After much planning attempting to co ordinate two game rangers weeks off, we finally set off on the long weekend of the 16th of June to tackle the 'Berg again this time in the area of Cathedral Peak. We drove down on the Friday evening with wide gaps separating vehicles (some people just can't get their timing right), to arrive at Fernwood Lodge somewhere during the course of the evening once again tempting some people to spend the weekend there instead of hiking ! In the end though resistance prevailed and it was only the 'support crew' of Penny and Lesley who remained in luxury for the weekend.
Due to a planned early start, it was chaos as bags were unpacked and the contents liberally spread around the chalet. Yvonne looked on in bemusement as the semi outsider and saw Explorer dis organisation in fine fettle. Finally though some sense was made of it all and we got to bed no later than about 2:30 am.
An early start the next morning saw us leave Penny and Lesley and drive the 50km to Cathedral Peak Hotel where we left the cars, signed the mountain register and started walking. Due to some panicky (and untrue) e mails flying around the ether proclaiming the coldest weeked in 300 years or so (at least), there didn't appear to be as many other hikers around as normal over a long weekend and in fact we only saw a single other party the entire hike. Definitely a strategy we should remember again in the future ! The wonders of modern technology. Even better, as if to spite the doomsday brigade, the weather was fine and cloudless the entire weekend, albeit a tad breezy on the way down (we were almost blown off the top !).
The first day was well, steep in true 'Berg fashion. We headed from the hotel up the route via Orange Peel Gap to stay the first night in Bell cave, a total climb of about 1400 metres. Apart from frustration with helicopters which appear to be becoming an integral (albeit it bloody noisy) part of the berg experience, it was as good as ever to be in the peace of the mountains. At the top there was some snow, but not nearly as much as 12 years ago when a WEES group including Mark, Mark and Mike did the same route. Nonetheless enough to look stunning.
After a full on meal of bacon and tomato pasta, we collapsed into sleeping bags and slept the sleep of the dead (tired). The following day saw us supposedly contouring around the Bell, joining the main berg at Twins cave, and hiking south in the direction of Organ Pipes pass which we were planning to descend. In reality, due to problems with ice on the path which at one point almost made us turn back, and navigational errors (that section of path IS after all marked as "ill defined"), by the time we got to Twins cave we decided to call it a day, and hope that nobody else had booked the cave ! A party was dispatched to the top to collect water and enjoy the view, and the rest of us enjoyed the warmth of the suns rays, and the stupendous view.
Another enjoyable meal was had, and we retired to bed, but this time to be woken up in the early hours of the morning by a howling gale. One tent listened as the members of the other tent got up and seemed to spend the next 2 hours battening down the hatches/pegs/flysheets/whatever. Any hopes of the gale departing by morning were dispelled when we were forced to get up and pack up camp and have breakfast with the serious challenge of not losing half our equipment to some other place miles away. We hiked up to the top of the gully before starting our descent, and were literally almost blown off the mountain. The initial part of the descent was not much fun, but fortunately as we progressed further the loss of altitude protected us more and more and the wind eventually died.
Nonetheless, hiking down a mountain pass took its normal toll on feet, knees and thighs and it was a very weary group that got back to the hotel at about 3pm. In trying to find a shortcut through the hotel grounds to the car park we learnt to differentiate when asking for directions between generaldirection (ie. the car park is that way), and a route that can actually be followed!! And so another half hour was lost.
Finally, after a quick shower in the Cathedral Park campsite (courtesy Natal Parks Board), we were on our way back home. Given that it was Comrades weekend as well, I think that when we stopped in Harrismith we gave a very realistic impression of having run the marathon ourselves ! We decided at the end of it all that we are definitely starting to show signs of age, and that in particular the Bell traverse is not a route to be done again in winter with ice around !!