December 2021 Cape Trip day 1 part 1: Compassberg

In December 2020 I had planned to do a road trip to climb Compassberg and Murch Point – but when lockdown restrictions were increased to exclude inter-provincial travel, I had to put the plans on hold. For December 2021, I had hoped to make a similar trip, with looping around to Cockscombe, Groot Winterberg and then some Drakensberg hiking. When I was unable to find team mates for such a trip, and saw how expensive Cape Town flights would be for an alternative trip to climb more peaks in that region – I opted for a solo road trip instead. I didn’t want to climb difficult obscure peaks on my own, so I opted for a route that would take me to the Swartberg instead.

If I was going to drive, Compassberg was always going to be a target. The mountains is the highest peak in SA outside the Drakensberg, and one of the 24 peaks with 1km topographic prominence. It is also in the middle of the Karoo – meaning there is no feasible way of flying there.

With about a weeks notice, I managed to book accommodation for eight nights for the trip. The first two would be in Middleburg. Why Middleburg? Well, I had to release payments for work, and none of the closer towns had phone signal.

The drive down proved fairly uneventful. I stopped in Kroonstad, Bloemfontein and Colesberg on the drive down, capping each section of the drive around two hours. This was done to ensure maximum alertness. The long drives were always going to be the most dangerous part of the trip.

I arrived in Middleburg to find that the location on Google was wrong. I then proceeded to drive to the correct location as marked on the Bookings Ap, and someone opened the gate. Once inside I discovered that there was no reception inside. No one answered the phone and I had no clue how to get into my room, or even which room was mine.

After about 15 minutes a lady arrived. Apparently I was supposed to collect the key from an office in town, although this was never communicated with me. Nonetheless, she had figured out that I never knew this and came to drop the key off with me. I was not impressed – the last thing you want to do is sit and wait for your key after driving for 8 hours! Nonetheless I did my best not to be rude – she is probably just an employee and it likely wasn’t her fault.

I went to the local shops to buy some hiking food and then proceeded to Celtis Country Restaurant for supper. I had their Karoo Lamb Chops, the best lamb I’ve ever had (well, aside from the black pepper lamb I had on Mount Kinabalu).

I was up early in the morning. I wanted to start my hike by 7AM to ensure I would get maximum distance in before the day got too hot. It was cloudy as I drove on the dirt road that connects Middleburg to Richmond.

I saw a number of animals on the drive in. Brenda had agreed to leave the gate to Kompassberg Farm unlocked for me, and just after 7AM I had parked outside the house and was ready to start walking. The road to the farm house was entirely doable in my terrible-ground-clearance Corolla. For those wanting to do the hike, contact details are available online, just arrange with Brenda beforehand. There is no phone signal on the farm, so you will need to whatsapp her. I have not included her number here as I don’t want bots picking up on it.

Brenda gave me a rundown of the route and soon I was off. By the time I started walking, the clouds were long gone and it was getting hot already.

The road section proved easy and quick. I managed to average around 6km/h on this section, even with the uphill. Once I had put on about 100m in elevation, it was reasonably windy.

There were some beautiful Cyprus trees near the road as well. It had been raining a lot recently, so the region was really beautiful.

The road soon comes to an end and the slog up the hill begins. The peak gets more ascents than I realised, and there was actually a faint trail in places. I had Stijn’s track for the route, which proved handy in ensuring I was going the right way – it was pretty obvious from below.

From the road, you basically take a straight line to where the cliff is narrowest. When you get near the cliffs, there are cairns.

Murch Point (highest point in the Northern Cape) is just to the left and back of the peak in the middle of the picture.

The lower scramble is very easy, you barely need your hands.

Once you are above the lower cliffs, there are cairns right to the summit, although the line is fairly obvious.

It was a very windy day on top, which was great from the point of view of not getting too hot. I always prefer strong winds over no winds on a hot day.

What I find fascinating about Compassberg is that the top is clearly volcanic, yet I am not aware of any other volcanic peaks nearby. The peak is this pillar of hard rock that has survived the ages and now towers above the surrounding land.

I hit the summit in very good time. I completed the summit book – interested to see it had been climbed the day before as well – before looking around a bit.

While Compassberg itself is a really spectacular peak to look at, it is so much higher than its surrounds that the views from the top weren’t the most interesting. It was great to see the Karoo looking so green, though.

There was phone signal on top. I realised it was still very early in the day, so I messaged Lynette and asked if I could come through to climb Murch Point that afternoon. Murch Point is the highest point in the Northern Cape, and the summits are 5km apart as the crow flies.

Descent down the mountain was straightforward. It is a peak I have had my eyes on for years, so it was great to finally summit it.

Special thanks to Lynette for allowing me to access this spectacular mountain on your farm!

My climb of Murch Point in the afternoon will form part of a separate writeup.

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