As we all know, it actually does snow in sunny South Africa now and then. A unique and challenging way to embrace these cold snaps is to take to the mountains and try out something different: ice climbing.
Giants Castle is one of the best ice-climbing destinations in South Africa. Two other main areas for ice climbing are Sani Pass and Bokong in northern Lesotho. Each region offers unique climbing experiences.
Ice usually begins forming between June and mid-August, and climbers of all levels can use various routes. You can go up with a team of experienced climbers or join a guiding company to receive guidance and instruction for ice climbing in the Drakensberg.
Giants Castle has relatively consistent water-ice routes in the winter months. Good snowfalls in June and early July can produce strong ice routes, which remain climbable until September.
The drive from Durban to Giants Castle takes approximately three hours, while it’s about four hours from Johannesburg.
Before heading out, climbers need to obtain an Ezemvelo/ KZN Wildlife permit.
Getting to the ice formations is a bit challenging, with a 9-hour hike up a major mountain pass. Climbers must also hike with their backpacks, camping and cooking equipment, and climbing gear.
Be prepared to camp overnight in a high wilderness area, by packing the appropriate camping equipment and clothing suitable for very cold conditions. Water is accessible from the semi-frozen streams and by melting snow.
There are about 14 water-ice and snow climb routes of varying lengths and difficulties, ranging from WI1 (Low angle ice, no tools required) to WI6+ (Highly technical).
Climbers access the climbs by abseiling down from the camping area using improvised points and V threads.
With low avalanche and rockfall risk, climbers can expect stable and safe conditions. However, climbers do need to remain cautious and wear helmets at all times.
Need to know
Using a guiding company, such as the highly qualified and professional Peak High Mountaineering, is advisable, if this sounds like your kind of adventure.
- Location: Giants Castle, Drakensberg, KZN
- Permit fee: R50 a day (including parking)
- KZN Wildlife: kznwildlife.com (For a permit)
- Mountain Rescue: 0800 005133
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