Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse

10 Sep 2008 21:01 #148 by HolymanSA
HolymanSA created the topic: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Hi all. I run a mountaineering club with a couple of other staff members at my school. We are wanting to do a mini traverse (Chain Ladders - Gray's Pass). Just wondering if anybody had a decent route either for the above trip or for a Grand Traverse. If you got a KMZ or GPX file that would be great but otherwise a route description would suffice.

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11 Sep 2008 10:05 #149 by intrepid
intrepid replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
I'll piece together a "best of" route from a couple of recorded traverses and make it available as a GPX in the download area - just give me a few days.

The beauty of the escarpment is that there is no defined route. With any traverse I do of any magnitude, I always try to cover ground I haven't done before, visiting new summits and forgotten corners.

There is always the debate between sticking to the edge, or following ridges and valleys a little in from the edge. The balance lies in knowledge of the area, time available, energy/fitness level of the group, weather and also the purpose of the trip.

On this particular stretch of the escarpment, there are of course many variations - too many to go into here. A few of the major ones include:

- traversing the Amphitheatre edge as opposed to shunting down the Khubedu to join up with the edge again at Ifidi, Icidi Pass or even Fangs Pass (the former is more scenic by far, but takes longer)

- circumnavigating the Mweni Cutback, or cutting straight through the bowl of the Cutback along the edge (the latter is actually possible and quite worth it)

- following the Koakoatsoan as opposed to the edge between Rockeries and Nguza Pass (stick to the edge)

- following the Makhapung valley from Ndumeni / Windsor Castle to the Tlanyaku area as opposed to climbing over the big ridge forming the Little Saddle (if u have the energy, climb over the ridge)

- traversing the Didima escarpment between Tlanyaku Pass and Pampiring as opposed to doing Yodler's Cascades and then onto the big watershed near Pampiring (this is a tough choice - both are spectacular in their own right - both have tough sections, the edge being a little tougher and harder to navigate)

Enjoy, and take care, even with good GPS data!

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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11 Sep 2008 18:00 #150 by HolymanSA
HolymanSA replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Thanks a stack! It would be great just to have an idea of where the best overnight spots are. We are probably going to stick to the escarpment as much as possible. The group is quite fit and are busy training to do Kili.

I look forward to being able to download the file. Thanks for all your efforts!

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12 Sep 2008 08:12 - 12 Sep 2008 08:18 #151 by intrepid
intrepid replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Ah I see what you were after now. I can think of 2 options, the first can be done staying in caves all the way (indicated in brackets where applicable), the second involves more camping.

Option 1
Day 1 :Ifidi Pass (Ifidi Cave)
Day 2: Fangs Pass (Fangs Cave)
Day 3: Rockeries Pass/Mweni Pass (Mponjwane or Ledgers Cave)
Day 4: Mlambonja Pass (Easter Cave)
Day 5: Organ Pipes Pass (Rolands Cave or one of the Ndumeni Caves)
Day 6: Didima Cave
Day 7: Grays Pass (Inkosazana Cave or descend to Keith Bush Camp)
Day 8: finish

(Day 2 can be short but its a nice area, Day 5 is a challenge but is do-able)


Option 2
Day 1: Ifidi Pass (Ifidi Cave)
Day 2: Pins Pass (camp on top or descend a little to Pins Cave) or camp in the Mweni Cutback (in southern mini-valley forming the bowl)
Day 3: Nguza Pass (lots of good camping or 2 small caves on the pass)
Day 4: Tseketseke Pass (good camping)
Day 5: Tlanyaku Pass (the areas north of the pass are good for camping - dont camp right at the pass or on the trail because of the smugglers)
Day 6: Didima Cave or camp in one of the bowls between Pampiring and Vulture's Retreat
Day 7: descend Grays Pass to Keith Bush Camp, or make it a big day and finish
Day 8: finish, if not finished already

Bear in mind that now in the dry season most caves will present water challenges. The high ridges around Pins Pass and Didima Cave will be particularly dry.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last Edit: 12 Sep 2008 08:18 by intrepid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: bytjie

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13 Sep 2008 13:25 #152 by domsmooth
domsmooth replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Either option sounds like an absolute blast!!:cheer:

Would love to do it in the wetter part of the year though!

Lets all help maintain the values for which the Berg was proclaimed a World Heritage Site

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14 Sep 2008 16:11 #153 by HolymanSA
HolymanSA replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Thanks for those suggestions, they will prove to be very helpful. Looks like we are only going in early December, but there is still lots of planning to do.

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29 Sep 2008 15:36 #185 by intrepid
intrepid replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
A basic track-log of the Grand Traverse has been posted here . It can be edited to suite your needs and can also be loaded and viewed in Google Earth the same way a kmz file would. In addition, the route up the Chain Ladders and Grays Pass can be downloaded from the section on passes .

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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06 Dec 2008 13:27 #247 by HolymanSA
HolymanSA replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Thanks for doing all the work! We are due to set off on Monday at 5:00am. The kids are all excited for the adventure. I have got everything prepared now hopefully the weather will play along B)

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08 Dec 2008 20:25 #248 by intrepid
intrepid replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Hope it goes well! Let us know how it went.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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17 Dec 2008 13:37 #251 by HolymanSA
HolymanSA replied to: Sentinel Car Park to Cathedral Peak - Northern Berg Escarpment Traverse
Wow! What a journey!!! 3 staff, 6 boys (all 13) and a whole bunch of memories!

Day 1: We set off from the Sentinel car park around 11:00. The weather was warmer than we would have liked and rather humid but it was better than rain. Most of our packs weighed in at around the 20kg mark except for the staff who were carrying extra food, first aid and rope. A full day of walking saw us get to the top of Ifidi Pass having arrived through a field of wild flowers. What a sight! The boys were stuffed and there were rumours of a mutiny. With many of them asking how far the closest car park was from our camp.

Day 2: I got the boys out of bed to see one of the more impressive sunrises I have seen in the berg. They struggled to appreciate it and were less impressed when I let them know we were leaving in less than an hour. The weather was setting up for the day to be a scorcher! The day was filled with up and down climbing, without a path and on very uneven ground. This took its toll on the group with one of the boys sustaining a minor sprain. But he was a tough nut to crack and kept up the pace. One of the boys (only his second hike but very keen) was struggling with his load. John (one of the staff) decided the only way to speed things up was to take the boys tent too. The only problem was it weighed in at 5.5kgs! John, pulling on his arms, managed to keep up as we got to our planned campsite near Rwanqa Pass just as the storm pulled in. It bucketed down pretty much all night so we resorted to having conversations over the 2-way radios. Some of the boys were ready to pack it in especially after I let slip that day 3 would start with a steep incline.

Day 3: Strangely enough, even though there were many hills to ascend, the boys found the day quite easy and were starting to enjoy themselves. There were some who could not move their thoughts from somehow obtaining KFC, but that was more likely because they were struggling to deal with another dinner of 2-minute-noodles. Lunch was had down in the Mweni cutback. Afterwards we thought we would get as far up the hill on the other side of the valley to reduce the following mornings ascent. The boys were intrigued by the Basotho homestead we passed. We set up camp in the early afternoon and took a walk to the edge of the escarpment to inspect the view and make a couple of phone calls to our loved ones. We were greeted with a treat! 30 Cape Vultures riding the thermals in the steep valley below. What a privilege!!! The boys were taken aback and admitted that they were having a great time and they were glad we never turned back!

Day 4: Another steep ascent to start the day off! One of the boys was struggling with his asthma so the pace was very slow. The weather also turned on us and the wind began to howl. We thought at points around the 100km/h mark nearly blowing me off my feet. It was also drizzling and thoroughly unpleasant! We soldiered on a found some shelter behind a rock band to enjoy lunch. John managed to drop his GPS in the veldt somewhere and set off to try and locate it using my GPS track to retrace our steps and a 2-way radio to keep us informed. He tracked it down after a kliometer or so and returned to our resting point. As we moved on we came across a steep rock band with no obvious way down. I down climbed the one section to look for an easier way down for the boys. As I reached the bottom I heard on the radio, “Two Basothos incoming at pace.” Some hungry locals had chased after our party in search of some food which we gladly gave them. Always useful to have some extra just in case. The boys were scared stiff. They thought that was the end for them. We tried to explain to them that not all locals are dangerous. Later in the day we found a great spot to have a swim in the river, just after Easter Cave. After an hour or so in the river we thought that the considering that some of the boys had never slept in a cave we would make our way down to Twins Cave for the night. This did mean that we would have a tough start to the next day climbing out the top of Mhlambonja Pass! We settled into the cave for the night. The weather really became unbearable and it rained all night. Hard! Glad we were in the cave after all.

Day 5: I woke up Wayne (the 3rd member of the staff contingent) to find that he was feeling awful! His body was hurting all over, his sinuses were blocked and he was exceptionally weak. This coming from a 3-time Comrades Marathon runner. I took him quite seriously. One of the boys approached me shortly afterwards with a horrible cough and told me he felt awful too. I had a chat with John and it was decided to descend to the hotel via Mhlambonja Pass and stay in the Didima Camp site for the night. This was a tough decision to make as we all wanted to get to Grays Pass and to complete our 105km traverse, but safety is always the number one factor in all the decisions we make in the berg. Mhlambonja has never been one of my favourite passes but we had little choice. So bushwhacking it was. Thank goodness for gaiters! On the way down it began to rain and did not let up until late that night. We were walking in thick mist for most of the way and most of us were completely soaked! Eventually we made it down to the steep and slippery zigzags and ploughed through the mud to meet our bus driver at the hotel. John and I went off to Winterton to get some supplies. Big rump steaks, boerewors, eggs, bacon and some snacks. Time to feast!

We only covered 75 of our 105km journey, but the boys coped well and we were all glad we had embarked on such a remarkable adventure. Well done the Keys Explorers!

GPS data for the trip

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