Didima Falls (Witch Falls)

20 Jun 2013 07:03 - 20 Jun 2013 12:31 #57414 by elinda

This is Malcolm Pearse’s photo from the Third Edition of Barrier of Spears that has fascinated me ever since I saw it some years ago. It’s of Didima Falls or Witch Falls just before it plunges over the escarpment between the Monks Cowl and Cathedral Peak area. I promised myself that I would visit that exact spot someday, and this last weekend I managed to make that a reality.

6 of us(Tony, Gert-Jan, Jack, Roy, Richard and myself) left Didima camp at Cathedral Peak mid-morning on Friday and headed up Organ Pipes Pass. The weather was superb with not a cloud in sight and apart from a moderate breeze accompanying us, wasn't too bad at all. Interestingly we met up with the police at the top of Mikes Pass who informed us that they had received word of a large dagga haul happening in the next day or so and that they expected them to be coming down Tlanyaku Pass. If we heard any shots, we were not to be concerned as we would be well out of the way and they were aware of us hikers on the mountain. Our plan was to come down Tlanyaku on Monday morning by which time all the action would have taken place, we hoped, anyway! We took the Thuthumi shortcut and topped out on the escarpment just before 5.00pm and proceeded to set up camp below Windsor Castle in an increasingly strong icy wind that was not to let up for the next 24 hours. The streams were iced up but we managed to gather enough water for that night.

The following morning , after waiting for the sun to warm us up a little, we set off at a reasonable hour and headed up and over the top of Windsor Castle and continued over the Little Saddle until we got down to the Tlanyaku Pass cutback. I have never taken this route before, usually using the Yodlers Valley route and the views along the edge of the escarpment are magnificent!

We had lunch next to an iced up stream before tackling the monster Didima Dome and Buttress that lay ahead. Intrepid had advised of a route that would involve a steep climb up a gully of Didima Buttress instead of the longer route around the base of it. However when we reached that point we were unsure whether that was indeed the right spot, it certainly looked crazily steep and we did not know what lay at the top of it!

So the general consensus was to play it safe and take the longer route around. The path was level enough at first, but eventually we had to head up and climb ever higher to get to the top of the ridge overlooking the Yodlers Cascades. At this stage of the afternoon we all had tired legs and still had a way to go to find Didima Cave. We eventually got to the Didima Buttress summit, still in that artic wind and contoured round the valley, stopping to collect some water, again from very iced up rivers before continuing into the next valley. Tony deduced from his GPS that the cave was not far and just over the next ridge so we plodded up to the saddle and were greeted with the sight of the Didima River in the valley below us and the cave in a rock band a little distance to our right.

Another long day as we arrived at 5.00pm so we were all very pleased to get there. The difference in temperature inside the cave was noticeable – a very sheltered cave and the 6 of us managed to fit in fairly comfortably.

The following morning, the wind had dropped considerably and three of us set off to conquer Witch Peak, and of course to see the Falls close up whist the others elected to chill out in the cave until our return. It’s a steepish descent to the river, about 1km I would think, and then the climb up to the Witch directly opposite the cave.

I was quite amazed on reaching the top to discover how sharp and knife like the edge is, I guess comparable to a witch’s nose? We spent a little while taking in the amazing views – it was early morning and the sun’s rays bathed everything in a beautiful golden light. Too awesome for mere words. We then headed down to the Falls, and this was the absolute highlight of my trip. It was completely iced up although there was a little water running under the ice and down the escarpment. This has to be one of the most picturesque places I have ever had the privilege to see in the Berg, and it was a very special moment for me.

Tony took this photograph for me and it was only later that I discovered that I had almost duplicated the original photograph, right down to the colour of my jacket! Incidentally does anyone have any information on this photograph that was taken by Malcolm Pearse? It would be interesting to know! Who is the person in the photo? I could have spent the entire day there but time was getting on and we had to head back. After gathering our gear we set off, this time along the ridge and soon came to the top of the gully that we had been a bit dubious about the afternoon before. A very steep descent down a mostly grassy slope with some fabulous views down immense drops, at one point there is a ‘window’ that looks out onto towering crags and cliffs, the photo does not do it justice at all.

Once down on the path again we headed towards Tlanyaku and after a brief lunch at the top of the Pass, headed down. I have not been down this Pass for a number of years, and although it is as spectacular as always, it is much eroded, presumably due to the high volume of smuggler traffic and a lot of care is required as it is extremely steep in places and a lot of slippery scree.

Once down we headed for Schoongezicht Cave where we spent our last night. We managed to fit in although we had to spread out a bit and there were a few drips on the left hand side of the cave. A pleasure being so close to the river although not a cave to be sleeping in during the wet season for obvious reasons!

Monday morning we boulder hopped down the river to Phillips Folly which was a doddle compared to the previous couple of days climbing. Then the walk along the contour path to the top of Mikes Pass where we had arranged a pick up from Parks Board. Incidentally we noticed the cloud of dust that drifted across the front of Cleft Peak and at the time thought it may have been from a fire from the Lesotho side of the escarpment and it was only once we got back down that we heard that it had actually been a rock fall.

So, another item crossed off my bucket list and my thanks to all the guys for a memorable hike!
(Tony will be posting something as regards the more technical/data side of the hike soon)

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Last edit: 20 Jun 2013 12:31 by intrepid. Reason: uploaded pics

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20 Jun 2013 13:21 #57418 by ASL
Replied by ASL on topic Didima Falls (Witch Falls)
Thanks so much for this... what a stunning hike!

PS. Do you think it's an option to hike to Didima Cave in one day? It would be nice to have more time in the area. How far is it from the top of Organ Pipes?

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20 Jun 2013 15:25 #57420 by ghaznavid
Thanks for the writeup and photos :thumbsup:

We all know of the 2nd highest waterfall on earth, but people often forget that this 600m high waterfall is the 15th highest on earth...

@ASL: I would say technically its possible, but it would be a really hectic push. You have to go over Ndumeni Dome ridge and the full way behind the Windsor Castle ridge. If I'm correct its well over 20km total.

It would save a lot of time and effort to use the bypass path to the Thuthumi Pass side of the ridge and the use the Smugglers Pass top out to avoid Ndumeni Dome. It would still be really tough though.

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20 Jun 2013 19:55 #57422 by Richard Hunt
What a well written account of an awesome hike...lovely photos :thumbsup:

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21 Jun 2013 14:08 #57426 by elinda
Replied by elinda on topic Didima Falls (Witch Falls)
The distance from the top of Mikes Pass to where we camped the first night was 9.4km with a height gain of 1093 metres.
Second day from there to Didima Cave was 12.2 km and a lot more climbing! In my opinion it is not possible to do the entire hike in just one day, certainly not with a heavy backpack but then again, perhaps the likes of Stijn would find it an achievable challenge! - Any comments?!!

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23 Jun 2013 00:12 #57430 by Stockhausen
I loved reading your report! We'd love to do a hike like this one day..

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24 Jun 2013 18:49 - 24 Jun 2013 18:59 #57458 by tonymarshall
(Sorry, Having problems inserting the photos, moderator please help, photos in numerical order one under each paragraph below.)

After a windy night tenting at the head of the Makhapung valley, we awoke to icy conditions, with ice about 25 mm thick on the pools.

After leaving our campsite next to the stream we headed up to summit Windsor Castle, 3071 m.

Descending the slopes of Windsor Castle, we had a grand view to the next khulu, Little Saddle North, 3069 m, which was also summitted.

From Little Saddle North, the panorama unfolded below, with the Thuthumi, Didima and Eastman’s Peak Fork valleys and Eastman’s Ridge dominating the view.

We crossed Little Saddle and summitted Little Saddle South, 3075 m, where the view to our destination area was fully revealed, Didima Falls to the left and the Didima Buttress ridge to the right. In the picture below, we descended the foreground ridge to the right, past the Tlanyaku Pass area at the low point, up the Didima Dome ridge out of the picture to the right, and onto the Didima Buttress ridge.

After crossing to the front of the ridge, we descended down slightly, around the next low ridge to our overnight spot of Didima Cave, on the ridge overlooking the Didima Falls. The rock band with Didima Cave was illuminated by the magic morning light.

Elinda, Gert-Jan and I headed down into the valley to the top of the Didima Falls and to summit the Witch. The picture below, taken near the falls, shows Didima Cave in the ridge above the falls, in the rock band on the right of the middle of the three ridge high points on the horizon.

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Last edit: 24 Jun 2013 18:59 by tonymarshall.
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, kliktrak, ghaznavid

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24 Jun 2013 19:01 - 24 Jun 2013 19:07 #57460 by tonymarshall
We took some pictures on the high point of the Witch, 3061 m, (not a khulu due to higher peaks further up the ridge) and then headed down to the top of the Didima Falls which was now in sunlight.

Overnight the falls ice up, and the cascades over the escarpment edge were a shimmering contrast to the dark rock.

The pools at the top of the falls were iced over as Elinda and Gert-Jan admired the view to the Cathedral range as we prepared to recreate the classic photo from Barrier of Spears.

Returning to Didima Cave, we stopped at a viewpoint and admired the seldom seen Didima Twins.

The picture below shows Didima Cave in relation to the low saddle giving access to the cave from the north.

After departing from the cave through the low saddle, we gained the top of the Didima Buttress ridge, following the ridge to the end at Didima Buttress, the high point on the right in the picture below.

At the end of the ridge, we climbed down the steep upper section of the gully, before descending the flatter grass slope to contour around the back of an unnamed ridge and then Didima Dome, the prominent feature in the middle right of the picture below, on our way to Tlanyaku Pass.

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Last edit: 24 Jun 2013 19:07 by tonymarshall.
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, kliktrak, brio

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