Distance: 9 km
Elevation gain: 500 m
After a successful trip up Drywood Mountain
yesterday, Sandra and I turned our attention to Mount Roche, the unofficial name for the east end of Spionkop Ridge. It’s also known as Spread Eagle Mountain and a southern outlier has been given the name Mount Yarrow. Andrew Nugara describes a difficult scramble route to the top, but also an easy scree route down. Most scramblers seem to ascend via his descent route and that was what we planned to do today.
Our day started like yesterday with a hot dusty walk along an industrial road that is gated for no apparent reason. Finally, 4.5 km and an hour from where we parked, we turned off the road and started up a rocky drainage coming down from Mount Roche. The drainage was just to the east of where the industrial road crossed Spionkop Creek.
Travel up the drainage was slow, but easy, as we picked our way over the jumble of rocks from the 2013 flood. Higher up we were forced out of the drainage by a series of small waterfalls, then made our way to the base of the first ascent slope, described everywhere as a scree slog. It looked very steep from far away and I figured we were in for a terribly frustrating slog to the top.
As we started up the slope we very quickly discovered that the slope was not scree, but rather a mixture of solidly packed mud with multiple shallow scree runs. Where it existed the scree was so shallow that it behaved like marbles on concrete, and with a slope angle of 35 to 45 degrees it was next to impossible to ascend. We weaved our way around the slope, utilizing areas that were soft enough to carve steps into the concrete-like mud, and eventually managed to get perhaps 80% of the way to the top of the slope.
Unfortunately at this point we simply ran out of mud/concrete that was soft enough to carve steps into. We both tried to continue and failed; we simply couldn’t get a grip on the 45 degree hardpack mud and an inevitable slip would’ve been very bad. I thought that perhaps the terrain would be better next to some dense krumholtz just tens of meters to the north, but despite searching long and hard and carving many steps into the slope, I simply couldn’t get to it, encountering sharply-angled concrete each time. Dejected, we descended, ate lunch in the creek, and repeated the hot and dusty walk balk to our truck.
I’ve re-read all the reports from people who have ascended/descended via this slope and every one of them describes a nice loose scree slope, so I have no idea what has changed since then. My best guesses are that the weather has been just right to turn what may have been tiny loose scree into cement this year, or the rapid melt in May might have washed all the surface scree away. Regardless, today it certainly wasn’t the easy slope it has been in the past.