Currently there are no trailed passes up to the escarpment in the AmaZizi region. Access to the escarpment is possible via some more adventurous routes however, which involve hiking in steep terrain without trails and some scrambling.
Arrangements for a cultural visit can be made through BAWINILE MTOLO (074 724 7826). Bawinile is the facilitator for the AmaZizi Wilderness Group and the Mdlankomo Cultural and Rock art Group.
Arrangements for a guided trip that will enable hikers to familiarise themselves with the general area and routes can be made through AmaZizi local guide ELIJAH MBONANE (073 1374 690).
For overnight hiking trips the mountain register should be filled in at Thandanani Craft Centre, just past the turnoff to Busingatha, on the road to RNNP. Thandanani is a co-operative of 55 local women who produce outstanding crafts and who also supply overseas markets.
This challenging route along the Eastern Inner Tower Gully provides access to the escarpment from the Singathi Valley. Two distinct gullies lead up to the Inner Tower, one from the Western side in Royal Natal National Park, and the other from the Eastern side, rising out of the Singathi Valley. These gullies meet at a very narrow, grassy neck which connects the Inner Tower to the main range, some 100m below the escarpment. The Western gully is probably the better known of the two and was used by the early mountaineers to access that part of the escarpment. Both routes are demanding scrambles that should only be attempted by the fit and competent. A good tolerance for heights and an ability to scramble and climb are imperative. The use of rope and other climbing gear is generally recommended, especially on a descent.
The Eastern Gully is reached by hiking up the Singathi Valley from Singathi Cave, splitting off from this valley approximately 2.5km beyond the cave. More on the hike up to this point can be read on the Singathi Cave Trail page. The route has three significant sections, a lower section spanning some 1.3km, a middle section of about 400m, and a steep final section of only a few hundred meters, but with an altitude gain of about 100m. Each section is increasingly more difficult.
From the split, the initial lower section of 1.3km entails hiking up the boulder-filled gully, which involves a lot of boulder hopping and some easy scrambling.
Thereafter, it is another 400m up to the neck where there two gullies meet, as described earlier. Guarding this middle section is a series of 3 obstacles. They include a small waterfall, a large chockstone, and a rock band. The chockstone section entails approximately 7m of scrambling, whereas the other two are shorter, at about 3-4m each. Those with rock climbing experience will find them straightforward, though extra care should be taken if these sections are wet, and getting down these without a rope will be more of a challenge. Those less confident climbing on rock, but who are nonetheless strong hikers, should be able to surmount these, provided there are competent members in the team that can assist them with rope from above. After the third obstacle, the gully offers some respite and becomes grassy and much easier to navigate up to the neck. The neck is very narrow and drops down immediately on the other side to Royal Natal.
From the neck it is still about another 100m vertically to the top. This is the crux section of the entire route, and the gradient is also very steep. On reaching the neck it may seem impossible to continue without some technical climbing. However, descending down the other side of the neck, along the gully down to Royal Natal, for not more than about 10m, will bring you to a narrow rock ramp on the left hand side (looking down the gully). If you now face in direction of the escarpment, this ramp ascends diagonally left, up along the escarpment buttresses, to a point which is several meters directly above the neck. At the top of the ramp, a very short but somewhat exposed traverse on a grassy slope with some unstable soil and rocks (caution!), brings you into a wider gully, interspersed with small boulders and grass, which leads up steeply to the top. This ramp and short traverse are arguably the crux of the entire route and have a degree of exposure. If any in the group have indicated that their tolerance levels have been reached on the three obstacles in the middle section, the ramp will likely prove too much for them. Descending the ramp is possible for competent climbers in dry conditions, but in wet or snowy conditions, it has proven to be a treacherous descent, best avoided. It is possible to abseil down the ramp, and there are also some well-hidden abseil chains near the top of the ramp, at a point overlooking the neck.
Once through the crux, there are still some minor sections which require more scrambling, but if you have come this far they don't deserve much mention, especially since they are short and not exposed. From the neck up to the summit the gradient is steep however and it will require good cardio-vascular fitness and endurance, especially after having come a long way already.
The summit of the route is close to the escarpment buttress directly looking over the Inner Tower. It is a fairly indistinct summit, which is not easy to identify and locate from the escarpment, and can easily be confused with other more prominent summits of nearby gullies.
It is arguably easier to ascend the gully than descending it, technically speaking. The use of rope may not be necessary by a strong and competent group on an ascent, but a descent without rope is only for good, dry conditions. Singathi Cave is a good overnight spot on the way up the route as part of a multi-day backpacking trip. It is however a long, full day up to the top from the cave, so make sure you leave very early in the morning. The valley beyond the cave does not lend itself to good camping unfortunately, and spots to pitch a tent further up the valley will not be an obvious find. Once at the top, there is a reliable stream nearby for water with reasonable camping spots. From there it is easy to head North and walk out via the Chain Ladders the following day, making for a good 3 day itinerary if you can arrange for transport at Sentinel Car Park. Heading South to the passes of the Mnweni will typically make for 4 day itineraries, or longer, and may require special transport arrangements if you are ending at the Mnweni Cultural Centre. It is relatively straightforward to reach passes such as Ifidi and Icidi along the escarpment, though these are not easy descents. They will however provide the possibility of hiking a circular route back to the Singathi Valley, assuming the group has good navigational skills. Mnweni and Rockeries Passes are a much further walk along the escarpment to reach but provide an easier descent.
It is also possible to ascend and descend the Eastern Gully as part of a long day hike, based from Singathi Cave. The benefit being that it would not be necessary to carry a heavy pack all the way up. It is a good idea for someone to remain behind to keep an eye on your equipment in the cave.
- Singathi Cave: S28.76714 E28.96298, 1802m
- Base of Eastern Gully (split from Singathi Valley): S28.77286 E28.94419, 2174m
- Summit of the route: S28.76583 E28.93017, 3047m
Click to enlarge the map of the trail below, alternatively download a full-scale version of the map.