Scaling icy heights: ice climbing adventures in the Drakensberg

Posted on 1 August 2023 By Jordyn Johnson

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

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.

Getting there

ice climbing drakensberg

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

ice climbing drakensberg

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:  (For a permit)
  • Mountain Rescue:  0800 005133

Visit Daddy’s Deals for awesome specials on accommodation in KwaZulu Natal.

Pictures: Unsplash

Follow us on social media for more travel news, inspiration, and guides. You can also tag us to be featured. 

TikTok | Instagram Facebook Twitter

ALSO READ: Cold front leaves Matroosberg beneath a blanket of snow

yoast-primary - 1004481
tcat - Hiking
tcat_slug - hiking-activities
tcat2 - Things to do
tcat2_slug - things-to-do
tcat_final - adventures