Climbing to Giant Calste 3,314m

( December 23 - 30 , 1989 )

Giant Castle 3,314m is the 5th highest mountain in South Africa and is located in the Central Natal Drakensberg. I have been trying to climb to the top of this beautiful mountain for the last two years.
Unfortunately on my first attempt, during the 1988 Christmas holidays, I was forced to retreat just 200m from Giant Castle Pass due to bad weather.
This time I took along a strong partner, Mr. Andrew Ballard, and we booked a bungalow at the Giant Castle Camp from 23rd to 30th of December, 1989. This spot was used as a base camp to reach the summit.
We left Johannesburg around 07:00 on 23rd of December, 1989, and reached the Giant Castle Camp around 13:00. The bungalow was clean, and consisted of bath, toilet, and refrigerator.
We spent that afternoon and the following day, enjoying trout fishing in the Bushman River.
Andrew was excited at catching two trout about 32-33cm in size. He caught these fish using the new Japanese style fishing rod.

We arose at 04:20 on 25th of December, in very misty condition. We decided to continue and departed from the base camp at 05:00.
We took the Orbi Ridge Trail which took us in front of the Warden House and continued until we reached Giant Hut. It started to drizzle and visibility was only 300-400m, as we walked along the grassy, wet open ridge of Little Berg. Orbi Ridge is a very scenic trail, with a splendid view of the widespread escarpment, Giant Castle
and Long Wall. The weather compelled us to just walk up the grassy wet ridge, in the deep mist. By this time our feet were so wet and swimming in water. We eventually reached Giant Hut at 09:30 and decided to take a well earned rest and warm ourselves up with some hot tea and soup.
Although it was still drizzling, and expecting the weather would clear up the next day, we left Giant Hut.
The Counter Path was a long monotonous trail of going around the small ridge at the bottom of the big escarpment and crossing through several small streams. At 12:00 we reached the junction with Umtshezl River, which goes straight up the Giant Castle Pass.
Umtshezl River is still very wide there and difficult to find which one is the main steam. From here, there is no clear trail. We went up a small stony, grassy ridge with short bush along the left hand main stream. But the mist was getting deeper and deeper and visibility was almost down to 40-50m. We then realized that we had walked too far right and traversed to the left side again to find the main stream. It was not easy walking up the steep slope, covered by grass or bushes, and surrounded by rocks.
I estimated that we might need at least another 2-3 hours to reach the pass or maybe 4-5 hours in such poor visibility. Though it was only 13:47, we decided to set up camp to avoid any risk.
We tried searching for a good camping site, but the terrain was stony and there was also 15-20 degree slope. We finally made up a small camp site by cutting grass and bushes and taking away some of the stones. Andrew was not happy with this spot, but there was no alternative place to go. Once settled we spent a lazy afternoon drinking hot tea and eating and lying down in a wet tent. The soft drizzling rain continued until mid-night.

At 04:20 on 26th of December, we were awakened with the tent flapping by a strong wind and a blue sky with gleaming stars. We quickly had a light breakfast and packed up, ready for the next stretch. Our departure time was 05:20. Within one pitch from our camp site, bushes disappeared and many stones and sand appeared on the steep bed of the stream.
We are now surrounded by the big rock walls of Giant Castle on the left side and of Long Wall on the right side. This overwhelming site gave us the feeling of being trapped in the bottom of deep well. This steep gully goes straight up to Giant Castle Pass, which looks like a window from heaven. We walked slowly up the steep gully, some places almost 30-35 degree, at the center and then on the right side grassy slopes mixed with stones.
We gasped to climb this steep gully. However, both Andrew and I were in good condition and reached the pass at 07:30. The breathtaking view from Giant Caslte Pass was incredible.
We could see the wide Drakensburg range from Loteni to Lesotho, and also the Northern Eastern
Buttress and Sentinel could be seen over the sharp dropping gully. From the pass we could not see the peak of Giant Castle.
We traversed to the east of the wide and grassy slope at the foot of rock band coming round from 3,225m Peak, and then we walked up to the main ridge between 3,225m and Giant Castle.
The rock pinnacle of Giant Castle was still 2km away from us, but now we were walking pleasantly looking at beautiful flowers and long Drakensburg mountain waves.
The final stage of Giant Castle has about a 15m knife ridge and then a 10m rock pinnacle stood up. Though both side escarpments the drop is directly about 600-800m, there are plenty of holds and stances on the pinnacle rock to climb up.
I climbed to the Peak without the use of the rope, very easily and stood on the concrete block, maybe there was a beacon there several years ago.
After first having lunch at the neck of the Peak, we departed at 09:20.
I stopped at the corner of 3,225m and had a last glimpse of Giant Castle 's pinnacle, thinking that I might never have another chance to go there in my life.
The down walk was very fast. We came back to the pass at 10:30. Andrew suggested we stay one more night on the beautiful meadow just below the pass, but I insisted that we had better go down today while the weather was still fine, as the steep gully is so dangerous once the rains start and stones come down. The gully was so steep when we stood on the pass, like a starting point of a downhill ski race slope. We walked down cautiously and slowly in the steep gully.
Around 12:00 midday, we were at the Contour Path, and walked the monotonous Trail again to Giant Hut and then took the Two Dassie Stream Trail for going down to the main Camp.
Our knees got so stiff after the long hours of walking down, but we returned to our bungalow safely at 17:45.

Two days mountaineering to Giant Castle was rather strenuous but we were very happy to reach this beautiful Peak.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to my fried Andrew, who co-operated and showed signs of good friendship in this program.

@@@@( Reported at Roodeport Hiking Club Annual Report 1990 and AACK Report No.12, Sep./1994)