Bollard Pass

28 Oct 2014 13:10 #62191 by firephish
Replied by firephish on topic Bollard Pass
i somehow doubt this :laugh: B)

ghaznavid wrote: Admittedly while waiting for the rescue team I wasn't exactly planning my next hike ..


Seriously though, i think most people have been in situations that are slightly "dicey" and understand how easily it can happen. If you had backtracked or pushed on maybe (probably?) you would have made it with a couple of bruises and a hair-raising tail to tell ... but its not worth a life to find out.
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28 Oct 2014 13:17 #62192 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Bollard Pass

firephish wrote: Seriously though, i think most people have been in situations that are slightly "dicey" and understand how easily it can happen.


That was what was so crazy - it took a few minutes from all going very well to being stuck on a ledge. When we hit Stealth Cave we knew we had this one in the bag, yet we didn't even get past 200m from Stealth Cave in the end.

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28 Oct 2014 14:20 #62193 by elinda
Replied by elinda on topic Bollard Pass
I rate my experiences in this pass as right up there with my most scariest moments in the Berg ( top of the list is Devils Tooth Gully) My first attempt up Bollard was in a heavily iced up gully and we got up to the cave, overnighted and then exited the following day via the 'corner' route that Ghaz speaks of. Pretty exposed and more than a few heartstopping moments. Second attempt ( yes, unbelievably I came back for more :ohmy: ) we also went up in Winter but there was not nearly as much ice. We still could not climb the waterfall and followed pretty much the same route up to the cave but our exit this time was to go below the 'corner' and then left across sloping rock before getting into the gully above the waterfall. From here its plain sailing to the top. I agree that this pass is very tricky and I think should be only attempted by those that have rock climbing experience and also a rope. I certainly do not have rock climbing skills and was just fortunate to complete the hike with no injuries or worse. As has been mentioned, the situation like Ghaz's can easily happen to any of us

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28 Oct 2014 14:45 #62194 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Bollard Pass
Glad you guys got down safely in the end. I appreciate the transparency with which the incident was reported here. Yes, questions do get asked after a mountain safety incident, as it has been pointed out. But ultimately accidents happen even to the very cautious and the very experienced. I'm sure lots has been learned through it and I hope the Dragon will quickly draw you back in.

I cannot recall this ledge, nor how exactly we traversed from the cave towards the gully, even after looking at my own photos. I seem to have it in my head that it was either directly from the cave, or a few meters below it. I do remember it being exposed and there was a roughly 2m section that required careful down-climbing. My GPS tracks simply show a direct exit from the cave, continuing up the gully. It goes to show how easily critical information can get blurry with time, and that tolerances for exposure and scrambles is a very tricky thing to quantify for people. And it can differ for the same person on different trips and in different circumstances.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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28 Oct 2014 16:24 - 28 Oct 2014 16:25 #62196 by HFc
Replied by HFc on topic Bollard Pass
I have often backed myself to get up a scramble, and subsequently made it with no issues, only to realize afterwards (or 3/4's of the way up) that it would be close to impossible to downclimb. This type of thing is amplified when its wet and slippery.

This happened a lot to me/us in earlier days, especially with my brother-in-law when we hiked & climbed almost twice a month in the Witteberge. Age and maturity has perhaps tempered this a bit, but even last year I got caught out again this way when climbing Mafatle in Goldengate (As reported at the time on VE). Thankfully there was another route down.

It can happen to any of us, and lets face it, playing the safe way all the time means we will NOT AT ALL be playing in this revered yet dangerous place called the Berg.

Glad it turned out well for you guys.
Last edit: 28 Oct 2014 16:25 by HFc.
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29 Oct 2014 10:41 #62198 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Bollard Pass
On a lighter note - the tradition of getting a photo on "the rock" on the way up to Sleeping Beauty Cave is alive and well:


I have hiked up this trail 4 times, and every time I have taken a photo of someone in the group in this exact spot. L-R top to bottom it is:
1) Werner (he is also a 2m tall individual) - first hike I ever lead, a day hike up to Sleeping Beauty Cave and back again.
2) Evan - my first attempt at an escarpment day hike. We had driven to the Berg with the goal of doing Bollard/Wilson in a day, but heavy snow fell 2 days before so we just walked around the base of the passes. In retrospect a good thing we didn't shoot for the pass, I had very little hiking experience at this point in time. We ended up following the river down from Wilson's Pass hoping to go past Cod's Eye Cave back to the main trail. This didn't work out and we had to backtrack right up past Sleeping Beauty Cave. It was rather epic!
3) Johan (and Fitness in the background) - we set out to do Mzimude Pass but ended up switching to Tsepeng Pass. That was quite an epic hike!
4) Hobbit this weekend...

So it would seem that "epic" things happen when I go up past Sleeping Beauty Cave. Perhaps time to put plans involving this valley to sleep :laugh:

For those who have never hiked up to Sleeping Beauty Cave - it is one of the steepest small Berg approaches around and is surrounded by massive sandstone cliffs. I once read that only one of the opened Berg sandstone climbing routes isn't in this valley. It can be used to approach Tsepeng Pass, Bollard Pass or Wilson's Pass - all of which are genuine rock passes and include some exposed scrambling (Bollard is the most exposed, Wilson the least). But you don't need to do a pass to justify going up this valley.

The cave itself is massive, yet has practically no sleeping area due to the massive boulders and river that flows through it.

Getting from Sleeping Beauty Cave to the tiny Engagement cave requires an interesting route that took me a while to figure out. The trail past the cave disappears at a waterfall before hitting some heavy overgrowth. At this point you turn 90 degrees to the right, follow the stream, cross the main river and scramble up the bank on the other side. The trail is very rough and requires some scrambling, but once you start the steep climb up the bank - its easy from there. The trail to Engagement Cave splits off to the right, while ST's Waterfall Cave is visible to the left, high up on the south slopes. Definitely worth a visit :thumbsup:

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29 Oct 2014 16:04 #62200 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Bollard Pass
I can recall two previous trips when we were faced with a similar decision to Ghaz and co on Bollard. The first was going up Injisuthi Pass and the other on Hilton Pass. In one case we carried on up while on the latter we backed off. Both times were with one other person with whom I had previously climbed a lot in the Berg.

In the case of Injisuthi Pass we knew we would meet with sections requiring climbing gear and we had a 50m rope, harnesses and light rack. Our mindset was that we were going to top out come what may and we did, though we wouldn't have done so without the gear - it would have been too risky.

On Hilton Pass, rather like Ghaz's experience on Bollard, we only had a few meters of 6 mm rope. We had every intention of topping out (there was never any thought that we couldn't) but there came a point when we were faced with a waterfall of about 3m over loose and slippery rock. We had a number of unsuccessful goes at it. There was also the prospect of working round to the left of the waterfall onto steep grassy slopes and slabs but we were not sure we could down climb any of it or what lay above. Down climbing is so much harder than going up. I can recall the mental agony of the 15 minutes it took to make the decision to go back down and I can recall how the decision plagued me until such time as we had regained the altitude a day later in Corner Pass. The objective decision was really straightforward. It was clear that going up was far too risky - even with what we could see and the danger probably lay in what was still hidden. Accepting the decision was the hard part. Going back down seemed to undo all the triumphs gained over the years from risks on much harder Berg climbs. And that is the thing - the rewards do indeed flow from overcoming the risk. I am still surprised at how hard it was to make the decision to back off. Hilton Pass still bugs me.

The difference as far as I can understand it in these two cases lies in having the gear that would make retreat a reasonable prospect and stop a fatal fall. Note the term 'reasonable prospect'. I've been stuck on a ledge before with 100m of rope and a full rack and had a lot of trouble getting off (Thompson's route on the Column). There aren't always places to anchor. But on a pass like Hilton's (perhaps Bollard) having the gear does provide one with the edge over the risk.

None of this is meant as a criticism of what happened in Ghaz and co's case. They did the right thing by not falling off. A rescue is much harder to do when someone has broken themselves - or worse. What interests me most is that moment of the decision. It is more binary than we think.
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29 Oct 2014 17:20 #62203 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Bollard Pass
With a rope, rack and the expectation of needing it - I would probably have opted for the lower narrow (very exposed) ledge rather than the scramble we used that got us stuck. If I couldn't get any gear into the rock it wouldn't have helped much though. There was very little in the pass that one could anchor an abseil off. That is why they lowered us through the open book and the last person downclimbed with a belay device on the rope (rope on a smallish sharp rock). The lower waterfall did have a solid block, but it was 10-15m from the top of the waterfall. To get us off the initial ledge to Stealth Cave, they got 2 cams in on the Stealth Cave side and only 2 grass stakes and 1 poor hex to anchor the belayer on our side.

With 2 ropes we could have done a self-rescue, but I am not 100% sure how we would have been able to use the ropes to get up without carrying and leaving grass stakes (or placing bolts). This section of the pass does really puzzle me - looking over Elinda's photos from her writeup, they climbed the lower waterfall (that we bypassed by the grass slopes, but abseiled down with the rescue team), but they too followed this line to Stealth Cave from above the lower waterfall. There are only 2 lines I could find between the open book and the gully without dropping back below the open book. The higher line was the one we were stuck on, the lower one was what we thought was unsafe, but it sounds like the correct line.

The ground was very soft and crumbly, so its not impossible that this ledge has deteriorated since the last ascent - but this doesn't strike me as a likely explanation.

I know Bollard Pass is a pass that will bug me, much like Popple Peak and Mzimude Pass had in the past. But the difference was that Popple Peak and Mzimude Pass were goals I didn't achieve due to lack of fitness and hiking partners, while Bollard Pass falls more into the "things I'm not willing to die trying" category (much like my take on Hilton Pass based on what I know of it). My opinion may change with time, but I would rather accept that this is not a pass I am capable of doing than try it again and get stuck again - or worse.

I always say that a goal should not be abandoned purely because it is too difficult, otherwise what is the point of setting goals? But when safety is concerned, I think it is valid to reassess goals.

So, my plans for my next hike? Probably something a little more pedestrian than what I have been doing recently :laugh: I need to get 1 or 2 more hikes in before I do a GT in December (still hoping for takers for the resupply).

On the bright side I have passed my long standing goal of doing 500km in the Berg in a year (currently on 512 after the 14km this weekend). I should pass 650km if everything goes according to plan.

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29 Oct 2014 17:45 #62204 by Selous
Replied by Selous on topic Bollard Pass
Hi Ghaz

You did your research, you are a competent hiker, experienced pass bagger, you are knowledgable about many aspects about the berg. As you said that pass seemed as though it could be done but might just have needed a bit rope experience in hind sight. Hope you can bag it one day.
Regards
Selous
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29 Oct 2014 17:56 #62205 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Bollard Pass
The thing about a rope is that it changes the experiment without the material conditions of the difficulty of the route itself changing. It gives you the head space to know that you probably could fall off safely and having that head space then stops you from falling off. Most of these rock passes can be climbed 9/10 without falling off. But the fear of falling when you don't have a rope makes the likelihood of successfully getting up the pass much lower. That might sound like 'gear makes you reckless' - but there is a subtle truth to it.

I remember the first time we went up Mponjwane. We rapped off in last light and ended up messing about trying to find the exit gulley back to the cave in the pitch dark. Once we did find it, the only way into it seemed to be via a tricky traverse on a narrow ledge. I belayed the lead guy off into the dark and when the rope pulled tight I followed. When we were once again in the same spot it became clear that there was no gear out at the belay point and that if I had come off it would have meant both of us would have ended up at the bottom of the gully - about 10m or so below. The belayer said the rope was there for moral support which annoyed me at the time but in retrospect was what was needed for me to do the relatively easy but psychologically difficult traverse. It liberated the head-space/confidence to do what was required at the time. A rope is a good piece of kit in the mountains even when its not.
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