The Frozen Land

30 Jul 2016 19:37 - 30 Jul 2016 19:40 #69334 by AndrewP
The Frozen Land was created by AndrewP
This past week, I just happened to be in the Drakensberg. The plan had actually been to try and run up and down every pass in sight. The weather of course put that out of the window and on one memorably day, I did not even reach the contour path.

On Friday, I pulled up my socks. The plan was simple: get up Ka-Masihlenga Pass, bag the summits of Hawk and Tent and come down eNtubeni Pass.


I set off just after 5am, and timed it exactly right – just after passing Yellowwood Cave, Ghaz said I should get onto the ridge south of the Ka-Masihlenga valley. I got there with just enough light to see the cliff bands, but not enough to see a way through. A few minutes heading up the valley solved both problems and I was soon on the ridge with great views of the early morning sun on the mountains.

I messed about on the ridge for a while, considering heading south to an interesting looking couloir but decided in the end to stick to the main objective. Ka-Masihlenga in the conditions ended up being an event in itself. I was in solid snow from 2600m and basically climbed (that is the right word) a 500m couloir. I had to kick steps in the snow, cut steps with my ice axe when it turned to ice and use various ways and means to skip past waterfalls that would be trivial in normal conditions.


By 10am, the sun had come up and I was very glad I had gotten an early start. By now, everything around me was warming up and I was in a bowling alley. The wind was sending down a fine layer of spindrift and occasionally a fairly large chunk of ice would break off a frozen waterfall to my side. I hurried up as best I could with a single axe, really wishing I had a pair of crampons. Look carefully at the pic to see the golf balls coming down. Oh, and all that debris on the snow is a golf ball that stopped right there.


A few meters from the top, the ice stopped and I had solid snow. I started running for the joy of it, and 5 steps later stepped on another patch of ice and wiped out. Not exactly a proud finish, but nobody was around to see. This is a pic of the summit that never arrived.


As the mountain register asks: Footware suitable for snow?


Thanks to the layer of ice it took longer to get to the base of Hawk than I could have imagined. It was now well past 12, and I was beginning to wonder if I could get up both peaks and down again before it got dark. Fortunately Hawk went fairly quickly and easily.

Tent was another story. The first rock band (er, where is that in all this snow?) went via some waist deep wading through almost vertical snow. Above that, I got onto ice again (above 2950m or so, the snow always had a layer of ice on top that meant lots of laborious step cutting). I took a really bad choice through the next rock band and I basically used my axe to clear away all the snow so I could rock climb the moves. Except of course that there was always just a tiny amount of snow left that turned to ice as soon as I stepped on it. I bagged the summit about 14:30 and took an unusual number of summit photos. Soon, I started making my way down.


I came across a few lonely horses and sadly one horse that had clearly not survived the cold.



By about 15:30 I was at the top of eNtubeni Pass and well on the way home. The snow was just soft enough that I could break through the surface without that layer of ice on top that stopped your legs from sliding forward. I expected to mostly slide my way down the pass in about 10 minutes and then have plenty of time to negotiate the thickets back to camp.

The pass however receives no sun at this time of year so instead of soft snow, it was 30cm (maybe more) thick ice from one side to the other. As they say, what goes in eNtubeni stays in eNtubeni. I took an hour to drop the first 50m vertical and I knew at any point in time that if I dropped the ice axe, I would hit the rocks way down there at the speed of sound. Looking down the ice gully of doom.


Fortunately, I got down without too much blood loss (sliding down past red patches on the ice is never comforting when you know where the red comes from). Once on flatter ground, I made full use of the fact that snow was covering the spikey, horrible bushes and grasses and ran flat out to get as far as possible before it got dark. Fortunately I found a vague path that I could follow and although I lost it a few times, I could always find it again. I was back at camp just before 8pm.

I was also extremely fortunate. I had an experience that taken all together is probably the best alpine experience anyone has ever had in the sub-continent. No ice climber will ever get the same time at Giants (as a fellow climber, I know you are too focused on a simple goal to get the complete experience). I climbed a 500m couloir, had snow in every direction I looked, all to myself, and summit 2 peaks. I got to experience every type of snow imaginable: soft powder to wade through, ice to cut steps on, snow just right to walk on and even snow that need a few taps of my shoes to make a step. I got to practise (in more ways than planned) how to self arrest with an ice axe, how to efficiently walk with a sharp, dangerous weapon in situations where you are likely to slip and react with flailing arms. All those books I grew up with where I saw pictures of people climbing Everest – it all came home and I got to experience the same as them!


This is of course a lot of effort. I thought it was fun, and some of you must be thinking I am looney. It had a point though. And, with hindsight, I am really grateful it took an experience like this to get up Tent. I could have been cheated for an easy run up and down, but instead, a significant milestone in my life was passed via a truly epic day out. In bagging Tent, I have now bagged all of the hiking khulus in KZN!

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Last edit: 30 Jul 2016 19:40 by AndrewP.

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30 Jul 2016 22:51 #69336 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic The Frozen Land

As the mountain register asks: Footware suitable for snow?

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Well done, just KwaDuma to go for all the hiking khulus, what a feat :woohoo:

Enjoyed that writeup and photos - looks like you had a real epic of a trip :thumbsup:
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31 Jul 2016 07:37 #69338 by elinda
Replied by elinda on topic The Frozen Land
Well done Andrew! I loved your write up, what an experience. Some years ago I came down Bollard Pass in thick ice so know how scary this is !
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31 Jul 2016 13:55 #69339 by AdrianT
Replied by AdrianT on topic The Frozen Land
Epic hike out! Well done! Thanks for the interesting write up and super pictures too :)
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31 Jul 2016 18:42 #69341 by Erik
Replied by Erik on topic The Frozen Land
Look like an awesome hike! For how long do you think there will be this much snow in the mountains? Is it probable that the snow will still be there in one week?

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31 Jul 2016 19:22 #69343 by AndrewP
Replied by AndrewP on topic The Frozen Land
My guess is that in a week's time, anything left will be turned to ice. That should last a long time, especially the south facing slopes and deep, gullies. I suppose it will still look cool in pics but be useless to play in.

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31 Jul 2016 21:07 #69345 by Erik
Replied by Erik on topic The Frozen Land
Thanks for your answer Andrew. I'm from Sweden so no need to play in the snow for me, we usually get months with knee deep snow or more every year. But we're a group starting a Grand Traverse in about one weeks time and I'm just thinking about what gear to bring. I guess it could make sense to bring snow spikes for my boots. But maybe I could leave my gaiters a home. What do you think? Is it possible to say what the likelihood is that we would get another snowfall like last week's again with in the next tree weeks?

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01 Aug 2016 06:56 #69346 by Smurfatefrog
Replied by Smurfatefrog on topic The Frozen Land

Is it possible to say what the likelihood is that we would get another snowfall like last week's again with in the next tree weeks?

Very unlikely, but there was more snow last night. About 7cm across most of the escarpment

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