Didima day hike: C is for Cockade

08 Nov 2015 17:28 #65703 by ghaznavid
C is for Cockade

For the 3rd week in a row, 3AM was the starting time for a hike. We parked at the Didima Hikers Parking and set off. We had completed the mountain register the night before, so we could get going immediately.

This would be my first day hike with AndrewP, and while I do fast-and-lite better than I do the more traditional heavy pack hiking, this is Andrew’s game and keeping up with him could be tough.

We start by walking up the road to the hotel, and unlike my hike with AndrewR and co earlier this year, we end up on the correct trail towards Neptune Pools this time. Not much can be said about the bit we did in the dark, aside from mentioning how low the small Berg rivers are at the moment – something most of you would probably have guessed anyway.

As we reached the start of the climb towards the contour path, first light hit. We had hoped to beat the sun to the contour path, but about 10 minutes before the contour path, the peaks were turning from red to green, and by the time we reached the contour path, the sun had already beaten us.

On reaching the contour path, I said “I see something that starts with a C”. It was soon established that I could have been talking about any of the following: Cathkin, Cowl, Cowl View, Champagne Castle, Castle Buttress, Cleft, Column, Camel, Cockade, Chessmen, Cathedral, Cathedral Peak Hotel, camera or chips (that I was eating). I actually meant the “contour path” – but the point was taken.

My pace up the hill had been faster than my previous 2 day hikes, and I was starting to feel it.

We set off from the junction towards Cockade Pass. This is a spot where the name “contour path” is a tad iffy – it kind of contours and is vaguely a path, so perhaps the name is more fitting here than it is in some areas of the Berg.

The river was very low, so we filled our bottles and followed the watercourse. The first time I did the pass, the river was quite high, so we were forced to follow the overgrowth on the sides (it was also misty, making navigation tricky), but this time we were able to reach the Xeni junction with little trouble and in good time. By 7AM we were on our way up the main pass gully. Cockade Pass goes in a large “C” shape, as you go up, you keep going left.

My pace had dropped considerably, but we were still doing very well for time. Cockade Pass is my favourite pass in terms of scenery, and it didn’t disappoint. This was my 3rd time doing it in the space of 11 months – for anyone who hasn’t done it (and is adequately experienced and fit), do yourself a favour and put it on your to-do list.

We tried to find a connection to the Elephant Gully from the main pass gully, and while we found many routes that could be done with some effort, we couldn’t find anything that wasn’t incredibly arbitrary, so with a detour up a side ridge to the true left of the main gully, we found ourselves back in the main gully, and soon sitting above the pass.

From here we went through the Elephant Gully and bagged the Elephant. Weather was perfect. There was a light wind, just strong enough to keep the temperature in check.

From here we shot up Xeni Spur, partially to check its prominence, and partially to eye out the route up Xeni Peak. For the record, Xeni Spur is not recognised as a khulu, and won’t be any time soon – but some extra uphill is always good, and the view wasn’t terrible either!

We continued along to bag Leopard. A discussion followed on how Elephant and Leopard are so close, yet Rhino is far off, and the balance of the Big-5 basically doesn’t exist in the Berg (well, there is Lionheart I guess).

We hit the river from here, it was a trickle at that point we hit it, but enough of a trickle to fill our bottles. We knew this was probably the last water we would see before the car park. In a state of mind that no doubt stems from having hiked since 3AM, I forgot that I had been carrying a 1 litre bottle for this exact reason. I guess an empty 1 litre bottle does still count as a minor training weight…

From here we hit Twins Top. We had hoped to hit Easter Cave Peak, but it was almost 2PM, and we didn’t know how long Bell Traverse would take. It is also noteworthy that I have a rather bad fear of moves above exposure, so it was entirely possible that we would have to turn back when we hit the rough spot below the Mitre.

Seeing as Twins Top is immediately above an alternative summit for Bell Traverse/Mlambonja Pass, we decided to take this gully. Clearly we weren’t the only ones to do this, seeing as there was a large summit cairn above the alternative gully.

The start of the Bell Traverse is scenic and nothing difficult – Twins Cave looks good, and not really that far from the nearest water – in terms of effort, it wouldn’t be that different from Easter Cave.

The view back to Easter Cave peak is quite something. The peak itself is very impressive.

There is a spot where the path is narrow with a lot of exposure, which I did struggle with – and probably found to be the scariest part of the pass, and there is a washed away section on the east side of the Mitre which was quite tricky for an altophobe, but the rest of the route is straightforward with nothing scary. So remove 10m of the trip, and the rest is pretty standard for the Berg.

I found the views of the peaks on the ridge more impressive than the views from the ridge to the north and south (probably because I have seen these views from various angles on many other occasions). Bell Cave is a little hole, and is far from water – so I can’t see much use for it (I guess it is mostly used for climbing peaks on the ridge). There are plenty of caves visible on the traverse, although most are far off route.

Buggers Gully’s west side was easy and stable (provided you stick with the large rocks), the east side had far less large rocks and was therefore much slower to downclimb.

At the top of the gully there is a small bivy shelter. It would appear to be a shelter used by my brother many years ago, they wanted to use Bell Cave, but tried to find shelter in a thunderstorm (while the shelter wasn’t terrible, I wouldn’t want that much rock near me in a thunderstorm) and ended up spending a wet uncomfortable night in there. The next morning they bailed without summiting.

As we hit the trail below Buggers Gully, we realised it was only just past 3PM, so we were on track to finish in daylight. Seeing as that would be completely unacceptable, we decided to have some pudding.

So we traversed out to the Cathedral/Puddings saddle, walked below the 3 Puddings and made our way up the Outer Pudding (wow – that took almost 20 seconds to write, but over an hour to do). The Outer Pudding has a phenomenal view, I rate it better that any spot on the Bell Traverse, simply because you are further out, but still very high. It is well worth the effort.

Seeing as it was getting later, I told Andrew I would wait for him back on the main trail while he bagged one of the others. He went for the middle Pudding. The Outer Pudding is a grass slope, so it is easy to get up, but the middle and inner ones both have narrow gullies to get through the lower cliff bands – and I can’t comment on anything above the lower cliff bands. It is also noteworthy that they all have prominence of around 150m, so don’t underestimate how long it takes to get up them.

I got to the path about 10 minutes before Andrew, the rest was great! Backpacks make such nice pillows. I used my headlamp to help him pick his line to meet up with me.

We had hoped to reach Orange Peel Gap before it was dark, but that ship had sailed now. We motored it along the trail towards the gap, with full darkness striking about 1km before Orange Peel Gap.

Sadly the advertised oranges were not to be found at the gap, so we continued on without our citrus fix :lol:

Coming down Orange Peel Gap in the dark was interesting. For one thing, I have never had that many moths in my eyes and mouth before!

The walk to the end from here can largely be described as “wind gusted and died, lots of dust in the eyes, and fast pace”. We took a 10 minute break at the stream, which was mostly dry. We couldn’t drink the water, but I was at least able to wash my hands and face. When the Berg is this dry, everything seems to get very dirty.

We chatted about how it didn’t feel like we had done Cockade Pass on this same day, it kind of felt like it was a few days ago. What was even funnier was when we started discussing a topic that we had discussed in the past, only to realise that “in the past” was on Cockade Pass around 12 hours earlier!

The river was a welcome site, although sadly very easy to cross at the moment. We were offered a lift by a vehicle on the dirt road, but turned them down – no point in skipping the last few hundred metres of such a long day. Both the dirt and tar road felt abnormally long on this occasion, but it was good to be completing such an epic day. It had started to rain around the river crossing, but neither of us had any plans of putting raincoats on, the rain felt good!

On reaching the campsite, I immediately grabbed my things to go for a shower, only to be handed a phone by the man keeping a watch over the camp. When the call started with “the water pipe at the camp ablutions burst, so you can’t use them”, I thought that was the worst news I had ever heard. It was followed up with “so we are upgrading you to one of the rooms at Didima” – so in no way do I have grounds to complain! A nice soft bed is always a great way to complete an 18 hour day!

Stats for the trip:
Distance 44km
Altitude gain: 2760m (personal record for ascent)
The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn, andrew r

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08 Nov 2015 17:44 #65704 by ghaznavid
Once again - excuse the photo quality, my light weight camera is not the best camera around...



















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08 Nov 2015 17:46 #65705 by ghaznavid

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08 Nov 2015 17:54 #65706 by ghaznavid

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The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn, kliktrak, tonymarshall, pfoj, Viking, supertramp

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08 Nov 2015 18:25 #65707 by ghaznavid
My GPS track from yesterday - always nice to see so little overlap on a route!


My GPS took about 1km to figure out where we were, hence the start and end point not matching. It also had a flat battery below the Puddings, and I only picked it up later - hence the straight line through that bit...

Interesting new smilie :hike:

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