The name Towerkop is derived from the Afrikaans words “Tower” (meaning Magic) and “kop” (meaning Peak).  Legend has it that this name was given after a witch was trying to fly home one evening, but the mountain kept looming higher and higher in front of her.  Out of frustration and anger she thwacked it with her broomstick, and it split into two!

A more realistic origin of the name is probably from the fact that the mountain seems to change its appearance when seen from different angles.  In fact this is mainly caused by Nel’s Cave Buttress which can easily been seen from the west, but not from the south when it blends in with the summit in the background.  To the unfamiliar eye this may seem unexplainable, even magical.


The first known attempt to climb Towerkop was made by a Mr Ziervogel and party in 1850, but their attempt failed through a severe thunderstorm, in which several of the party nearly lost their lives.  The peak was deemed unclimbable, and a bet of £50 was made in Ladismith that nobody could get to the top.


Then, in 1885, a young farmer named Gustaf Nefdt, made history in being the first person to climb Towerkop, and probably unknown to him at the time, he also opened the first rock climbing route in South Africa.  [Sources vary greatly on what his age was, claiming from 19 years to 23 years of age.  His first name is also either spelled as Gustaf or Gustav]


On the 24th of October 1885 Gustaf Nefdt woke early from where he and some friends have slept the night before.  They were camping on the plateau on their way to Towerkop, and leaving them asleep, Nefdt slipped off towards the summit pinnacles.  He had no prior rock climbing experience, but with pure determination he started off on the final face in bare feet and without a rope. 


With genius use of modern techniques, he managed to get to the summit, leaving behind one of his socks he had put in his pocket.  [Another version claims that he removed his boots, but kept his socks on during the climb.]  The downclimb was even more difficult – Nefdt had slithered and fallen the last eight metres, escaping with only small scratches and bruises.


Arriving back in town, Nefdt found that he couldn’t collect the £50 wager since nobody believed him.  A party of farmers set out to have a try – and returned disgusted.  Nefdt was a fool and a liar, they said.  Not even a lizard could scale that face.


Nefdt was cross.  To regain his honour, he set out to climb the peak again.  He mustered a party with, amongst others, excise officers Melville and Stockdale, who were to act as witnesses.  At the base of the face Nefdt was searched. Then, to the amazement of his friends and witnesses, he completed the climb until he stood on a firm ledge near the top.   By means of a rope Nefdt then brought up two of his friends, Wapenaar and Theunissen, and the trio scrambled the last section to the summit where they recovered Nefdt’s sock from under a stone.


In 1906 the well known George Traverse-Jackson and a Mr Boothman made the third ascent with his route on the north face.  Around 1931 or 1932 [sources vary] a party consisting of AB Berrisford, PJ Burrell, AJ Singer and CJ Nel claimed the third ascent of Nefdt’s original route.  Years later some argued that their route had a slight variation, and that it was the 1947 party – Currey, Williamson, Russel and Keen – who made the true third ascent of Nefdt's original route.


Mr CJ Nel (mentioned above) was a local Ladismith mountaineer and passionate about Towerkop.  Towerkop’s cave was named after him after he enlarged it with the use of dynamite from 1922 to 1926 in order to accommodate more climbers.  Since 1956 his ashes rest in the black hole near the cave.  His son, Mr Madoc Nel, have followed in his father’s footsteps and even went up Towerkop for his own 80th birthday.  He’s been to this great mountain between 80 and a 100 times.  He sadly passed away in June 2017, and his ashes has been placed next to his father's during the Easter weekend of 2018.

(Click image below for large view:)