The Annual Snow Mission

12 Aug 2012 12:59 #54913 by Stijn
After much indecision about a leaving time from Joburg due to the many road closures on Wednesday, we finally set out from Joburg at 4am on Thursday, expecting heavy traffic and icy conditions. Surprisingly, the drive down was uneventful and we arrived at Monk's Cowl as early as 9:30 - I was over the moon as we'd now have a chance at doing our planned route: Up Gray's, down Tlanyaku and back along the contour path.







Unfortunately, the entire Monk's Cowl area had recently been heavily burnt, but this created an interesting effect with the stark contrast between white snow, black slopes and new green shoots breaking through. Our goal for the day was Keith Bush Camp, which we reached at 3:30pm after a pleasant day's hiking. Keith Bush was anything but pleasant as there was no water, everything was burnt, muddy and snow-covered and the ideal camping spot had been taken by four French hikers who did not appear very keen to do any sharing. After a bit of scouting, we managed to find a sheltered spot, scraped away the snow and jammed our two tents in side by side. Later that afternoon, two other hikers arrived, Geordie and Jax from VE in fact, but we only discovered this the next day.









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12 Aug 2012 13:03 #54914 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Re: The Annual Snow Mission
As we were planning to do a further 9km of escarpment traversing after Gray's Pass to reach Didima Cave, we made a relatively early start (for Winter at least) at 7:45am the next morning. We were the first leave and hence had the job of breaking trail up Gray's Pass. The initial ridge only had patches of snow but the wind was howling. Luckily the rest of the pass was sheltered as soon as we started travering right at about 2700m. The snow became very thick at this point, obscuring the trail entirely. I had done Gray's a few times before, but the most recent was about 7 years ago so the route finding through the rock bands was fairly challenging. I knew there was a switchback near the top and tried to do this a little early, which led to some hairy moments on a steep, muddy and unstable slope. The actual route was soon rediscovered and we made good, but slow progress up the rest of the pass, sinking knee to waist deep in the snow at times. The views over the Cowl, Cathkin and Sterkhorn were spectacular, as always.









We topped out at 11:30 and were greeted with a completely snowed-in Nkosazana valley. The first goal was water, then lunch, and then Didima Cave before dark. The river was obviously frozen solid but we managed to break through the ice at one point to fill our bottles. It took about half-an-hour of frustratingly slow hiking through the snow drifts to reach the site of Nkosazana Cave. By the time we reached it, a unanimous decision had already been made that 9km of that would take more hours than we had left in the day so the call was made to stay in Nkosazana Cave that night and head back down Gray's the next morning. However, that required finding Nkosazana Cave, which to all intents and purposes, was no longer there. We were at the rock band where the cave usually is and all we could see was a massive snow slope. My suggestion of "Let's start digging!" was not met with much enthusiasm...

Once I had gained a bit of height on the slope, though, all was finally revealed. The wind had packed a huge snow drift up against the entrance to the cave and the only access was a bit of a bumslide through a hole right at the top of this drift. This meant that the cave was very well sheltered against the forecasted 80km/h winds that night and all that remained to make this our home for the night was some more snow-scraping off the sleeping areas. What a find!



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12 Aug 2012 13:05 #54915 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Re: The Annual Snow Mission
Geordie and Jax topped out later that afternoon (South Africa 6 - France 0), likely having chuckled at our diversions on the pass and just followed the correct route first time round. They opted to camp outside the cave as the warmer option for the night. As always, it was great to put some faces to names from the VE forums and share war stories from our previous Berg hikes. We had supper together before retreating into our fridge (er.. cave) for the night. Just a few minutes after we had settled down to sleep, the rustling started... There was a colony of mole-like rodents in the cave, and they wanted our food! By the time dawn broke, their numbers had dwindled by one due to an unforunate contact with a well-aimed hiking boot. No worries though - his friends carried him away and likely had him for dessert.

We joined forces with Geordie and Jax to descend Gray's and had a long last day hiking all the way back to the cars via the alternative route of Keartland's Pass. That part of the mountain had escaped the blaze and it was wonderful to end the hike in some of that golden Berg grass again. It was a great hike - may the tradition continue...







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12 Aug 2012 14:03 #54917 by Smurfatefrog

Stijn wrote: Just a few minutes after we had settled down to sleep, the rustling started... There was a colony of mole-like rodents in the cave, and they wanted our food! By the time dawn broke, their numbers had dwindled by one due to an unforunate contact with a well-aimed hiking boot. No worries though - his friends carried him away and likely had him for dessert.

These little guys?
They are known in Lesotho as leboodies (no idea of spelling)

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12 Aug 2012 14:17 #54919 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Re: The Annual Snow Mission
Nope - smaller, rounder and completely blind.

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12 Aug 2012 17:12 #54924 by Geordie
Replied by Geordie on topic Re: The Annual Snow Mission
Me thinks they are called Voles??

Thanks for the report,and, as mentioned so good to meet forum members. Your foot prints were good for most of the pass, and we are still not sure if we would have carried on without them.
Anyone pick up my peg bag????

G

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13 Aug 2012 05:54 #54928 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Re: The Annual Snow Mission
@Geordie - we didn't see a stray peg-bag unfortunately..

What a mission it was to find accommodation on Saturday night with the canoe race in Bergville. Even the caravan park was full. We eventually found a place in Harrismith after the obligatory dinner at Bingelela!

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13 Aug 2012 17:15 #54946 by Geordie
Replied by Geordie on topic Re: The Annual Snow Mission
Lucky there were no pegs in the bag, just have to find another one.
We just missed the tuck (Beer) shop at Monks, but we met some friends and decided to pitch camp there, have a shower and a good early start the next day. Funny, the camp site was empty, only 3 bona fide campers. I wonder what is keeping the hordes away.
Anyway, we went for supper at the Dragons Rest pub and restaurant (Part of Dragons peak resort). I was a bit peed off to find that we were locked into the camp and had to negotiate a supper pass with the gate keeper. I guess something to do with security.
Food at the mentioned pub was so-so, but quick and reasonable and plentiful so we will mark it down as recommended.
At the end of the day, another great berg weekend, what can I say?

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14 Aug 2012 04:55 #54949 by LeonBasson
Thank you for the report.
Your timing was just right, your pictures are awesome.
We are leaving on 18 Aug, for Mafadi. :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

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15 Aug 2012 10:16 #54986 by BobbyStanton
Ice Rats (Myotomis sloggetti)
see Irwin, Ackhurst and Irwin; A Field Guide to the Natal Drakensberg
pub. Wildlife Society of SA

Sorry. Just catching up on some old threads. Can barely keep up nowadays.

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