South Cockade Pass

09 Sep 2023 20:03 - 09 Sep 2023 20:05 #78731 by tonymarshall
After my ascent of Windsor Castle Pass in early August, I descended South Cockade Pass, although I didn’t make it the whole way down, having a fall near the bottom of the difficult part, being seriously injured and requiring to be rescued. The details of the fall and rescue are all in the Dragons Wrath 2023 thread, so I won’t repeat any of them here, except as relates to this write up. 

While descending neighbouring False Tseketseke Pass in 2016, I had seen the gully at the top of South Cockade Pass from below, and knew that this was another possible extreme pass to do in this area. Later in 2016, while exploring the summit area, I also had an opportunity to look down the summit gully from above, and it was clear that it was doable, and that once down the summit gully would be very similar to False Tseketseke Pass, a sloping area of grass ledges with rock bands inbetween requiring careful navigation to descend, and a good head for heights. AndrewP has also done the summit gully before, he descended the summit gully of False Tseketseke Pass, and traversed between the two summit gullies on the slopes below, and then went up the gully of South Cockade Pass back to the top of the escarpment. He just mentions this in the False Tseketseke Pass topic, without describing or naming the route, and ironically also hinting that I would go and do the entire route! He also posted a good photo of the summit gully taken from the little berg. I have decided to call the route South Cockade Pass, because the summit gully and route are just south of Cockade Peak, and don’t believe that Andrew has any issue with this. 

Before I go further, I would just like to add a few words of caution, and I use the exact same wording as I used in my write up of False Tseketseke Pass. The write up below on my descent of South Cockade 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 routes I have had in more than thirty years of hiking, possibly made more difficult because I did it alone and extreme concentration was required for the entire descent (which only lasted about two hours). 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 fell descending through one of the lower rock bands and required rescue, and I recognise that things could easily have been much worse for me, I got off very lightly, and I could easily have lost my life. 

The night before, I tented near the top of Tseketseke Pass next to the river on a nice flat area where I have tented many times before, and the photo below shows the view from the campsite to the escarpment where the top of South Cockade Pass is. Cockade is the peak at the left of the photo, and the top of the pass is a low point on the escarpment about at the centre of the photo, so south of Cockade.  


Having ascended the short slope to the escarpment, I had the view down the top of the summit gully in the photo below, with Pyramid in the background.  


A view back up the top of the summit gully.  


Once a short way down the summit gully you can see down the length of the gully. The ridges and cliffs in the background of the photo below are the gullies and waterfalls below False Tseketseke Pass.  


A view back up the gully, a standard grass gully with some boulders.  


A view down to end of the summit gully, where I would turn left onto the slopes below.  


A view of the bottom of the summit gully from below, where you start your navigation through the hectic terrain of the slopes of the escarpment.  


As I turned left on the slopes below the summit gully, there was another small gully to cross before getting a view of the way ahead.  

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Last edit: 09 Sep 2023 20:05 by tonymarshall. Reason: Correct formatting

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09 Sep 2023 20:08 - 09 Sep 2023 20:11 #78732 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic South Cockade Pass
Traversing and descending where you can became the order of the day, an identical pattern to the corresponding section of False Tseketseke Pass, in the view back up the terrain I had crossed in the photo below.  


Another similar view, showing the terrain, and the need to find the easy and safe ways down the grass or rock slopes to descend, traversing on the grass slopes/ledges above until a way down presents itself.  


The views to Pyramid and Column were spectacular.  


A view down the lower slopes to the stream below. The photo makes it appear that you can reach out and touch the bottom of the valley, but it is still a long way down. This photo also gives a good perspective on the navigation challenges of this sort of terrain, although it appears that this is just a continuous grass slope to go down, there are four or five rock bands blocking the way that are not visible in the dead ground of the photo.  


A view back up one of the steep grass slopes I descended/down climbed, showing also that exposure is unavoidable.  


This is a view down from the top of the rock band where I fell. I had moved a bit to the left of where the photo below was taken, and fell while down climbing when the ground I was holding onto broke off. I fell over backwards vertically about 3 m to my first impact, hitting my head, and about 10 m vertically in total, before ending up in the patch of protea bushes at the centre of the photo below.  


Another view down the grass slopes taken from the same position as the previous photo. These were the last two photos I took on this hike, and the photo below shows I didn’t have too far to go down the grass slopes and through two or three more rock bands to get to the steam below, and much easier terrain for the walk out, which would be down the stream in the photo, and then down the Xeni River after the stream joined the Xeni.  


While I was waiting to be rescued, and looking down the slopes, I worked out that I was about 300 m away from joining to my route of False Tseketseke Pass to be on familiar ground, but when I checked my gps track once I got home, I was only about 100 m away from my previous route out, so I got very close to completing South Cockade Pass. 

It may seem presumptuous to write up a pass that I didn’t finish, and had to be rescued on, but I know that it goes, and if I hadn’t fallen that I would have completed it, and believe that there is sufficient interest in this by other hikers that it is worth writing up. I will be back. When I am recovered and able to get to this area again, I intend to hike in from below and complete this route from below to the top of where I fell from. I hope to find someone adventurous enough to join me, I will not do it alone, and will find a better way through the rock band than where I fell, and then will also complete this write up. It is also important for me to revisit the place where I fell and was severely injured, to reflect on what happened and make peace with it, and get closure. 

I have been given a very strong message from my fall, injuries and rescue, and will not continue to do this nature of extreme hiking, with very high risks, alone. I hope somebody will join me for the few extreme passes that I still want to do, there are two or three more that I still want to do, so that I can do them. I will continue to hike alone, it is just a far too important part of my life to give up totally, but only in much less risky circumstances. I don’t believe that the Dragon wants to inflict Wrath on me, but just to give me a message that I can’t ignore to take it easy, to prevent something worse from happening to me. I hope other hikers will also take a message from what happened to me, an incident can happen out of the blue, please be careful and concentrate fully.

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Last edit: 09 Sep 2023 20:11 by tonymarshall. Reason: Correct formatting

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13 Nov 2023 06:51 #78789 by wildingo
Replied by wildingo on topic South Cockade Pass
Thank you Tony for the splendid photos and descriptions. It always amazes me how the camera makes the slopes look so benign. I hope your recovery is going well.
The following user(s) said Thank You: tonymarshall

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