Ice climbing in the Drakensberg
Did you know?
The Drakensberg is the highest African mountain range south of Kilimanjaro.
South Africa may be known for its warm climate, but the country also offers some icier adventures, like ice climbing. While it is considered an unusual sport in sunny South Africa, the demand for ice climbing as a sport, from both locals and visitors, is on the increase.
Among the best spots for ice climbing is the southern Drakensberg, which has several routes ranging in difficulty from a fairly simple but slippery walk to advanced climbs that will challenge even the most experienced ice climbers.
Three of the most popular routes in the Drakensberg offer a range of conditions and technical demands. The Sani Pass is the most accessible of the routes and the one most suitable for beginners, with short easy climbs on trails that are semi-protected from the elements.
At Giant’s Castle there are practice areas for beginners, but this area is generally for the more experienced climber, boasting some of the longest and best ice climbs available in the country. A big attraction is the presence of several major icefalls that remain virgin territory for now. This area is only for the dedicated and experienced adventurer, as getting to the routes takes a few days and demands peak physical fitness.
Rhino Peak is more accessible than Giant’s Castle, though not always as popular. Routes are suitable for both beginners and experienced climbers.
If you are serious about climbing of any kind, particularly something as specialised as ice climbing, it is recommended that you join up with a local chapter of the Mountain Club of South Africa. They will be able to put you in touch with the best local professionals, and give you expert advice and support.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Peak High Mountaineering
Tel: +27 (0)33 343 3168
Cell: +27 (0)82 990 5876
How to get here
The Drakensberg is generally easily accessible by road, though some of the more remote regions will require a 4x4. The closest city with an international airport is Durban, about three hours drive. From Johannesburg it's about a six-hour drive.
Best time to visit
Ice climbing in South Africa is a seasonal activity. Prime ice climbing time in the Drakensberg is from late May until mid-August.
Around the area
Neighbouring Lesotho also boasts some great ice climbing sites in the Bokong area of the central Maluti Mountains and the Oxbow region in the northern Maluti Mountains.
Tours to do
Peak High Mountaineering in the southern Drakensberg offers courses on all of the Drakensberg routes for those interested in ice climbing. They can also organise tours for more experienced climbers.
Self-drive is best (you may need a 4x4, depending on where you are going) though many tour operators can organise trips to the ice climbing routes for you.
What to pack
An instructor or climbing guide will always give you a comprehensive kit list. Much of the specialist equipment required can be hired. Be prepared with lots of warm clothing, a decent tent and a winter sleeping bag.
Where to stay
There are numerous lodges and B&Bs scattered throughout the region. Camping is also an option.