An attempt at breaking the speed record of the Grand Traverse was aborted at Organ Pipes Pass due to the first major snowfall in the Drakensberg of the season. The group attempting the record took shelter in one of the Ndumeni Caves and were rescued by helicopter the following morning.
The Grand Traverse is the ultimate hiking challenge in the Drakensberg, extending 240km along the escarpment of the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg. Most hikers complete this traverse over two weeks, but a small group of people compete for the speed record which was set at 4 days 9 hours 39 minutes in 1999. Referred to as the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Challenge, several unsuccessful attempts at breaking the record have been made since.
The group of three, Gina Walsh, Nic Shaw and Deon Chiesman, set out on their attempt on Saturday, April 19. They over-nighted near Ntonjelana Pass and endured three thunderstorms during which two of the bivy bags they were using leaked causing their down sleeping bags to become very wet.
Just after passing Organ Pipes Pass, rain set in which started to turn into snow. Because of the wet sleeping bags, the group decided to abort the attempt and tried to descend Organ Pipes Pass but could not due to poor visibility. They took shelter in one of the Ndumeni Caves near the top of the Ndumeni Dome, a decision which saved them. They survived a very cold night with some snow blowing into the cave even. About a meter of snow fell on the escarpment at places.
The following morning members of the MCSA rescue team set out to bring them dry clothing and sleeping bags but a few hours later an Oryx helicopter was dispatched to rescue the three, bringing them down safely.
At Vertical Endeavour we keenly feel the challenge of the Grand Traverse and wish the team all the best on their next attempt!
We have a dedicated section on the Grand Traverse for more detailed information.