Your First Berg Pass - Let's Hear the Story!

13 Jul 2012 09:49 #54629 by Stijn
I'm sure there are a few good memories that we all can share! :thumbsup:

My first Berg Pass was Gray's, back in April 2000. I was in Form 3 (St8/Gr10) and had convinced one of the masters at PBHS (Mr. Ross Canter) to take a group of us boys into the Berg. I had just started hiking the year before and the Berg had captivated me... I just had to go! This would be the inaugural hike of the PBHS Hiking Club. Our planned route was a 5-day hike, starting at Monk's Cowl, up Gray's Pass and down Organ Pipes Pass to finish at Cathedral Peak Hotel.

Mr Canter was threatening to make us all run up Klapperkop 10 times as an entrance exam of sorts... much nervous laughter ensued. Fortunately, he was just joking, but as it turned out, the joke would be on us! :laugh:

We got a very late start from Monk's Cowl, only setting off at 3pm after our drive from Pretoria that morning. It was the first time I had carried such a heavy pack and I was taking strain! After what felt like a massive effort, we had only reached Crystal Falls... destination Keith Bush Camp... oh boy! With constant urging from the 2 masters on the trip, we pushed it as hard as we could and made it to the Mhlawazini River valley as it got dark. Still some 2km short of KBC, we camped rough just off the path that night.

A cold front moved in during the night, which helped me discover just how inadequate a borrowed A-frame tent with cigarette holes in the floor would be in the Berg! The tent didn't have a vestibule either so we were using our packs as pillows and then still only just able to squeeze in the tent with 2 of us around the puddles...

We awoke to a miserable morning - typical cold front weather - misty & drizzling. After some discussion, we decided to attempt Gray's anyway. We could always turn around if things got worse... I must have been one of the slowest hikers on that trip, having to take a break every 10-20 steps, with the group having to wait for me in the wet and cold. I think we took something like 6 hours to get up Gray's Pass, without a view in sight and me being quite close to hypothermic at the top. We set up camp near the river as quickly as possible to get dry and warm again.

The weather was still terrible the next morning, so the masters decided we should stay put as the navigation across the escarpment would be tricky. For the next 2 days, the same weather persisted and we were forced to stay up there, tent-bound. On one of the mornings, there was a brief break in the clouds which allowed us to hike to the top of Gray's Pass again to get some views. Since we hadn't seen anything on the way up, the massive drop down to KBC just blew me away - that was probably the moment that, despite all the misery and suffering, kept me coming back to the Berg for more!

On day 5, we retreated down Gray's, once again reaching Monk's Cowl and our cars just before dark.

Fortunately, I was hooked, and further trips to the Berg got me fitter and more experienced. But most importantly, creating even more awesome memories in the mountains... :thumbsup:

So let's have it! What was your first Berg Pass or high berg hike?
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13 Jul 2012 12:45 #54632 by Aux
This is not my first high berg hike but it was the first one not in the Sentinal area.

It was at the end of 1997, i was in St10/gr12. My frends and i wanted to go hiking in the burg insted of going to Margat for the St10 holiday.

So we went to Chathedral to hike up organs and down the bell trav. We left on 29 Nov and hiked up to the fire lookout. Slept there the night and had light rain the whole night. The next morning the rain stoped and inbetween the mist on top you could see snow laying on the escarpment. Didnt take long to get pack and up we went. As we got to the top the snow was about ankel deep. Setup camp for the night and with the clouds moving in it started snowing again.

The next morning we hiked over Cleft peak and got lost. Desided to look for tseke pass and could not find it in daylight. Made camp and found tseke pass the next morning. Went down Tseke pass and out.

It was what got me hooked on doing hikes in the berg and we were the only St10 that had snow on our matric holiday.

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13 Jul 2012 18:07 - 13 Jul 2012 18:08 #54636 by ghaznavid
My first pass was Mashai Pass and my first khulu was Rhino Peak.

For years my brother always talked about how he had climbed Rhino Peak and Cathedral Peak, such impressive peaks. But as always, a younger brother can't be outdone by his older brother. So I managed to get my brother to take me up Rhino Peak in December 2009.

I was frighteningly unfit (and slightly overweight). We headed off for a night of camping near Pillar Cave, I really struggled to reach the cave!

During the night I learned what the Berg looks like under full moon, and fortunately didn't learn the important lesson that Game tents are useless in a Berg wind.

The next morning we headed up Mashai Pass, my brother lead us on an Eland path that went up and down over the ridges on the approach to the pass. We then reached the proper pass (in thick mist) and got lost. To keep moving we followed the river bed until we reached a fairly high waterfall (4m or so). We traversed around out of the riverbed and heard some EKZN guys, so we followed the voices and found the path again (they were re-measuring the distance of the hike).

We summitted the pass (thus proving that my will to finish has always exceeded my physical fitness, a fact that would be proven again on GT2012). We summitted the Rhino in a strong wind:

We were harassed by some Basothus, but with the EKZN guys carrying big guns just in front of us, they quickly left us alone.

After an hour of lying down on the cairn we headed back down the pass, got very wet and cold in the mist, but the Berg bug had got a bite of Ghaznavid flesh and it wanted more...

That was when I started actively training for hikes and I am now in much better shape than I have ever been...

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Last edit: 13 Jul 2012 18:08 by ghaznavid.
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14 Jul 2012 14:03 #54640 by dunmor
Great stories !

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11 Sep 2012 10:09 #55200 by intrepid
My first Berg pass was Mlambonja via the Bell Traverse. I did it with old running shoes, a lot of cotton clothing and a lot of borrowed gear. It totally got me hooked on the Berg. Those sunrises from Bell Cave have always enchanted me, and my first one was not a dissapointment. I was fascinated by the sharp point of Amphlett in the distance silhouetted with a yellow and red background. The view of the massive Bell right over you, around the corner from the cave has always impressed me. The exposure and the views along the trail were totally fun. Loved the Chessmen looming overhead. There was also something about watching a bird prey soaring in the valleys below me when we got to Twins Cave that hit home. We did a short walk up Mlambonja Pass from Twins. The harsh bareness of the escarpment impressed me, and I remember standing on the summit of the Khulu which looks straight down into Twins Cave. From there I remember seeing the old outpost along the Kwakwatsi near the summit of Ntonjelana, which doesn't exist anymore. It was a shanty-like collection of plastic and metal sheeting.

It was an unforgettable trip which has me returning to the Bell Traverse time and again. I still love it every time.

Lets hear some more?

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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11 Sep 2012 18:00 - 11 Sep 2012 18:03 #55207 by drsnoobab
My first real berg trip and pass was intended to be a four day round trip from Monks Cowl up Greys Pass, down Ships Prow and home via Cowls fork. To give you an idea of preparedness, my cold weather gear was one of those green canvas jackets with the German flags on the shoulders and fake sheepskin liner - weight must've been about 5kg alone, and the rest of our gear followed suite ... Even had a bottle of champagne between us in the spirit of champagne castle and all that !

Left Rustenburg in the wee hours of the night, arrived about 3am to locked gates and "slept" the last few hours in the car ... I.e. not at all. I recall we downed a bottle of bio plus between two of us just to pull us through. We were not very fresh at that point ...

Despite being a winter's hike, the whole trip was blazing hot, and given the weight of our packs and state of exhaustion we stumbled into Keith Bush a tad worse for wear.
The night was uneventful and the next day we sailed merrily up Greys Pass arriving in good shape and high spirits ( ah, the joys of youth!) ... Thats where things got interesting, after all it was early, we were feeling good, but a little insecure being our first real trip ... Let's continue over to ships prow, descend and sleep the night at cowls fork, thereby reducing the trip to three days round trip. Suffice it to say, under the weight of our packs and rigors of the day, our knees were buckling under us by the time we got to the bottom of ships prow ... In additon given the unseasonal heat we ran out of water early and went dry from then on. Darkness was about to fall and nowhere near to anything looking like a campsite ... Just boulder upon boulder and no site of a path anywhere, or water for that matter. We set up "camp" in a state of exhaustion in a frozen gully of rock and ice, the tent strung on an unpleasant and rocky slope, and melted a cupful of ice each for water. The night was sleepless and miserable, and further haunted by the fact that we generally had little idea of how we were to get out in the morning - except to head "down".

And that's what we did - continued downward, through boulders, and then by bum-sliding grassy slopes until finally we hit a beautiful valley with fast flowing water, probably the first decent drink in 18 hours! Our relief was unsurpassed when we finally hit the contour path, and from there things only got better.

Two days after returning home, I was struck down with urine that looked like coke, the best the doctor could offer was some sort of infection. 2am the next morning I found myself hospitalised in sheer agony, only to be diagnosed with a kidney stone ... The rest is another story, but I studied for most of my matric exams in hospital whilst this turned into a medical epic of its own ... Still have the six inch scar to prove it ! The conclusion of this was that the kidney stone was caused by severe dehydration during that two passes in one day without water hike ... Thank heaven this happened at home and not in the mountains !

And so started a lifelong obsession with the Drakensberg!
Last edit: 11 Sep 2012 18:03 by drsnoobab.
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11 Sep 2012 20:36 #55208 by JonWells
In 2008, myself and a few friends decided we would like to start hiking in the Drakensberg. Even though I had no experience whatsoever, I took it upon myself to scour the internet for information about possible hikes we could do. For some inexplicable reason I insisted on us ascending a pass and overnighting on the top. Having never even walked one step with a heavy backpack before, in hindsight I should probably have gone with an easier option first up!

So I eventually started reading about Langalibalele pass, which seemed to be the easiest pass in the Berg. Although, I was having a lot of difficulty figuring out exactly how tough it would be, because one website would describe it as severe, or very difficult, and the next would claim that it was childsplay!

I remember being very proud of my brand new "kit": A backpack from Mr Price, and some boots from Game :P

The four of us set of from Durban on a Friday evening. We had planned to camp outside the Giant's Castle gate on the first night, then start hiking first thing in the morning. That plan quickly fell through when the heavens opened, and we the roads became completely flooded in the region of Kamberg, so we decided to spend the night in the ablution block at the Glengarry campsite.

The next morning we left bright and early for Giant's Castle. We parked the car, signed the mountain register and headed off. As we began climbing the main ridge, I noticed we a had a little issue to deal with. My friend had WAY over packed his backpack. He had literally packed his whole house in there. And, he was carrying the tent, a ridiculously heavy 4 man camping tent. He was trying his best to hide his discomfort, but his face turning beetroot red suggested that perhaps he had taken on too much, so I offered to take the tent from him.

We all seemed to be pretty out of shape, and we huffed and puffed our way up to the plateau section of the ridge where we stopped and had lunch. The weather had turned rather gloomy, and the mountain tops were completely covered in mist and cloud.

After lunch we struggled onwards where we had another long break at the waterfall. We were all exhausted. At this stage I began to get a little concerned. The area was totally unfamiliar to me, it was getting late, and I had NO idea how far we still had to go. I began to have terrible thoughts that perhaps we were still nowhere near the halfway point yet. How much further should we push? Should we turn back?

With the urgency growing, I motivated the guys to try pick up the pace, but this was easier said than done as we started encountering some of the steep sections of the pass and altitude was beginning to bite us. All the while, the tent from hell was balancing on my neck and shoulders, making the going extremely tough and uncomfortable. I really should have been taking things at a comfortable pace, but the fading light, and the demoralizing mist was making me push harder than I should have, and I began to pull ahead of the rest of the gang. I remember the horrible feeling of not being able to take more than 3 steps at a time before I would have to stop and pant and rest for a bit.

After what seemed like an eternity, a rare gap in the mist came, and I saw the top of the pass for the first time, it was only about 100m ahead of me. Possibly the greatest thing I have ever seen! :lol:

As I got to the top I let out a whoop of delight to let the others know that I had made it, then promptly collapsed on the ground, unable to move a muscle.

When the others made it to the top, we set about pitching the tent, then we all climbed inside for a well deserved rest. I was not well. I was experiencing a level of fatigue that I had never experienced before. The overexertion, altitude and the lack of hiking fitness had absolutely floored me.

A dinner of pasta was prepared, but I could hardly stomach it at all. All I could manage was a few shots of whiskey, which quickly sent me to Lala Land. So much for the "jol" had planned to have up top!

At 1am I woke up, and could not get back to sleep again. It was extremely uncomfortable in the tent, the four of us squashed up like sardines. Our friend "Dingo" was snoring like a bulldozer, and no amount of kicks and elbows could get him to stop! So I thought I'd spend some time outside of the tent. The skies had cleared, and the stars on display were magnificent! The icy biting wind was not so magnificent, so, caught between a rock and a hard place, I spent the rest of the night alternating between being squashed/deafened inside, and being frozen outside.

When dawn finally broke, we were treated to the sight of a sea of clouds below us. I had seen this phenomenon in many Drakensberg pictures, and felt privelaged to have been able to appreciate it first hand. But the joy if this spectacle was short lived. We had all had enough of mountain tops, and wanted to get down asap!

We hastily packed up everything, and began descending the pass. I quickly discovered that my legs were BUGGERED. Having never had any serious exertion on them, the previous day's overloaded ascent had taken its toll, and they felt completely weak. Jelly-like. The hike back down to the car was absolute torture for me. I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. Having streaked ahead of my companions on the way up, I was horribly left in the dust on the way down. I remember thinking to myself... " I AM NEVER EVER EVER DOING THIS S@#T AGAIN!!!"

2 Days later back at my PC, I was busy planning the next hike :laugh: Talk about a short memory!

I remember not being able to walk up stairs for many many days after that first hike, and I am very glad that the legs have had some time to "toughen up" so that subsequent hikes have not been nearly so hellish :P

Some pics of the hike here:

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12 Sep 2012 05:24 #55209 by Stijn
Nice little collection of EPICS we have here - love it! :lol:

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12 Sep 2012 05:46 - 12 Sep 2012 06:45 #55210 by ghaznavid

jonwells0802 wrote: " I AM NEVER EVER EVER DOING THIS AGAIN!!!" 2 Days later back at my PC, I was busy planning the next hike :laugh: Talk about a short memory!

I also thought that hiking just really wasn't my thing - 1 month later I bought an elliptical training machine to start building up my strength for hiking...
Last edit: 12 Sep 2012 06:45 by ghaznavid.

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12 Sep 2012 06:41 #55211 by thomas
I dont know if the Chain Ladder qualifies as a "pass" but it was my first trip up from the SA side (gone to the escarpment many times from Lesotho side over the years). After climbing the Sentinel we took in the sights of Tugela and found 2 ladies too scared to go down the ladder. I used my rope to belay them down giving them probably another first experience in mountain craft. It was clear they had never been to such a "wild" place before and, I might add, were woefully unprepared for it.

The Chain Ladder has been a liability since day 1, giving novices and adventurous types who have no business being on a dangerous mountain a false sense of security. Just recently I cautioned two parents not to bring their small boys on the trail from the car park as the wind was howling and ice all over the place. It was clear they had no idea what could happen, such as a small boy being blown through the gaps into Natal like a rag doll to say the least.

I think I would like to hear threads on People Who Go to the Berg Unprepared. It would be not only interesting but also instructive since many are asking questions about their trips on this website. But as I said before, it is not the sharp gear but the sharp minds that can make the difference between enjoyment and trouble.
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