Cleft Peak: Planning is Overrated

26 Oct 2015 10:32 #65526 by ghaznavid
Cleft Peak: Planning is Overrated

A wise man once said “if you’re failing to plan, then you’re planning to fail”. So this is a story of how I planned to fail and failed in my attempt to fail…

But jokes aside – planning is vital in hiking, and I wouldn’t recommend my approach to this hike!

I had planned on doing a long day hike on Saturday, but couldn’t find anyone to go with. When the weather reports showed over 20mm of rain on Saturday, I decided that going solo was also a bad idea. So on Saturday morning, after seeing that Didima didn’t have much rain forecast for Sunday, I phoned up Hobbit, and 2 hours later we were in a car driving to Didima.

With no real plan in mind, I had downloaded every Didima GPS track from VE and copied them all onto my GPS. We hadn’t discussed plans while driving there, the only plan was to stay at the camp for Saturday night and get an early start on Sunday.

The mountain register basically said Mikes Pass – Organ Pipes Pass and return via the same route. Not a huge amount of thought had been put into this, admittedly I first opened the map to make a plan about 7 hours into the hike!

So at 3AM my alarm clock went off. At 3:34AM we were at the Mike’s Pass car park, told the officer on duty we’d be back around 7PM, and began to walk up the road.

We reached the large switchback around 4km into the road section, and decided to take the bypass trail to cut off the upper section. The trail is very clear for about 5m, and trying to follow a poor trail in long grass by headlamp is always tricky. As the sun was coming up, we hit the old Jeep Track, about 500m from the Mikes Pass car park. 1h30 to do 5km of uphill with over 500m in altitude, and in the dark, isn’t a bad start. Mikes Pass starts at 1350m – I would imagine that only MCC is a lower starting point.

Eating breakfast on the jeep track was awesome – not every day you get to watch the Dragon turn red, then green. It had also rained the day before, so the air was very crisp and clear.

We followed the road for a bit, then figured out that there was a higher trail, and we followed this through to where it crosses the road/contour path, just before it climbs towards the old fire lookout hut.

Organ Pipes Pass was the 4th pass I had ever done in the Berg. Also the first hike I had ever done with a VE member (Tony Marshall) and was my first time on top in the Northern Berg. That hike had been entirely in the mist, so I was looking forward to actually seeing this pass properly.

The initial climb to the hut alternates between gentle and steep. I was using a 400g frameless pack – the pack only had shoulder straps, hence it slight weight – and even with 2.5l of water, my pack was less than 5kg. A pack of such light weight really transforms big hills into nothing.

We stopped at the fire lookout, the wind howling around us. Soon we were off again.

The pass follows the top of a rather gradual ridge, resulting in a rather long pass with exceptional views and a very pleasant difficulty level. In his writeup on the pass, Stijn called it a 4/10 difficulty. I think this sums it up well – it is easy in terms of gradient, but requires roughly 1000m in altitude gain over the 6km distance.

As you reach the Organ Pipes, the pass begins to drop before ascending the final gully. Unexpectedly, in one of the worst droughts in recent history, we found 3 different spots with flowing water right by the base of the main summit gully. On the way up, we filled up in the first one we saw. It was quite small, so we used a plastic bag to channel the flow into our bottles. On the way down, there was a flowing stream about 5m below the pass at the bottom of the final gully, so we filled up there.

We took a while to get up the pass, but at 10:30 AM (about 7 hours in), we were sitting at the summit cairn. We had actually considered taking Smugglers Pass to get up, but Hobbit was starting to feel down on energy, so we stuck with Organ Pipes.

For those who have never done Organ Pipes Pass before, do yourself a favour and visit Didima. It is long, but not hard by Berg standards. It is one of the most spectacular passes around, the views from the ridge are exceptional.

From the summit cairn we went up Castle Buttress. This was Hobbit’s first time back on top since the 7 day hike we did in September last year. He was taking strain, but when you are 16km into a day hike and are only halfway, having also done almost 2km in altitude gain to get to this point (1.7 in net gain between the car park and the khulu, plus probably about 200m in the ups and downs of the pass).

Castle Buttress has an exceptional view – Eastern Buttress to the North, Cathkin to the south, and unsurprisingly the best view of the Organ Pipes. Standing on the edge and looking straight down, there was a rather obvious red dot in the river valley below. I wonder what that could be :lol:

From there we began to go up Cleft Peak. Hobbit was struggling, so at 3080m he decided to sit with my pack while I went up Cleft. Cleft is a real monster of a peak, but is a Berg legend – so I was happy to repeat it. I made a point of tagging the 3 classic spots – high point south of the cleft, the top of the cleft, and the actual high point north of the cleft. With lightning around and Hobbit far below, I raced back to the packs. I hadn’t realised how far we were from the top when I left him – my GPS said I did 4km between leaving him and getting back there.

It was good to see that my strength is on the rise once again – I had struggled to get up Matebeng and Wilson 2 weeks earlier, but this time found it much easier. Matebeng is 5m higher and I started Matebeng from about 60m higher, so the comparison seems fair.

I found Hobbit looking much livelier, having eaten a full packet of chips and drunk around 500ml of water.

We proceeded back to Organ Pipes Pass. We considered heading down the Camel, but seeing as the car was at Mikes Pass, and finishing at the Hotel would give us something like a 5km walk on a road at the end, we decided to go back the way we came. In retrospect this is rather ironic – seeing as our last 4km would have been on a road anyway!

We got down the main summit gully in around 20 minutes. We stopped for a break by the stream flowing below the trail, filled up our bottles knowing we wouldn’t be getting water again. Our pace had been rather slow and it was already 2PM, so we expected we would finish in the dark. We upped our pace a lot on the way down. We used the exact same route as we used to go up. As we hit the Mikes Pass road, it began to rain. With this ongoing drought, I will never complain about a small amount of minor discomfort – we need the rain.

I had been concerned that my 20 litre pack doesn’t have a splash cover – but as it turns out, when your pack is that small, your raincoat goes right over it!

My final stats:
Distance: 36km (most I have done in a day)
Altitude gain and loss: roughly 2.4km (most up in a day for me, and second most down – after 2.8km down on summit day on Kili)
Time: 14h47 (perhaps a FKT on Cleft Peak? Not hard to beat if it is, though)
The following user(s) said Thank You: GetaPix, kbresler, Dillon, Biomech

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26 Oct 2015 10:43 #65527 by ghaznavid
Excuse the quality - my fast-and-light routine forbids carrying a 1kg camera :laugh:

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The following user(s) said Thank You: kbresler, Biomech

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26 Oct 2015 10:45 #65528 by ghaznavid

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The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, Stijn, Bigsnake, brio, hikingle, LouisvV, kbresler, Spykid, Drakensbergie, Macc, AndrewP, andrew r, Biomech

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27 Oct 2015 08:43 #65533 by kbresler
Sounds like a fun outing.

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Kobus Bresler

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04 Nov 2015 10:20 - 04 Nov 2015 11:30 #65641 by LouisvV
Great trip report!

Looked like a walk in the park for you. Again, this gives me a good indication of the fitness and hiking fitness of members on this forum. The hike up to the hut, the pass the next day, and coming down via Camel was very tough for us. We didn't even thought of bagging any peaks.
Last edit: 04 Nov 2015 11:30 by LouisvV.

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