GT2014/15 - Don't Follow the Lights

07 Jan 2015 18:49 - 26 Jan 2015 07:43 #62544 by ghaznavid
GT 2014/15 – don’t follow the lights

Around August 2014 I realised that December 2014 would quite possibly be the last chance I will have to do a GT in the near future. Knowing that a summer GT is not a common event, I sent an email out on the MCSA KZN mailing list and posted an ad on VE. I received a lot of replies saying that an April GT will work, but a December GT is not convenient. Within a few hours I had received an email from AndrewP saying that he was up for a December GT – and with that I knew I had a GT. It is usually not advisable to have a small group, but with the level of experience that Andrew brings to the table, I knew this would work.

The number of replies off the MCSA email began to dwindle, and in the end only one other person was in. Michael Relihan – a non-VE member who had hiked with Hobbit in the past was keen to join. Thus giving us a team of 3. Andrew managed to also rope in 2 others to join us from Langies onwards – Sarah and Tony. We had a team. GT2014/2015 was going to happen.

2014 had been a standout year for me. From a Drakensberg point of view there has been no year to compete with it. As at 22 December 2014 I had done 17 hikes, 575km and 18 khulus (only 1 of which was a repeat – and that was my good old Popple). This year had also seen my record for most khulus in a day raised to 4, and most during a day hike raised to 3. The year had seen Bond Pass through from conceptualisation through to reality. But it can’t all be good, and I would be lying if I said that my confidence in my ability to navigate and lead hikes hadn’t taken a substantial knock when we had to be rescued off Bollard Pass.

My goal for distance in a year hitting 500km has been around since 2012 when I finished on 490km. When departing for the Bollard Pass hike I was on 498km, knowing that I just needed to start the hike to hit my target, and targets are no good if you are hitting them with more than a month to go – so knowing that I planned on ending the year with a GT, I revised my target to 750 km, meaning that I needed to hit 175km on the GT by 31 December.

Day 1 – A Good Start, kind of (Start to Ifidi Cave – 18km)

Last time I wrote up about day 1 of a GT, day 1 was called “a bad start” after I was faced with stage 2 hypothermia. Relative to that, this GT was unlikely to include a worse start – although you can never assume that things will go according to plan in life.

Logistics on a GT can get interesting. After spending the day before getting Andrew’s car to Bushman’s Nek and him to PMB, we were all set. Up at 4AM and ready for a long drive to Sentinel car park, it was finally here – my first north to south GT.

Just after 5AM, Michael had picked up the 3 of us – the third person being Byron, who had very kindly offered to drive Michael’s car back after we reach Sentinel car park.

We were marginally behind schedule, but all was looking good on the roads. Until we hit Phuthaditjhaba that is. Suddenly the car had no power on the hills and the engine was making funny sounds. Michael then realised that his heat gauge was on the red line. The planned 9AM start was now most certainly out the window. Just getting to Sentinel car park was the goal now.

After waiting for some time and refilling the radiator with water, we were moving again, but very slowly. I was concerned for the fact that Byron still had to drive this car the roughly 350km distance to get back home.

With a lot of breaks along the way, we were finally parked on the dirt road just above the Witsieshoek turnoff. A driver driving past asked if we needed a hand, so the car was turned around and Byron was given the tough task of nursing the car back to PMB, while myself and Michael got squashed under the weight of 3 backpacks, and Andrew ran up the remaining section of the road.

11:15 and all 3 of us very worried about the safe return home of Byron – we set off from Sentinel car park. Not the early start we had hoped for, but day 1 had been set to be a short day due to the expected late start, so we knew we would just have to accept a later finish.

While making our way up towards the chain ladders we bumped into a group coming down, a VE member in the group who knew Andrew began to tell us about how there was a body below Tugela Falls. 2014 was so close to being another casualty-free year in the Drakensberg, but sadly sometimes it isn’t to be. Every group that we bumped into after that asked us if we knew anything about the incident, to which we replied that it is tragic, but we know nothing.

The lack of a resupply before Sani meant our packs were very heavy. The strain of the weight was apparent. Progress was slow, but we managed to keep breaks to a minimum. To compensate for the weight we had planned for the first few days to be rather short, and had elected to shortcut certain sections of the Northern Berg.

At the hut we saw the last team of hikers that we would see for a few days.

Before long we found ourselves standing on the summit of the Amphitheatre khulu. Not exactly the hardest khulu to get up, and really it shouldn’t be a khulu, but it is nice to get off the mark.

As we walked into the valley below it, we noted how small Bilanjil Bump looks, and upon climbing what we had thought was Bilanjil Bump, we realised that the actual summit was higher on the Mont-Aux-Sources ridge. After slogging up to the actual summit – more effort that we thought it would be – Andrew suggested that we go for the khulu-bagging GT record. We knew no “official” record exists, but Stijn had done “about 30”, so we deemed that anything above 35 would probably be a record. After all, that is only 3 every day, not difficult. We all agreed and suddenly we had a new goal in mind.

We left the second khulu in the direction of the Kubedu river, aiming to bypass the Amphingati ridge.

Andrew suggested that we move the target for the day from tents around Ifidi Pass to Ifidi Cave, but we couldn’t resist bagging Thaba Edanyazana on the way, so we did.

At around 6:30PM we were in the cave after a long day. As we hit the cave it began to rain. We had been fortunate – no mist or thunderstorm in the afternoon had facilitated our progress. We could very easily have fallen behind after losing more than 2 hours to car trouble.

Day 2 – Going Walkabout (Ifidi Cave to Rwanqa – 22km)

Up at 4AM, hoping to walk by 5AM. Unfortunately we are only walking at 5:45. The weather looks good once again. The plan had been to have another short day – our packs are very heavy, and will be heavier that what one would normally carry at this stage for a while.

We begin the day by slogging up the Ifidi ridge. It is by no means the toughest ridge in the Berg, and the pack isn’t feeling as heavy as I feared – although it is pretty heavy.

Michael and I reach the top of the ridge only to find Andrew’s pack, but no Andrew. We assume he has run ahead to bag the khulu, so we leave our packs and start walking off. As we summit the khulu we find that he isn’t there. About 10 minutes later he joins us on the summit. It turns out that he had gone for Ifidi Pass Peak – but unfortunately its inclusion on the khulu list is found to be invalid. The map shows the high point on the border, but the high point is actually back from the border and therefore it is not a khulu. Too bad, but good to get some fieldwork in.

We take a look at Ifidi Buttress and Icidi Crown. There is still a lot of ground to cover, so these will have to wait for some other day. We walk through the Icidi valley, tagging the top of the pass and electing to tackle Icidi Back Ridge rather than Icidi Buttress (not sure how we came to this conclusion, but it seemed logical at the time). As we neared the summit I questioned whether or not the water would flow in the convoluted pattern required for a part of the summit to be within SA. I have added a remark next to this khulu on the list – I am not convinced that this khulu has a summit within SA as indicated by the maps. But anyway, at the time of summiting it was not a disputed khulu, so that was no 5 of the trip.

As we dropped down towards the Stimela valley, we realised that Icidi Buttress would have been a lot easier and shorter to climb. As we dropped off the Icidi ridge, Andrew ran up Caboose while Michael and I took a line towards the river to take lunch.

After lunch we began to head up the Stimela Ridge. There is a khulu called Stimela Ridge, so we went for it. With some mist over in SA it was tricky to find the summit. We kept finding a higher mini-buttress separated by a deep gully. We bagged 4 of them before settling on what the highest was. It was clearly within 1km of Stimela Peak, and we agreed that each little bump should disqualify the nearby lower summits. Khulu bagged – but once again marked “sceptical”. We agreed that the khulu definition should be revised to eliminate khulus like this where an arbitrary high point with nearby higher points was the khulu simply because of the 1km rule.

From here we head up to the saddle on the ridge. We stash packs and bag Stimela Peak. This is a real khulu and probably has a great view when the SA side isn’t misty. From the summit we identify the Mbundini khulus, but agree that time and energy won’t permit their inclusion in this GT.

As we drop into the valley, we are all feeling the impact of the 5 khulus done so far today. Michael went ahead while Andrew and myself decided to go and find Rat Hole Cave – we decided to try and find it without find it without a GPS. We soon hit a trail and walk straight through to the cave. I had been there before, so it is good to find it so easily.

As we walk up the small ridge behind the cave, we remember the debated “Rat Hole Peak”. Both myself and Tony Marshall had identified that this spot height should be a khulu in past communications, so we decided to do some fieldwork. The 3 of us bag two different summits before agreeing which one should be the khulu. It may be better described as “Fangs Buttress” due to its proximity to Fangs Pass.

Walking near Fangs Pass we discover that, according to the geomaps series, Fangs Pass is the highest point in Southern Africa at 3800m. We have a good chuckle at this before moving along.

We continue up the Rwanqa ridge, eyeing out the 2 khulus on the ridge, but agreeing that we should pitch tents first. When we hit the trail on the river, we see a great pool, but none of us really want to swim, so we stop for a break and then keep moving.

We take the left split of the river to get out of sight of the well-used trail up the valley. I am finished – even though it wasn’t a long or tough day, the 22kg pack is clearly taking its toll.

After an hour long break outside where my tent will be pitched, we leave our packs and begin the slog up Rwanqa Spear. The khulu is a real slog to get up, but taking it slow we are eventually enjoying quite a worthwhile view. The mist in SA has also cleared.

From here we head across to Rwanqa, more than 1km from the spear and therefore a separate khulu. Once again, the view is not disappointing.

We pitch tents where we stashed our packs and have a good quite night.

At this stage we had still only seen one local – a man near Bilanjil Bump. This seemed rather surprising to me, but I don’t expect it to last forever.

My record of 4 khulus in a day had been broken. I don’t think 7 in a day is a bad day!

Day 3 – Cutting Back (Rwanqa to Mlambonja – 27km)

When I suggested doing a summer GT, one of the first warnings I received was that we would spend quite a bit of the GT walking through marshes. At this stage we had been quite fortunate in only hitting the occasional wet spot. The conversation seemed to be pretty standard:
Andrew: it’s a swamp
Ghaz: swamp, yes, come along Hobitses, I will show you safe paths through the mist. Don’t follow the lights…

Not entirely word for word the transcript from the films, but I’m sure the wording summons an image of Sméagol in the Dead Marshes for many of you. As you can imagine – but day 3 this comment was starting to get a bit old.

We began day 3 almost a full hour behind schedule. 5AM was a nice goal on paper, but the reality was that we didn’t manage to hit it on any of the days.

We began the day – yet another great looking morning – by slogging up towards the Black and Tan Wall. In the saddle we stashed packs and bagged our eleventh. Not a bad start to day 3! Last GT I managed 11 khulus + Thabana Ntlenyana, so to already hit 11 was quite something. Once again this is a peak with a great view over the cutback. I often find that the khulus with the best views aren’t the best famous ones – after all, the well-known peaks are usually renowned for what they look like rather than the view. The best example of this would be Rhino Peak.

We planned on hitting the highway and taking the speed GT route past the cutback. Today was our first long day, our packs were still very heavy, but at least the ridges were still small and we knew there were trails. Originally day 3 and 4 were both going to be shorter, and day 5 and 6 would be longer – but we opted to make days 5 and 6 khulu bagging days as we crossed the Yodeler’s and Mafadi ridges.

Pins Buttress was next on our to-do list, but the wind had picked up. Not too heavy a wind by Berg standards – we weren’t always getting blown over and could still breathe, but it was by no means the most pleasant weather we ever had. It had also begun to rain, so we decided to give this one a miss.

Discussions about the diamond mine and proposed wind farm went on as we marched through the over-grazed highway.

The weather calmed a bit, and we decided to go for one of Andrew’s additions to the khulu list – Mnweni Cutback. The actual summit was debatable, but we agreed we had the highest point within 1km. The view was average, but the wind on the summit was unbarable.

We continued along the highway until approaching 12 Apostles Spur Peak which we also bagged. Once again, the wind was good enough reason to rush off the summit and the view wasn’t too much to speak of. This was my 14th khulu at Mnweni – bringing Mnweni up to equal the top spot for most khulus I had bagged in a region, tied with Giant’s Castle. Life is ironic sometimes!

With the Rockeries clearly visible in the distance, we dropped over a saddle to a low river. We stopped for an early almost-lunch on this river before traversing over another saddle and hitting the Senqu.

Both myself and Michael had some food to get rid of, and had hoped to bump into some locals. As we came down the hill towards the Senqu we saw our second local of the GT, but he kept his distance. We had agreed that we would only give food to locals if they had been friendly and agreed to take the food as payment for a photo – try to avoid encouraging begging for food.

The Senqu becomes a mighty river quite quickly, but fortunately is easy to cross at this stage if you find a spot where it flows more rapidly. We sat for a proper lunch break on the river, but knew we still had a long way to go for the day. It was lovely to be far enough into Lesotho that the sun was out and there was no wind. But we knew we wouldn’t be this far into Lesotho again on the GT.

After lunch we shot up a very pleasant side river that comes out just south of the Nguza ridge. We followed the long way around to come out between the Ntonjelana Knife and South Saddle Rise. We stashed our packs below Ntonjelana Knife and bagged the khulu. The view from this one was really special. Tooth, Saddle, Cathedral etc. were all visible from the summit. Definitely worth the hard work!

Heading down to our packs we knew the Ntonjelana Ridge was one of our first proper ridges – after all, the Mnweni area doesn’t exactly have the most difficult escarpment ridges.

We slowly worked our way up to Ntonjelana Ridge – our 15th khulu of the trip. Basically the same view as the Knife, but also very worthwhile. From the summit we followed the ridge towards the valley we were aiming for. We knew we had to find Ntonjelana Gap. We had agreed to avoid using a GPS in clear weather unless necessary – so Andrew and I figured out what the gap should look like from the top. It didn’t seem to fit what I remembered it being, with a bit of a technical move at the top and being grassy for the rest – but it worked. As we walked below the cliff we later found the spot that one would normally use to get through the cliff line.

We had planned to spend the night (on this Christmas day) in Easter Cave, but as we walked up the valley the legs did not feel up for that. We also knew that the next day would be tough, and the energy hauling water up the hill may be better spent walking an extra few km up the river. Andrew dropped his pack to check the cave and bag the khulu while myself and Michael continued up the highway trail through the Mlambonja Valley. We eventually picked a spot about 2km before where we had camped a few weeks ago. We weren’t far from the top of Malmbonja Pass, but we weren’t too worried about camping spot being visible as we were worried about the wind. It had died down a lot, but we still had concerns.

Our spot was not overly visible from the trail, but would be unlikely to go unnoticed if people were in the area.

Andrew shot off to bag Mlambonja Buttress and get some cellphone signal while myself and Michael kind of collapsed into the tent after an exhausting day.

That evening myself and Michael helped lighten Andrew’s pack by eating most of the christmas cake and custard he had carried for the last 3 days.

The night turned out to be quiet and peaceful. We knew that days 3 and 4 were days where we had to be careful – no one wants to be the one to call mountain rescue away on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We also knew that no other hikers would be around as EKZN offices would be closed on these days.

3 days in the weather had been perfect. I was aware of this and hoped it would continue to hold. This camping spot was our first deviation from plan – but at least we were ahead of schedule.
Last edit: 26 Jan 2015 07:43 by ghaznavid.
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07 Jan 2015 18:51 #62545 by ghaznavid

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07 Jan 2015 18:55 #62547 by ghaznavid

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07 Jan 2015 18:58 #62548 by ghaznavid

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08 Jan 2015 11:08 #62558 by Stijn
Woah, sounds like you guys had an energetic peak-bagging traverse! :thumbsup: Looking forward to the rest..

For reference, my "about 30" peaks during our Jan 2004 traverse were all peaks named on the map and hence definitely not all Khulus. I've dug up the list:

Thabana Ntlenyana
Injisuthi Dome
Champagne Castle
Trojan Wall
Icidi Buttress
Cleft Peak
Wilson's Peak
Stimela Peak
Verkyker Peak
No Man's Peak
Castle Buttress
Ncedamabutho (not even sure why I listed this one)
Sandleni Buttress
The Twins (all 3 of them)
The Witches

So 24 in total. At the rate you're going, you should get that on day 5! :thumbsup:
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08 Jan 2015 13:56 #62559 by AndrewP
Amazingly enough, I have done the false Ntonjelane gap amost a dozen times. I have used the gap we used on this hike (at the "inland" edge of the rock band) and also another gap near the escarpment that is easy if you love hand jams, but have never seen the one Jonathan pointed out as we walked under it :-)

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08 Jan 2015 19:43 #62560 by AndrewP
Before Jonathan gets carried away with himself, it was days 3 and 4 that represents the biggest fail in my life thus far in negotiation skills.

The initial plan for the hike was for days 1 and 2 to be as mentioned above. Day 3 was to take us to a point in the valley behind Nguza Pass and day 4 would take us to Rolands Cave. This would mean that on day 4 we would start out heading over the Ntonjelane Ridge, then over Mahout, then over Cleft Peak (getting a bit tired by now) and then having to finish up the slog to Rolands Cave with a heavy water load and steady enough legs to tackle the scramble into the cave.

So I suggested Easter Cave for Christmas. This part of the plan was in theory adopted. But, Jonathan then thought that day 4 would be a bit short. His next installment will be long even by his standards because we walked and walked and walked some more on day 4. And, then we walked some more...
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10 Jan 2015 18:01 #62564 by ghaznavid
Day 4 – The Sound of Mountains (Mlambonja to Yodeller’s – 24km)

I woke up on the morning of day 4 to find my lips badly swollen. I had run out of lip ice on day 2. Andrew agreed to ask Sarah (who would be joining us at Langalibalele Pass) to arrange some and bring it up for me. While that was good to know – I knew I just had to grin and bear it for a few days.

Michael started the day by unloading 2kg of seeds onto the ground. He had realised his pack was too heavy and he did not need this food.

We knew this would be a tough day – and would end with a very long slow uphill. Plans had shifted over the last few days of planning – we had hoped to incorporate Roland’s Cave into the plans, but through some logical shift in plans which I will not even try to repeat, somehow we ended up with a plan of hitting the flattish spots above the Yodeler’s Cascades by the end of this day. The weather looked good and we had no reason to believe this wouldn’t happen.

The long days 3 and 4 would buy us time to bag khulus on days 5 and 6, so we knew that the hard work would be worth it.

We started the morning by continuing up the stream that eventually corners behind Leopard and Xeni. It then climbs and skirts over the ridge just below Mahout. We bagged the khulu and confirmed that the high point is in fact in SA, and thus it is a khulu. 16 done, many more to go.

As we dropped into the Tseketseke valley, we stopped for a break near False Tseketseke Pass. We all agreed that the false pass looks much more convincing than the real pass and can see how so many people make this mistake. Michael suggested that a carved rock to mark the top of the more prominent passes may be an idea to rectify trouble such as this. We discussed the reaction that we would probably hear if this was done, and who would actually go to the trouble of doing this. I suggested that the likes of Xeni Pass should be taken off the map to prevent uninformed hikers from getting stuck in a gully that isn’t suitable for the average hiker. I imagine that if Injisuthi was more popular with multi-day hikers, Hilton Pass would probably be a bane for the rescue team.

We bagged Tseketseke peak. Michael did not feel the summit cairn I had built 2 years prior was adequate and he promptly destroyed it and built a new one. I informed him that this can be in poor taste – after all, a summit cairn can be a sign of how popular a peak is and how many people have claimed victory on it. None the less, the deed was done and we moved on. We had stashed our packs just on the SA side of the pass, but locals were fast approaching the packs on horseback. Andrew ran ahead and met them at the packs. All was in order, but our GT could have very easily come to an early end this day.

We continued up the Cleft ridge. This had been my no 1 priority khulu to bag on this GT. Weather was great and I seemed to be on track to bag it. The slog to the top is long and slow, but as you get higher, the views are well worth it.

We eventually reached the summit cairn, got our group shot and took advantage of the cell phone signal on the summit to let those at home know that we were still alive.

After a while we began the long descent into what must be the narrowest valley on the entire escarpment. From above myself and Andrew discussed the ridges on Ndumeni Dome that cause the high point to fall into Lesotho. We both agreed that there was no summit in South Africa and this therefore cannot be a khulu. We did not come to this conclusion simply because we did not want to climb the peak – although I can see how one would think that!

Walking past the top of Organ Pipes Pass, even in clear weather like this, can be challenging. All you need is one person to say “I have had enough, hope you guys are ok going on without me” – and before you know it the 3 of you are on your way down and the trip is over. When we had passed this summit I knew I could breathe a sigh of relief. Even when a GT is going well, sometimes you mind plays funny tricks on you.

As we got higher up some mist began to come in. 4 days in and this was our first mist – I couldn’t really complain, but there were better spots where this could happen. We managed to use the cairns to find our way through the ridge and soon were dropping down the steep slope on the south side.

That was ridge 3 out of 3 for the day – we knew the rest was just following trails.

Anyone who has planned a GT will know that there are certain spots where your route is kind of planned for you. I would be wary of camping above Organ Pipes. Rolands Cave should generally be safe, but if you are slogging up the hill, you may as well continue down it. But in the valley between Yodeler’s and Nudmeni Dome there is so much traffic that you can’t really want to camp there either.

The 3 ridges we had done had been tough and energy sapping, but we got through them quite quickly. We proceeded to hit the highway trail in the valley below, only to find we had taken the N12 to Kimberly rather than N3 Durban. No problem – we bundu-bashed down to the lower trail and soon found ourselves above the river. At the first river crossing we found a good pool where we stopped for a well-earned lunch. Especially well earned as we had been walking for about 7 hours already.

After some washing and eating we continued along. The mist was clearly holding to the watershed, so we could see it was there but it wasn’t hitting us. Yet.

As we got closer and closer to the Thlanyako River, more and more mist was spilling over into Lesotho, until eventually we were alternating between being in mist and below low cloud.

At the Thlanyako River we stopped for a break. I remarked that this was the lowest part of the GT between the Chain Ladders and Isicutula Pass. I would later find that the bottom of Isicutula Pass is actually higher than this point. Just a remarkable stat on how low the escarpment reaches before the Yodelers ridge!

3 locals came to chat to us on the river, I traded a small handful of biltong each (my leftover food from the day before) for a photo of them. Michael also gave one of them a shirt that he decided he no longer needed. They seemed very happy as they walked off.

We discussed the line from here – apparently most people follow the river around the corner from the spot we were at to reach the Yodeler’s from here. Andrew mentioned that perhaps the high saddle to the left was a better route, I noted that we had used this route (in the opposite direction) last time I did a GT and I agreed that it would be faster. We slowly slogged up the hill and upon reaching the top we agreed this route was better than the long way round.

The Yodeler’s River looked more like a marketplace than a Berg river – dogs and sheep everywhere. We started off on the highway trail, but at the river crossing we elected to leave it due to the number of rather large dogs that were making their presence felt on the opposing river bank!

We held the river till we were past the last dogs, then scrambling up the steep slopes to find what was left of the trail just before reaching the cascades. The dogs left us along.

This had been a long day and it was getting late, but we could not camp here – we had to keep going. I guess I could summarise the next hour or so in a few words: we walked, Michael asked about how much further, I replied not too much more, Andrew replied that we were still too close to livestock, we stopped for a 5 minute break and then continued. Repeat this sentence about 8 times…

Eventually the valley began to open up, but we were still close to livestock. We were now in the mist and it was almost 7PM. We decided to take a side branch of the river and slog up out of the way so at least we would have some concealment.

We finally pitched tents, but were quite far from water. It began to rain and we all disappeared into our tents.

Day 5 – The Weather Goes South (Yodellers to Starboard Base Camp – 18km)

5 days in and the weather had been perfect for 3 days, and average for 1 (well, really great for most of day 4). I had high hopes for day 5 – it was our khulu bagging day. But the mist outside wasn’t looking particularly helpful.

We left, as per tradition about an hour late. The slog up the Yodelers Ridge was quite heavy, but fortunately we had gained about half of the 600m the previous day (2700m near Thlanyako Pass to 3300m in the saddle we were aiming for). We filled our waterbottles knowing there wouldn’t be much water on the top of the long ridge.

As we got above 3200m, the weather started to really turn bad. A proper Berg gale was pumping, and it was a proper icy wind. The mist was thick and driving rain had started. 100m and 8 vertical metres from the 8th highest khulu we realised than no khulu bagging would be happening today. This was a heart-breaking thought, but what can you do?

Andrew knows this part of the Berg better than most and soon had us on the highway trail that follows the top of this ridge. We also had Tony Marshall’s GT track loaded as a backup – so we knew we would be ok for navigation. Hypothermia on the other hand was a real risk.

We did not talk, we did not stop, we just kept going. The wind was blowing in on our left side, and occasionally when the trail turned slightly into the wind – it felt as if the rain was actually cutting into our faces.

Less than an hour into this weather my Tibet’s had already succumbed to the rain. This from shoes that usually can handle more than 4 hours of driving rain or dew, and that started the day mostly dry. My gloves that had spent entire days in the rain without the water getting through also had been soaked right through in less than an hour – although they are thick enough to block the wind and accordingly weren’t bad in the wind. My pants were soaked right through within seconds, but then again, they are not waterproof.

Only gear left that was holding out was my raincoat. This raincoat was a Hi-Tec Hard Shell Raincoat that Hi-Tec had sent me to test. I had only given it a go on 2 occasions before GT and neither was really testing – so I was concerned. At the date of writing this I can say quite conclusively that this is the best piece of Hi-Tec gear I have ever tested – no dampness go through in 4 hours of driving rain, in weather that caused every other item of waterproofing (aside from my pack splash cover) to fail. On the dryer windier days I had also found it to be rather breathable – so I must most certainly give Hi-Tec a big thumbs up on this item. If it had failed, a miserable day could have been much worse.

On this ridge we stopped for 2 breaks – both about 5 minutes, one for Michael to get his gloves out and one for us to grab some food. As we approached Nkososana Cave (our planned overnight stop), Andrew and I agreed that the wind would be blowing straight into the cave. So we decided to move the camp site to Starboard Base Camp (Starboard being a khulu on the, well, starboard side of Ships Prow).

As we neared the saddle above Cathkin Mountain Pass, the wind had slowed a bit and the mist cleared slightly. Once we had dropped off the high long ridge we found ourselves out of the driving rain and soon below the mist as well. The rain continued off and on, but fortunately waited for a while why we set up our tents.

At 10AM we were sitting in our sleeping bags and by 10:15 we were drinking some nice hot tea. That had not gone according to plan. I was soon listening to my 1984 audiobook on my MP3 player when Andrew decided to take a run up Starboard. I decided to sit this one out, and 20 minutes later Andrew had established a new Berg speed record. The rules are simple – start by pitching your tent in an arbitrary place, run up Starboard peak, bag the khulu and run back to your tent. I will be going back to challenge his record later in the year. I will neither confirm nor deny that I plan on pitching my tent next to the summit cairn… [in case it isn’t obvious – this is a rough transcript of the random sarcastic conversation we had had after his 20 minute run up one of the Berg’s steeper khulus]

Around 5:45PM, myself and Andrew decided to take a walk up Bothlolong, Ships Prow and Champagne. I forgot to get a summit shot on Bothlolong, so I decided to re-bag the summit while Andrew ran off to bag Cowl View. We would have a race back to the camp. At 6:30PM I left the summit of SA’s 3rd highest peak, and at 6:49 I was on the summit of Bothlolong – so I can take Intrepid’s point about being able to bag all 3 in half an hour!

I began to head down Bothlolong quite quickly, but soon got distracted taking sunset shots. Andrew wasn’t in sight, so I kept a reasonable pace, and slowed down a bit when I was about 100m from the tent. About 10m short of the tent I hear a noise behind me, I instinctively know what it is so I begin to run. Unfortunately it was too little too late and thus Andrew won the race, even with his 2km extra distance.

Day 6 – Taking it Easy (Starboard Base Camp to Upper Injisuthi Cave – 19km)

During the nights my headphones had broken. So Winston Smith would have to stay in “the place where there is no darkness” till I got home.

Michael and I both got up early and began the day by slogging up Starboard. The goal was to catch sunrise from the top – and we were close enough to the top at sunrise. Definitely worth the difficult slog.

Today was another short day, and the early morning weather was looking much better. We hoped to bag a lot of khulus on this day – but we also needed to dry out some gear. We began by walking through the low saddle that brings one to the river that flows down from Mafadi. We stopped for a good break on a not-very-clean looking river. Tents were put out to dry and Andrew ran off to bag Old Man (the spur peak behind Old Woman).

We decided to go for Molar Spur Peak, but upon reaching the top of Leslies, the mist had begun to roll in again. Some locals came up to us, but couldn’t speak a word of English. I pretended not to understand their request for sweets – not wanting to allow this father to teach his 3 children that hikers bring sweets. The others headed off – the plan was for me to wait with the packs, and then go up after the others bagged the khulu. They returned, the weather now mostly misty, telling me that the khulu is actually quite far away and they decided not to go for it.

As the mist came and went – much like it normally does when it first arrives on any given day in the Berg – we noticed a peak to the south that looked rather like a sombrero. We immediately knew what it was and began to walk in that direction. It was on the ridge that would eventually lead up to Mafadi anyway. Summiting the khulu “Sombrero” gave us a rather decent view, although the mist did obstruct most of it. There seemed to be a lot of overhanging cliffs in the area – more than I am used to seeing.

From this summit we continued the long slow slog up the hill. We had planned on sweeping the ridge entirely – taking all the khulus, but none of us planned on slogging up Red Wall Peak in the mist. When we were around 3350 I pointed out to the guys that I think we had already walked past Lithobolong. As it turned out, we were over 500m past it. We gradually worked our way back to it, finding the distinctive tiny summit cairn. Michael quickly demolished the cairn and built a new, bigger one. We pointed out to him that this action was unlikely to go down well in the hiking community – but he built on.

From here we continued the slow gradual climb towards Mafadi. The mist occasionally cleared into Lesotho – presenting some of the very high peaks that the Mountain Kingdom has to offer. I suggested going for Nthledi II, but no one was up for it. We eventually found ourselves looking at the familiar cliff band that encircles SA’s highest summit. And before long we were at what we all knew would be our highest point on the GT. A local with some dogs came to great us on the summit, and as per our plan, he got a sweet after posing for a photo.

After a relatively long break on the top of the peak, we made our way down the saddle and up Injisuthi Dome. It was quite misty on the summit, so we got our summit photos and moved off. We now had a relatively easy walk from here to Upper Injisuthi Cave. Finding it was mostly uneventful, aside from the normal GPS leading one to the roof of the cave problem. We soon found ourselves in a large and very dusty cave. I’m sure the view is generally great – but when you have spent the last 48 hours mostly seeing mist, to see more mist is not particularly encouraging!

25 khulus in, 7 days left and a long way to go. We were doing well, but we were not even halfway yet. At least we are still on schedule.

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10 Jan 2015 18:39 #62565 by ghaznavid

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10 Jan 2015 18:43 #62566 by ghaznavid

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The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, HFc, Ranger

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