, one of the reasons why it has taken me so long to develop these five routes (apart from the inaccessibility of Thaba Nchu). These are all books that I hope to one day enjoy with my sons. Who knows, maybe they will even one day climb these routes? Other names that might be used by people who put up more routes on this boulder (there is scope for plenty more, I just don’t think that I will be the one putting them up) are “The Adventures of Peter Pan,” “Prince Caspian” (and the six other titles from the Narnia series, for that matter), and many others. Please note that Wind in the Willows and The Tale of Peter Rabbit have two bolt hangers where the rap anchors are supposed to be. This situation will be rectified as soon as possible, but probably not before August 2006. Until such time, you will have to either climb past the “chains” to the rap bolts, and have your second clean the route, both then descending on the South-West side, or you will have to be lowered with a loadshare or two draws, then ascend from the South-West, and rap down, cleaning off your loadshare on the way. Someone will then still have to clean the rap anchor…

Maria se Moses 10m (N) 13 * On the same face of the same boulder as Sid se Moses. Left of the large overhang is a short section of face with easy climbing. Gear is sparse for the first bit, but then things get fine.

Sid se Moses 25m (N) 19 **** The route takes the obvious crack on the north east side of the boulder which starts almost halfway up the face (first pro in the crack) and slants left at the top.

I have no idea who Sid is, but apparently he did not fare too well on this route! This route is actually a very historical one. It is apparently the first route opened on the mountain. That, however, is not it’s claim to fame. At the base of the route you will see four holes which is where the plaque was situated before it was stolen by an idiotic, moronic, stupid, selfish, foolish vandal in 1998. The plaque commemorated the death of Niall Clark, a climber and member of the Free State section of the MCSA, who fell from the top of the route on 24 February 1963 when his rope broke. The plaque was placed there by his widow, Julie, on 19 May 1963, which would have been their first wedding anniversary. Legend has it that his rope had somehow got battery acid on it, and that it broke when he fell. This was at the time when kernmantels had just come onto the scene. The accident was reported to the rope manufacturers, and that is why we get these nice warnings with our ropes to keep them away from any chemical substances in our car boots, etc. But that’s legend…

Alice in Wonderland (12B) 20 ***

Alice in Wonderland (20, ***) at The Seal

Just a few metres right of Sid se Moses. The first ascent started by going through the rabbit hole (the rope was looped through the hole from the top before tying on, so that it didn’t drag through the hole for the entire climb), but we recommend that succeeding ascents rather not do this—there is a very real concern that the hole might break, which could be both dangerous, and aesthetically displeasing. Follow the bolts on a sustained adventure through the Wonderland of sandstone. You may want to take two or three draws with longer slings to minimise rope drag at certain strategic points.

Noki, 13 May 2006

Maya the Bee (12B) 22 *** Two metres to the right of AIW. Start up through the overhang, buzz past the honeycomb, and fly up trough the overhanging rock.

Noki, project

Winnie the Pooh 13B? 22? *** Right of MTB. A nerve-wracking journey through loose rock, but with tightly-spaced bolts. Probably the closest I will ever come to opening a death route—not because of the leadouts or groundfall potential, but because of the suspect nature of the rock. The bolts are properly placed, but I’m not sure the rock around the bolts will hold… So don’t fall.

Noki, project

Wind in the Willows (9B) 16 *** Starting on the almost vertical side of the Seal’s one flipper, go up onto the flat section, and then up the face just right of the shallow corner-recess (don’t climb into the recess). Note that there are two loose blocks in the recess—try not to chuck them down on your belayer.

Noki, 13 May 2006

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (12B) 13 ** Any easy route going up the same section of the flipper (but just a metre or two to the right) of WITW, and then up the array of large jugs to the top. This route can create quite a bit of rope drag when the leader is being lowered or when a toprope has been set up. An alternative is for the leader to set up a belay from the rap bolt a short distance above the chains, and for the seconder to climb up to the top, cleaning the route. They can then descend on the South-West side of the boulder. Also, a number of bolts can quite easily be skipped by people confident at the grade, thus eliminating some of the rope drag.

Noki, 13 May 2006

Boulders FAAklein.jpg

Lunatic Fringe

From the car park, a large face can be seen to the left of the mountain. This is the Lunatic Fringe area, which can be easily identified by the half-circle shaped feature on the face. This half-circle is Lunar Tic.

Lunar Tic 13 ***

Lunar (adj) 1. Of, relating to, or determined by the moon…. 4. Crescent-shaped. Tic (n) A habitual, spasmodic contraction of the muscles… [like when I see rock]. Lunatic (n) 1. Insane person. 2. Wildly foolish person. 3. (idm) the lunatic fringe (derog) Those members of a political or some other group whose views are regarded as wildly extreme or eccentric. [Sounds like most climbers I know…]

Climb up the slope until it recurves. From here follow the crack line to the top. The crux is moving from the recurve to the crack line, which is not really protected (first pro on the line coming only when the crack has been reached). Probably the best way to climb this line is for the leader and belayer to solo the few metres up to the recurve, from where the belayer can be protected by a nut placed to the far right (on a good stance). From here there is much less rope drag, and the belayer can spot the leader until pro has been placed.

Noki, S. Strydom (barefoot), F. Prinsloo (1998)

Sunken Valley

The Return of the One-armed Bandit 19 **

The start (i.e. East side) of the sunken valley is marked by a large number of small boulders. Above this the bottom tier face starts. At its start the face is a mere three metres high. About four metres to the left the start is a gulley, the right hand-side of which is marked by a blade-like feature running from the top to about two-thirds of the way down. Just to the right of this is a crack, running up to a large overhanging block, and then going out to the left and up around the block, eventually reaching the top of the crag. The route climbs this crack. Start below the crack, climbing to the right of the tree coming from the bottom of the face, gaining the large ledge midway up the crag. This route was climbed from the bottom of the crag, but since the base is covered by a very wicked type of “steekgras” which clings to everything in great bunches, and the first moves are nothing to write home about, you may prefer to walk up to the ledge at midway, approaching it from the left. The crack starts at this ledge. Follow the crack to the top. This is the first route that I opened on lead since my solo fall which has prevented me from straightening my left arm, hence the name. The route is pumpy (right arm especially), and for someone with a fixed left elbow, very reachy!

Noki, L. Marais, 1998

Far and Away

Helter Skelter 18

When looking up at the mountain from the road, one can see the largest face on the right, underneath the radio tower. This face is generally very chossy. If you come to the face and continue to the very right-hand side of it, you will find a short open-book crack. This is Helter Skelter. Once on top, it is advised to scramble up higher and then walk around, as there is generally nothing solid enough to belay/abseil from. Take note that the route was opened on trad, but that it is very loose, as are the placements. Make sure that 18 is well within your trad grade and that you like scary climbing before attempting this route, as there are many gear placements, none of which you will be likely to trust…

H. van Zyl, J. Venter, Noki, 1998