Mount Everest Rock ClimbingEnquire Now
24km from Harrismith
15 minutes walk in.
+27 79 886 3101 www.goeverest.co.za
Moderate, Grade 7-29, Suitable for children
Mount Everest, also known as Eagle Mountain, or simply “Harrismith”, is a short drive from the town of Harrismith, three hours south-east of Johannesburg. The area has some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in the country - huge open views and constantly changing skies, with rugged inselbergs and mountains on the horizon. It’s unlike anywhere else in SA; rather like the sandstone towers and walls of Utah in the US, except in a much greener setting.
The climbing is on walls, boulders and towers of pocketed and featured sandstone. There are currently about 140 fully bolted sport routes, ranging from grade seven to 29, with the majority below grade 20, so this is the perfect place for beginner and moderate climbers. Actually, there’s something for everyone except very strong climbers (nothing in the 30s), though there is lots of scope for very hard projects.
One of the unusual attractions of Everest as a sports crag is that there are more than a dozen fully bolted multi-pitch routes with pitches of two to six. There are also about 20 trad routes for the adventurous. Just a few of the classics are “Indecent Exposure”, a super-exposed four-pitch 24; and “Bird Brain”, an even more exposed single-pitch 25 high on the Eagles Head tower. Then there’s the excellent “Long Haired Freaky People” (18) and others of a similar grade on the right-hand end of Alternative Rock. Cyclops crag also has some great pockety routes on a very shady leaning prow of rock.
For the stronger climbers, “Swiss Cheese” (28) and “In a Free State” (29) offer some truly brilliant movement on the perfect smooth steep wall below the Eagle Head. “Fight the Feeling” (21) has always been a popular, easy multi-pitch (just one hard move). “Indecent Exposure” (24) is more exciting and the last pitch of “Power Pigeon” (21) is probably the most classic of them all.
The crags are situated on a very large private game reserve with more than a dozen types of antelope. Accommodation is in several wonderful spacious rustic wooden cabins perched on the mountain slopes or among huge boulders. There is also a lovely campsite.
You can have perfect climbing conditions any time of year if you choose your crag carefully.
It is generally quite a bit colder here than in other sport-climbing areas of South Africa, as the crags are at almost 2000 metres above sea level and get lots of wind, so in winter it can be too cold except on the sunny faces. In summer, climbing in the shade is perfect though huge (but amazing) afternoon storms can interrupt things.
All climbers need to book a few days in advance and report to reception upon arrival. No pets are allowed as it is a game farm. It’s a super safe place to climb and you’ll never get mugged there unless it’s by a wildebeest!
Tip: Take a down jacket or other very warm clothes whatever time of year it is. In summer, keep an eye out for storms as they tend to roll in steadily. If thunder and lightning are upon you, shelter under an overhang or cave. NEVER walk out in a raging storm. Some of the rock is loose, so be careful of hollow flakes. Belayers should beware and are advised to wear helmets.
A complete guide to the climbing is available on www.climb.co.za.
The northern and eastern sections of the Free State, commonly referred to as the “eastern Free State”, nudge up against the borders of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Kingdom of Lesotho. Officially the region is called Thabo Mofutsanayana. Mofutsanyana, born in QwaQwa, was a leading light of both the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party until his death in 1995.
Geographically, this region bucks a trend. While most of the Free State is flat, the eastern reaches tower up as the Drakensberg and the Malotis come into play. The landscape climbs and soars, leaving impressive cliffs and buttresses of sandstone, and hidden caves in its wake.
Nowhere is the scene more striking that at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park near the village of Clarens. The maze of sculptured rock formations here is almost too much to absorb. Sunset colours the cliffs in shades of ochre, hence the reference to gold in the name of the park.
These higher altitudes, of course, do wonders for the eastern Free State air, which is crisp, clean and bracing, conducive to a feeling of good health.
Clarens is one of the villages that lie in the foothills of the Malotis. With its mountainous surrounds, it is said to be reminiscent of the Swiss village of Clarens, where President Paul Kruger lived out his exile.
A town of sandstone buildings set amidst farmland, it has undergone something of a reincarnation in recent years as an artists’ colony. Just three hours or so from Gauteng’s big cities, weekenders come down to roam its galleries and craft shops.
The principal town in this region is Bethlehem. Once again sandstone buildings are characteristic of the town, which is the centre of a farming community that produces the lion’s share of South Africa’s wheat crop.
It has both built and natural attractions, including a flat-water slalom course for canoeists on the Ash River. Bethlehem is also the location of an annual national hot-air balloon championship.
Also set against an imposing Maloti backdrop is Ficksburg, renowned for its annual Cherry Festival in summer. A gateway to Lesotho and its Katse Dam, the town’s environs offer much in the way of adventure activity, such as 4x4 trails, quad-biking, abseiling, trout-fishing and game-viewing.
Other Thabo Mofutsanyane towns are Arlington, Clocolan, Fouriesburg, Harrismith, Kestell, Lindley, Marquard, Memel, Paul Roux, Petrus Steyn, Phuthaditjhaba, Reitz, Rosendal, Senekal, Vrede and Warden.
Look out for
Golden Gate Highlands National Park – This park is a theatre of natural, towering sandstone formations, named “golden” for their colour at sunset. At that time of day, the best place to appreciate the beauty is the highest point in the park, Ribbokkop. The former QwaQwa National Park was incorporated into Golden Gate in 2005. Horseriding is a popular outdoor pursuit in the park, which is valued for its plant, animal and bird life. A number of accommodation options are available.
Basotho Cultural Village – South Sotho architecture, arts and crafts, herbal medicinal remedies and cuisine can be explored at the Basotho Cultural Village near Phuthaditjhaba. Song and dance folklore shows can also be enjoyed.
The Sentinel – Also near Phuthaditjhaba, it is the access point for a series of trails that lead hikers to the rear of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre and some of the country’s most magnificent scenery. Geographical features to view are The Sentinel, Devil’s Tooth, the Eastern Buttress and the Tugela Falls.
Discovering cherries, Ficksburg - The annual Cherry Festival in Ficksburg takes place in November. It is a three-day event that attracts thousands and entertains with fun activities such as horse- and camel-rides. Cherry farm tours, however, take place throughout the cherry season, which is in October and November. Locally made cherry liqueurs, brandies and schnapps should be tasted to complete the experience.
Clarens – A host of things to do and see in Clarens includes the Artist Amble, a route of galleries open to the public; rock art on Schaapplaats Farm; sandstone formations such as Mushroom Rock and Titanic Rock; dinosaur fossils at Sue’s Zoo; fly-fishing as well as bass- and river-fishing; hiking and horse-riding.
Sterkfontein Dam, Harrismith – The third largest dam in South Africa, the Sterkfontein Dam is a popular venue for water sports and angling. Predating the Lesotho Highlands project, the water that fills the dam is pumped up from KwaZulu-Natal. It is then released into the Wilge River, from where it flows into the Vaal Dam. The Sterkfontein Dam’s banks are surrounded by a nature reserve where strange rock formations are just as interesting to view as buck and raptors. Camping and chalet accommodation is available, as well as hiking trails.
Salpeterkrans – At Fouriesburg you will find Salpeterkrans, one of the largest sandstone overhangs in the southern hemisphere, shaped by wind erosion. It not surprising that it is considered a sacred site where ancestral worship and fertility rites take place.
Rosendal – like the town of Clarens, Rosendal is known for its arty vibe. There are numerous art galleries in and around town, as well as quaint shops and restaurants. The Meerkatkolonie Art Gallery is a must. Rosendal is a popular weekend getaway destination for those who live in Pretoria and Johannesburg.