Umgeni Valley – FAF Chapter 5

Climbers, for all their chalky fingers, unwashed sending shirts and microbiome hosting dreadlocked heads, are picky at heart. The psych for climbing is always high, but throw in a few luxurious touches and damn – we’re happier than a gumby when their first flapper heals.

The perfect crag is an almost mythical construction. A glorious face with the right kind of rock, the right kind of climbs and of course the right kind of weather. While the hunt for this is ongoing several crags in the wide world come close to this criteria. Roger Nattrass was on the hunt for such a place when he had a look out his back door at Umgeni River Valley. Nestled within the safety of the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, one of the best venues for climbing in SA was just waiting for some TLC.

The Umgeni crag has the perfect mix of routes from easy to pro-hard. It’s surrounded by gorgeous KZN nature, trees, wildlife and most importantly – is in the shade all day. Climbers in the valley will often see zebra or giraffe moseying on through the vegetation – a good blessing at the crag. While the crag had been developed somewhat in the early ‘70s, this was very limited. Due to the nature reserves rules at the time it was a strict trad venue – you weren’t even allowed chalk!

Times change though, and as the impact of sport climbing became clearer in the eyes of the world Roger approached the park for permission to do a bit of redecorating. This involved a fair bit of back and forth with many a persuasive argument. Eventually, through the use of several impact reports showing that climbing wouldn’t destroy the reserve Roger got the go-ahead to develop. This led to the development of one of the best sports crags on offer in KZN and the country as a whole. Roger himself is responsible for close to half the routes there.

The Umgeni crag is a truly pristine environment to find yourself in. Near the Karkloof Forest and in the greater Midlands area it is nestled in unblemished, indigenous forest. During the walk in to the crag you’ll find yourself descending into an enchanted and magical forest. Thick, indigenous bush with rich wildlife skipping and swinging through the canopy. The forest instills in you a sense of wonder and feeling of being out there in nature.

At the end of your journey through the forest you emerge at the base of the crag. Rumor has it that this is some of the most lekker climbing in the country. While mostly vertical, the wall does have some sections of overhanging rock. In general this crag offers you an endurance fest on incut crimps. Really good incut crimps, in fact. Really good feet too. The rock itself is strange and versatile. With a variety of crimps, weird pockets and tufa jugs. In general those weird looking features on the rock are bomber – though the occasional grip has been known to blow.

The climbing itself is some of the best in the country. Characterised by a consistent, enduro-style and generally relaxing to climb (barring a few adventure climbing sports routes). The routes are immaculately bolted, the lines pristine and creative. The lines here will move you, capture your creativity and psych and keep you sessioning the rock all day long. When you do eventually want a break or snack there’s some lekker spots for that too. A little bit of boulder hopping will take you right to some epic picnic spots and a breathtaking viewpoint. 

The climbing at Umgeni Valley is some of the best in the country. If this crag isn’t on your bucket list yet, it’s time to update that thing and get sending in the forest.

My thanks to Roger Nattrass and Adam Findlay for their help and input in creating this post.

Picture of Kat Odendaal

Kat Odendaal

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