Itineraries for doing the Bell Traverse

16 Apr 2014 12:34 #60382 by intrepid

GerritHuman wrote: Now I have a few questions:
1) Am I correct to say it is about a 5-6 hour hike from Cathedral Peak hotel to Bell cave?
2) Is the only definite water sources at Sherman's cave and past Twins cave?
3) We are a group of 10+ people. Is there place to pitch tents near the Bell cave? Where can we sleep the first night?


Hi Gerrit and welcome to VE.

1) If everything goes fairly smoothly, yes. Don't underestimate the slog that it is though and allow more time if your group is big and/or inexperienced and/or unfit.
2) This is the case in the dry season. At this time of year, the stream coming off Bugger Gully on the Orange Peel Gap side noramlly produces water (ghaz and Viking have confirmed this). Normally it is avialable where the trail contours into the gully to meet it. If there rainfalls have been good (not this year necessarily) the water flows higher up too. Bell Cave's water is reached via a +-50m steep descent directly below the cave and slightly to the left. Normally this has water around Easter. Twins Cave's water is a small drip pond right at the neck where the trail from the cave flips over into Mlambonja, or a tiny waterfall on the way to annexe cave. My prediction is that this drip pond will be dry right now, or will be a very muddy mess. Anticipate having to fetch water from the Kwakwatsi on the top.
3)Yes, there are other rough overhangs next to the main cave where you can pitch tents. Bear in mind other people might be going there too, in which case it will get crowded. You can camp at the base of Cathedral Peak near Bugger Gully.

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

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16 Apr 2014 13:03 #60384 by ghaznavid

intrepid wrote: 2) This is the case in the dry season. At this time of year, the stream coming off Bugger Gully on the Orange Peel Gap side noramlly produces water (ghaz and Viking have confirmed this).


Bone dry last weekend.

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16 Apr 2014 18:49 #60390 by intrepid
Oh I actually re-read what you said ghaz, so it wasn't that stream at all.

Gerrit: if this is the case, you won't find water at Twins, and the supply at Bell Cave is probably if-y. Evidently the rain were not that great this year at all.

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05 Nov 2015 19:53 - 05 Nov 2015 19:54 #65670 by supertramp
Hi guys,

After much deliberation we have finally decided to take on the Bell Traverse in the last weekend of November. We are "boiling" over with excitement as the BT has been on our to-do-list for a long time now. I have a couple of questions that I really hope someone can give me advice on.

Our intended itinerary is as follows:

Day 1: Hotel to base of Cathedral Peak or Bell Cave (plan on climbing Cathedral Peak). We will start out early leaving the hotel at about 6AM
Day 2: Bell Cave to Twins Cave
Day 3: Down Mlambonja back to Hotel

My questions are as follows:

1) With the current drought do you expect there to be water at the stream above Sherman's Cave? I automatically assume unless there is proper rainfall soon that the "water trickle" further along would be dry too.
2) What is the water situation like at the top of the escarpment recently? What is the likelihood of finding water on the escarpment ascending from Twins?
3) Considering that we will effectively have to carry enough water for 1.5 days how much water would you advise we start out with from the Hotel. My guesstimate would be in the vicinity of about 8L each.

Any advice or comments will be highly appreciated.

Thanks!!!!
Last edit: 05 Nov 2015 19:54 by supertramp. Reason: Spelling error :-)

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05 Nov 2015 20:16 #65671 by ghaznavid
I can't comment on the bit between Buggers Gully and Twins Cave, or the current water situation, but when I did Organ Pipes 2 weeks ago, there was water around - so the trickle could well be trickling. That being said - the base of Judge Pass was dry a week ago, so who knows.

With BT/Mlambonja Pass, from the watershed to the nearest river is down a "noticeable" hill (i.e. not massive or incredibly steep, but not inconsequential or easy with a heavy pack on a long day). Also be aware that the passes don't join up on the escarpment - so (unless you actually make the effort to hit the top) you won't be anywhere near the escarpment river.

I would imagine the river should be flowing by the time the trail hits it on the way down Mlambonja Pass. You follow the river for a while.
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05 Nov 2015 20:59 - 05 Nov 2015 21:00 #65673 by intrepid
1) I'm not sure about the Sherman's Cave stream - you could phone the hotel and ask them, they have people going up regularly enough. This waterpoint is obviously fairly critical to your planning. I would not count on finding water beyond that point. If there is no water at this point you will have to carry from much further down, in which case aim to camp at the base of Cathedral since it will be easier to get there - unless you particularly want to sleep in Bell Cave.

2) Can't comment about recent conditions. The likelihood of finding water in the Kwakwatsi is always pretty good. If its really dry you will just have to follow the river until you hit water.

3) 8 litres each is going to kill you - that is carrying an additional 8kgs. Maybe try for 3-4 each? It's a compromise and you are going to have to disciplined about drinking and make sure you are well hydrated several days before the hike. Plan meals that don't need water or dish washing for the first night.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 05 Nov 2015 21:00 by intrepid.
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05 Nov 2015 21:18 #65674 by AndrewP
I would suggest doing it in reverse.

So, instead of carry 1.5 days water up 1000m altitude gain, you carry a little extra water on the traverse itself. Much less effort.

So, day 1. Hike up to Twins. Once you reach the cave, ditch your pack and head up to top of pass and into Lesotho and fill up enough water for the night, for the next day and for the start of your final day. I have never seen that river dry.

Day 2. Hike to Bell Cave. You will get no water on this stretch.

Day 3. Climb Cathedral Peak (highly recommended, one of my favourite berg summits) and then head down. You should get water just above Shermans Cave, but lets be honest, by then you are so close to home it will not matter. I doubt you will see water before that.
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05 Nov 2015 21:57 #65675 by intrepid
Andrew's suggestion makes a lot of sense in terms of water. You should also be able to find some water in the Mlambonja on the way up. Getting to Twins tends to be a full day by conventional standards so bear that in mind.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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06 Nov 2015 08:15 #65681 by Viking
The trickle between CP and OPG is almost certainly dry and I would be very surprised if it was even wet there - let alone trickling.

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”

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06 Nov 2015 16:12 #65690 by supertramp
Thanks for all the valuable input Ghaz, intrepid, AndrewP & Viking, it is highly appreciated :)

With regards to doing it in reverse, that does make much more sense. I've gone down Mlambonja pass after overnighting in Twins Cave once before on our last day of the Northern Berg Traverse. Glad to hear that we are likely to find water in Lesotho, will happily ditch the packs and slog up from Twins to fetch water.

Thanks for the heads-up on the tough day to Twins intrepid, 2 of us have ascended Cockade pass from the Hotel in one day before so I'm quite hopeful that we will all get there in time. Just hope that the overgrown bit of Mlambonja is not too bad.

Will definitely make a point of climbing Cathedral Peak Andrew, won't be able to pass on that opportunity :thumbsup:

A couple more questions if you don't mind:

1) How do you rate Bell Cave and would you guys rather recommend that we make camp at the base of Cathedral? I'm leaning towards camping at Cathedral base...
2) Is there a discernible difference in terms of views and difficulty with regards to going down the BT instead of up? I've read on the site that some prefer heading up especially for the views. But then again, I can't have my bread buttered on both sides now can I? :P

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