Gray's Pass December 2015

23 Dec 2015 16:44 - 23 Dec 2015 16:55 #66218 by Papa Dragon
Gray's Pass December2015

This is not going to be log as such, because I didn't really pay much attention to exact times, altitudes etc, but more of a collection of recollections and impressions.

Following my request for company on the “Upcoming Hikes” thread, 4 of us were due to meet at Monk's Cowl car park, with the intention of ascending Gray's, and spending a bit of time on the escarpment. None of us had met before. It turned out that 3 of us were from Natal, so arranged that Smurfatefrog would collect andrew r from his brother's house, and then me from mine. We left Camperdown at about 4am, and after some easy chat and good driving we were soon at Monk's Cowl. JulieMK arrived soon after us, and we were treated to coffee and rusks by a friend, who unfortunately could not join us.



We got on the way at about 6:45, but I soon realised that all was not well with me. We had barely covered 700m, I was feeling nauseous, heartburn, head pounding, and just generally weak and terrible. This on the first time I had hiked with the other 3, I felt very awkward. Smurf kindly offered to take my tent back to the car, which I accepted as we had a tent each before mine went back. Julie and I went on slowly ahead, whilst Andrew waited for Smurf, and they pushed on after us. Didn't take long to catch up , either!! I took an antacid at Crystal Falls, had some water and a munch and soon felt a bit better. We got going again, and made reasonable time up to Breakfast Stream, through Hlatikhulu Nek and down to the Mhlwazini crossing on the way to Keith Bush. Despite a few clouds around, the weather was quite hot. Here we made the call not to attempt Gray's that afternoon, but to overnight at Keith Bush. We had a pleasant lunch at the crossing, where we found water about 30m downstream, thanks to one of Tony's reports on “Water Watch”.



We then began the tramp up the slope to Keith Bush, which caught some of us unawares, the grade looks pretty flat from the crossing, but once walking and looking back you realise that it is quite a slog up to the camp. We arrived at “tent city”, with 6 tents there already, if memory serves, and then another couple of people arriving later. We had a small rainshower that afternoon, nothing too serious at all though, and were soon cooking and eating supper.

After a typical (for me) Berg sleep, turning a bit and waking fairly often, we woke to a clear morning and early start up Gray's. As soon as the sun came over Sterkhorn side, so we felt the heat. It was exceptionally hot on the way up. I had said in my “upcoming hikes” about not being a FKT, if it was a SKT that was also fine. Many a true word spoken in jest!! We took 6 hours to ascend, I held everyone else up, and although I didn't really take major strain I went really slowly, I think a carry-over from the day before, and not wanting to feel like I did the day before. We were fortunate to have Smurf with us, and his recent experience of the pass and area were invaluable. We passed the false path, and were soon into the gulley. This was dry, loose, and slippery, but fortunately short.
What a great feeling to summit, last time I was there was about 18 years ago. High fives all round!!






Again we made the call not to push on, but to head across to the cave and use that as a base. First things first, we had lunch and a wash at the river, which had water but worryingly low. At this stage it had clouded over, and was a fair bit cooler. “Look, there's a Basotho coming over the ridge!” “No, it's a white klipspringer!” “No, its Andrew P!” He was headed towards Injasuthi, but after some whistles and shouts, he changed direction and headed over for a cup of tea and a chat. Soon on his way again, and he disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Awesome ability!!





Took a walk across the valley and looked over the cliffs at the vultures, spectacular sight them soaring through the air, Smurf went further on to look at the waterfall, but I think he said there was only a trickle. Incredible majesty of the mountains though. Crows attacked our stashed packs, fortunately only got my rubbish packet though.
Made our way to the cave, still dry enough for a few people to sleep in, though parts of the floor are quite damp and groundsheets are necessary. After sorting out sleeping arrangements, Smurf and Andrew went for a mission to Champagne, Julie went for a swim and I stayed as cave guard. Don't know how much risk our stuff was at, but there were a few shepherds (Cattleherds?) around, better safe than sorry. I enjoyed my time sitting on the rocks outside the cave, the solitude, and soaking in the mountains.









The latest forecast that we had was for heavy rain on Saturday night and the whole of Sunday, there were a couple of showers on Saturday afternoon, but nothing major. After a pleasant evening in the cave, we woke to a partly cloudy Sunday morning. The clouds were mostly lower than escarpment level. Julie and I went for a walk to Champagne and round the front, with the most amazing views of the Berg to north and south. Nice slow walk, lots of time to watch some buck, vultures, and check out some of the flora and rocks. Quite a few cattle around, and surprisingly good condition despite the drought, saw one very nice branded bull. We got back to the cave, Andrew and Smurf took another mission up Nkosazana ridge.







We decided that we had some dry weather to descend, and 2 of the team had far to drive home, so we would descend to Keith Bush that afternoon. We had an uneventful descent, apart from my rain-jacket rolling away unnoticed when we had a brief rain shower. I thought I was going crazy, and so did my fellow hikers. Andrew found it about 30m down the path, fortunately it had not rolled down the slope. Whew – not crazy and got the jacket!

2 ½ hours down compared to 6 up - ahh well. Set up camp in an empty Keith Bush, we were the only ones there.

As we were starting to cook, a major lightning storm started brewing. It was spectacular to watch, with lightning striking the peaks right around Keith Bush. We watched until the rain forced us into shelter, and were treated to a good Berg shaker!! Tents held up very well, with only some of the kit that was in the vestibules of the shared tent getting slightly wet. After the storm there was still some rain around, so we ended up cooking and eating in the vestibules, after which we drifted to sleep. I woke at 11, and opened the tent door. It was absolutely beautiful outside, calm, clear and crisp, with the whole area and peaks bathed in silver moonlight. I even woke Andrew to have a look it was so spectacular, I hope he didn't mind!

Monday morning an early start to the walk out, uneventful but warm. Passed scores of the usual tissue-flingers from BMC onwards, more than on a normal weekend. Bit of sadness starting to set in at the end of a magic 4 days, but beers and burgers and post-hike chat at the Thirsty Monk (sic) with our friend that couldn't make it helped.

Then it was goodbye to Julie going back up-country, and the rest of us back Durban way.

Thanks Andrew, Smurf and Julie for a great hike, probably not what our expectations were at the beginning, but an awesome time. I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did.

Hope I didn't bore you too much, and if I did that you skipped to the end :)

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Last edit: 23 Dec 2015 16:55 by Smurfatefrog.

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23 Dec 2015 17:14 - 23 Dec 2015 17:19 #66219 by Smurfatefrog
Thanks Papa D, great write up

My favourite views of the hike were from Mhlwazini Peak





And an interesting view of Monks Cowl from Nkosazana

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Last edit: 23 Dec 2015 17:19 by Smurfatefrog.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, LouisvV, Papa Dragon

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23 Dec 2015 18:55 #66222 by andrew r
Replied by andrew r on topic Gray's Pass December 2015
Thanks Papa D, great write-up. I too enjoyed the hike immensely with its blend of steady hiking along a very scenic route, some physically challenging sections, some breathtaking vistas, great camaraderie and experienced decision-making & route selection. It was also wonderful to just hang out for a day on the Escarpment, doing short missions to the peaks and cliffs around iNkosazana Cave.

It’s a credit to intrepid and this VE forum that we met up and very quickly developed an easy bond and trust with each other, and in this regard I must make special mention of the calm, patient leadership of Smurfatefrog and the mettle of both JulieMK who left home at 1am to join a group of male hikers that she had never met before, and also Papa D who despite feeling under the weather physically at the outset pushed through, determined to enjoy the endeavour. Respect; I learned a lot from all of you. Thanks.

We received top-notch hospitality from Mark Robertson at Monk's Cowl, big thumbs up Mark, I hope you remember your VE log-in soon so you can see the pics B)

make a difference. today.
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24 Dec 2015 00:46 #66224 by Coeta
Replied by Coeta on topic Gray's Pass December 2015
Tnx for the write up - looked like good fun.
Question... What is a "tissue-flinger" ?

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24 Dec 2015 04:56 - 24 Dec 2015 20:34 #66225 by andrew r
Replied by andrew r on topic Gray's Pass December 2015
Coeta wrote:

Question... What is a "tissue-flinger" ?

it's a less than complimentary term for a day tripper, someone (edit: usually of the 'touristy' type) out for a walk in the berg lasting less than a day, and references the inordinate amount of litter they seem to generate.

make a difference. today.
Last edit: 24 Dec 2015 20:34 by andrew r. Reason: Add clarity
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24 Dec 2015 11:10 - 24 Dec 2015 11:11 #66226 by JulieMK
Replied by JulieMK on topic Gray's Pass December 2015
Papa Dragon, thank you so much for the write up and wonderful pictures.
This trip far exceeded my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the three wise men - thank you for all the laughs, the jibes and the support when things got a bit tough.
I hope to hike with you again soon.
And a huge thank you to Mark for your generosity and warm welcome!
Last edit: 24 Dec 2015 11:11 by JulieMK.
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24 Dec 2015 13:23 #66228 by 4055415
Replied by 4055415 on topic Gray's Pass December 2015
Firstly just wanted to say thank you fot the write up. Awesome us usual :)

However :thumbsdown: for the remarks regarding day walkers being classified as tissue flingers. I am still new to the hiking scene and very inexperienced. I try and do as much overnighters/multi day trips as possible. Time is not always on my side thus resorting to the frequent day trips. We always practice the 'trash in trash out' rule when out hiking. AND many other day hikers share these sentiments.

We all love nature and the mountains so if possible kindly refrain from generalising when a few individuals are at fault.

Kind regards

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24 Dec 2015 14:06 #66229 by Papa Dragon
Hi 4055415, and welcome to the forum.
My remark was a generalisation, yes, but it shouldn't offend anyone who genuinely cares for the wilderness, and was not intended as such.
There are a lot of members on this forum who do mainly day-hikes, and they do not fall into this category either, obviously.
The term probably best refers to the "touristy" types who walk from areas like Monk's Cowl office, mainly up to either the Sphinx, Breakfast Stream, or Blind Man's Corner, one can't deny the litter left behind in these areas after a busy period.
Once again, the comments were certainly not directed at day-hikers as such, but more specifically at the trippers who leave a mess to be cleaned up either by other hikers, or Wildlife staff.
Hope this clears things up.
Kind regards
Papa D
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24 Dec 2015 14:13 #66230 by Papa Dragon
PS, you have joined the best forum around to learn about the 'Berg and hiking, some very knowledgable people on here who readily share information.

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24 Dec 2015 14:39 #66232 by AndrewP
Replied by AndrewP on topic Gray's Pass December 2015
Papa Dragon, thanks for the write up.

It was great to meet all of you guys out there, and the 30 minutes or so shared while you brewed the tea was a great way to meet. Will definitely try join in for a slower trip one of these days.
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