On Biting Off More Than You Can Chew…

29 Apr 2015 10:48 - 01 Jun 2015 11:41 #63564 by andrew r
Here follows our hike report on our mission up Cockade Pass and down Tseketseke Pass over the Freedom Day weekend.

So, the short version is that we bit off WAY more than we could chew in taking a group of 8 (including two first-time hikers) on a three day loop from Cathedral Peak Hotel up Cockade Pass, up Cockade and Tseketseke Peaks, down Tseketseke Pass and back to CPH; In spite of the enormity of the task for an under-trained, limited-experienced and under-equipped team we made it, we had a lot of great experiences along the way, and we will be back for more in the future (but smaller portions, with better menu planning, and a healthier side-order of preparation next time please waiter).

The long version is going to be more of an experiential report than a detailed route guide, and requires that you believe in miracles, because there were too many fortunate coincidences during the course of this adventure to put them all down to chance. And the first was that on the eve of the hike, ghaznavid put out a call on VE that his hike had fallen through, and he was keen to link up with another venture. We made contact, and without further ado we had a massive boost of expertise & knowledge to our team made up of two first-time hikers, three keen but limited experience hikers (less than 12 nights) and two knowledgeable hikers; a big thank-you to ghaz, who together with bartvandijk and Johan (not on VE yet) expertly guided us through a memorable trip that could so easily have been memorable for the wrong reasons.

After an afternoon of car troubles (radiator) and an evening of miscommunication (waiting for each other in different car-parks), we found ourselves in the Cathedral Peak Hotel hikers parking at 9pm on Friday night with no other option but to camp at the first flat piece of ground beyond the hotel perimeter, which we did, rising at 4:30am to get going early on Saturday morning and were on the trail to Neptune Pools by 5:45am. The hike to the zig-zags and on up to the junction with the contour path was uneventful and notable only for the fact that it gave ghaz a clear picture of the vulnerable nature of our team. We breakfasted at the contour path junction and after an hour break continued along the contour path, which as reported by others, is in poor condition and gets worse as you go, especially the last section which drops down to the river at the Cockade/Xeni & Tseketseke junction C6.

The next portion involved boulder-hopping in the riverbed and pushing through scrubby bush on one side or the other looking for the path of least resistance, and was tiring and slow, exactly as described by tony marshall in his recent trip report; I don’t remember too much about this part and it is probably best forgotten except for the magnificent views of Cockade, Cockade Pinnacle, Elephant, Xeni, Twins, The Chessmen, and part of Inner Horn towering overhead as you ascend on up. We lunched a little way below the Cockade & Xeni junction; 6 hours to get there despite ghaz’s proficient route-finding, we were tired and worse for wear, and still had the pass proper to tackle. A big day out, especially for the newbies.

Fortunately the guys were made of stern stuff and despite already being pretty tired, with great mental fortitude and determination we headed around the corner and on up Cockade Pass proper, which as documented elsewhere can be divided into three portions: the bottom overgrown section, the middle rocky boulder-hopping section, and the top grassy section with the option of North or South Variation top-out. All afternoon we worked our way methodically up incredibly steep slopes in places, with brief but scary bouts of light hail, lightning and thunder that miraculously disappeared as quickly as they arrived, and after what seemed like an age the last of our group topped out of the narrow, steep-sided South Variation in darkness at about 6:20pm, over 12½ hours after setting out that morning.

Unlike tonymarshall, Harry and intrepid on their recent foray up Cockade, Climbykel was not there to greet us unfortunately (I think perhaps because we were a little late and she had knocked off already :) ). Nevertheless it was a great relief to eventually reach the top and once we had regrouped we quickly made our way down by headlight to the stream in Lesotho in the shallow valley below, and miraculously (again) happened upon a soft, flat piece of ground near water and in a neat little hollow providing protection against strong winds should we need it. Pretty exhausted by now we set up our tents, put on warm clothes, ate some warm food with our last remaining energy and settled down for some well-earned rest.

A good if typically fitful night’s sleep at altitude followed, and everyone woke in good cheer the next day excited to see what wonders would be revealed from the darkness of the night before: The back of Cleft Peak towering up in front of us to the left, Mahoud & Elephant with the tops of Cockade Pass behind us, and Cockade Peak, False Tseketseke Pass, Tseketseke Peak and Tseketseke Pass in between on the left, with the Thlanyaku Moremoholo valley disappearing off into Lesotho in front to the right: what a great place to be and well worth the considerable efforts of the day before. To add icing to an already amazing scene, a black-backed jackal loped nonchalantly by in the near distance, and a little later the big birds of prey were on the wing and we were graced by the presence of two lammergeyer (or maybe the same one twice) and could see cape vultures out in front of Elephant; what a treat.


our campsite in a hollow by the Thlanyaku River


Cockade Peak from the rocky outcrop where we stashed our packs

We ate, packed up, and by 9:00am were heading up to stash our packs in a convenient rocky outcrop before heading up to check out the views from the top of Cockade Peak (3086m). The arrival of an inquisitive & respectfully timid shepherd and his healthy looking dog resulted in two pack-guards being left to keep him company while the others went up to bag the peak. Having satisfied the first shepherd’s curiosity with some sweets in exchange for a photo, another shepherd came striding into the landscape accompanied by two dogs, and proceeded to go up the side of Mahout opposite us, shouting and singing; A little while later a drove of about six donkeys appeared on the side of Mahout, and to the amazement of all (the peak-baggers having returned by now) the bellowing shepherd proceeded to race headlong straight down the steep slope, gumboots and all, out-running his dogs and with blanket billowing behind, herding the donkeys across the valley below us.


shepherd 1 and his dog

Having been thus entertained, we all headed off to take careful note of the top of False Tseketseke Pass and proceeded on up the slope to the top of Tseketseke Peak, where it seemed surreal to be looking down on Column & Pyramid which on the previous day we’d been gazing up at. Such are the rewards for scaling the Escarpment.


Cathedral Peak range from Tseketseke Peak


looking down on Column and Pyramid, with Didima Camp in the middle left

We had agreed at breakfast that our original plan of descending via Organ Pipes was way too ambitious, and we had decided instead to try to get down Tseketseke Pass, hopefully as far as Tseketseke Hut, where we would spend the night and use the last available day to hike out back to Cathedral Peak Hotel.

And so at noon exactly we started off down Tseketseke Pass, over the grassy slopes & avoiding the loose washaways by sticking to the right, down into the boulder-hopping section, and on to the top waterfall, which we tried to skirt by traversing river-right without success, eventually descending down the same steps in the watercourse described by tonymarshall, but with the safety of a belay and with our packs lowered by paracord from an adjacent overhang. This was a good exercise in teamwork but took quite a while, and by the time we set off again we knew we were in trouble time wise.

We boulder-hopped downstream until we reached the next significant waterfall, where we could see no feasible way down (for our skill level) so we took to the steep, loose, south-facing (and therefore less vegetated) slope on river-left, hoping to get sufficient altitude to traverse around the waterfall and the subsequent slip-away that barred our entry back into the river bed. This proved to be pretty hairy, and as it got dark we were still on this steep, loose slope, heading for what appeared to be an impassable side gully. So we did the only thing we could: we prayed and down-climbed onto a small gently sloping terrace about 8m above the riverbed, hemmed in upstream by a side-slip and downstream by a bluff and side-gully, to the left by the steep loose slope we had come down, and to the right by a 8m drop to the riverbed. Fortuitously, the terrace was just big enough to pitch all of our tents, was covered by soft vegetation, and the few rocks were easy to move out of the way. So we set up camp in the dark again, made food and settled into an almost balmy, starry night, the rising crescent moon casting a perfect silhouette of the mountains onto the opposite valley wall. Quite tranquil.


looking downstream from our overnight terrace

The next day (Monday) we knew we had another big day ahead as the GPS said we were still 800m from Tseketseke Hut, so we got up before first light in order to make the most of the day, and while the others packed up Johan, bartvandijk and ghaznavid looked for a way out of our predicament and back into the river. After some scouting and with the benefit of daylight, an easy route was found via the downstream side-gully, and we were soon bolder-hopping down the river again, following a clearly marked route to Tsektseke Hut which we reached in about an hour and checked out for future reference. The hut is secure and weatherproof by the way, thanks in no small part to the considerable repair efforts of intrepid, diverian, tonymarshall and I think a few other VE angels.

After a break we continued on a short way downstream, scouring the right bank for the contour-path intersection which was clearly evident as we approached. A bit of bundu-bashing was required to get from the riverbed to the slightly more well-defined contour path itself, and at last we were back on a ‘proper’ trail. The contour path is a disgrace to EKZNW and the World Heritage Site Authority: overgrown, eroded in places and evidently unkept, but it was a welcome respite from boulder-hopping and bundu-bashing. From one of the switchbacks in the contour path we got a great view back of the lower section of the pass we had descended, and from a distance it became evident what a miracle it was that we had found the terrace that we spend the night on, as it is the only place within reach that was suitable, and saved us from a very uncomfortable night.


the lower reaches of Tseketseke Pass from the contour path, showing our overnight terrace and Tsektseke Hut peeping out from behind the ridge

From there we made rapid progress (for us), onwards and (mostly) downwards for the next few hours, resting briefly along the way back to the Hotel via Tarn Hill and stopping at Mushroom Rock for a group photo. We sent an advance party ahead to sort out the Rescue Register and arrange a shower at Didima, and the last of our group reached the Hotel Hiker’s Carpark at 2:00pm exactly, exhausted, exhilarated and overawed by what we’d managed to achieve over the last three days. Thanks to ghaz’s expert route finding we managed to also find our way to some excellent burgers & chips in Winterton on the way home (a bit slow in the making, but probably worth the wait).

Thanks must go to everyone on VE for their willingness to encourage and inform, but a word of caution to anyone putting a venture together is that you need a clear understanding of the capabilities of the group, as progress will be dictated by the least well prepared members in your team. If you accept that and are willing and able to adapt your plan accordingly you can have a great time, as we did.

ghaznavid has some magnificent pics which I trust he will add, along with his version of events ;)

make a difference. today.

Please login or register to view the images attached to this post.

Last edit: 01 Jun 2015 11:41 by andrew r. Reason: corrected river name

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
29 Apr 2015 11:20 - 29 Apr 2015 11:21 #63565 by ghaznavid
It was rather crazy how everything turned out. Being on a sleep loose grass bank in the dark without a headlamp - due to the fact that you can't hold on with 2 hands and get your headlamp out at the same time :laugh: - is a strange experience, and could have easily ended badly. Everyone in the group slipped at least once, but as always, with such steep slopes, when you slip, your centre of gravity is so close to the slope that you don't really fall. Still scary though.

The logic behind taking Tseke Pass was that camping above Organ Pipes Pass isn't ideal with its safety record, and the caves above the pass are all far from water (and too small for a group of 8). We couldn't head partially down the pass as there would be no water between the river by False Tseke Pass and the car park. So we would kind of be forced into heading the entire way back to the car, or using a route such as Ribbon Falls and camping within a few km of the car. Tseke Pass meant water and we knew the hut was on the river (although we didn't realise it is actually in the middle of the river).

As I mentioned on the Tseke Pass thread, my logic behind not trying to downclimb the waterfall was a combination of things - the easiest line I could see lead to a deep rock pool, and it was already getting dark, so I knew we would probably only be past the waterfall around 8PM. Hence the attempt to find a ledge on the north bank. This strategy has worked for me relatively often in the past, but didn't on this occasion.

Re Cockade Pass: there wasn't a specific reason why we used Selous' variation gully. Basically I wanted to do the route, and the guys all agreed to go with it. This route is less eroded, but much steeper and tops out a bit higher. Near the top you can almost touch both rock walls at the same time.

For the lower section of Cockade Pass, we opted for holding the riverbed - this proved much easier than following the cairns through the side terrain as we had done in December when coming down in the mist. The lower river and lack of mist helped a lot with navigation.

Photos to follow soon.
Last edit: 29 Apr 2015 11:21 by ghaznavid.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
29 Apr 2015 11:25 #63566 by ghaznavid
Ps. I was very impressed with some of the guys. When I saw the pace of the team up Neptune Hill, I thought we were probably going to end up camping at the base of Cockade Pass on Saturday night, maybe doing Cockade Pass as a day hike with stashed packs. The guys really pushed through well to finish this relatively difficult route.

Ironically enough - our total distance for the weekend was only 31km. Technically we spent 21 hours on Tseketseke Pass!
The following user(s) said Thank You: andrew r

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
03 May 2015 18:55 #63596 by ghaznavid
Photos as promised:


















Please login or register to view the images attached to this post.

The following user(s) said Thank You: andrew r

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
03 May 2015 18:58 #63597 by ghaznavid

Please login or register to view the images attached to this post.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
03 May 2015 19:00 #63598 by ghaznavid

Please login or register to view the images attached to this post.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
03 May 2015 19:02 #63599 by ghaznavid

Please login or register to view the images attached to this post.

The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, diverian, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, pfoj, andrew r

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
04 May 2015 01:02 #63606 by Serious tribe
@ Andrew r, Ghaz

Thanx for the write up guys. Nice pics as well. I have not done Tseke when it was a good pass, it looks downright awful now.
The following user(s) said Thank You: andrew r

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
04 May 2015 08:56 #63607 by andrew r
Just had a thought that instead of "False Tsektseke Pass" we should refer to the dangerously alluring non-pass as "Tseketseke False Pass"...

make a difference. today.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
04 May 2015 10:56 #63608 by DaleD
Thank you for the detailed report :thumbsup:
The following user(s) said Thank You: anthony, andrew r

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

More
Powered by Kunena Forum