Knucklestruck!! (Devil's Knuckles)

13 Oct 2015 11:19 #65376 by Smurfatefrog
Early Friday morning 4 of us (JonWells, Fitness/Simon, Leigh and myself) set off from Durban to meet Tots. Tots is off to the UK soon so when he expressed an interest for a last hike before heading to miserable weather we jumped at the chance. Showing his dedication he drove down from JHB the day before and camped at Silverstreams.

The day’s goal was Goats Cave (yes, the correct one this time). We decided to head up Ngwangwane Pass, for three reasons: water along the whole route, an easier gradual ascent and something different rather than Thomathu Pass.

Just before 9:30am we set off up the Bushmans river valley on a warm windless day. An hour later we were having a break from the sun at Halfway/Slab cave.

Simon, Leigh and Tots leaving the cave


The pools along the way looked very inviting but with a chance of a storm later we decided to keep pushing on to Bushmans cave for our lunch stop.


The berg starting to look nice and green again.




After refuelling we continued up the valley and topped out at Ngwangwane Pass at 2PM. The path up this valley is clear the whole way, only the final wide grassy bank does not have a path.

About to start the final grass bank.


To the north we could see dark clouds and rain showers, and then as soon as everyone topped out there was lightning in the distance, so Tots literally had a 10 second break at the top of the pass before we said “ok guys we need to get moving”


We walked the 800m or so and started heading “down” Thomathu Pass before taking the path to the right (south) to Goats cave that passes in front of Thomathu peak.
About 100m before the cave lightning struck around the Knuckles, Jon and I looked at each other and motored, I looked around to see Simon running and Tots lying on the ground (his lightning avoidance technique). Rain started falling as we got into the cave, it lasted for about 5 minutes before it cleared to produce a rainbow.

Goats cave in the distance with dark clouds now to the south.




A view of the next night’s accommodation


We were worried about water but this didn’t prove too much of a mission, about 800m from the cave the river in Lesotho had a decent trickle.
The temperature for the weekend was not predicted to be lower than 10°C at any stage, by 6PM it was already down to 8°C. I had only brought my 9 to 15°C sleeping bag while in contrast Leigh had a -21°C bag! The temperature warmed up during the night so was quite pleasant.

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13 Oct 2015 11:28 #65377 by Smurfatefrog
By 5:30am the sun was shining directly into the cave working as a good alarm! This helped in setting some sort of record with us getting going before 7am!

Sunrises from this cave seldom disappoint




The day had gale force winds predicted so we also wanted to get going while it was still calm, or so we thought…. As soon as we emerged from behind the shelter of the cave’s rock band we were hit with the full force of the westerly.
Luckily this was short lived, as soon we started on the Knuckles Traverse path we were nicely protected by the Knuckles. There are numerous paths which split/join/start/end along this section, we took the highest good path so that we didn’t lose altitude. However between the north and middle knuckle the path completely disappeared and I could see the path I had previously been on about 100m lower down. The good news though was that we were literally right at the base of the Knuckles. Jon discovered a little shelter on the south side of the north knuckle, probably very wet in summer though seeing as there was a drip there now.

We looked up the pass between middle and north, it looks full of boulders but is probably do-able with a bit of scrambling.


The aim was to go up the pass between south and middle, we got there to see a nice grassy gully, steep but looked quite easy. Our starting point was at 2650m, we topped out about an hour later at 2920m. It was a lot less grassy than it appears, there was quite a bit of loose rock and a few scree sections. We all took different lines but all seemed to have the same experience. At times I felt like I’d take 3 steps and slide 1 back, repeat, repeat.


We were greeted at the top by the full force of the wind, we could hardly stand. After a short break out of the wind we left our packs on the saddle and headed up the middle knuckle. There was a very minor scramble getting up the rock band. The first section of the peak has a small cairn at 3005m, the actual summit though is at the end on the edge which is 3010m.

View towards the summit


The view towards the south knuckle and its 2m tall red cairn


The opposite view of the middle knuckle from the south.


We dashed back down, collected our packs and headed up the south knuckle at 3030m where we met the cairn aka Jon.

Looking down into the pass and the middle knuckle.


As far as we knew there was a path heading down the south side so we followed the ridge heading into Lesotho and eventually found the path headed south which contours at about 2950m. Towards the end of the first gully the path disappeared, there seemed to be drop offs in this gully so we continued to contour around into the next gully.

The path faded away from after here.


We eventually picked up another vague path which led us to the top of a wide grassy gully with Thomathu village behind. There was a strong path at the top which dropped 50m quickly and then started contouring south again! We decided to just head straight down, by now everyone was tired of walking at angles on grassy slopes, so we were very relieved to eventually get down to some flat water filled ground.

We came down here, would the normal south knuckle pass be the gully to the right?

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13 Oct 2015 11:30 #65378 by Smurfatefrog
We had a quick stop at a tarn along the way before heading to Tarn Cave.


We dropped our packs and headed up to the tarn to collect water and have a quick dip. The roof of the cave as you walk in recently had a large chunk break off which left a trail of destruction!




Saturday night was spent enjoying some celebratory drinks and just doing the normal cave stuff.
Sunday morning we headed down Tarn cave “pass”. Nothing too notable here except for a herd of about 50 eland.

All in all a great 39km in the berg.



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13 Oct 2015 11:49 #65379 by JonWells
Thanks for the write up Smurf, that was epic weekend in an incredibly awesome part of the berg! :thumbsup:

We really nearly were "Knucklestruck", a few seconds before that lightning strike I had the unnerving sensation of feeling the hair on my head start standing on end.... frightening stuff and a very close call... :S

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13 Oct 2015 12:20 - 13 Oct 2015 12:27 #65380 by Stijn
Thanks for the write-up Smurf. To answer your question about the South Knuckles Pass, I believe it is one valley to the right. We went up it from Tarn Cave many years ago (2006) and as I recall, you follow the border fence most of the way up. Grass slopes with no obstacles. On your photo with the arrow, the line we followed is not in the gully itself but on the broad grassy slopes to the left of the gully (between ridge and gully).

I'd love to head back to the Southern Berg at some point - all these recent pics are adding to the nostalgic value! :thumbsup:
Last edit: 13 Oct 2015 12:27 by Stijn.
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13 Oct 2015 12:21 #65381 by Fitness
Smurf, great write up,
was an epic hike, one which has long been on my "to do" list,
a highlight for me most definitely was the Roxette sing along outside Goats Cave at 8:30pm in 9 degree weather.

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13 Oct 2015 13:06 #65382 by Viking

Fitness wrote: a highlight for me most definitely was the Roxette sing along


Sounds like I dodged a bullet here. :P

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

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13 Oct 2015 20:20 #65386 by intrepid

Stijn wrote: Thanks for the write-up Smurf. To answer your question about the South Knuckles Pass, I believe it is one valley to the right. We went up it from Tarn Cave many years ago (2006) and as I recall, you follow the border fence most of the way up. Grass slopes with no obstacles. On your photo with the arrow, the line we followed is not in the gully itself but on the broad grassy slopes to the left of the gully (between ridge and gully).

I also believe this to be the southern one, though we did the gully proper.

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

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14 Oct 2015 19:55 #65396 by Peakbagger66
Nice post guys.
Just a note about the pass between the centre and northern Knuckle. It is mostly scrambling apart from a chockstone about half way up which entails a short climb of 4 or 5 moves. If memory serves me correctly we used a couple of big hexes to protect it when we went up a couple of years ago.
It is a really nice scramble and anyone going up should look out for a ledge which traverses out on to the Northern Knuckle ridge. Walk out along this and it opens into an amazing flat spot big enough to site quite a few tents. Being on the northern ridge the view from here is really great.
The top of the pass narrows right down to about the width of a door
The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn, Smurfatefrog, Fitness, Biomech

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14 Oct 2015 21:12 #65398 by LouisvV
That piece of rock that came loose must have been something to witness :ohmy:

What will cause something like this? Lightning? Quakes / tremors?

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