Trip Report: Far Northern Reverse

29 Sep 2014 18:38 #61887 by Drakensbergie
So what do you do when two first time escarpment overnighters tell you that they plan to carry almost 20kg each (tent, raingear, extra warm clothes, about 4 litres of water, 4 days worth of food, a few beers and some whiskey…) all the way from the Chainladders to Fangs in one day…? You tell them to reconsider their plans, right? Well, sometimes the stubborn yields the spectacular and after respectively being blown off the mountain the first time around and a broken foot nothing was going to stop us from trying. So the story goes… On 17 September, my cousin Phreedom – also a VE member – and yours truly set of to do just that, and hop back to Ifidi Cave on day two, finally coming down and staying at Witzieshoek on day three. I like to call it the Far Northern Reverse.

Day 1

After a 21:00 pickup from the bus stop in Harrismith, we made our way to the Sentinel carpark, arriving at just after 22:00. The guards told us that only one other person had gone up the day before, soloing the Northern Traverse to Cathedral Peak. A final gearcheck later we settled into our bunks and drifted off to sleep. A 3:30 alarm had us scrambling for headlamps and coffee sachets and at just after 4:00 we were off. A feint mist had descended and between the darkness and the conversation of two people who hadn’t seen each other in 8 years we made good progress, even though we didn’t quite top out for sunrise, as was the plan.
A solid breakfast at the guard hut prepared us for the day to come – we thought. It was a perfect, if windy, morning but in spite of the good weather we decided not to dawdle at the Tugela Falls – we had a looooong way to go and were eager to get cracking. This would become lesson number one – use your opportunities. After consulting the GPS – thanks for the track Intrepid – we headed of into the desolate and dusty plains next to the Khubedu river. The 40 km/h tailwind helped us along and really put new meaning to the Khubedu “shunt” as the track is called… There was nobody to be seen in the kraals but a few ponies, curiously eyeing us as we passed. We saw quite a bit of birdlife however, with a few Cape Vultures and a Bearded Vulture circling us gracefully every time we stopped for a snack. The first rule of wilderness hiking is: Don’t feed the wildlife, especially not the vultures…
We were making good progress, in spite of myself almost being blown off a rock when I wanted to take some panoramic pictures. Somewhere after lunch we went off track, motoring down a clear path and quite enraptured by the sheer size, solitude and majesty of our surroundings. This turned out to be lesson number two. In Lesotho 600m in a straight line on your GPS often equates to a makhulu bloody ridge and about 2 hours extra to your walk.
When we eventually crossed over the ridge heading from the Mbundini area and laid eyes on the Mnweni the first time it was all worth it though. I may even have cried just a little. By this time, it was almost 16:30, we had been walking for over 12 hours and both us were taking strain. Our target for the day was Rat Hole Cave and seeing the GPS distance decrease with every step motivated us on. Lift/drag foot, step, repeat… As we neared the cave, an inflatable sleeping pad fluttered from its entrance. It was our solo friend! We had covered in one day what had taken him two! Kudos was small consolation though, we were both close to breaking point. Luckily Skylight Cave was closeby and we had packed a tent. Sunset over Fangs, some rice and tuna and a big delicious beer sent us to bed, bone tired and wondering how the hell we survived. It was a fitful sleep, full of howling winds – thank heavens for the tent – and thousands of marauding Basotho intent on nicking our boots, millions of miles from home.

Day 2

What can you say about the sunrise over Fangs? There are no words to describe it. You might as well just list the colours, the whites and greys and yellows and pinks and purples. And those clouds… No wonder we call her the Dragon. We were in shadow, and the wind was slicing us into thin little pieces so we had to get going. We sat on the edge of the escarpment in the beautiful Mbundini area. Breakfast above the clouds, with Mponjwane and the Cathedral Range breaking the clouds on the horizon. This was why we came here!
Instead of following the escarpment edge, we dropped into the valley behind Stimela Ridge – there is good water supply there, if anybody is heading that way – to refill our water bottles. We knew it meant we would be carrying heavy again, but there was no water further North. Not a drop.
After gathering water we made for the cairns leading up the ridge on the horizon and motored on along the clear path that runs along the top. We rounded a corner just after 12:00 and were greeted by the awesome sight that is the Icidi area. We had lunch in the plains behind the entrance to Icidi Pass. What a place. It felt like something from Tolkien, the sun like the gleaming eye of Sauron over us. One does not simply carry a few cookies and an energy goo into Mordor… without stopping somewhere and eating them. For the first time in two days we were not directly in the wind and the warmth was a welcome respite. We sat under the awesome spectre of Icidi Peak and watched the mist and the wind arm-wrestle for supremacy over the escarpment. No prizes for guessing who we were rooting for…
However, tired as though we were from the day before, Ifidi was not going to get up and come to us so we had to crack on! Another corner, another bone-dry river and yes, another ridge later we were there. The dramatic, jagged entrance to Ifidi Pass with the broken assegaai blade of Thaba Endanyazana sticking from the Dragon’s side made us jump for joy. Not very high, but we tried. Thanks to Intrepid’s write-up on finding Ifidi cave we made the cave just before 15:00. It is truly a five-star mountain stopover. You can pitch your tent in there, so we did.
The wind died down completely and we sat in the most complete silence either of us had ever experienced. The sort of silence that leaves you breathless and makes you whisper your conversation, so as not to break any rules or show any disrespect. The dead quiet, huge, holy silence of 180 million years. A coffee, some snacks and several lekker stywe whiskey and riverwaters later the mist came up and we could hardly see each other, headlamps notwithstanding. Sleep came quickly, and I awoke just once, when some baboons called out from the cliffs below us. Not very far away at all…

Day 3

Mist. Mist. More Mist. Not a lot can be said for this day, apart from the pain of inflamed knees and the wonders of GPS technology. Slightly “dehydrated” from all the whiskeys the night before, we shuffled along, following the dry streams and riverbeds North, back to the Amphitheater. Visibility decreased to about 20m at times and only once or twice did the mist lift enough for us to get line of sight of Mont Aux Sources and Crow’s Nest, telling us we were heading in the right direction. The burnt plains behind them called to mind scenes from post-apocalyptic films about the lone survivors of nuclear holocausts. And obscure blues bands called things like Dust and Pain.
Somewhere around lunchtime we crossed a dry stream and decided to stop and rest. The feint outline of a ridge could be seen through the thick mist and we decided that around was a much more appealing option than over. We took a good rest, shook some Rehidrat into our remaining water and set off again. Barely 50m later the ridge disappeared into a vast, white, silent expanse that spoke of immense space and we realised we had made it. The dry riverbed was Ribbon Falls Stream and the huge place we couldn’t see was the edge of the Amphitheater. We also realised that we had to go over the ridge, as around would entail a very, very long drop…
Dragging ourselves over the ridge we finally looked upon the Tugela area. The mist subsided a bit and we had another rest by the Tugela Falls, the world’s second highest dry spot where a waterfall should be. After a total soul count of one over the preceding two days, we encountered a friendly Asian tourist and several “hasty day-walkers” scurrying about in nothing but spandex and running shoes.
It felt like an eternity getting down to the carpark, where we signed out of the mountain register just after 15:00, having left Ifidi Cave at 7:00 that morning. A “fragrant” ride to Witzieshoek followed, where clean clothes and a warm shower felt like heaven. After scrubbing up we each had a steak and the buffet and let the relevant parentals know that we were, in fact, still alive. To round off the most epic three days of our lives, we watched the Sharks klap the Bulls and proceeded to get hammered with two Australians called John and Johno. The next day, as we were leaving, the weather cleared up beautifully.

From recognising landmarks to knowing what to look for in the weather, how to check for the safety of drinking water, finding caves, what gear to pack… two years of armchair hiking had prepared us well, regardless of the fact that neither of us had ever been up there before. Kudos to Intrepid and the nice people on Vertical Endeavour. Keep it up, thank you.

















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29 Sep 2014 18:40 #61888 by Drakensbergie

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29 Sep 2014 18:41 #61889 by Drakensbergie

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29 Sep 2014 18:57 #61890 by elinda
Oh how I loved your write up Darkwing Dave! Thanks so much, it encapsulated exactly why we all love the Berg so much. Absolutely magical! An adventure that you will never forget :)
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29 Sep 2014 20:16 #61891 by Josh of the Bushveld
Brilliant write-up, thanks :)
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29 Sep 2014 22:26 #61893 by Stijn
Love it!
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29 Sep 2014 22:32 #61894 by HFc
Thanks for the write up, really enjoyable read. :thumbsup:

I think you guys did well on day 1, its definitely a long day by any account.
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30 Sep 2014 08:27 #61897 by Phreedom
Read this, relived the three days again.

Oh oh!!! I found my cheese when unpacking!! The dassie didn't smash and grab the tent at Ifidi while we were sleeping.
Must of "misplaced" it when we packed up the next morning. :blush:

And no, it had nothing to do with the whiskey before bed.... :whistle:

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30 Sep 2014 09:35 #61899 by JonWells
"we watched the Sharks klap the Bulls and proceeded to get hammered"


Brilliant end to a hike mate! :lol:
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30 Sep 2014 10:33 #61901 by andrew r
Great story, well told; Together with the basic ingredients of nutrition, gear, navigation and a carefully considered recipe (with backup plans) that you say you gleaned from VE, you have evidently added a healthy dose of physical conditioning and more than a dash of zest, resulting in an epic tale of adventure well executed. An awesome first hike we would all be proud of, well done.

iFidi Cave is becoming a busy place, as we (group of 7) spent Friday night (26th Sept) there in the company of intrepid and AndrewP, who had been there since Wednesday I think.

make a difference. today.
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