At 2502m, Kompasberg near Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo, is the highest mountain in South Africa outside the Drakensberg/Stormberg range – higher than Seweweekspoort peak. Dave and I were doing a butterfly survey for SANBI in the Nieu Bethesda area in December 2016, and happened to be on a farm called Wilgerbosch, which lies at the foot of the Kompasberg, so we thought it would be a cool idea to get some of the MCSA members to climb it with us when we were going to be there again. We could see a jeep track going up the side of the mountain and identified it as a possible route from the South and South Western side.

Kompasberg from the south – showing the jeep track

I put in on the calendar not expecting too many responses as it is a long drive from the Southern Cape, but almost immediately I had 12 people on the list. Eventually the 12 changed into 10, with the following people joining the meet:
Dave and Hanna Edge, Fred and Nicky van Berkel, Werner Frei, Ian Cameron-Clarke, Dennis Lange (our good friend from the Cape Town Section) with his friend Maretha, and Shane Stein and Sarah Fowldes (friends of Dennis and visitors from Port Elizabeth).

There are various routes up Kompasberg, the most popular one from a farm called Kompasberg to the north of the mountain, but a long drive on a bad road from Nieu Bethesda. Then there is also the South Easterly route from the farm Dalveen, favoured by the MCSA. And then there is the route that we wanted to attempt, from the South.
My first problem was to get permission from the owner of Wilgerbosch, who lives in Cape Town, to start on his property. A new farm manager had just been appointed and try as I might, the phone just kept on ringing. Time to make Plan B – I got hold of Werner Illenberger from the Eastern Cape Section, who gave me the Dalveen farmer’s phone number, as well as a GPS track of his route. Problem was that one needed 4x4s to get to the start of the route, or ‘walk for about an hour along a track and then take any route’. Eventually, when I tried the Wilgerbosch manager again about 2 weeks before the meet, he answered, and promised to ask his boss, but sounded very sceptical. I sent him an e-mail outlining all our collective experience (climbing Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, Aconcagua and various treks done, including Dennis having summited Kompasberg 4 times) and on the Monday before the meet, he phoned to tell me that his boss has ‘hesitantly’ given his permission. So we would do our proposed route after all.

Dave and I met a local farmer, Peet van Heerden, who knew our particular route quite well, and explained what to do after the game fence that we would encounter. I did not listen properly but luckily Dave did.

We all met on Friday at the Zonnenstrahl campsite in Nieu Bethesda (a lovely shady and grassy campsite with beautifully clean ablutions – well worth recommending), and with the master fire maker, Werner Frei, in the group, made a good fire and had a braai. On Saturday morning we left the campsite at 6 am and after Dave took us on a ‘high clearance vehicle needed’ route, parked the 3 bakkies and started our hike. Maretha stayed in the campsite and Nicky wanted to botanise so we were 8 people setting off into the veld, through a donga and finally reaching the jeep track.

The climbing party – Fred, Dennis, Dave, Hanna, Werner, Shane, Sarah and Ian

Going up the jeep track

The imposing cliff face

After about 2 hours walk we got to a game fence, over which we all clambered with grace and elegance. Ian decided here that his metal ankle would not go further and turned around, leaving the Super 7 to continue.

Dennis conquering the game fence

We then had to go up a grassy gulley and meet up with the recognised route from the North. However, I only remembered half of Farmer Peet’s instructions and carried straight on up the gulley instead of turning left. After reaching a vertical drop I realised that I had led everyone to the wrong place.

Going up the wrong gulley

The vertical cliff at the top!

We then followed Dave, who had listened to the farmer, back down and then up the gulley to the left. Fred’s GPS told us that we were now on the right track and from there on it was a rather strenuous scramble, following stone cairns, for the next hour to eventually reach the top at 1 pm. We could all feel the altitude by then – 2500 m is high for us people coming from sea level.

Scrambling to the top

On the summit – Sarah, Shane, Dave, Hanna, Werner and Dennis (Fred took the pic)

Unfortunately it was rather hazy but we could still enjoy the stark beauty of the Karoo, looking out over the plains, dappled with shadows from the clouds.

View from the summit – the three white dots are the bakkies

View from the summit

After a 30 minute break for lunch at the top we started our descent, being very careful with the loose dolerite boulders. The way down was made treacherous with loose pebbles and gravel on the track, and we all reached the bakkies again at about 4 pm – all unscathed, with tired legs but happy that we were able to stand on the top of the mountain.
We were fortunate with the weather – after predictions of rain, which would have scuppered the whole trip, we started off in slightly cloudy weather, but had a clear sky and absolutely no wind at all at the top.
We visited ‘The Karoo Lamb’ for dinner, had a great night’s rest and headed off in various directions on Sunday.

Aerial view of track up Kompasberg

Isometric view of entire track and hike statistics

Thanks to Dave for listening to Farmer Peet, Fred for the GPS work, and all the others in the party for being such reliable and responsible climbers – it made the climb all that much easier!

Hanna and Dave Edge (meet leaders)