GT2014/15 - Don't Follow the Lights

21 Jan 2015 11:05 #62673 by Stijn
Andrew, I'm loving these chirps of yours :thumbsup:

I guess 13 days of hiking is a long time to build up plenty of material...

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21 Jan 2015 11:30 #62675 by andrew r
Ghaz & AndrewP
Thanks for another entertaining read (& pics). Love the honest, forthright reporting with no offence given or taken (it seems). Well done to all five of you on overcoming not only the mountains but also some really adverse conditions without serious mishap.

make a difference. today.

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26 Jan 2015 00:29 - 26 Jan 2015 01:20 #62711 by relihanm
Michael Relihan's introduction and comments on the first few days

I committed to joining Jonathan and Andrew on their GT at a late stage due to a major work stress situation at Cedara since taking over responsibility for plant disease diagnosis in April 2014. Staffing had been re-structured, but I found myself with none of the promised 2 assistant technicians, and had to take sole responsibility for all diagnostic work. This lead to a situation where diagnostic cases came in just faster than I could send the reports out in spite of major overtime typically on 6 days per week for months. Mentally I was rather burnt out by the end of the year and the GT was just the medicine to get my brain to recover from microscope and computer work.

Although the oldest in the GT group at 47, I was by far the least experienced Drakensberg escarpment hiker. I had done a hike up Mashai Pass via Rhino peak to Sani Top with Mike van Wyngaard and Johan Blanche over December 15 to 17 in 2013, and then a day hike from Sani Top to Thabana Ntlenyana summit and back on September 7, 2014 with Liesel Kaumpek who used this towards training for her upcoming hike to Everest base camp in support of Rhino conservation. With only 1 prior hike up Mashai Pass, and 3 prior hikes in my life from Sentinel car park up the chain ladders to add to this my lifetime Drakensberg escarpment experience, I had reservations about how I would handle the GT. My earlier Thabana Ntlenyana day hike had revealed me to be unfit as I was exhausted by the end of that day. Consequently, I activated a training program of cycling, running and swimming soon after, particularly to prepare for the Midlands Ultra Triathlon in December. This was sadly cancelled on the day due to thick mist, except for the run part organised as a fun run which I did ok in. I am grateful that the van Wyngaard’s gave me favorable-enough report to Jonathan for him and Andrew to allow me to join their illustrious company for the GT. :thumbsup:

After committing to the GT, I also did a cycle from Pietermaritzburg to Underberg and back with Shelton Bell over December 14 to 16, (15th a rest day). I was fairly fit overall by the start of the GT, but how would I handle 13 rigorous days carrying a pack? I rushed around the day before the GT started to buy supplies and equipment as well as handle critical work issues. I got about 3 hours sleep and started packing my pack by 2 a.m. on the Tuesday start day. I managed to get myself to pick up Andrew and Jonathan, at his father's house, before the 5:00 deadline I had given them, but ended up stopping at Cedara after this to sort out some things while they all sat in the car waiting for me (I think about 20 minutes). :blush:

As Jonathan has explained, my car overheated near the end of the trip to Sentinel car park, and went in for costly repairs after the GT. The problem seems to have originated from a faulty mechanical thermostat as well as a disconnected wire to the cooling fan switch. The car problem delays caused me to lose out on the feasibility of bagging the summit of Mont Aux Sources on day one, a summit that Jonathan reportedly had also not bagged yet and was keen on. :S

I thank both Jonathan and Andrew for their great tolerance regarding my great ignorance of much of the Berg topography. On day 1 they had to explain to me what a khulu was! :huh: They also typically had to repeat the names of each khulu we did about 2 or 3 times before it stuck in my short term memory. For most of the GT route, the khulu names were all new to me. During the first part of the GT I was also the last person to be ready in the mornings, which they were also amazingly tolerant about. The morning of day 2 was particularly bad as the scanty breakfast I had had prior to travelling on day one had caused me to be particularly low on energy by the time we got to Ifidi cave that night. Due to that and the little sleep from the night before I was particularly sluggish to rise the next morning and delayed the others more than half an hour. An excuse I could offer for being slow in the mornings was not having a decent inflatable mattress like the other two had. I just had a thin foam mattress which typically forced me to turn roughly each hour at night to avoid part of my body going numb on the hard ground, so my sleep quality was not great. The only night that I had a really soft bed was in Mzimude cave because I spent about an hour cutting Ngongoni grass tufts with my leatherman to cover the sharp stones where I was to sleep, making my sleep spot the envy of the others. Perhaps this also contributed to being able to be the first to be ready to leave the next morning, which greatly astonished them.

On the point of khulus, I recall discussing with Jonathan prior to the GT the idea of doing 'a couple of peaks along the way'. I was hoping to use them towards my requirements for my Advanced Mountain Leader walking course. One of his early emails mentioned only "to make day 5 a khulu bagging day with the numerous peaks on the Yodeler's/Champagne ridge." His initial daily schedule had anticipated that we should complete each day's hike by early afternoon. Actually to quote from one of his emails: "we can pitch tents before the afternoon storm hits, gives us more time in the afternoon to chill/explore/laze around by rock pools etc.". I saw this as an opportunity for me to fit in some work at the end of most days hiking and decided to bring my newly-acquired HP tablet with on the GT with the plan to get some reports done! Besides the khulu records we set, Jonathan commented that I was the first person he knew of to carry a tablet with for a full GT! :ohmy: If anyone knows of another hiker to be the first to do this then please let me know!

My tablet work prospects largely failed, however. On day 1 when Jonathan and Andrew proposed the plan of doing as many khulus as they could to set up a new record, that small mad Irish part of me thought about this idea for about a second before agreeing to the plan. The consequence of all the khulu-bagging was that we invariably got to our nightly destination less than 2 hours before sunset on most days. The lack of time, the exhaustion at the end of each day, and the problem of my tablet battery not lasting long (and not charging from my solar power supply), limited my work on the tablet to a few hours at the end of day 2 in the tent at Rwanqa. I charged the tablet at Sani Top for a few hours, but failed to use it again anyway.

During the first few days of the GT I was happy to do the same khulus that Jonathan wanted to tackle. Our fitness levels were similar, so we let Andrew rush off now and then to tackle the extra ones that his higher fitness level could handle. I am most grateful for having the opportunity to do so many khulus on my first GT. It was also great for me to not worry about navigation. With Jonathan and Andrew naming the khulus, passes and caves we passed largely without any reference to maps, I soon realised they were in superior league of escarpment knowledge. Jonathan would also typically announce spot altitudes along the way from his head (far out man!). :cheer:
Last edit: 26 Jan 2015 01:20 by relihanm. Reason: grammar
The following user(s) said Thank You: JonWells, ghaznavid

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26 Jan 2015 01:43 #62712 by relihanm
From Michael regarding solar charger

Just to clarify regarding day 11, that I was happy for the Basotho man to have his phone charged using my solar charger. The problem was that he had a different micro-USB connection on his phone to mine so the cable would not connect. After that he asked to put his battery in my phone for charging, which I declined as we planned to leave soon, and did.

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26 Jan 2015 19:36 #62713 by ghaznavid
Welcome to VE Michael :thumbsup:

I didn't know you had done that little before this hike, but it isn't much less than what I did before my first GT. Sometimes I think a GT is a bit like a Drakensberg Buffet - you get to sample every area without hanging around anywhere for very long. It gives you good context of the spots you really want to return to. And yes, Fangs Pass is still on my to-do list...

relihanm wrote: I had done a hike up Mashai Pass via Rhino peak to Sani Top with Mike van Wyngaard...

Just for clarity seeing as most people won't know who that is, that is young Hobbit.

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28 Mar 2016 20:55 #67493 by relihanm

Nearly a year and a quarter after the 2014-2015 GT done with Andrew and Jonathan I needed to have a log of mountaineering towards my currency for retaining my membership of the KZN Rescue Team and also towards my requirements for the Advanced Mountain Leader Walking Course. I had been way to work pressurised to deal with this earlier. The detailed account by Jonathan and the contributions of Andrew on the posting 'GT2014/15 - Don't Follow the Lights' lacked a list of what khulus we bagged, though the khulu names were interspersed in the narrative.

I then proceeded to consult both the narrative and the timestamp of the numerous photos that Jonathan had supplied me and those of my own photos to create a log of what we had done in a spreadsheet. I also included the log of khulus done by Tony and Sarah who joined us halfway. To avoid errors I then emailed my spreadsheet to both Andrew and Jonathan to check the data, especially as I did not have time data for the khulus which Andrew had done on his own, though he had sent me a spreadsheet of his khulus done with altitude position data (longitude & latitude). When they replied I learned that Jonathan and Hobbit (Mike van Wyngaard) were now the new GT record holders due to their 2015-2016 GT. The VE report for that GT is at
A very late congratulations then from me for that major feet, especially young Hobbit! Having done the 51 khulus with Jonathan before, and experiencing sore feet for weeks after the GT (callouses took nearly 3 months to come off), I have a good idea of what they went through.

Andrew tried to access the times of his khulu summits for me from his GPS waypoints of his summits, but unfortunately reported that all his waypoints reflected a time stamp of "27.05.2015" due to an unknown error. Andrew did mark for me in the spreadsheet all the khulus that were on the 'Murch' list, and the GPS data for the khulus in the spreadsheet comes from him. With the khulu record broken again, the attached info is old hat, but the data may interest a few people so I have uploaded it to VE. A data filter was defined so by selecting one name under the 'Name' column, the sequence of khulus for that person would be displayed only.

The attached spreadsheet of khulus achieved has 2 columns of khulu numbering. The first column reflects the numbering for each hiker as Jonathan had posted in his narrative to this VE post. The second column is the number of the khulus that were on the 'Murch' list. New or disputed khulus have their names in italics. Both Jonathan and Andrew initially supplied me with information supporting the removal or addition of khulus to the Murch list based on criteria such as: being marginally inside the Lesotho border (Ifidi Pass Peak - proposed remove); being a ridge not a summit (Stimela Ridge - proposed remove); current summit cairn actually just over 1km from nearest khulu (Auditor - proposed include but needs checking); a new listing verified above 3000 m and >1km from nearest khulu (Mzimude Pass Peak - proposed include). However, some of the recognized khulus (including e.g. Amphitheatre) lack prominence and the latest thinking of Andrew and others is that prominence should be included in defining what is a khulu. At this stage a 50m prominence above the highest saddle to a neighbouring khulu is considered a criterion. Andrew is working towards a VE posting of a revised khulu list and definition that includes prominence, so enough said by me on this topic. I look forward to that posting.

To sign off I reiterate my thanks to Andrew and Jonathan for being able to share that memorable GT with them. I look forward to an opportunity for a similar venture with either of them.



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24 Jul 2018 13:50 #73716 by Fat Rucker
This is a seriously great thread - thanks to all who contributed.  It has significantly whetted my appetite for my first GT in May 2019...

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