Scariest experiences in the Drakensberg

11 Jul 2020 17:20 #75889 by elinda
Whilst we are all impatiently waiting to get back in to the Berg again, I thought it might be interesting for VE members to share their ’scariest moments in the Berg'I have often been asked what mine was - I’ve had a few but none of them top this one and my opinion has not changed over the years.  I have had three ultimately failed attempts to reach Devils Tooth Cave in Devils Tooth Gully at the Amphitheatre, the last attempt being pretty scary!
This forbidding and sinister looking peak  is usually the domain of very experienced rock climbers as the 'Tooth' is regarded by mountaineers as the peak of peaks in Southern Africa. Pete, who was my partner at the time had a fascination in reaching the cave which is situated 250 metres below the nek of Devils Tooth and the Eastern Buttress.  Although I did not share that dream, I was, as always up for the challenge.All three attempts took place within a few months of each other during the latter part of 2011.  We naively thought that it would take a day to reach the cave via the gully route and set off with hiking friends, Stephan and Christine. We encountered extremely difficult terrain that involved endless boulder hopping and scrambling up treacherous gullies as well as massive waterfalls that required climbing out on to near vertical grassy slopes to bypass them. We eventually called it a day after a thickly iced gully and waterfall prevented us from going any further without ropes.  Undeterred though, Pete and I were back a few weeks later and this time we overnighted in Tunnel Cave which is situated in the Tugela Gorge area as this would give us a head start for the climb the following day. Nature had other ideas and we awoke to find the Amphitheatre covered with snow that had fallen overnight. After spending a few hours slipping and sliding on iced up boulders, conditions were just too difficult to continue and we retreated.Our final attempt took place in a good weather window and this time we came more prepared with rope and abseiling gear.  I had abseiled a few times previously but was hardly an expert.  We again overnighted in Tunnel Cave where we were visited by a hungry Genet Cat during the night.  He could smell the meatballs in my backpack and we captured him on camera!  We set off the following morning and made steady but slow progress, advancing further than we had on our first attempt. We put up our tent at the foot of a  dry thirty metre waterfall in a  rocky riverbed with the intention of continuing upwards the next day.  Although the plan had always been to sleep in Tooth Cave, we decided to leave the tent and daypacks in the gully and take daypacks and climbing gear up to the cave, and then return to the tents later that day.  Despite this, we took hours and hours and progress was very slow due to the endless rock scrambles and difficult terrain with plenty of exposure in places.  Just after 2pm were were at the base of the Devils Tooth itself, an enormous rock pinnacle, but there was still some way to go and the going was not getting any easier.  The cave is situated high up adjacent to the Tooth and we could not even see it from our position.  We made the decision to turn around as we needed to get back down to our tent before sundown.  We only had one abseiling harness between the two of us which made things very slow.  Dusk was setting in very quickly and the penultimate abseil down steep loose ground was more guesswork than anything else as I couldn't see very much in the gathering gloom.  Our last obstacle was the monster thirty metre waterfall just above our camp site.  Neither of us had our head torches ( huge mistake!)and only a light windbreaker with the temperature starting to plummet.  We had used a friction knot on the abseil rope (Prussik knot) as a back up safety device but it fell off as I was tieing on.  We improvised and used a piece of webbing in its place.  Over the edge I went into the darkness below.  To make matters more tense we were not exactly sure if we would have sufficient rope as it was only thirty metres long and we could only guess at the height of the waterfall.  All went well for the first couple of metres but then the webbing Prussik knot jammed and I was left suspended against the rock face.  Despite my best efforts, it would not budge and I really thought we would have to call out Mountain Rescue!  I tried again, putting all my weight on the rope and it moved a few centimetres.  Eventually after what seemed like a good half hour of heaving and grunting effort I reached the foot of the rock wall, luckily with just enough rope to spare.  My next mission was to try and find the tent in the blackness of the gully with huge boulders and obstacles everywhere.  I eventually located it ( who would have thought that backpack buckles are so difficult to open in the dark?) and sent a head torch and the harness back up to Pete who was still waiting up on the ledge above the waterfall. Some two hours later we were both eventually safe and settled in the tent, nursing bruises and thankful to have escaped without serious injury, or worse. Serious lessons were learned, and a reminder to never underestimate the Dragon.Will I ever be back for another attempt?  A definite no!

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11 Jul 2020 17:24 #75890 by elinda

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14 Jul 2020 08:20 #75892 by PeterHowells
I have had 2 experiences that I wouldn't want to re-live.

The first happened many years ago when I first started hiking. We were taking a group of kids up to spend the night in Stable Cave. After going up Jacob's Ladder we reached the top where we had a fantastic view over the edge looking back into KZN from the top. I stupidly was standing too close to the edge when a gust of wind came through and pushed me almost over the edge. With my backpack on I was off balance but luckily managed to drop to the ground and grab onto the rock - my legs were dangling over the edge. I learnt a few valuable lessons that day.

The second incident happened many years later when I was coming down Grays Pass. We had camped at Keith Bush Camp and taken day packs up the pass to spend the day on the summit. On the way down I had left the path and gone towards the gully on the left looking for an alternative way down - basically just exploring. I was making good time boulder hopping and jogging down when I noticed a beautifully coloured twig on the ground. Without thinking I reached down to touch it and take a closer look and that's when the "Berg Adder" moved. I got such a fright I took a huge leap over it and lost my footing. I ended up rolling a few times over the rocks ending up very bruised and with quite a few cuts on my arms and legs. I did go back to look for the Adder but couldn't find it in the dense undergrowth. Luckily nothing was severely damaged and I managed to get back to Keith BC without any more hiccups. Note to self: look, don't touch!
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28 Jul 2020 10:22 - 28 Jul 2020 10:28 #75901 by ghaznavid
I've had a few moderately scary moments in the mountains over the years. I'm going for scary due to the mountains, not people. So the time I heard gun shots near the top of Masubasuba Pass, or being approached by armed military in the dark are not included.

Here's my top 5:

5. Narrow miss on a rock fall

In 2016 I did a 3 day traverse from Monks to Didima. Snow was forecast for the first day, around midday. So we left Monks Camp at 4AM, hoping to hit Nkosasana Cave before it started snowing. It started snowing around 2800m, around 11AM, so we had covered most of the ground by then. We decided to stop for a break in that small shelter on the traverse into the summit gully, with the angle of the breeze, it was out of the falling snow. While we were sitting there, we heard a rockfall in the summit gully.

I wasn't taking photos when it was snowing, but here's the last photo I took before that:

4. Giants lightning

On the first half of the Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse, we sat in Giants Cave preparing to head up to Giants to tick the checkpoint. There was a storm far off in the distance, so we decided to quickly go and bag the summit so we could be back before the storm hit. Upon touching the summit cairn, which gave us both a static shock, we realised we were being really stupid to be there, and ran back to the cave. I mean proper running - not just a fast walk. The summit shot (which I am still baffled I bothered to take) says a lot about how we felt at that moment!

3. Cathkin

Anyone who has gone climbing with me, or hiking on exposed terrain, will know that I don't do particularly well next to large drops. I actively avoid abseiling where possible. So a year ago (well, 360 days ago, to be exact), AndrewP decided to invite me for a day trip up Cathkin. The peak itself is notorious enough, and often ends in teams being benighted on a 3 day attempt - so doing it in a day is an interesting start!

Anyway - the worst part wasn't the climb, it was the traverses to get to the climb. This particular one probably accounted for 20 minutes in lost time as I tried to find a way of getting around it. Bear in mind there was a massive drop onto steep ground - almost certain death if you fall.

The descent wasn't ideal either. We took the fast way down (which is far better than reversing the gully), but stepping off a ledge above a 60m abseil is insanely scary (well, for me anyway). This was my view just before stepping off:

2. North Middle Knuckles "Pass"

I had been informed that the gully between the north and middle Knuckles was a rock pass. We decided to come down it as part of an ambitious plan to do all 4 Knuckles passes and 3 summits in a day. When we hit the chockstone that forms the crux of what is actually a single pitch climbing route, and not a pass, we realised there had to be a way around. We figured that there must be a bypass, so we tried what looks like a grassy side-ledge. While we did safely get down it, it took hours and included a lot of holding onto thorn bushes for dear life, above a death fall. Definitely not a viable hiking route!

1. Injisuthi Pass

The crux section on Injisuthi Pass has to be the hairiest thing I have ever done while not attached to a rope. On the way up, I broke numerous holds, and was often in a position where falling was not an option. And what was going through my mind while I was aware that I might not be around for much longer? "I forgot to backup my work, if something happens here, they will miss the deadline" :lol:

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Last edit: 28 Jul 2020 10:28 by ghaznavid.

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