Up Elandshoek pass, down Langies 11-13 Nov 2022

23 Nov 2022 15:21 - 23 Nov 2022 15:49 #78136 by Riaang
We left Joburg fairly early at 4am on Friday morning. We normally leave earlier, but seeing that today should be a fairly easy day, we could sleep late for a change.

The weather was looking good as we left (we could see stars) but the prediction was for rain at Giants Castle. First a little bit, then a lot more later during the day, which should then reduce as the weekend progresses. Windspeed predicted followed the same pattern - high on Friday (mid 30's), then dropping to below 10kmph. My personal preference is for dry weather. I like snow but not rain in the berg. Colder is also preferred over steaming weather so I typically try to get onto the escarpment as fast as possible. Today will be different as we are planning to hike to near the bottom of Elandshoek pass. We've wanted to do it on 3 previous occasions, but due to heavy rain, thick fog and deep snow we had previously decided against descending this pass. This weekend's ascent should be fine as no rain was predicted for Saturday. 

Friday morning 11 Nov 2022
We arrived at Giants Castle at around 10-ish. It was raining. Fortunately not heavy, but enough to get you wet if you don't put on your rain gear. I completed the mountain register, paid our overnight fees, donned rain gear and packs, and set off towards Giants hut. I've done this ridge hike before, but it was Ian's first time on this side of the camp. Quite a pleasant walk actually, especially when the temperatures are cool. On a previous occasion it was super hot and the veld was burnt (Oct), but now everything was super green - I had to take my sunglasses off a couple of times to see if it was really super green, or if the yellow tint made it appear bright green. We saw hundreds of massive earthworms in the footpaths. Guess the soil was waterlogged and they couldn't breathe in the soil. Some were up to 50cm's long - I've never seen them this long. It was in places difficult not to step on them, there were so many on the footpath. We were steadily gaining altitude and the berg came into view. The Giant was cloaked in a white robe and looked truly majestic. Green grass contrasted by a dark mountain, again contrasted by white clouds. Strikingly beautiful. It was good to be back in the mountains.

Just after noon it stopped raining and we removed our rain gear - but kept the raincovers on the packs. It was quite windy though, but fortunately that helped to dry out everything. We got to the top of the ridge and could see Giants hut in the distance, a bit to our right. We've previously camped in the tarn in front of Giants hut, but with all the rain most of the ridge was waterlogged and we reckoned that there was a high probability that the tarn could turn into a swamp during the night. The decision was therefore made to turn left at the T-junction and to proceed towards the starting point of the Elands pass section. We crossed many streams on this section of the contour path, and found a nice tenting spot about 1km from the sisters. We camped between 2 streams that were pumping, which made for a noisy but comforting night's sleep. We also experienced a first in the Berg - all along this section, and on the next ridge, the soil was only about 8cm deep. Below this thin layer of soil was a solid rock bed. I walked 200m away to another spot, poking into the soil all along the way and came up with the same result - very shallow soil. Fortunately there were a couple of large rocks nearby and we placed them over the guyropes immediately next to the tent pegs. This worked well and even though it was still windy during the night (which was great as we had absolutely no condensation issues in the BD Skylight single wall tent), everything was held nicely in place by the heavy rocks.

Saturday 12 Nov 22
The sunlight coming into the tent was bright enough to wake me up by 4:45am. For a change I beat my morning alarm! I started chatting with Ian and Sanet and by 5:15am we were all ready for our morning coffee. I've tried various types of breakfasts over the years in the Berg, and the one that works best for me is coffee and rusks. Lots of quick energy, not too heavy on the stomach and not messy. Unless you spill your coffee powder in the tent. Not naming any names here :-) There were still a few clouds in the sky, but it was looking much better than yesterday. Sunshine, here we come. We wanted to do Elandshoek in clear weather - always better to do a new pass in clear weather so you could see where you're going, rather than watching your gps to know if you are still on track as the thick fog makes it virtually impossible to see anything. I'm sure most of you have experience with this as well.

We hit the contour path at around 6;30am and set off towards the south eastern section of the ridge. I've previously seen images on VE of the shortcut path up to the sisters and was thinking of taking it. It should shave off around 3.5kms from the day's total distance, but should also assist if we ever needed to take it to make up time in the future, as we would know where it is and the condition of the shortcut. The contour path was well-worn here, so should be easy to find if we ever wanted to come down the pass in the future. I'm not 100% sure if we found the exact spot where the shortcut starts, but we could clearly see it cutting away at an angle from us and got onto it. In short, it's pretty steep, especially at the top. Difficult to imagine that this section rises nearly 150m above the contour path! Still, we're cutting kilometers off the contour path, so it's definitely worth it. And the views from here towards the south are amazing. Just be careful of strong winds here - it nearly blew me off my feet twice. You can see how the grasses and plants are being pushed over in the photographs I took from this spot. Crossing over I was slightly confused as to where to go, as there was basically no path on the southern side of the ridge. We traversed sideways towards Elandshoek pass for a few meters, and then found a deep gash in the earth that must have been made by a rock sliding down the ridge. Just look out for this spot if you ever want to come down Elandshoek pass, especially if the sisters are covered in mist. There was something that could go for a footpath (if you have a really good imagination) immediately to the north-west of this gully, but we basically just went straight down it to where we could see the contour path below. Really amazing views from this angle towards Giants castle.

I'm in two minds about the rest of the contour path to the start of Elandshoek pass. It's not difficult to follow (it clearly carries traffic), but it's quite a difficult stretch to walk. Let me explain: This stretch of contour path isn't smooth and flat like what I normally associate with a contour path. It's peppered with rocks and stuff, often covered by grass so you can't see it, which means you roll your ankles quite a bit. Especially the left one on a walk in towards the pass. As the path winds in and out of small gullies, it also drops and climbs often, with surprisingly steep (but often shallow - maybe 8m max) gullies on the left. At the end of this section, the 3 of us agreed that we would probably not do this section in heavy rain or snow, as the risk of falling off the path would be (in our opinion), fairly high. And we've walked some dodgy sections in the Berg in both heavy rain and snow. Not a super confidence-inspiring path, this one, which surprised me.

Before us now lay Elandshoek pass. I thought so, but Ian disagreed. He felt it was still further along the path. I felt confident and bet him R100 bucks that this was the pass. We shook hands on the bet, and took out the GPS  to check and......I won the bet! It helps when you draw up the tracks for the hike ;-) The top of the pass looks impassable as it is covered by a rather thick rock band, but I remember from reading a trip report that you don't go over or through the rock band, you turn left at the top and then top out on the escarpment. This pass looked impressively steep from the bottom. We were at around 2600m ASL, and I reckoned that it was only about 350m high, i.e. topping out at under 3000m asl. Good thing I didn't bet on this, as it topped out at 3100m ASL, which Ian and Sanet got right. A 500m ascent in just under 1200m is steep, and the middle section where you go through the rock band is properly steep. Kind of reminded me a lot of Pins pass, or Ships Prow North - it's that steep. Fortunately not as long or as high as those two passes. Not sure I had the energy for those today, as I haven't done any hiking for the last 4 months. We topped out, found a nice shady spot under an overhanging rock and sat down on the grass for lunch. Nice to drop the pack as my traps were feeling it today. 

After some Woolies veggy samoosas (a current staple hiking lunch dish), cheese and biscuits, droewors and Nicnacks, we were ready to tackle the next section. The entire area on this side of the ridge was completely waterlogged. The footpath was taken over by water, and finding a dry spot often involved acrobatic maneuvers of some sort. It was basically impossible not to get your boots dirty, and on numerous occasions my boots would sink into thick, sticky mud. We checked out Makhaza (no ice or snow today) and carried on. In no time we were approaching the back side of Giants castle pass. Our original plan was to go to the top of the castle, but a thick blanket of mist had rolled in a few minutes ago, and viz was down to under 50m. No point in climbing to the top today, so we headed up the side of the Long Wall. Still shrouded in mist, we'd pull out the Gps every few hundred meters or so to check our bearing. Steep little climb this, but it didn't take too long to conquer. We were soon over 3200m Asl and started the descent towards Durnford ridge. We found our favourite waterfall along this section and stopped for a quick break. I was feeling very lethargic, and suspected it was from loss of electrolytes. I filled up with a liter of isotonic game and shared it with Sanet. This was just what the doctor ordered and I was feeling much within a few minutes. We finished the last of the samoosas and chips and decided on the best line up Durnford ridge. The clouds had lifted again so viz was good. We zig-zagged up and eventually stood at the top of the ridge - nearly 3300m asl. It was our last climb for the day and I was relieved that most of the hard work for the day was now done. We went through Durnford gap, and Ian found a new line through here that was easier and safer than the typical approach we'd followed in the past. Amazing how your perspective changes when looking at something from a different angle (above vs usually from below).

Somewhere in the valley below us was our camping spot. We just needed to find a flat, level and dry spot. Shouldn't be too difficult to find, right? We quickly shaved off altitude as we descended down to the valley floor. We found numerous nice camping spots, but they were all waterlogged. We kept going and about 1km from where 3 rivers meet, still fairly high up, we found a dry. grassy spot. It looked promising. It was slightly sloped, but the chances of finding something 100% level iin this valley was negligible. It was getting late and none of us fancied trying to look for a camping site in the dark. This spot would have to do. We pitched the tent and got comfortable. By now it was dark and a really cold wind started to blow. We had dinner on the southern side of the tent, which offered protection from the wind. By around 8pm we got into bed. Turns out that the grassy spot was very bumpy, and the grass had hidden most of the holes. Even though we couldn't see them, we could clearly feel them. We were also on a side slope, so throughout the night the 3 of us would slide down and squeeze Sanet against the lower tent wall. We'd then move back up again, only to have to repeat the entire process again around the hour. I guess if you have a baby at home you'd be used to this routine, but mine are in high school so I'm not used to this anymore. My Fenix 6 gave me a 35% sleep score for Saturday night. It felt like it too!

Sunday morning, 13 Nov 2022
This time my alarm easily beat me. Absolutely no contest. I was awakened today, not by sunlight, but by a waterdrop falling on my face. Bbbrrrrr, that was cold. And it ran down my neck inside my shirt. It had started to rain. At first it started lightly, then it increased in volume. It eventually came down with such force that it caused the condensation on the inside of the tent to turn into a fine mist that made everything wet. The tent material on the Skylight normally "breathes" to allow condensation to evaporate, but now the tent fabric was saturated so the inside started to wet out. Out came the towels - par for the course with single wall tents. By 6:30am I was feeling pressured to go outside, but I wasn't looking forward to being outside in the wind, cold and rain, and decided to ignore the building pressure in my bladder. Anyone for coffee? Just me? Trying to maneuver in a 3 man tent, occupied by 3 people, on a sideways slope, with gear inside, can be a challenge. Sanet's quite small, so she probably counts as only half a man (size wize), but Ian at 6'2" and myself at 6'6" probably brought the numbers up to a total of 3,5 men in a 3 man tent. Oh, and the landing area of the tent was on a rather steep slope, so trying to get out the door forced us to attempt moves that would have made a contortionist proud. 

As soon as the other 2 smelled my coffee, they wanted some as well. I suspected that this would happen and so had boiled more water than what I  needed. I quickly finished my rusks, put on my shoes (with great difficulty as I had to do a crunch just to reach my feet) and attempted to exit the elevated tent entrance. Lesson learned! Wow, it was cold outside. Fortunately the rain was now just a drizzle, but the wind was pumping and my fingers were going numb. I put on my gloves and crouched behind the tent to get out of the wind. I waited here for Ian and Sanet to finish up. At least they could now move more comfortably around in the tent - I was definitely taking up too much space inside. Wow, what was taking them so long? I decided to climb back into the tent to warm up a bit, but first I had to pack my bag and put it outside. Pack outside, me inside, much better. We waited a bit and the outside conditions started to improve. The rain went away but the wind was still freezing. Never underestimate the Berg - you can get any weather, at any time, at any place. Summer isn't always nice and warm, and it definitely didn't feel like spring this morning.

At around 8am we packed up the tent and slowly started down the valley towards the flat area near the top of Langies passhead. Maybe 200m from our camping spot we stumbled upon THE PERFECT TENTING SPOT!!! Boy, did the other 2 let me have it. At least I now know where the perfect tenting spot above Langies is. We've also wanted to do Hlubi pass (spelling?) before, but on that occasion I was feeling terrible and so we ascended via Langies. Weather permitting, today would be our chance to explore this new pass. By the time we got down to the bottom where the 3 rivers meet, the wind had picked up again and a rainstorm had blown in from Lesotho. Well, maybe it's not so bad at the top of the pass, let's go check it out. The driving wind made the ascent up the hill to the north of Langies substantially easier. We weren't sure if the North or South passhead was the right one (it's the southern one), so Sanet and myself decided to check out the Northern variation, while Ian went 70m south to the Southern passhead. Wow, by now the wind was PUMPING! I turned around and asked Sanet to check if my pack cover was still secured. Whuuupp! Nope, there it goes, down the pass. Fortunately it got stuck on a pointy rock, and I could retrieve it. Immediately below the passhead was a nearly wind-still section where we waited for Ian to report back. Ian was meanwhile waiting for us to join him on the southern pass. I clearly didn't explain our MO to Ian, but he, being a mountain man, instinctively knew what to do. Just as I was getting ready to walk over to his side, he appeared over the ridge. We explained to him with hand signals to join us in the wind-still area. No use trying to speak or shout - the wind was simply too loud. After regrouping he informed us that the southern side looked ok, but that the wind was blowing very strong, even low down in the pass, and that Langies would be the safer option today. I was a bit disappointed that we had to abandon our attempt on Hlubi, but such is the case with mountains. Safety first.

We climbed out of Hlubi north, into a seriously strong headwind. As Ian turned, I heard it - Whuuupp! I grabbed his pack cover just in time. Boy, this wind is no joke. I found it rather difficult to keep my balance and was stumbling around on my way down to Langies passhead. The wind blew the raindrops so hard that they stung my cheeks, and I had to hold up my gloved hand to shield myself from this onslaught. We got down to the passhead and started down Langies. Ahead of us was another group of hikers, but they had taken a wrong path and was traversing, rather than descending. They seemed to have realised their mistake and sent a runner ahead to check out where the correct path is. I sped up a bit and when they saw us descending, the rest of the group also dropped altitude to get back on the correct path. We waited for them at a few decision-making points on the trail, and once we hit the waterfall at the start of the pass, we said goodbye and made our merry way down the ridge. By now the weather had stabilised and had turned into my ideal hiking weather - cloudy, cool, with a soft breeze blowing. Perfect. All that lay between us and the camp was 4 river crossings and a few kilometers. The rivers were full and we couldn't cross at the normal crossing points. River 1 was crossed about 20m downstream. No bridge here. River 2 was crossed a few meters upstream- also no bridge here. River 3 had an elevated bridge, but a few of the wooden cross members were broken - dangerous! River 4 also featured an elevated bridge, and a few cross members had been replaced, but the new sections weren't varnished, so I'm not sure how long they will last. We left the top of Langies at 9am, and at 12H26 we were back in camp. We quickly wiped down at the ablution facilities (no, I'm not paying R350 for a shower, but thank you for asking), got into the car and headed for Harrismiths M&B for a hot meal and to fill up the car. 

My wife says I'm complaining too much lately. Either it's old age, or I'm not getting to the mountains often enough. I suspect it's the latter, and I know just how to fix it :-)

Friday pics:
 
 
 
 
 

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Last edit: 23 Nov 2022 15:49 by Riaang.
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23 Nov 2022 15:29 #78137 by Riaang
Saturday:

  

 
 
 
 
 

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23 Nov 2022 15:33 #78138 by Riaang
Saturday Continued:
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23 Nov 2022 15:33 - 23 Nov 2022 15:40 #78139 by Riaang
Sunday: 

 
 
 

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Last edit: 23 Nov 2022 15:40 by Riaang.
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, Stijn, JonWells, hikingle, MarkT, tonymarshall, Grandeur, GriffBaker, Carl Gebhard

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