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Blackburn Major

Location: Looking across Hout Bay, there are four prominent buttresses along the Panorama path that runs form Blackburn Ravine to Noordhoek Peak.  No names have been found for these so they have been called (from North to South) Blackburn Buttress, Blackburn Major (because it's higher than Blackburn Buttress), Noordhoek Minor (it's lower than Noordhoek) and then Noordhoek Peak. The route goes straight up Blackburn Major (see also Noordhoek Minor)

Overview: The route is across country with no path up the buttress but by keeping to the ridge, there is very little bush, so it is a pleasant clean route.  There is some minor scrambling on the way and one 6m grade 3 waterfall. The waterfall is generally dry but may be wet after heavy rain so avoid then. The route is relatively easy to find and is well marked with cairns.

Key Statistics
Grade:  3 **  Easy cross-country scrambling (grade 2 most of the way)
Height gain:  360m From contour path, 700m from East Fort
Time:  4-5 hrs up, 2-3 down depending on route

Route Description:

There are several ways to approach the route. One can either start at Silvermine (at the dam) and come half way down Blackburn Ravine, or up Blackburn ravine from East Fort, or along the contour path from Chapman's Peak. The route from Silvermine is described below. The others are obvious variations and don’t need describing.

From Silvermine Dam, go up the path towards Elephant’s Eye and then across to the lookout at the top of Blackburn Ravine. (If unsure how to get to Blackburn, consult a Silvermine map – Mountain Meanders generally does not describe the obvious paths that are described elsewhere!  Or see the maps and GPS tracks on the Silvermine page.)

There are two options for getting to the contour path: Either continue down Blackburn Ravine path to the junction with the contour path and then south towards Chapman's Peak.  This is the recommended route and is straight forward.  Although about 1 km longer it most probably takes about the same time because it is on a path all the way. 

The opening party took a cross country line because we were looking for a possible high level traverse across to the buttress and also because the only clear, close up view of the buttress is from along this line.  This is described for completeness.   Come 140m (in elevation) down Blackburn Ravine. Finding the take off point from the Blackburn path is tricky. The Blackburn Ravine path zig zags down in several major and a few minor zig zags. Trying to count them is difficult. However, the far left zig only touches the vertical face of Blackburn Buttress at three points. There is a blind path leading off at the first zig-zag that touches the face. Ignore this – it only goes 20-30m to a lookout point. At the third place where the path touches the left hand face, take a faint path off left. The Google Earth shot helps picture this, or use the kmz file attached to view in Google Earth. At this point the path down to East Fort also swings far over to the right hand side of Blackburn.  

The faint path rapidly fades out and one simply follows a cross country left diagonal descent. The line is not critical. If one descends too sharply one meets the East Fort to Chapmans path a bit sooner and if one traverses too much, one will end up above some rock bands. Simply move right to easier ground and continue the descent. From the take off in Blackburn Ravine to the contour path is only 350m but is quite rough going, dodging through clumps of proteas. This is why the descent down Blackburn Ravine to the junction with the contour path may be a better option - longer but quicker.

Once on the contour path, walk south towards Chapman’s Peak. Depending on where one got to the contour path it’s 200-300m along the contour path into the ravine that separates the two Blackburn buttresses (or about 1km if one came down Blackburn to the contour path). Cross the ravine (good water stop in the shade) and about 150m further on, when the ridge is visible, leave the contour path and head straight up. The difficulty with the route is that it is not possible to see the route ahead because of the intervening rockbands.  One needs to keep a 'picture' in one's head of the whole buttress to aid navigation. At the first rockband go slightly right to pass it up an easy ramp, then veer left to keep to the rocky ridge. One can keep straight on up but this takes one through bushy broken ground and is best avoided. 

Near the bottom of gully three (which is visible at this stage), one comes up against a small buttress.  Go right and about 50m up a gully. It has one grade 3 move. As soon as possible move left onto a platform directly below an interesting 'cups and saucers' pitch.  And easy traverse to the left then takes one across a (horrible looking) steep grassy gully (no 2 in the picture) and then an ascending diagonal across a steepish grass slope takes one into the foot of the third gully. The dry waterfall in the gully looks difficult but by starting on the left and going up a set of steps leading diagonally right and then back left, it is easily climbed (grade 3 - or maybe only 2.5!).  A short scramble up this and one is on top, popping out unexpectedly in the middle of the Panorama path.

There are several options for the return. If starting from Silvermine Dam, the quickest is to turn right (south) when reaching the Panorama path and return to the dam either via Noordhoek Peak or direct. If the route has been approached from East Fort than it could be included in a longer day, returning over Noordhoek Peak and down to the contour path near the nek up to Chapman’s Peak, and from there back to East Fort. Or one could start on Chapman’s Peak road, go up to the contour path, along to Blackburn Buttress and down either via Noordhoek Peak or Blackburn Ravine i.e. many variations are possible. Pick what suits you!

Opening party: 25 May 2010 Tony Heher (leader), Colin Bridge, Gael Culhame, Peggy deKock, Moiragh Girdwood, Margie Growse, Roger Hendry, Kathleen Holtzhausen, Lucille Krige, Anne Price, Martyn Trainor, Elizabeth Trew, Marge Vermark (as part of a U3A CMCA meet - see http://groups.google.com/group/u3a-cmca)

Note: No records have been found of this route having been done before, but any additional information is welcome. No cairns were found anywhere, and given that old climbers almost always placed cairns, it seems it is new.  The route is now well marked with cairns and should be easy to follow. 

Resources: The pdf route description contains the map and key photos, but the resolution may not be adequate to see the finer detail, so the hi res route photo, full pdf mapGoogle Earth kmz file and GPS track (Garmin gdb file) are also provided so the original documents can also be viewed. 

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