False Tseketseke Pass

04 Apr 2016 11:59 #67612 by tonymarshall
The article below, a blog by intrepid from the early days of VE (quoted verbatim), posted on 17 August 2009, was the only reference most people, myself included, have of False Tseketseke Pass. (Unfortunately due to the age of the article, the included links to news websites are no longer connecting and cannot be repaired, so this information cannot be accessed, but the article itself summarises all the important information):

Two hikers got stuck on a descent of what they thought was Tseketseke Pass and were safely airlifted from a snow-covered Drakensberg on August 10th.
George Christian (49) and Jackie Celliers (45) phoned emergency services via cell phone on August 9th at 17:00. They had descended a steep gully which they had mistaken to be the pass, and after several hours realised their mistake. It seems they were unable to climb back up again because the snow was very thick (up to shoulder depth in places) and was starting to melt. They had also slid down some steep slopes. Some 12 hours later they were spotted waving their brightly coloured equipment and were airlifted without injury by personel in the Oryx helicopter from 15 Squadron which was dispatched from Durban.
The news report, which can be viewed at, jv.news24.com/Beeld/Suid-Afrika/0,,3-975_2546762,00.html , indicated that the hikers had turned off too early.
To me it seems like the False Tseketske Pass has claimed victims once again. From the escarpment, the true summit of Tseketske Pass is obscurely located and not that obvious. Instead, immediately South of a small dome – "Tseketseke Peak" (unnamed on the maps) - there is an obvious feature which looks like the summit of a pass. It leads into a gully which at first seems manageable but which eventually becomes a extremely difficult and steep, basically impassable. The true summit is a short uphill climb from the false summit.
Time and again I hear reports of hikers who have mistaken this to be Tseketske Pass. For many it simply meant they had to climb several hours back out again. For some the situation became more serious. The current story is a case in point. In December 2004 another hiker had to be airlifted from this gully after a huge boulder dislodged and smashed his legs. Read the report at www.capetimes.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=271&fArticleId=2360007%3E .
It is no wonder that the old Slingsby hiking maps had a warning written on them about not taking the false pass. Tseketseke Pass is relatively easy, and on an ascent hikers seldom face major challenges. It is on a descent that the wrong gully can easily be mistaken to be the pass.
The picture below is taken from near The Elephant, above Cockade Pass. It shows how prominent the false pass is compared to the true one. Note how the two summits lie on either side of “Tseketseke Peak”.

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04 Apr 2016 12:00 - 04 Apr 2016 14:30 #67613 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic False Tseketseke Pass
Over the years I have had a lot of opportunities to view False Tseketseke Pass from various angles when in the area, and it is obvious how hikers mistaking this pass for Tseketseke Pass can get stuck in shoulder deep snow and require to be rescued. As described in intrepid’s article, the top looks like a pass, is close to the top of the correct Tseketseke Pass, the first section of the gully is manageable, but the gully eventually narrows between cliffs, gets steeper and steeper, and eventually becomes a series of long vertical waterfalls cascading into the valley below, which you cannot exit from due to the cliffs on the sides. Up climbing to reverse the route would also be impossible in the conditions of shoulder deep, melting snow under which the rescue took place.

Simultaneously with my observations of the conditions which led to the rescue, I could see that it may be possible to descend False Tseketseke Pass by exiting the main gully high up and traversing left (north) onto more gentler slopes, and descending these gentler slopes. Recently I was in the area last year when I did Cockade Pass with intrepid, Kelly and Harry, and intrepid and I had a good look at the False Tseketseke Pass together from the Contour Path between the Mlambonja and Xeni Rivers, probably the best viewpoint of False Tseketseke Pass. intrepid had been making his own observations over the years too, and we agreed there was a chance the pass could be done by exiting the main gully high enough and descending the adjacent slopes. Encouraged by intrepid’s thoughts on False Tseketseke Pass being the same as mine, I put False Tseketseke Pass onto my to do list in my mind. The photo below shows intrepid on the Contour Path with False Tseketseke Pass in the background, and the red line indicating the approximate route we thought could be used to do this pass.



A zoomed in photo showing the waterfalls in the main False Tseketseke Pass gully on the right.



Before I go further, I would just like to add a few words of caution. The write up below on my descent of False Tseketseke Pass is written as an account of the descent, and to demonstrate that it can be done, but is not meant as encouragement for just anyone to go and do this pass. This is a dangerous route in one of the remote areas of the ‘berg, and required sustained exposed scrambling on steep grass and rock slopes. In fact it was one of the hardest hiking days I have had in more than twenty-five years of hiking, possibly made more difficult because I did it alone and extreme concentration was required for the entire descent. So unless you are extremely confident in your ability and experience to scramble on long, exposed grass and rock slopes, or have someone in your group who is, and is prepared to take you through it, please do not attempt this route as you are likely to either have a long slog back up to the top, require rescue, or worse still, lose your life.

I descended False Tseketseke Pass on my own at the end of the hike I did with Andrew P and Neil Margetts after we ascended Xeni Pass and climbed Xeni Peak and North Saddle on the Human Rights Day long weekend. Originally we were going to be four on the hike, and after the three days with Andrew and Neil the fourth person and I were going to do another hike at Mnweni, but she injured her knee and had to withdraw from both hikes. I then decided to extend my stay on the summit with two days, do some khulus in the area, and have a go at False Tseketseke Pass. This was the view I had of False Tseketseke Pass on our walk in to Xeni Pass. I had planned to descend the ridge in the centre of the photo below, but ended up descending a gully behind the ridge and exiting down the river boulder bed at the left of the photo below.



My campsite near the top of False Tseketseke Pass, with the Mahout ridge, Elephant and Cockade in the background. Although I had ascended all these peaks the previous day, it had been misty with low visibility, and I was not able to look at my proposed route from above as I had hoped. I was relieved that the mist had cleared, as good visibility was essential to my planned descent, and if the weather was misty I would have descended Cockade Pass instead.



A view of Tseketseke Peak from near the top of False Tseketseke Pass, with the top of Tseketseke Pass in the saddle to the right of the peak, with the lower slopes of Cleft Peak at the right of the photo below. The gully in the foreground flows down False Tseketseke Pass, but it is easier to descend the adjacent grass slope (out of the photo) to the left.



The top of False Tseketseke Pass, with the view straight ahead to Pyramid and Column. After letting Andrew P (my contact person, who was monitoring my hike and would alert the authorities if I failed to check in) know via sms that the weather was clear and that I was descending False Tseketseke Pass, I commenced my descent.



A view down the upper grass slopes of False Tseketseke Pass, again with the view straight ahead to Pyramid and Column.

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Last edit: 04 Apr 2016 14:30 by tonymarshall.

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04 Apr 2016 12:01 - 04 Apr 2016 12:15 #67614 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic False Tseketseke Pass
A view down the upper section of False Tseketseke Pass. I would exit the gully, which was already getting noticeably steeper, just past the narrow spire in the photo below.



A view back up the upper section of the pass.



Just before exiting the upper gully, the grass slope on the left disappeared, and the boulder bed of the gully was the only way ahead.



The point where I exited the upper gully, onto the slopes to the left. There had been signs of a trail here and there up to this point, so this pass clearly gets some traffic on the upper section. There was a trail at the exit point to the left of the shiny rock on the grass slope, visible in the photo below, which quickly disappeared as I rounded the slope to the left and the severe terrain ahead became visible.



The view down from the exit point from the upper gully. The steepness of the main gully on the left is apparent, with a series of waterfalls surrounded by cliffs. I would traverse to the left, crossing the gully and ridge in the photo below, and eventually descend another gully visible in the red circle, which joined into the river boulder bed to the left of the red circle, which is the same river boulder bed I had seen on the walk in to Xeni Pass a few days earlier.



A view back up the pass from the point where I crossed the ridge in the photo above. The ruggedness of the terrain is apparent, with alternating grass slopes and rock bands, and I lost count of how many rock bands had to be scrambled down (and up). The peak at the centre of the photo below is on the escarpment side of Tseketseke Peak, with Column to the left.



The slopes ahead which I still had to descend. By now I had determined that the best route of descent was to get into the gully ahead (circled in red in the photo above) and to then decide whether to cross this gully onto the ridge beyond, or descend the gully. The mist coming in from below began to be a concern, as in this type of terrain, you have to be able to see where you need to go.



Another waterfall in one of the many side gullies I crossed.

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Last edit: 04 Apr 2016 12:15 by tonymarshall.

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04 Apr 2016 12:03 - 04 Apr 2016 13:45 #67615 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic False Tseketseke Pass
More slopes to descend and another side gully and ridge to cross.



The slopes I was descending required sustained exposed scrambling and were taking a huge amount of concentration. Unfortunately, being alone I couldn’t get photos with people in them to put the slopes and scrambles into perspective. The main gully with it’s series of waterfalls is at the left of the photo below. At least by now I had a good idea that the descent was achievable, and I stopped worrying about possibly having to climb back up the pass.



At last I was approaching the gully I wanted to get into, and could finally verify that it was usable to descend the whole way into the river boulder bed below. The mist was not closing in any more and was no longer a concern. The rock feature at the left of the boulder bed in the photo below is the same feature circled in red in a previous photo. Just one more rock band to scramble through, barely visible in the photo below, but it was a tough one and I had to traverse left into the gully before I could descend through it.



Finally, in the gully, and just some boulder hopping on gentler slopes ahead until I would get to the Contour Path below. The rock band at the upper left of the photo below is the last one I had to scramble down.



The gully had some serious bush in the lower section, but it wasn’t that difficult to get through. Soon after entering the bush the next side stream to the right joined the gully I was in and I had running water, and used the opportunity to stop for a tea break, and to wash my hands and arms which were filthy from hanging onto grass and bushes, and full of blood from numerous scratches. After this I spent quite a lot of time in the river itself, as the bush was thinnest here, and required much splashing through shallow water and slipping on wet rocks.



Looking back up my route down False Tseketseke Pass. The mist was closing in on the escarpment above, and the higher section wasn’t visible. In the photo below, the left hand river with the boulder bed is the river originating between Pyramid and Column, the waterfall is the main False Tseketseke Pass gully, and the right hand gully (partially obscured by the foreground ridge) is my final descent route from the slopes above.



Some more boulder hopping on an easier gradient in the main boulder bed soon brought me to the Contour Path crossing, and the relief that I had conquered False Tseketseke Pass. In the photo below, the Contour Path can just be seen zig zagging up the slope on the right. It was luxury to be on a path, and I didn’t even grumble at the steep ascent of the path out of the river or the bush to pass through.



High above the river on the Contour Path (not very aptly named in this area) I had the final view back to False Tseketseke Pass. I headed north east to return to Cathedral Peak Hotel via Xeni Cave, where I stopped for lunch, and the Xeni River, arriving back at the car park at 14h30.



Thanks again to intrepid for encouraging me to do this pass, sorry we couldn’t do it together, and to Andrew P for putting up with all my sms and calls to ensure I was safe.

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Last edit: 04 Apr 2016 13:45 by tonymarshall.

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04 Apr 2016 13:14 - 04 Apr 2016 18:50 #67618 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic False Tseketseke Pass
Thanks for sharing Tony :thumbsup:

Looks really epic - I can see why you wouldn't recommend it for everyone. It is on my to-do list now.

So on a scale of Langies to Icidi, how hard do you rate it?

Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins
Last edit: 04 Apr 2016 18:50 by ghaznavid. Reason: Avoiding misinterpretation of making it sound easy.
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04 Apr 2016 18:18 - 04 Apr 2016 18:23 #67623 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic False Tseketseke Pass
Well done for pulling it off Tony! :thumbsup:

I do second your warning: there is a route that goes, but it doesn't mean everybody should go try it. There have been several rescues and epic stories related to this valley over the years, and its best to maintain that respect.

Incidentally, the best view of this route is from the Escarpment Arete route of the Column - I saw this in May last year and knew then for sure something would go. Its a view not often seen, but probably better this way.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 04 Apr 2016 18:23 by intrepid.
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04 Apr 2016 22:43 - 04 Apr 2016 22:53 #67635 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic False Tseketseke Pass
Thanks guys,

It was a really epic day, and I'm glad you edited your post ghaz. As much as I encourage people to push themselves further, this pass is not for everyone, and inexperienced or unprepared hikers could get themselves into serious trouble here. Enjoy it if you do it, it was an awesome experience for me.

It's hard to compare False Tseketseke with Icidi, although it's definitely towards that end of the scale. Icidi has a long walk in/out, much worse bush, and a long and steep but non technical grass slope, whereas False Tseketseke has a shortish walk in/out, easier bush, but much harder grass and rock scrambling than Icidi, which for some people may even be regarded as technical due to the exposure. The other major difference is in the navigation, Icidi you just get into the valley and gulley and can follow the route which is fairly obvious, whereas False Tseketseke required constant visibility and awareness of the surroundings to select the route as you go along, crossing numerous side gullies and ridges, and finding the right gaps around the waterfalls and through the rock bands. I would rate False Tseketseke as a 9/10, making it easier than Icidi simply because of the shorter route and easier bush overall. That's the same as most peoples rating for Ships Prow Pass, which is probably about right overall, although there are also similar differences as to Icidi. Quite possibly if I had done False Tseketseke Pass with a group and not alone it would have seemed easier, but for that matter that could have made it seem harder too.

Again the warning I give in the write up is the right thing to do, I would regret it deeply if someone has an accident on this route, and says they didn't know it was difficult and I made it out to be safe and easy. Exposed scrambling is not everyone's cup of tea. There are many people on VE who will be able to do this pass and enjoy it, with the necessary respect, but there are just as many hikers who do not have the skills or experience to do it.

I meant the Contour Path is probably the best place to view False Tseketseke Pass from for most hikers. I can just imagine intrepid hanging on to the Column Escarpment Arete route with two fingers and half a toe admiring the view of False Tseketseke Pass :P. I will say the views of Column and Pyramid were really impressive from the pass too, although the lighting was not favourable due to the early morning sun being behind these peaks.
Last edit: 04 Apr 2016 22:53 by tonymarshall.
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05 Apr 2016 17:12 #67640 by AndrewP
Replied by AndrewP on topic False Tseketseke Pass
Well done, Tony. That's a really scary place to be by yourself. Thanks for the great write up and all the pics
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06 Apr 2016 08:37 #67661 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic False Tseketseke Pass
Thanks Andrew, it was scary at times, but also a lot of fun on top of the hard work. I know you'll enjoy it. Thanks again for 'looking after' me.

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