Frozen Waterfall Climbing in Lesotho
Lesotho has a fantastic hidden secret which is likely to surprise you. The Lesotho winters offer climbers an exciting challenge of facing the grandiose frozen waterfalls.
This area is located near the A1 road in the western area of the Maluti range of Lesotho. Most of the climbing is in the valley near the New Oxbow Lodge. A few falls also exit near the road on the Moteng Pass area. Most areas can be spotted from the road and are accessible by car followed by a short walk.
To get to the area drive into Lesotho at Caledonspoort border post. A short way after the border, Butha-Buthe town is reached. Turn left onto the A1 and drive towards Oxbow, Afriski and the Moteng Pass. The drive to Oxbow is along a good tar road which winds up through spectacular mountain scenery. On the pass a steep ice waterfall is passed, which is unnamed and unclimbed as yet. Oxbow is marked by the lodge of the same name and is on the other side of the pass. The drive from the border to the lodge will take about 1,5 hours.
Oxbow Valley Routes
Grade : WI 3 60m
First ascent: Unknown.
The climbing in this area is found in the river valley after the New Oxbow Lodge. Pass the lodge until the river and the sharp right hand bend in the road. Park just before the bridge on the right hand side of the road. Cross the road and follow the path up the river on the right hand bank. The icefall can be seen up the hill on the left hand side of the river. This is about a 40minute walk from the car park. Cross the river then ascend the slopes to below the icefall.
(1) WI 3 30m. Climb directly up the easy slabs to where it steepens, then ascend the right hand side to a small ledge next to the rock face.
(2) WI 2 30m. Climb leftwards up from the stance then continue up the easy but somewhat grassy slope to the top.
Descent: Walk rightwards from the top of the route to the start of a valley. Descend this valley. Can be fun when it is snowed up.
Note: This route forms most seasons and makes a pleasant area for beginners to try out a 2-pitch route. There are also some icy slabs to climb in the valley to the right of the main icefall.
Main Oxbow Falls
Grade: I WI 4
First ascent: Unknown.
A few kilometers further on from the New Oxbow Lodge an “A” frame building is passed on the right, which is the Maluti Ski Club hut. The
route is on the opposite side of the road from the hut. Park near the hut and cross the road and then walk up to the waterfall.
It consists of steep water-ice and is 20 metres in length with a steep chandeliered section at the top. There are good belays at the top if the route is top-roped. Rock protection is also possible on the face on the right before the steeper section.
Note: The icy slab below the falls makes for an excellent training area for beginners. There are also some great boulder problems up on the left of the main icefall.
Approach this small amphitheatre formation in the valley to the right of the Main Oxbow icefall. It needs a good season to form but can produce some great climbing. Park the car just off the road and walk up the valley to the icefall.
The routes are 10-15m in height and range from grades WI3 to WI5+ and mixed climbing also.
Note: This area has not formed in the past four years due to above average winter temperatures and below average winter snowfall.
Oxbow Ice-bouldering Crag
To approach this area drive past the Maluti Ski Hut and up the long hill. After a few kilometers you will get to the Afriski entrance. Continue along the road for a short distance (less than 5km) until a small parking area is visible on the right hand side. Walk down from the parking to a rocky outcrop that gets covered in ice. There are many possibilities for short boulder problems and easy slabs for beginners.
Note: A good spot for training and trying out some mixed climbing. Forms up in most seasons and generally has ice when the other areas are dry.
Bokong Nature Reserve, Central Maluti Mountains, Lesotho. This area is located in the Central range of the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho. It has perhaps the most sustained ice route opened in southern Africa. To get there enter Lesotho at the Ficksburg border post. Turn left onto the A1 to Leribe, then right onto the A25 for Katse Dam. Drive up the Pitseng Pass. A short drive beyond the summit (2,5km) turn off the road to the Bokong Nature Reserve Visitor Centre. Park here and take the 20 minute walk to the main falls.
The main icefall is the obvious choice for climbing but is not ideal for inexperienced climbers. There is easier climbing available at the bottom and to the left of the icefall and another area over the ridge to the northeast
Climbing description: The Lepaqoa waterfall is a continuous 60m vertical drop, which can form well to produce a spectacular and demanding climb. Unfortunately it can be very fickle and has been known to collapse, making it a very hazardous route. In a good winter season with low temperatures the icefall forms more solidly. Take care on this route if it appears to be very wet with lots of ice chunks coming off.
Accommodation: Bokong NR allows climbers to sleep on the floor in the visitors centre or there are hikers huts available at the falls. The visitors centre has toilets but no shower and there is a partially equipped kitchen with a sink and gas cooker. The views across the valley are quite spectacular through the large windows in the centre.
Bokong Falls (The Lepaqoa waterfall)
Grade: II WI 5
First ascent: I. McMaster, C. Loubser. July 2003.
Follow the hiking trail that leads from the parking area above the visitors centre to the hikers huts at the falls. This is a 20 minute hike. Either abseil from the bolt anchors at the top of the falls or descend to the bottom of the falls via the steep valley on the right of the falls. Then cross over the river and climb the short hill turning rightwards at the top to approach the start of the valley. Descend the valley keeping rightwards to avoid the rock band. Scramble down on the right hand side of the steep spur and traverse across to the falls. This is quite a fun route when there is some snow.
(1) WI 4+ 30m. Start at the ramp below the icefall then climb up directly through steeper ice to gain a small sloping ledge to make a semi-hanging stance.
(2) WI 5 30m. From the stance, climb up tending leftwards to a thin pillar. Climb the pillar pulling through the small overhang to gain a ledge. Continue up passing a series of steep steps to the bolt anchors on the rock ledge on the left of the top of the falls.
OR: WI 4+ 30m. From the stance, climb up tending rightwards to a section of chandeliers. Climb up moving leftwards higher, then continue up directly passing a series of steep steps to the bolt anchors on the rock ledge on the left of the top of the falls.
The Siberian Enema
Grade II WI 5 F3 15m
First ascent: G. Frost, A. Grant. July 2003.
This is the short icicle that forms at the top of the cliff to the right of the Lepaqoa falls. It can be approached by abseiling down from the top, using some boulders for anchor points or climbing up the right hand gully from the bottom of the falls. The climb up the gully is only recommended when there is some snow in the gully to help ascend the short rock band.
Climb from the ledge at the bottom of the icicle starting on the left hand side. Climb up then move rightwards higher onto the front of the icicle to gain the second section. Continue up to the top of the ice and into the niche. Exit the overhang on the right hand side using placements in the rock and grass to gain the top of the route.
Grade II WI 2 – WI 4 10m.
First ascent: G. Frost, M. Niewoudt. 23 July 2005.
Time: 20 min from the Lepaqoa falls
Follow the stream, from the top of the falls, up the valley for a few hundred meters then turn right and walk to the top of the ridge. A section of ice forming at the top of a small rock band can be seen a bit further down in the valley below.