Two hikers got stuck on a descent of what they thought was Tseketseke Pass and were safely airlifted from a snow-covered Drakensberg on August 10th.
George Christian (49) and Jackie Celliers (45) phoned emergency services via cell phone on August 9th at 17:00. They had descended a steep gully which they had mistaken to be the pass, and after several hours realised their mistake. It seems they were unable to climb back up again because the snow was very thick (up to shoulder depth in places) and was starting to melt. They had also slid down some steep slopes. Some 12 hours later they were spotted waving their brightly coloured equipment and were airlifted without injury by personel in the Oryx helicopter from 15 Squadron which was dispatched from Durban.
The news report, which can be viewed at, http://jv.news24.com/Beeld/Suid-Afrika/0,,3-975_2546762,00.html, indicated that the hikers had turned off too early.
To me it seems like the False Tseketske Pass has claimed victims once again. From the escarpment, the true summit of Tseketske Pass is obscurely located and not that obvious. Instead, immediately South of a small dome – "Tseketseke Peak" (unnamed on the maps) - there is an obvious feature which looks like the summit of a pass. It leads into a gully which at first seems manageable but which eventually becomes a extremely difficult and steep, basically impassable. The true summit is a short uphill climb from the false summit.
Time and again I hear reports of hikers who have mistaken this to be Tseketske Pass. For many it simply meant they had to climb several hours back out again. For some the situation became more serious. The current story is a case in point. In December 2004 another hiker had to be airlifted from this gully after a huge boulder dislodged and smashed his legs. Read the report at http://www.capetimes.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=271&fArticleId=2360007%3E.
It is no wonder that the old Slingsby hiking maps had a warning written on them about not taking the false pass. Tseketseke Pass is relatively easy, and on an ascent hikers seldom face major challenges. It is on a descent that the wrong gully can easily be mistaken to be the pass.
The picture below is taken from near The Elephant, above Cockade Pass. It shows how prominent the false pass is compared to the true one. Note how the two summits lie on either side of “Tseketseke Peak”.
If you are DESCENDING the pass and The Column and The Pyramid are NOT to your LEFT, then you are in the WRONG gully. Tseketeke Pass is mostly grassy on the upper reaches, with an easily negotiated, bouldery stream further down. The bottom of the pass tends to be very bushy and overgrown. If you are descending a very steep, dangerous gully, then you are not on the pass.
The following picture shows the view of The Column (left) and The Pyramid (right) which loom over you relatively high up on the pass.