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Thursday, 23rd January 2020

Bouldering, rock and mountain climbing in the Eastern Cape

If mountain and rock climbing – or even bouldering – has ever piqued your interest, then put your muscles where your mouth is and discover the vast and majestic mountain regions in the Eastern Cape, where panoramic views as far as the eye can see, incredible fauna and flora and exciting climbing challenges await.

The mountains are calling… let’s go.


Rock climbing and bouldering is an adventure sport for those whose acrophobia takes a complete back seat when they’re up high on rugged cliffs and untouched rock faces. It's not for everyone, but for many the challenge of hanging on is a way of life.

But where do you start if you are new to it?

Derek Marshall from Eastern Cape Rock Climbing reckons it is best to start climbing in an indoor environment, and Ian Clifford from Valley Crag in Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay) – the largest indoor climbing centre in the province – agrees, “Learn safety basics in a controlled environment and then go out with some experienced climbers the first few times going outdoors onto real rock.”

Marshall adds, “The friendly atmosphere is good for beginners to get strong, meet other climbers and head out on adventures. The staff at Valley Crag are always happy to show newbies the ropes. I recommend that beginners try to join more experienced climbers and be mentored a little before setting out on their own adventures. Find an old dodger who has survived, and learn all you can. Yes, safety can be a bit boring, but take some time to listen to the old safety war stories. Remember climbing safety learning never stops.”


The Van Stadens Gorge is the largest sport-climbing area in the Eastern Cape with 311 routes; the rock is quartzite and mostly steep to overhanging. In the gorge there are also two small bouldering areas with eleven problems.

Cleopatra in Van Stadens Gorge just outside Port Elizabeth is the most popular climbing venue in the Eastern Cape. Cleo is a sport-climbing crag, meaning that the routes are fixed with stainless steel safety equipment to protect climbers from falls. Cleopatra is a pleasantly remote setting, close to the city, with a combination of height and density of challenging routes that keeps climbers psyched for more Cleo.

“The hardest route in the Eastern Cape is called Troll and is graded 34 (8c). Troll is under the Van Stadens rail bridge and was opened by Adam Ondra” - Derek Marshall, Eastern Cape Rock Climbing.


Image: Rock Climbing Eastern Cape


NSA, close to East London (which is the border of the Sunshine Coast and Wild Coast), is another popular climbing venue and with 67 sport routes, climbers can be seen hanging out and around on most weekends. NSA has a short walk-in and stays in the shade most of the day, making for a pleasant climb. The routes are on vertical silt stone that lends itself to some interesting technical moves.


Image: Rock Climbing Eastern Cape


Alicedale has the largest boulder area in the Eastern Cape. There are about 850 problems, with a wide range of varieties and grades from 5A to 8A. The hardest boulder problem in Alicedale is Ratatouille 8A, which was opened by world climbing champion, Adam Ondra, in 2009. Alicedale still has potential for new problems and every year new problems are added. If Alicedale is on your climbing radar, look out for the bushmen rock paintings among the boulders.


Image: Rock Climbing Eastern Cape


At Kudu Kaya in Baviaanskloof, rock climbers will find 22 naturally protected routes, on sandstone and quartzite slab, complete with nearby rock pools for a post-climb cool-down. It is suitable for family outings, however it is only available to those who camp at Kudu Kaya, so get that camping gear ready! There is also Grips, at the start of the Baviaanskloof, where you will encounter a fine quartzite slab of up to 120 metres - access is granted to those overnighting at Bruintjieskraal.

“The highest concentration of hard climbing routes in the Eastern Cape is at Waterkloof in Baviaans. Waterkloof is a narrow water smoothed canyon that stays in the shade all day. It’s a beautiful place to visit.” – Derek Marshall, Eastern Cape Mountain Climbing.


Image: Firefly Africa

Visit for a wealth of climbing and bouldering information and head to to get yourself climb-ready.



The mountains of the Eastern Cape tower into the sky and beckon you put a pack together, zip up your sense of adventure, grab your hiking boots and set off to new heights. NOTE: Please consult with your accommodation hosts regarding the safety and accessibility of routes before you head out. 


It is a Karoo beacon, and forms part of the Sneeuberg range as the second highest peak in the country outside the Drakensberg range at 2502m, located outside Nieu-Bethesda. To tackle this one, you'll need some experience or a guide, and will have to do some rock clambering. Your Komapssberg hike starts with a 4x4 trek to the starting point before you set off on the walk to the summit which can take anything from 3 to 6 hours - one way (there is the possibility to reach the foot of the Compassberg by 4x4 which will shorten the hike by half the time). Expect the possibility of extreme wind and extreme temperatures which could dip below zero to -10. But the panoramic views over the Karoo Heartland from this highest of peaks will make it worth the effort! 



Cockscomb Peak forms part of the Great Winterhoek range and is a well-known landmark in the Eastern Cape that got its name from its resemblance to a fowl's comb.  At 1758 metres it is the highest summit in the immediate Port Elizabeth region and the Mountain Club of South Africa have regular outings to summit the peak, where accommodation is in a cave – T’Numqua (Mountain of Mists) with a fireplace, water tank and long-drop. On a clear day you can see the ocean and with a bit of imagination you might hear it as well.


Image: Firefly Africa


 Go high on one of the Garden Route’s best kept secrets as you take on the rather isolated challenge that is the Formosa Peak. At a height of 1675 metres you will get bird’s eye view of the Tsitsikamma but bear in mind, it is a strenuous hike. There is a narrow ridge and grass gully that might look unclimbable and challenge your fear of heights, but it is a path and way to go, nonetheless. The peak is approached from the Langkloof’s side (Joubertina) and it is best to start early and make the most of the day as caution should be taken with quick weather changes. The annual Garden Route Walking Festival takes place over the Easter weekend and is an ideal time to book a hike up Formosa Peak. Spaces fill up fast, though, so book ahead. 


Image: Garden Route Walking Festival


 If you are looking for a quicker mountain climb – in comparison with the other mountain giants in the Eastern Cape – take your hiking boots out for a date on the Lady Slipper trail.  While it might be shorter it is still not exactly a walk in the park; it is steep and loose in places, but on a clear day you will be rewarded with spectacular views as you reach the summit of 565 metres. It takes about two hours up and down to complete the trail and there are also rock-climbing spots at the base of the Slipper with more than 50 sport routes and over 100 boulder problems.


Image: Firefly Africa


At a staggering height of 3001 metres, the Ben MacDhui is the Say the highest mountain that you can reach by foot in the Eastern Cape! The trail offers different hikes through the mountains and it is a moderate to somewhat high degree of difficulty due to the rough terrain and unpredictable weather. You can expect to sea waterfalls, rock art, caves and swimming holes along the way, and of course, the area is prone to snow in the winter. From Tiffindell it is about a two-hour hike to reach Ben MacDhui.


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