Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek

19 Aug 2016 12:09 - 19 Aug 2016 13:25 #69573 by JonWells
JonWells created the topic: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek
On Friday 12 August, 6 VE members, namely Smurfatefrog , Fitness, Papa Dragon, WezleyB, JulieMK and myself embarked on a 3 day hike from Sani Pass to Bushman’s Nek. We had spent Thursday night in Underberg and arranged an early lift up the pass to give us a head start, so with a full day ahead of us we stepped out of the vehicle to begin our adventure.

Within a second we knew we would be in for one icy weekend! A very strong, bitterly cold wind was blowing which had us frantically reaching for our beanies, gloves and down jackets. Once sufficiently kitted we began making our way southwards towards our first goal of Hodgsons’s Peak South.


Papa Dragon, Fitness, WezleyB, Smurfatefrog, JulieMK, JonWells



Climbing the first ridge we encountered 2 young shepherds and a large flock of sheep. One of the youngsters walked right passed us, but he was way more interested in strumming his home made guitar than asking for handouts. How his fingers were able to function well enough to form chords in that cold was certainly beyond our comprehension!

As we crossed over the ridge we began walking through the first snow. Something we would certainly see a fair bit of over the course of the hike. After passing Masubasuba Pass, we ascended the next ridge, and found ourselves near the base of the peak.

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Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 13:25 by JonWells.
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19 Aug 2016 12:11 - 19 Aug 2016 13:01 #69574 by JonWells
JonWells replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek 12
The snow was a fair bit thicker here, and we weren’t entirely sure which was the best approach to the summit. After reaching a few dead ends, we eventually spotted some footprints from some previous hikers, which led us to the fairly simple scramble onto the top.



After having a rest on the summit we climbed back down, collected our packs and continued on our way. Near the bottom of the South Hodgson Ridge we encountered a stretch of smooth, iced up snow. We wasted no time at all conducting multiple experiments of the best and most fun way to slide down a slope! We had a blast testing stomach sliding, back sliding, and various types of foam mats. Incidentally, if you’re trying this on a foam mat, use the type that has the silver foil on one side if you want to get anywhere!


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Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 13:01 by JonWells.
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19 Aug 2016 12:12 - 19 Aug 2016 12:43 #69575 by JonWells
JonWells replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek 12

At midday we reached the river near North Pitsaneng pass, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch break on an amazingly flat and smooth stretch of lawn. The dogs from the nearby kraal were barking ferociously at us, which had us on edge for a while, but they soon settled down once they saw that we would keep our distance.

After lunch we continued, following the escarpment edge until we eventually reached Sandleni Cave, where we would spend the night. We were impressed by our accommodation, the cave is nice and big, and has a number of smaller caves nearby with additional sleeping areas. As mentioned by Ghaz in his recent report, the cave has a strong drip, well more like a steady trickle, which was very convenient for collecting water.



After supper and a few whiskeys we turned in for some well-deserved sleep. It was not however destined to last for very long though, as in the middle of the night, the stiff wind began to turn into a gale. It was creating havoc for the 4 guys that were in the sleeping area near the entrance of the cave. After much shouting and commotion, they eventually relocated their sleeping gear into the next door “honeymoon suite” cave which turned out to offer much more shelter.

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Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 12:43 by JonWells.
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19 Aug 2016 12:13 - 19 Aug 2016 13:30 #69576 by JonWells
JonWells replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek 12
We knew day 2 would be a fairly long day, so we were eager to get off to a reasonably early start. As the sun was rising we ate our breakfast and packed up. As we set off for our planned 22km to Mzimude Cave we were all a little concerned about Wesley. His knee had started to become quite painful towards the end of day 1, and it was still giving him some major hassles as we set off up the first ridge. The lad was clearly in a lot of pain. To complicate matters, the closest reasonably short exit point was Mashai Pass, but that was still a fair distance away. Plus we had no idea if the pass would even be safe to descend with all the snow and ice around.



We eventually decided to make a final decision at the very top of the first ridge. If he made it up ok, we would push onwards, and if not, then we would backtrack and walk out via Stones Pass. Wes dosed himself up with painkillers, and soldiered on up the ridge. When we arrived at the top, he confirmed the painkillers were helping and he felt ok enough to continue. We were back on track to stick to our original plan it seemed.

It was still very windy and cold, so hiking again in down jackets was the order of the day. We made our way down the south side of the ridge past Umzimkhulu Pass, and up and over the Verkyker Ridge. By lunch time we were in the gently sloped valley that leads up to the Mashai ridge where we stopped for a well-earned lunch break next to the river.
Once we had sufficiently recharged, we set our eyes onto our next goal of Mashai Peak, that lay over 300 vertical metres above us. We left the river and made our way up the nose of the ridge, stopping at 3100m to inspect an empty kraal, complete with a number of roofed huts.



After another 100m of ascent we began traversing diagonally to our left, and eventually reached the top of the ridge. A short while later we were standing atop Mashai Peak, very happy to have completed the last major climb for the day!


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Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 13:30 by JonWells.
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19 Aug 2016 12:17 - 19 Aug 2016 13:04 #69578 by JonWells
JonWells replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek 12
In the distance, we could see Mzimude Pass, the end of a long day was in sight. Even though we had planned to spend both nights in caves, we weren’t sure if the snow might cause complications for us, so we were carrying tents, which made our packs a little heavier than we would have liked. We were all very tired, and Wes was still battling with his knee and having to dig deep for every kilometre. After filling up our water bottles at the river, we were all exceptionally relieved to finally arrive at the top of the pass.

The centre of the gully was filled with some very deep snow. None of us had the energy to go and measure it, but it looked like it could have easily been 1.5 metres in places. When we could finally see the cave we were rather disheartened to see that getting there would involve traversing a tricky, steep bank of hard snow. It looked like a pretty intimidating obstacle to navigate at the end of such a tough day, but we were able to make some foot holes and carefully tread across.



We arrived at Mzimude Cave to find that part of the front of it had filled up with snow, so we all set about digging away at it with trowels, pots and tupperware until eventually most of it was out and we were finally able to make use of the whole cave floor. We were then able to set up our beds, and have our supper as the sky began to darken. It was still very windy, and we were all feeling cold and exhausted, so we climbed into our sleeping bags for a ridiculously early night!

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19 Aug 2016 12:17 - 19 Aug 2016 14:38 #69579 by JonWells
JonWells replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek 12
Now for this entire hike so far there had been a lot of wind. We had been expecting it as the forecasts had consistently maintained that there would be a fairly persistent, moderate wind blowing. What we hadn’t expected was for the wind to turn into an outright VIOLENT gale during the night! From around 10pm the wind ROARED through the gully making sleep virtually impossible. As I had taken the sheltered part of Sandleni Cave the night before, it was my turn to “sleep” at the cave entrance this time. For the rest of the night all I could do was try to assume the foetal position whilst attempting to seal the top of the sleeping bag above my head. The tiniest gap left open would result in an arctic tornado racing down my neck. It was a constant battle choosing between warmth, but being suffocated by carbon dioxide, or having fresh air and being freezing. It really was a ridiculously unpleasant night.

After what seemed like an eternity, dawn finally arrived and we were able to have a very quick breakfast, and pack up. In the back of our minds we were all rather apprehensive about having to leave the relative shelter of Mzimude Cave and step out into the mayhem.

And mayhem it was.

The minute we were out of the cave we were hit by the full fury of the wind. Making our way down the snowy slope was a highly precarious task, and a few of us ended up being completely blown over a number of times. We nervously staggered across the traverse into the gully and struggled up to the top of the pass, all the time having stinging snow-crystal bullets blasting into our faces. We proceeded to stumble like paralytic drunkards up Walkers ridge being blown all over the show. Progress was painfully slow. We just wanted to be off the mountain, but we had so far still to travel. At this point the hike had turned into a complete and utter nightmare. I was wearing 5 layers of clothing, more than I had ever thought necessary to hike in, and was still only barely warm enough!
Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 14:38 by JonWells.

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19 Aug 2016 12:19 - 19 Aug 2016 12:53 #69580 by JonWells
JonWells replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek 12
Eventually we reached the top of Isicatula Pass where we took shelter behind a rocky outcrop and were able to sit down and catch our breaths for a while. It had taken 1h40 to cover this less than 3km stretch.

Most of us had never seen this pass close up before. It looked to be very steep, more intimidating than I had pictured. As we got closer to the start, we realised that the entire gully was full of soft, deep snow. It had essentially become the Isicatula supertube! It took very little convincing for us to all jump in and begin bum sliding down the slope. We quickly found out that this was actually a lot of fun, and the best part of all, we were now completely out of the wind! At last we had managed to get some smiles back on our faces, something we were desperately in need of!

In only a few minutes of sliding we had dropped a few hundred meters in altitude. Certainly a great time saver. When we were roughly at the altitude of Saddle Neck Pass, we exited the gulley, and emptied all the snow that had slid up the back of our jackets.

“That was awesome!!” We all agreed.



From here we traversed across the grassy banks and made our way to the start of Saddle Neck Pass. After a short rest at the top we began making our way down it’s pathless slopes. After a few minutes we began to feel a sensation we hadn’t felt in a very long time. Warmth! Out of the wind, lower in altitude, and with the sun shining brightly, we were able to strip down to just our hiking shirts for the first time in a few days.

The entire pass had been burned recently so all that was left was loose sand and the black stubs of burnt grass tufts. This made a few of the steeper side traverses a little slippery, especially with no long grass to grab onto. Wes’s knee was still very painful, so we had to take regular breaks to allow him to keep up with us. We were all amazed that he was still able to just keep plodding on, given his condition.

We were all very relieved to finally reach the main river at the bottom of the pass, and even more glad to finally be on a path. After all, besides the odd patchy escarpment sections this was the first proper sustained path we had been on in something like 45km.


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Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 12:53 by JonWells.

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19 Aug 2016 12:19 - 19 Aug 2016 13:40 #69581 by JonWells
JonWells replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek 12
From here we made steady progress towards the Bushman’s Nek Border Post. We knew the end was in sight, and all looked forward to finishing. Around a km from the finish line, we noticed a word scratched into the sandy path.

“BEER”

That was it.

“Wonder what that’s all about?” We pondered.

100m later, another message

“COLD BEER”

Another 100m:

“COLD BEER - - - - >”

Could these messages by some cosmic miracle be for our group? Could the impossible become possible??

As we reached the final river crossing, there they were. Waiting for us. 2 mini cooler boxes full of ice cold beer. And there was Tod, our gracious Underberg host, seated in the long grass, smiling and waving. He had arrived earlier than expected, bearing gifts from the heavens. Never before had a man appeared so legendary in our eyes!

Wes received a rapturous round of applause as he stumbled across the finish line, he had really had to endure a lot of pain and suffering and had plodded on endlessly with hardly a complaint, so big kudos to him!

It had been a difficult, but certainly a very memorable hike, and we were glad to have ticked off a nice chunk of the escarpment in one weekend. Total distance 57km, certainly a lot more than we would normally accomplish on a 2 night hike.

Another special mention must be made of Julie and Wes who had both travelled down from Gauteng and ended up arriving home around midnight on Sunday, both with work the next morning. If that’s not commitment I don’t know what is, so well done guys!
Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 13:40 by JonWells.

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19 Aug 2016 15:13 #69583 by Papa Dragon
Papa Dragon replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek
Awesome hike report on an epic hike Jon..

Thanks for everything, team, and salute to
Wes for his vasbyt...
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19 Aug 2016 16:15 #69586 by ghaznavid
ghaznavid replied to: Hike Report- Sani Pass to Bushman's Nek
Nicely done guys! That stretch of escarpment is an odd combo of long easy flat stuff and really big ridges - hope you enjoyed the view as you drop down from No Mans Peak.

So what's next? The Giants Traverse comes as highly recommended.

"Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory." - Ed Viesturs
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