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TOPIC: You be the Judge

You be the Judge 06 Nov 2012 19:52 #55578

You be the Judge – Mafadi record attempt 3-4 November 2012

My rock climbing instructor keeps telling me “if you don’t keep trying things that are more difficult than what you can manage, you will never move forward past what you can currently do”. This is a very true life lesson and I’d like to think that it is very applicable to all aspects of one’s life. After all, how do you know what the hardest thing you can manage is if you never push yourself hard enough.

This year has definitely been a turning point in hiking for me – I have gone from 2 khulus and 5 successful pass climbs in 9 attempts before GT to 3 khulus and 3 passes ascended in 3 hikes – not to mention the passes and khulus that I conquered on the GT itself.

So the objective: break Kobus Bresler’s 27 hour record on Mafadi (he did it via Leslie’s Pass). The rules: start the timer when you leave the car park and stop it when you get back there. A car park being defined as any place where you are normally allowed to park a car without special permission and it must attached to an EKZN office. No mechanical assistance allowed (e.g. bicycles or helicopters) Oh yes, and you must stand on top of the highest point in South Africa…

So, 8:46AM at the picnic site at Giant’s Castle a team made up of a Ghaznavid, Splatacat and an American Photographer pose for a photo in front of the sign warning you that crows may eat your windscreen wipers. We promptly set off. Goal number one is to reach Bannerman Hut in 3 hours.

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We complete the slog up the first hill in fairly good time – averaging 4.1km/h, but by the top of the second hill, we are all starting to feel the effect of the pace combined with the hot sun and no breaks. At a spot with a great view of the remaining snow on Giant’s Castle we stop for our first break. Our average speed is now down to 3.8km/h and we have only done 3.3km. On the bright side we have reached 2000m and will easily make up this pace deficit. We leave the spot with 55 minutes on the clock.

Just before the contour path we spot a Lammagier, 3 daiker, 1 eland and about 6 baboons. A good spot for seeing wildlife it seems! I assume they were all there for the tarn which was very full. Anyway, no time to stop and admire the view, we have a long distance still to cover.

The contour path stretch to Bannerman Hut goes by very quickly – no breaks, no troubles. We reach Bannerman Hut 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Chris (Splatacat) informs me that he is starting to feel nauseous and his knee is aching. He contemplates staying at Bannerman Hut and waiting for us there, but quickly decides not to – the pass is fairly close anyway.

We take a 15 minute break on the steep ridge on the contour path that ascends to the base of Judge Pass. This was something I didn’t see coming – it’s no Philip’s Folly, but it is still a substantial climb. We get moving again.

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It turns out that the stretch from Bannerman Hut to the base of Judge Pass is actually quite difficult. The path is hard to follow – but the map had pre-warned us about this, so we saw this one coming. This stretch is very scenic, but takes a long time. We reach a point where we see a very clear path going over our hard to follow path – that must be Judge Pass.

It’s 1:30. We are now half an hour behind schedule. We realise that we won’t get down Judge Pass before dark, so we shift our aim to Mafadi by 5:30 and then reach Upper Injisuthi Cave by 6:30. We will then sleep there till 11PM, and hike down under moonlight.

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We begin Judge Pass – from the bottom the pass looks insanely difficult. We are ready to hike in rain, mist or any other weather, but safety first. If there is lightning we will find decent shelter and wait for it to pass over.

The pass begins by following the nose of a high ridge and then quickly switches to another ridge after crossing a fast flowing stream. The path then quickly climbs a steep rocky headland. As we reach an exposed section we hear a nearby thunderstorm. We are due for a break any way, so we traverse under the nearby rock band and find a small overhang to sit under until the storm passes. We watch the driving rain and strong wind from the comfort of a not very flat overhang. Even though the roof is very high and short, the cave faces away from the wind, so we are well sheltered.

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After a fairly long break the storm has passed and we set off higher up the pass. The pass is clearly still heavily used; it’s highly eroded and very slippery. The steepness does not relent, but we continue to climb. We are still making good progress.

At around 2900m I run out of water, a bit later Chris also runs out of water. Then Luke follows suite – but fortunately he is used to trail running without frequent water, so this doesn’t hit him as hard as it hits the rest of us.

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My GPS keeps telling me that we are going downhill – my legs beg to differ! I soon realise that my GPS is reading a signal reflected off the rocks above us. This means that we aren’t as high as I thought.

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The top of the pass is slow. A river lies just over the watershed – this should be a good water source. We reach the top of the pass – its already 5PM – we are far behind schedule. I feel down on energy. We realise that we won’t reach Upper Injisuthi Cave by dark and begin to look for a cave at the top of the pass.

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All we find is a poorly sheltered overhang. We sit here for a short break. Oh how handy a tent would be! At this moment a thunderstorm hits, this soon becomes a hail storm and shortly thereafter it starts snowing! I think the dragon was a bit confused as to how it should attack us. There is a strong cold wind blowing, the cave we are in is getting wet.

Digging in my backpack trying to find my gloves I have a shocking realisation – one of my greatest fears has happened! A weight that I use for training with a backpack on is sitting in my side compartment – I forgot to take it out before the hike. That’s 1kg of unnecessary weight.

Around the corner there is a shelter that is facing the right angle to stay out of the wind and rain, but it’s too narrow to protect our packs and us, so we leave our packs on the back wall of the larger shelter and sat in the more covered shelter. All 3 of us were shivering, Luke didn’t even have gloves with him. I look up and see livestock on the ridge in front of us, I realise that there are probably Basothu’s nearby and that they can most likely see our packs, but we can’t see them or our packs.

I notice that the very familiar looking peak in front of me is Popple – how did I not notice that! I am actually quite disappointed with my leadership at this stage – in a situation like this a leader must always have the group’s best interests at heart and must act quickly. With things getting worse I decided to wait, realistically we had 3 options – head for Upper Injisuthi Cave and try to get there before dark. This would entail crossing the Mafadi ridge after hiking through the deep valley to the north, and sleeping in a cave known for being wet and cold due to it facing straight into a wind. There was also the option of trying to head north and reach Bannerman Cave – that’s tough, but I know the route well and can easily navigate it in the dark. That being said, that’s very far. Realistically our only option is to head down the pass and go for Bannerman Hut.

I pray about it. I look at the pass and feel like my eyes are playing tricks on me – the pass lights up for a moment as if it was a message that we must go down. None of us want to go down – within a kilometre of bagging a khulu (Judge) and close to many others (Corner, Popple, Auditor, not to mention those on the Mafadi ridge), but to do this we need a good overnight spot. I don’t want to say that we should go down the pass, I feel very weak and know that if we go down we won’t have water for a few more hours.

I hate to say it, but I have to, I turn to the guys and say “we only really have one option, let’s get the packs on and go back to Bannerman Hut”. It’s still pouring with rain, and the pass is slippery. We very quickly get down the top section of the pass. We reach the part where the path passes over a boulder bed, the daylight is almost completely gone and we can’t see the path. Then I close my eyes and see the one of the photos that Elinda posted last year – the path crosses over the right hand side just under the rock face – quickly we are back on the path.

So here we are; 3 hikers on a smugglers pass at around 3000m and in the full blackness of night. We see a thunderstorm over Escourt in the distance, and clear stars above. With all the rain the pass has become very slippery. We are all tired, our headlamps working hard to help find the way down. All of us fall on numerous occasions, this is tough!

Adrenaline only gets you so far – after an hour of fast hiking after having not had anything to drink for over 3 hours, and the resulting dry mouth also stopping me from eating, I am exhausted. We take our first break roughly half way down the pass.

Fortunately the path is well worn – unfortunately this makes it really slippery. We continue to slip and fall. Fortunately no one sustains any injuries.

We finally reach the river crossing near the bottom of the pass. It is now after 8PM. We all collect water, I make a point of drinking very slowly in the hope of not throwing it all up. We all know that the hard to spot contour path turnoff is soon, and the Judge Pass path continues on past the contour path.

We keep walking. I look at my GPS and realise that we just missed the contour path turnoff. We walk back a few metres and don’t see it, but my GPS says it’s there, so we follow it. It turns out that my GPS was right.

The path was hard enough to follow in broad daylight – now to try to follow it at night! We keep going. We stop for regular breaks to drink small quantities of water – hopefully this will stop us from throwing it back up. This strategy works well for me and after 1km of slow hiking with plenty of water breaks I begin to feel better. Unfortunately I could not say the same for Chris. I have been the person who is repeatedly throwing up on a hike before, but I was fortunate enough to be in Bannerman Hut when it happened, not stuck in the middle of nowhere late at night in a smuggler’s zone. I have to give lots of credit to Chris for being able to continue for so long when in such a state – and he did it without complaining.

At this point I began to wonder – why is it that the last 3 hikes that I have done in northern Giant’s Castle have included people getting sick? Bannerman Pass – Popple Failed attempt 3 in April 2011, Gypaetus Pass in September 2012 and now this hike, was it something about the routes I was planning, something in the water, maybe something in the air?

We kept going. The fatigue in the group was evident, no more so than the stop we took about a third of the way along the contour path stretch when I actually had to wake up Luke as he had fallen asleep sitting in the long grass! I would have made jokes about this if the same thing hadn’t happened to me a bit later. Chris even remarked at one stage that we must be careful that we don’t all fall asleep on the contour path.

At one stage I could smell gun powder – I am not sure if the other guys in the group could also smell it, but I wasn’t going to risk making them worry by mentioning it.

The frequency of breaks was high – energy levels were low and at most stops I was nodding off for a bit. This made it even harder to keep going.

The moon rose – 10:30PM. I looked at my GPS and asked it how far it was to Bannerman Hut as the crow flies, it told me we still had 1.8km to go. Maybe I shouldn’t have shared this news with my fellow hikers – it was not the most motivating of facts.

We kept going, each stop longer than the last (well, I think it was – hard to tell how long a break was when you weren’t awake for its entirety). At this moment I began to really regret my indeciveness on the escarpment. If we had given up earlier we would already be in bed by now. In retrospect I think I would have regretted a decision to turn around without waiting, so, as usual, it turns out that hindsight is crystal vision.

Eventually we made it to Bannerman Hut. The time was half past midnight! I was so exhausted that I struggled to inflate my self-inflating mattress. I let air pressure do its thing and then put it on the masonite and promptly passed out.

At about 2AM I woke up to find that I was rather uncomfortable, so (without even sitting up) I moved my mattress from under me, blew it up properly, put it back under me, and once again passed out.

At about 8AM I opened my eyes to the view of Gypaetus Point out the window – not a bad way to start a day!

I was still dehydrated (despite drinking well over 4 litres of water the day before) and had not had anything to eat for over 14 hours. Chris also wasn’t feeling well, he had thrown up many times during the night and the morning. Meanwhile Luke was still fast asleep – and with no rush to reach the car park, we had no reason to wake him up.

Eventually I realised that the best solution for resolving whatever was causing Chris to keep throwing up would be to give him some charcoal powder. It’s a little known fact that activated charcoal (available from most health stores) can be the solution for most hiking related problems. It can help reduce the impact of a snake bite (the main reason I carry it – it won’t stop the problem, but it will help) to stomach problems. We boiled some water, mixed a teaspoon of charcoal power in, he drank it and lay down for half an hour, and when he got up he was just fine. But remember – charcoal absorbs anything in your stomach, that includes rehydrate, vitamins and other good things, so don’t take charcoal after eating or taking supplements and don’t have anything to eat for an hour afterward.

Eventually at 11AM we left the hut and headed for the car park. To add to his woes, Chris also was experiencing knee trouble. But, being the trooper that he is, he fought through the pain, and managed to get back to the car park without needing any help.

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The walk back to the car park was largely uneventful, we took it slow, but still reached the car park by 3PM.

You definitely enjoy certain hikes more than others, and I am by no means saying that I didn’t enjoy this hike, but this definitely wasn’t a hike that I greatly enjoyed at all times while it was happening. That being said: the only way to improve your ability to handle a tough situation is to be in a tough situation from time to time, on this hike we had the issues of no suitable accommodation nearby, hiking and navigating in the dark, dealing with sickness, and various other issues. Overall I am actually happy with how the hike went – no one was seriously injured, we summited Judge Pass and hiked at night (2 of my major goals for the hike). At the end of the day, you can’t buy experience, you have to earn it, and this hike was definitely a learning and testing experience for all of us.

Overall the team performed well, and even though we fell far short of the record time and didn’t make it to the summit of Mafadi, all things considered, I think it was a weekend well spent.

Sadly I only got 89 photos :( most of these were taken on Sunday morning.
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Last Edit: 09 Nov 2012 09:25 by ghaznavid.
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You be the Judge 07 Nov 2012 04:54 #55579

I find myself feeling very nauseous. After lying down for a while I throw up – I suspect the water we got from the night before was contaminated. - Gypaetus Pass in September 2012
:sick:
At this point I began to wonder – why is it that the last 3 hikes that I have done in northern Giant’s Castle have included people getting sick? Bannerman Pass – Popple Failed attempt 3 in April 2011, Gypaetus Pass in September 2012 and now this hike, was it something about the routes I was planning, something in the water, maybe something in the air?

I admire your chutzpah and energy in attempting to break records and also just getting out there and doing something different. I think though that the answer to all the throwing up is mild altitude sickness from trying to go to high to quickly combined with dehydration and a lack of carbs to burn. Having a time target might help to move forward ito your goals, but it also can put an impossible burden on the trip and those that are with you. And while you may feel ok for a period of time, if this is not your normal pace it will soon sap you of energy. Well done for keeping it all together.

Dehydration due to the higher rate of water vapor lost from the lungs at higher altitudes may contribute to the symptoms of altitude sickness.[9]
The rate of ascent, altitude attained, amount of physical activity at high altitude, as well as individual susceptibility, are contributing factors to the onset and severity of high-altitude illness.
Altitude sickness usually occurs following a rapid ascent and can usually be prevented by ascending slowly.[4] In most of these cases, the symptoms are temporary and usually abate as altitude acclimatisation occurs. However, in extreme cases, altitude sickness can be fatal.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altitude_sickness

I have mentioned it before, but I always carry carbohydrate powder with me and have that in my bladder while i am hiking and it gives me a constant supply of energy to burn and electrolytes to fight off the dehydration problem. However altitude sickness is something that you have to watch carefully, it affects everyone differently and the same person can be affected differently on a different trip.

.....also leave the 1kg weight at home next time ;)
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You be the Judge 07 Nov 2012 14:40 #55580

Well done guys on the attempt! As long as your are learning from your experiences, the saying "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again" is the attitude to have. As for being pinned in poor or no shelter due to storms, this is a necessary experience in the school of the Berg and mountains in general. It happens to me time and again and each time is a pertinent reminder of my own vulnerabilities. And many times you will need to face the demons of your own thoughts about the "if only's" and "should have's" as you sit out the hours in the discomfort, the wet and the cold. Its all part of the schooling :).
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You be the Judge 07 Nov 2012 17:08 #55584

Serious tribe wrote:
I think though that the answer to all the throwing up is mild altitude sickness from trying to go to high to quickly combined with dehydration and a lack of carbs to burn. Having a time target might help to move forward ito your goals, but it also can put an impossible burden on the trip and those that are with you. And while you may feel ok for a period of time, if this is not your normal pace it will soon sap you of energy. Well done for keeping it all together.

You could very well be right. The reason I have recently tended away from blaming altitude sickness every time I had an issue is the fact that I often get the response "unfittness and altitude sickness have the same symptoms - stop making excuses and train harder". I would say that it is likely that lots of my earlier days of hiking issues could have been unfittness more than altitude sickness, and I think that day 1 of GT was an ugly combination of the 2 mixed with mild hypothermia. Not that "calling a spade an elephant" (as my Afrikaans teacher always used to say) changes anything...
Serious tribe wrote:
I have mentioned it before, but I always carry carbohydrate powder with me and have that in my bladder while i am hiking and it gives me a constant supply of energy to burn and electrolytes to fight off the dehydration problem. However altitude sickness is something that you have to watch carefully, it affects everyone differently and the same person can be affected differently on a different trip.

I also do - all 3 of us did this on the hike. I agree with you 100% - these supplements are vital when you are having a bad day and are struggling to eat.
Serious tribe wrote:
.....also leave the 1kg weight at home next time ;)

:laugh: yes. Thats what happens when you plan to take a Friday off so you don't pack your pack, but then get told on Thursday at 5PM that you need to be in Bergville the following morning at 8AM, and only get home after 7 the night before. Didn't help with energy on the hike either...
intrepid wrote:
As for being pinned in poor or no shelter due to storms, this is a necessary experience in the school of the Berg and mountains in general. It happens to me time and again and each time is a pertinent reminder of my own vulnerabilities. And many times you will need to face the demons of your own thoughts about the "if only's" and "should have's" as you sit out the hours in the discomfort, the wet and the cold. Its all part of the schooling :)

I don't think I would have agreed with that comment when we were in that situation, but I totally agree now.
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You be the Judge 08 Nov 2012 06:23 #55586

intrepid wrote:
Well done guys on the attempt! As long as your are learning from your experiences, the saying "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again" is the attitude to have. As for being pinned in poor or no shelter due to storms, this is a necessary experience in the school of the Berg and mountains in general. It happens to me time and again and each time is a pertinent reminder of my own vulnerabilities. And many times you will need to face the demons of your own thoughts about the "if only's" and "should have's" as you sit out the hours in the discomfort, the wet and the cold. Its all part of the schooling :).

Very wise words these.

Anyway, valiant attempt guys. Well done actually.

Judge's pass, whilst not too difficult technically, has its own challenges. It is extremely slippery and in my opinion, never to be attempted without good trekking poles, especially on the way down. I also think the standard path will soon be changed in the one traversing section about one third up, as exposure is becoming an issue there due to the ever increasing erosion. Gone are the days when one can hold on to good quality grass tufts to stop a potential fall. Sure the fall here is not immense, but high enough for potentially serious injury. Offcourse I haven't a clue where the path will have to be rerouted to. I guess we'll leave this one up to the smugglers....

Given the relative complexity you guys experienced on the contour path between Bannerman and Judge's, I'm thinking a challenge via Leslie's may be more feasible for your next try (which I'm sure you're gonna do)
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You be the Judge 09 Nov 2012 05:53 #55593

Highlands Fanatic wrote:
Anyway, valiant attempt guys. Well done actually.

Thanks :)
Highlands Fanatic wrote:
Judge's pass, whilst not too difficult technically, has its own challenges. It is extremely slippery and in my opinion, never to be attempted without good trekking poles, especially on the way down. I also think the standard path will soon be changed in the one traversing section about one third up, as exposure is becoming an issue there due to the ever increasing erosion. Gone are the days when one can hold on to good quality grass tufts to stop a potential fall. Sure the fall here is not immense, but high enough for potentially serious injury. Offcourse I haven't a clue where the path will have to be rerouted to. I guess we'll leave this one up to the smugglers....

I put Judge Pass down as a pass that isn't that much harder than the really easy passes - its the approach thats killer. That exposed bit is a bit of an issue, but you would have to take quite a nasty fall before you would actually fall off the cliffs, so it didn't worry me (slightly worrying at night under a headlamp).

The path was very slippery after the rain though.
Highlands Fanatic wrote:
Given the relative complexity you guys experienced on the contour path between Bannerman and Judge's, I'm thinking a challenge via Leslie's may be more feasible for your next try (which I'm sure you're gonna do)

I don't know about the rest of the group, but I definitely plan to take on this challenge again. I haven't done Leslie's, but I have now done every stage of the Judge Pass route, since I did the path from the top of Judge to Mafadi on GT. I imagine the Leslie's route would be a bit easier, there are also more caves on the way...
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You be the Judge 09 Nov 2012 06:37 #55594

ghaznavid wrote:
I don't know about the rest of the group, but I definitely plan to take on this challenge again. I haven't done Leslie's, but I have now done every stage of the Judge Pass route, since I did the path from the top of Judge to Mafadi on GT. I imagine the Leslie's route would be a bit easier, there are also more caves on the way...

I guess we can say: to each pass it's own.....

Two things can make Leslie's tough, however I firmly believe if taken into account during planning it should be good.

1) Record attempt or not, do leave enough time for the riverbed maize between Marble Baths and foot of Leslie's. This is just a psychological thing. Everytime we took it easy we spotted the best route (marked with cairns at river crossing etc) easily. Other times when in a hurry because of looming nightfall etc, we missed them. Do not rush this part. I personally had a attempt at Mafadi aborted because of this many years ago. If time and care is taken this really is not so bad at all.
2) Leslie's is quite steep in parts, but none more so than the very start of it. From all the passes I've done this one starts out the steepest, and it can and will harm your motivation if not taken into account.

It's this bit I'm referring too.

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GE makes it look like a couple of steps onto the spur, in reality in ain't. This little bit has broken some party members early on day 2 of our expeditions, partly my fault for not warning them that the day starts out tough. In your case, doing this on day 1 already with warmed up legs may be significantly easier.

Just things to take into account, please never view my comments and warnings as pessimism. The Berg is a beautiful but unpredictable place at best, it therefore makes sense to remove all other factors that can play with one's mind.

PS. Thanks for the tip on the carbon powder. I did not know that.
Last Edit: 09 Nov 2012 06:46 by Highlands Fanatic.
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You be the Judge 09 Nov 2012 09:19 #55597

Hahaha if I found extra weight in my backpack I would probably toss myself off the mountain voluntarily. That bit is funny but I can only imagine how demoralizing it was at the time.
As for supplements and water, people are different and we all need to learn what works for us as individuals. Sadly no book can teach us this. Someone once said, "Experience is something you gain immediately after you needed it."
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You be the Judge 09 Nov 2012 09:34 #55598

Highlands Fanatic wrote:
Just things to take into account, please never view my comments and warnings as pessimism. The Berg is a beautiful but unpredictable place at best, it therefore makes sense to remove all other factors that can play with one's mind.

PS. Thanks for the tip on the carbon powder. I did not know that.

Admittedly Leslies is a pass I have partially avoided because of the long overgrown approach, and I hear that the pass is a long slog. I think that Judge pass is definitely a viable option for the record, but I would imagine that both routes take roughly as long.
kbresler wrote:
Hahaha if I found extra weight in my backpack I would probably toss myself off the mountain voluntarily. That bit is funny but I can only imagine how demoralizing it was at the time.
As for supplements and water, people are different and we all need to learn what works for us as individuals. Sadly no book can teach us this. Someone once said, "Experience is something you gain immediately after you needed it."

Hi Kobus, welcome to VE :thumbsup:

It was rather demoralising! I could have carried a tent for that extra weight...

I like that quote about experience.
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You be the Judge 09 Nov 2012 11:51 #55599

I enjoyed reading this post. Sounds like a real epic. Congrats on the effort guys. If I may add a few things...
Someone mentioned Leslie's might be easier. I am not convinced though. It may be a bit shorter but is certainly a lot steeper and more confusing. One of the toughest passes I've done as I am sure many will agree. If altitude sickness is a concern you may need to consider as well that the ascent is a lot steeper on Leslie's, not even to mention coming down there at night. Frightening and from experience I reckon reckless as well. But that being said, it's worth a shot. Was my pass of choice but a comparison is hard as I haven't pushed hard up judges before.
A few reasons why you should be able to quite easily beat my 27 hours.

1. I didn't push for a record (it just turned out that way) as it was part of a larger trip. This seems to be your aim...

2. I was on my own so had to be extra careful. In a fit group you can spread the load and push hard...

3. I carried a fully laden 75 L pack with tent and food for 3 days. The trip was part of a backpack launch for First Ascent so I didn't have a choice. You have a choice so only take what you need...

4. I wasn't fit. It seems you are...

5. I'm not particularly fast. It seems you are...

Etc etc etc

There are probably many other reasons too but if I may suggest the following. Get the word record out of your thoughts. Go out to push hard and crack it but most of all enjoy it. I spent nearly 40 minutes just chilling at Marble Baths simply because I love being there. I got lost for a while but didn't care. I had to sit just below the escarpment for nearly an hour because of an early evening storm (as good as they come) but I didn't care. Waited it out and carried on because there was no option. Simple...
We can carry on but the simple truth is enjoyment brings value and value brings results. And in SA there is no better place for this combo than in the Berg, as I'm sure you will agree.

Also consider this is a solo record so to beat it you have to do it solo. After that trip I kinda don't like doing the solo thing anymore as its a freaken scary place alone at night. But these are the realities so may I suggest cracking it with friends to learn the best way for you and then head for the solo attempt (if you feel so inclined).

Chat soon brother and hoping to read lots more on here. Happy days and safety first!!
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