On the long weekend of the 23rd-25th Sep, 3 ESSAnites embarked on an expedition to climb the Bell. Accompanied by James Voortman the 3 ESSAnites Tony Seebrebgts, Tanya Jefferies and yours truly summited the Bell on the 24th of September.
This was to be our 2nd attempt. The first attempt in May 2006 was called off due to too much snow and a wet route. This time the weather was perfect. Clear skies, warm weather and the cave booked entirely for ourselves. We set off at a leisurely pace and soon discovered that we were all far fitter than previously. Sticking close to Tony and Tanya (to ensure they didn't get lost of course) we soon made the stream above Sherman's cave. However James was ill. He had hot and cold flushes, was exhausted, very unlike James who is renowned for his strength. Some serious consulting saw Tanya and I relieve James of some weight. We tried to convince him to leave the camera tripod behind but that was non-negotiable. Fortunately it turned out that he was simply dehydrated and was pretty much recovered by the next day.
We rehydrated, filled our bottles to the max and all begun the worrying reality that this was possibly the last water available for the next 3 days. If you are planning on climbing Bell between Aug and Sep, be aware that you may not have water beyond this stream.
Mmmm, well the lunch stop was only at the top of Orange Peal Gap. For the uninformed this is basically like the top of a pass. My two esteemed colleagues shot off up the pass adamant we need not stop before then. They seemed to see lunch as a bit of a bother rather than possibly life saving energy. Resigning myself in horror to this realization, I polished off my entire snack pack and 2 slabs of chocolates and trudged up the Gap.
Finally after scrambling up Bugger Gully, facing some past fears and descending very warily down the other side I made Bell Cave. The best news was that there was some snow around and a fairly substantial drip about 50m from the cave. At least we had water, which meant Tea!
We woke up with a sea of cloud beneath us and the majestic Peaks of Cowl and Cathkin bathed in sunlight. It was beautiful, peaceful and the reason we had come here.
By 8am we were at the col between Cathedral and Bell. From here you scramble around the North side, up up, until back to the East face. Mmmm, now you would think Tony would know by now not to trust females let alone blondes. James took one route, T and I took another. This was serious scrambling! Soon T and I were stuck. Tony gallantly came to our rescue and we ended up yelling for James. He had wisely found the first set of chains. Tony lowered us down again, a small epic, but we soon, returned to the normal route and between Tony and James we all got to the chains safely. From here one traverses around the peak on slippery grass in rock shoes! We left our boots tied to the chains. Tanya requested a double belay system from both ends for the traverse. Communication was zero; either Tony was just ignoring us or he was out of earshot – yes quite possibly the later.
When we finally got to the bottom of the 1st pitch, we stared in horror at the rock face. Where were those cracks? No place for pro on this section. It is only 10m in height but with a 100m drop below - most of us would want protection. The belay point was a bush, no not a nice big baobab, but a little bush! Tony showed just how amazing a climber he is. He calmly worked his way up, and up and up still with no pro until he found a piton – was that relief we heard in his voice? With just 1 friend and 2 pitons all roughly in the same place he lead the pitch superbly! T followed in incredible style and soon we were all freezing our butts off at the bottom of the 2 nd pitch. This next pitch is beautiful. So beautiful that Tony decided on a tea party half way up the route whilst we sat and froze. Jokes aside I thought he lead really well. If you think there are hand holds on this pitch, you are wrong, they don't exist so don't bother looking for them. T just skimmed her way up so elegantly. After some bleating and pleading I made it up followed quickly by James. From here it is an easy scramble to the summit.
So, finally at 2:15pm on Sunday the 24th September, we summited the Bell. James, Tony, Tanya and I. We stayed on top for about ¾ hour signing the summit log, taking summit photos, waving at tourists on the nearby Cathedral Peak – who incidentally did not wave back and were very snobbish.
Ok so the descent should be easy, 2 set of chains gets us to the bottom of the steep scramble. Ha ha! However what they don't tell you is the "scramble" required to get to the chains initially. The chains are down one set of cliffs, then perched right over the edge of the next cliff. There is a great cubbyhole to sit in and a dicey piton to clip onto, but beware if there are more than 2 of you and either of you is larger than a size 8. I found the chains, James set up the ab system whilst I bought T across and away they went. They experienced their own little epic. Tanya's hair got caught in the belay device and James had to hack away a huge chunk with his leatherman. Appalled and sympathetic, Tony and I did our best not to roll off the cliff in laughter.
But all ended well and we had a wonderful celebration of mussels, crackers, wine and champagne back in the cave. It was a great trip. Tony catered superbly, and he climbs so easily and calmly. T is an incredible climber and has the most wonderful sense of humour. Oh but I do think she could improve on her packing skills. James came to T's rescue and helped her repack. Soon we were back at the Hotel enjoying milkshakes and reminiscing about the climb.