I am crazy, but I’m not stupid

24 Sep 2012 18:10 - 24 Sep 2012 18:59 #55317 by ghaznavid
I have been back to the Berg many times since the Grand Traverse this year, but I haven’t put on an overnight hiking pack for months. A 3 day hike is one way to get back to the mountains in the longer form of the game.

A wise man once said “the reason most people fail in life is because they don’t define success”. I agree with this logic and think the use of goals in mountains is a way of forcing one to explore and experience the mountains. I have set many goals for myself – one being the opening of a new pass in the Berg.

In June 2011 I had identified the possible existence of a pass up the side of Gypaetus Point. For many months I put this one off, just there on my list with Ships Prow Pass – something to do when I get around to it. A few months ago I decided to commit to a date and see if I could get a group together. The Heritage day weekend was chosen.

Primary goal – to open a non-rock pass on the side of Gypaetus Point
Secondary goal – climb Gypaetus Point
Goals that would be nice if the happen, but probably not – climb tons of khulus all over the place, this goal was really overoptimistic.

Day 1 – hail the hi-tec tent

The 3 of us headed up to Bannerman Hut via the standard route – uneventful.

The tarn had quite a bit of water and the cloud was sitting between about 2300-2600m.

We reached Bannerman Hut at the same time as a group of 6 ladies who had also booked the hut for the night. We chatted to them about their plans – they wanted to head up Bannerman Pass in the morning, traverse to Langies and return via that route, no tents, no GPS, nobody who has done the route before, no backup plans – nothing. They only had a map that had no contour lines. I spent almost half an hour explaining what the route would look like and how to find Langies from the top of the Senqebethu Ridge. I also told them that if there is mist in the morning they must head back via Bannerman Pass – without a GPS, good map or visibility they would probably be in need of a few body bags if they tried the traverse in the mist, and nobody wants that.

Fortunately we didn’t see them again, so they probably are ok – let’s hope.

The 3 of us decided to tackle the pass on day 1 – its only 2.5km and the mist only covers the gully – that should be easy, right? :lol:

We decided that we would rather cross the ridge by Bannerman Hut than drop back down to the contour path. We soon found ourselves climbing an incredibly steep bank above a flooded Martial Eagle Stream. We reached the nose of the ridge and traversed over the first minor gully and slowly approached our main gully.

What’s that sound – lightning in the distance. I look at the faces of the team, we are only at 2470m, its almost 3PM and I see some flattish spots to pitch tents. There is a good supply of nearby water. We commit to a spot and start pitching Fitness’ tent – as soon as its unpacked we get hit by a hail storm!

A few minutes later, one sopping wet Hi-Tec Tybet II tent on a ridge prominent enough to not be at risk of flash floods, but not prominent enough to be a lightning danger is set up. The rain stops almost instantly, and for the first time that day we see up the pass, wow!

We decide that we have committed and are unlikely to find a better spot. We also agree that Fitness’ tent is big enough for all 3 of us and that we won’t get a good spot for a second tent.

Day 2 – the 4km day

We wake up to some not overly misty weather, we take 3 hours to shuffle around the tiny tent and pack our bags. We set off up the main gully.

We pass 2600m and still haven’t reached the rock band that looked so close the night before. The ground is wet, slippery and we are all feeling the cold that comes with wet clothing and shoes.

We slog on. Eventually we see the massive rock band we have been looking for. The mist relents for a while and we see the massive cave that I was hoping to check out. The approach looks easy, but with slippery rock, not worth it.

The route is steep, very steep! Unrelenting wet long grass makes our lives difficult, the view of a small steep grassy bank in the mist makes us feel like we are on another planet. We know that we aren’t playing dangerous games – no part of the gully would be impossible to reverse, we had merely followed a gully and we had 2 separate GPS devices following our progress. I had spent hours studying these photos, I close my eyes and I can see where we are.

Suddenly we hit a rock band – our gully is over. The mist lightens for a few seconds and reveals a route through the rock. Fitness and I easily get up without taking our packs off, but Hobbit isn’t tall enough to reach the slippery grassy hand holds – I take out my 9m climbing rope and we belay him up. Easy work.

But now what – we are still in thick mist, and we are at 2850m – we know that the escarpment itself is close. We begin to traverse under the massive rock band that I was expecting to see, this traverse should be easy, its only 9AM, we should be fine. Before setting off for the traverse we mark the spot on both GPS devices. I call the spot “help” – 29°14’55.9”S 29°25’33.3”E 2849m.

The mist is thickening. We begin to realise that failure is imminent. We traverse for a few metres and suddenly we are confronted by a view of a rock that we can’t scramble up or down, we look off the slope we are above. It looks like we are stuck.

The wording of the following text may differ slightly from what was actually said, but the gist is the same
Ghaz: You know how my hikes are usually referred to as being crazy – do you understand why now?
Fitness: Yip
Ghaz: We need to make a call, we can stay here and wait for a while, its only 10AM, we can wait a while. We can also head back to Bannerman Hut, or even the car park. We have time. If we leave now we can even summit Langies Pass and find a good camping spot before dark.
Fitness: Let’s wait here till 10:30 – if the mist looks like its relenting, we move towards the summit, otherwise we head back.
Ghaz: I agree – I am crazy, but I’m not stupid. Safety comes first

We agree that the route is a scenic route and even if we do summit in the mist, we won’t have enjoyed the views we have worked so hard to see.

The clock strikes 10:30, times up. We agree that we can’t be indecisive, that’s when things go wrong. We begin to put our backpacks on, sad that we won’t achieve this goal today, but looking forward to getting out of our wet clothes and enjoying some soup in Bannerman Hut.

As we are about to set off the mist clears, I look up and see Gypaetus Point, we are exactly where I though we were. Even more funny – the abyss we saw below us turned out to be a tiny little grassy gully.

So defeat? Not a chance – we go forward. We walk through the little gully and around a second corner. We are greeted by an incredible view of Bannerman Face. Even if we do fail now, this view was worth the work.

We look up at the rock band that I identified as the most likely cause of the pass failing, I identify a possible B-grade scramble through the gully, but I can’t see if that will help us once we are up, and it would be hard to get back down. We decide to continue traversing.

Just around the corner we see a waterfall with a massive grass bank next to it. We traverse below it, lose some altitude and climb the steep grassy bank next to it. The exposure since the beginning of the pass has been quite hectic, but now its not just a steep grassy bank, it’s got a rock face below it.

We stop for another break, I put my backpack down, and I just watch it roll. Fitness was clearly very alert, he dives on top of it and stops the inevitable. How sad it would have been for all my equipment to be lodged on a rocky ledge on the side of Bannerman Pass, but all is good.

As we get higher I look up and see that there are gaps in every rock band – bigger ones than what was expected, but the gully onto the escarpment is not clear yet. I sense my team mates are losing heart – 5 hours of hard labour has earned us 650m of altitude and 2km of map distance. Slow going by any standard. But alas, finding a new route when the early morning was wet and misty and the entire route has been incredibly steep is not easy.

I identify two possible candidates for my ledge that leads to the escarpment. I leave the group to try the lower one, I should have taken my camera! I get an amazing view on a very exposed ledge – in essence I am standing on the side of a rock face. So that’s not it!

I return to the group and say we need to keep climbing. This was by no means the news they wanted to hear. By now we know that the only khulu that’s still on the cards is Gypaetus Point. It’s not midday yet, but we are all exhausted and looking forward to getting dry again.

This time I am positive that we are at our escarpment exit, the 3 of is walk out into the unknown. Above us is a 3 or 4 metre high rock band, below us is about 400m of rock that forms the side walls of Bannerman Pass. We go around the corner and what view am I greeted with? Popple Peak! We are there!

We immediately start gathering rocks and build a cairn to mark the top of the pass. Some group shots are taken and with the greatest of relief and excitement we begin the walk up the slopes of the khulu – Gypaetus Point.

We are greeted on the summit by an amazing view of nothing – cloud as far as the eye can see. Lesotho is clear, Popple, Senqebethu, Bannerman Face and a peak that looks like Lithabalong II (visible through a gap between Popple and its unnamed Lesotho counterpart) look down on us from a distance. Sitting there I remember why I have been so obsessed with Popple.

We head down and find a camping spot on the river that flows off the side of Gypaetus Point. At 3000m we pitch our tents.

I find myself feeling very nauseous. After lying down for a while I throw up – I suspect the water we got from the night before was contaminated. Probably due to the snow having picked up some rubbish as it melted. Fitness isn’t feeling too good either.

We all get settled and after some food, the camp goes dark before last light. A tiring day indeed.

Many horses nearby, not a single other human in sight.

Day 3 – a taste of traversing

We get up early in the morning, spend an hour packing up and head for the Senqebethu Ridge. Ice everywhere, strong winds, biting cold. We decide to have breakfast behind a rock sheltered from the wind near the top of Bannerman Pass. We sit for a while admiring the beauty of the water being blown off the massive ice wall it once formed part of. Some things in life can’t be captured by a camera – this was one of them.

We begin the slow slog up the Senqebethu Ridge. Fitness is feeling sick – most likely some of that dodgy water from Saturday night that’s still in his hydration bladder.

We follow a very gentle contoured route up the ridge and soon reach the windy summit. North I see the peaks of the Mafadi ridge poking through the gaps in the Popple ridge, South I see the Carbineers and the Giant. What a view. The wind is icy, fields of what looks like snow, but is in fact ice are spread through this ridge.

We follow the ridge down. We continue to gradually lose altitude until we reach 3050m. We now cross to the closer side of the back ridge that comes off Bannerman Face. As we traverse around we see the top of our pass.

We drop into the valley to cross the river, careful not to lose more altitude than whats actually necessary. We soon find ourselves looking at the summit cairn, from here navigation becomes easy.

We descend the pass quickly – roughly an hour. At the bottom there is a large group of schoolboys who had just completed a day hike. Day 1 – car park to Giants Hut, Day 2 hike to the base of Langies, day 3, climb the pass and head back to the car park. All schools should have easy programmes like that…

We continue down the ridge, Fitness is still feeling very sick, but he pushes on at a very good pace.

We eventually reach the river crossing at the base of Langies Pass. We stop here for a medium length break, get a lot of water to drink. The end is near.

The remainder of the walk proves uneventful. Fortunately! We all safely reach the car park and thus concludes a worthwhile and eventful weekend.

In conclusion

We set out to open a new non-rock route, and that’s exactly what we did.

The route was hard, long but totally worthwhile.

If Mashai Pass is a difficulty of 6 out of 10, then Gypaetus Pass is at least a 7 out of 10. It’s tough, its slow (well, in dry weather it might not be too difficult), but the views are well worth it.

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Last edit: 24 Sep 2012 18:59 by ghaznavid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn, Hermann, plouw, kliktrak, Bigsnake, brio, tonymarshall, HFc, Fitness

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25 Sep 2012 04:25 #55319 by Fitness
All I can say is "We did It". Was an amazing hike, besides feeling very ill for the whole if Day3 and half of day 2, Ghaz you are great Hike Leader, thanks

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25 Sep 2012 10:46 #55326 by tiska
Well done guys - nice project! It is well exciting when you don't know if a route will work out or not - and then it does!

A brief comment on the sickness Ghaz experienced on topping out. I'm no medic and wasn't there, but when similar things have happened on Berg hikes I've been on, it has been the result of dehydration. Before heading up a pass I normally drink 2 L of water at the start of the day. The first L goes down easily - the second one needs a bit of encouragement (e.g. a mix of game). Drinking frequently thereafter keeps the levels topped up. The key test is the colour and frequency of your piss. Most probable circumstances for dehydration are doing something physical without drinking enough (fairly straightforward that one) and then arriving, still not drinking (perhaps because it is chilly) and then eating. Expect to throw up pretty quickly after that.

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25 Sep 2012 11:04 #55327 by ghaznavid
Thanks for the advice. I do make a point of making sure the guys in the group eat and drink alot while hiking (especially when there is a youngster like Hobbit in the group), but possibly not enough. Sunday was very humid, there was definitely an aspect of loss of fluids.

I usually drink half a litre of water in the morning (even when not in the Berg), I also take a rehydrate every evening on arriving at camp. Maybe I should start trying the 2 litres in the morning when hiking.

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26 Sep 2012 19:59 #55339 by intrepid
Well done guys :thumbsup: Good that the new route potential of the Berg is being tapped into.

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

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27 Sep 2012 06:43 #55341 by JustinBaker
Jeez! Well done to the lightie on carrying that pack.

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03 Oct 2012 20:08 #55374 by ghaznavid
The gps tracked route of day 2 of the hike - random camp site at 2500m on the side of Gypaetus Point to the large flat spot on the Lesotho side of Gypaetus Point with a detour up Gypaetus Point (track courtesy of Fitness):

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09 Oct 2012 05:57 #55402 by Serious tribe
Great report. Nothing like going out on a limb. I think dehydration would be the correct call. If it was berg tummy, i think you would have been feeling crock for a bit longer than 24 hours. I use a 2l hydration pack with carbs in it and will drink a bit from that constantly and then will drink about 300mm every hour from rivers i come across, more on each occasion if i know that there is not a lot of water about.

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09 Oct 2012 06:13 #55403 by Fitness
Just to let you guys know that I picked up a water born parasite called Giardia which basically attacks the lining of the stomach, was on hectic anti biotics, I do however think that due to my feeling very ill I did also become dehydrated.
None the less the hike was outstanding and I'm looking forward to our next adventure.

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09 Oct 2012 08:35 #55411 by tiska
Hi Fitness - bad news about the Giardia. To be clear, did you pick this up in the Berg? I've not heard of any cases in the Berg before although I've caught the bug in many other mountains. Somehow the Berg has always been clear in my experience though with the increased traffic from Lesotho and SA that can't last. Sounds like it hasn't.

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