The Bell Traverse

07 Nov 2019 11:50 #75444 by Riaang
Replied by Riaang on topic The Bell Traverse
Hi, welcome on the forum.

Below further answers to your questions.

1) If we approach the Gulch from the Mhlambonja side, will the descent of the gully be dangerous?
I've done this route a couple of times, and every time the gulch seems to be more eroded. I will attach a couple of pics of the gulch taken earlier this year. The escarpment side is definitely the "easier" side. The Side facing away from the escarpment is more eroded, and coming down it could be "interesting" as there are few grasses to hold onto, leaving you to negotiate the descent on loose ground and stones without support. I found staying to th eleft helped a lot.

2) Is the path leading from the gulch towards Cathedral safe?
Define "safe". Safe in that there are no loose rocks and dangerously steep sections? Yes. No droppoffs? Yes. No dangerous wild animals? Yes. No Basothos? Never met one here so I would say yes.

3) During December, can I expect to find water along the Traverse?
This point could be your most serious problem is you do the route over 4 days as the traverse is generally dry. You will be walking on and next to the ridgeline and ridgelines generally don't have water. Down at Mlambonja camp site you should find water. Up on the escarpment you should also find water. I doubt you'll find water anywhere from Twins cave to the waterfall just above Shermans cave, at the end of your hike. If it rains you could obtain water from a drip along the way (or collect using a poncho or similar water catchment item). If no water you would need to carry enough for 1 1/2 day at least.

4) Are there any things worth noting, like highly eroded zones along the route? 
There are a couple of dodgy spots along the traverse. If you have an issue with exposure then it could be a problem. The first one you'll encounter is under the chessmen, where you have to sort of go around a protruding rock, and it has a rather large step up and down around the rock. At 1,97m tall this has never bothered me, but my wife at 1,61m always complains about it. It's not really difficult to get around it, but be carefull as the exposure is nasty. You also need to make sure you stay on the route where you switch between the inner and outer horn - there  are two sections where the path sort of dissapears for a short stretch. Not difficult in good weather, but I've had to do it twice in thick mist and then it was quite a different story. manke sure you download the gps track form this website. Then there is obviously Buggers Gulch itself. The pic swill be self explanatory.

5) Will the hiking day from Bell Cave up cathedral peak and then down, be a long day of hiking? 
No, even at a relatively leisurely pace you should be able to get back down to the hotel easily during the day. 

6) Are Basotho a problem in the area? 
Never met any on the Bell traverse or down from Cathedral Peak to the hotel. You might bump into some on the escarpment. I've mostly found them to be friendly and not aggressive. Give them a sweetie and ask for a photo in exchange then all should be well. Don't leave your gear lying around at night though, they could be tempted by your new boots or warm jacket.


Enjoy!!!

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07 Nov 2019 11:54 - 07 Nov 2019 11:55 #75445 by Riaang
Replied by Riaang on topic The Bell Traverse
Hi, welcome on the forum.

Below further answers to your questions.

1) If we approach the Gulch from the Mhlambonja side, will the descent of the gully be dangerous?
I've done this route a couple of times, and every time the gulch seems to be more eroded. I will attach a couple of pics of the gulch taken earlier this year. The escarpment side is definitely the "easier" side. The Side facing away from the escarpment is more eroded, and coming down it could be "interesting" as there are few grasses to hold onto, leaving you to negotiate the descent on loose ground and stones without support. I found staying to th eleft helped a lot.

2) Is the path leading from the gulch towards Cathedral safe?
Define "safe". Safe in that there are no loose rocks and dangerously steep sections? Yes. No droppoffs? Yes. No dangerous wild animals? Yes. No Basothos? Never met one here so I would say yes.

3) During December, can I expect to find water along the Traverse?
This point could be your most serious problem is you do the route over 4 days as the traverse is generally dry. You will be walking on and next to the ridgeline and ridgelines generally don't have water. Down at Mlambonja camp site you should find water. Up on the escarpment you should also find water. I doubt you'll find water anywhere from Twins cave to the waterfall just above Shermans cave, at the end of your hike. If it rains you could obtain water from a drip along the way (or collect using a poncho or similar water catchment item). If no water you would need to carry enough for 1 1/2 day at least.

4) Are there any things worth noting, like highly eroded zones along the route? 
There are a couple of dodgy spots along the traverse. If you have an issue with exposure then it could be a problem. The first one you'll encounter is under the chessmen, where you have to sort of go around a protruding rock, and it has a rather large step up and down around the rock. At 1,97m tall this has never bothered me, but my wife at 1,61m always complains about it. It's not really difficult to get around it, but be carefull as the exposure is nasty. You also need to make sure you stay on the route where you switch between the inner and outer horn - there  are two sections where the path sort of dissapears for a short stretch. Not difficult in good weather, but I've had to do it twice in thick mist and then it was quite a different story. manke sure you download the gps track form this website. Then there is obviously Buggers Gulch itself. The pic swill be self explanatory.

5) Will the hiking day from Bell Cave up cathedral peak and then down, be a long day of hiking? 
No, even at a relatively leisurely pace you should be able to get back down to the hotel easily during the day. 

6) Are Basotho a problem in the area? 
Never met any on the Bell traverse or down from Cathedral Peak to the hotel. You might bump into some on the escarpment. I've mostly found them to be friendly and not aggressive. Give them a sweetie and ask for a photo in exchange then all should be well. Don't leave your gear lying around at night though, they could be tempted by your new boots or warm jacket.


Enjoy!!!

Escarpment side


The more eroded Northerly side

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Last edit: 07 Nov 2019 11:55 by Riaang.

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07 Nov 2019 12:00 #75446 by Riaang
Replied by Riaang on topic The Bell Traverse
Two more pics of Buggers Gulch.

Another view of the approach on the escarpment side


Full view of the Northern side from below. Stay on the left where there are grasses to hold onto

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08 Nov 2019 11:57 #75449 by davidresink
Replied by davidresink on topic The Bell Traverse
Hi Berg Bug

I'm new here - did a 3 day hike this past weekend sleeping in Roland's Cave on Friday night, Twin's Cave on Saturday night and then doing the Bell Traverse home to CP Hotel on Sunday.  My thoughts:

1) If we approach the Gulch from the Mhlambonja side, will the descent of the gully be dangerous?

we did the gulch after having done the bell traverse (i guess one could call it the end of the bell traverse?) and came down on the orange peel gap side.  Either direction it'll be hard work going up or down - but i perhaps differ to Riaang in that I think I pref the route we did, rather than descend the side of the escarpment / bell traverse as this seemed even more eroded and steep to me.

2) Is the path leading from the gulch towards Cathedral safe?

I think yes, just take it easy on the descent of the gulch.

3) During December, can I expect to find water along the Traverse?

The general consensus seems to be "no, not reliably" and I'd have to agree.  If you're heading towards the escarpment, assume no water between the waterfall further up the path from sherman's cave and twin's cave.  If you're going via the escarpment or from Mlambonja then fill up before Twins.

4) Are there any things worth noting, like highly eroded zones along the route? 

As my first real hike in the berg i was quite surprised at the extent of erosion of the main paths and passes.  regarding the bell traverse, i found it to be in pretty good condition - however you really don't want to miss your step for most of the way.   it was a truly spectacular and enjoyable walk, relatively stress-free barring one section which i believe is the section behind the Mitre (Riaang you mention Chessmen, maybe I am wrong, or maybe there are two places that are not 'stress-free')?  

Anyway I found this ledge section more scary than getting into and out of Roland's Cave (i mean, not much separated them in terms of scariness!).  My mate and i went through it easily enough without really missing a beat or giving it much thought but discovered my adrenalin was pumping when i got to the other side.  

5) Will the hiking day from Bell Cave up cathedral peak and then down, be a long day of hiking? 

shouldn't be - start early to avoid storms.  I'd try have at least 2 litres of water per hiker leaving Twins Cave in the morning, especially if it's hot.

6) Are Basotho a problem in the area? 

We encountered quite a few Basotho and their animals between the two caves and i think it's because of the scarcity of water right now.    They do like sweets - standard operating procdure / expectation all across lesotho it seems.  We politely declined but were respectful and had no issues.  Agree with Riaang's advice here too.

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08 Nov 2019 12:14 #75450 by BergBug101
Replied by BergBug101 on topic The Bell Traverse
Thankyou David and Riaan, I find your input and photos extremely helpful. So you would say extra storage containers is a definite must. I think an empty 3l/2l bottle to collect on the escarpment should be sufficient for water along the traverse and down. What are your thoughts? 

The Rolands cave to Twins sounds incredibly epic! What a great hike! A little escarpment, a few caves and a traverse in one! Definitely a future hike for me. Would love to see photos. 

regards 

Bug 

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11 Nov 2019 08:56 #75456 by davidresink
Replied by davidresink on topic The Bell Traverse
i wouldn't say it's a definite must - depends on how many people, your intended water usage for dinner / breakfast.  So whatever you need so that each person has a min 2l in the morning on departure.  It's not a long or hard slog from Mlambonja so it's relatively easy and reliable to fill up there.  I'm sure by December the trickle at Twin's cave is also stronger - i imagine there are hikers that would just rely on that. 

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14 Nov 2019 21:47 #75461 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic The Bell Traverse
Hi Berg Bug and welcome to VE.

I have merged your thread with the main thread for the Bell Traverse. Please have a look through the older posts as there will be some additional information and photos which you may find useful.

Note that in December Bell Cave can be drippy and wet but if for 1-2 people it can still be used when wet.

Locals can be encountered on the Bell Traverse. The main thing is not to leave your gear unattended, or hide it really well if you need to stash it.

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

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26 Nov 2019 08:33 #75474 by speckwurst
Replied by speckwurst on topic The Bell Traverse
Hi Swartpeet

What struck me is that you are planning on taking inexperienced hikers on this route. While everyone has a different interpretation and experience of the Bell-Twins Traverse, I would definitely not recommend it for inexperienced hikers: 
  1. The route is physically exerting. Your team should be both cardio-vascular fit and strong (i.e. running is great, but will not cut it on its own). 
  2. There are a few very exposed sections, which can predispose inexperienced hikers, especially those without a head for heights, to loose their cool. Some of these areas also require concentrated hand and foot placements (i.e. looking for hand holds and foot holds) to manoeuvre around tricky sections. 
  3. Twins cave is close to the escarpment. The escarpment can have harsh conditions - it can be dangerously cold at any time of the year. Please ensure that your team is prepared: you need good gear to be safe. 
  4. There is not a lot of water (if any) on the route. December can be hot. So you’ll have to carry quite a bit of water. And once you get to Twins (exhausted), you’ll have to haul yourself to get water for the night. 
Don’t misunderstand me - this is a lovely, scenic route. For experienced Drakensberg hikers it offers spectacular views. But for inexperienced hikers, it can easily spell a miserable weekend, not reaching the desired caves, being cold and wet - and hopefully getting away without a call to the rescue team. I would highly recommend to get acquainted with the 'Berg on a lower ‘Berg hike first, of which there are numerous options: They often have great swimming opportunities, lots of water on the way, incredible scenery, warmer temperatures and generally are loads of fun. 
Enjoy.
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda

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27 Nov 2019 11:16 #75494 by GriffBaker
Replied by GriffBaker on topic The Bell Traverse
Just got back from the Bell Traverse yesterday and have now done the route a few times, so here are my humble two cents on top of what the others have said:

1) If we approach the Gulch from the Mhlambonja side, will the descent of the gully be dangerous?
If you are arriving at Buggers Gulch from the Mlambonja side you have already have completed the majority of the Bell Traverse. The worst is behind you already. The main danger on the gulch on both sides is dislodging a loose boulder and knocking another hiker below you, so take care and make sure of your footing and you will be fine.

2) Is the path leading from the gulch towards Cathedral safe?
If I recall the old path leading to climbing the cathedral peak exits the gulch on the cathedral side about two-thirds of the way down but that way is no longer safe. I think you are speaking of the remainder of the path from the gulch(the end of the Bell traverse) back to the hotel, which is a good solid path and safe. 

3) During December, can I expect to find water along the Traverse?
Yesterday, I crossed two trickles along the traverse that could possibly provide water in December(both in the inner horn, chessmen, mitre stretch). The first had a small pool I could scoop enough to half full only one bottle the other trickle not yet ready. Neither I would consider reliable and are easy to miss. If you are Bell traversing from Twins cave it is best to full up enough water before you reach Twins from the Kwakwatsi, the day before, and save some for the traverse.  Bank on not having any water until you reach the stream near Sherman's cave. There is/was a spring not long after you descend from Cathedral and the gulch and contour out towards the hotel but it is still not running or even showing a hint of moisture at the moment.

4) Are there any things worth noting, like highly eroded zones along the route? 
I consider myself 'exposure averse' and in my opinion, there are three sections that require caution.
The first is just after you leave Twins cave and descend onto the traverse trail. There is an awkward section that descends to gain access to the saddle that requires going downhill and leaning into the wall and can be daunting with a heavy backpack. I knew it would be a problem for one of the guys hiking with me, so we descended straight from Twins and contoured right directly onto the Bell Traverse trail without any exposure.

The second section is not far from the first - on the Mitre - where there is a short gap in the path with a big drop below you and an awkward clamber around a boulder. Not very difficult but for our one guy it was scary, required having his pack passed over, some prayer and a helping hand. I actually did not even remember this section but when you have a fearful person, something that does not seem threatening can become so very quickly.

The third is on the Mitre/Chessmen section. I think this section is extremely dangerous and have chosen to bypass it below the last two times. A fall on that section will not end well and in my opinion, it does not fall into 'hiking' class. To bypass below also requires extreme care as the slopes are very steep but it can be done if you are not willing to cross the sketchy bit.

5) Will the hiking day from Bell Cave up cathedral peak and then down, be a long day of hiking? 
If you are hiking from Bell Cave, then climbing Cathedral peak then back to the car park it will be a manageable day. If camping below Cathedral, then a short day.
If you are planning on sleeping in Bell cave, bare in my mind the water issue and that in December there can be big storms and the cave is not very protected from the elements.

6) Are Basotho a problem in the area? 
There are many shepherds in the Kwakwatsi valley at the moment but all I have encountered are friendly as are most humans. 

The entire Bell Traverse is amazing but both the guys I had with me, had a great sense of relief on completing it. The entire route just has a very high feeling no real bail points should anything go wrong. I would not recommend it for inexperienced hikers or hikers with a fear of heights even though the path is solid for 98% of trail.
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, MarkT

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