An extended Bell Traverse
By Andrew Porter
The great thing about a mission into the mountains is that it makes you fitter for the next mission. For some, this was the first hike to prepare for a mini Drakensberg traverse, for another, it was just a way to get fitter for an even bigger mission the following week.
Of course, during the mission, you do actually get to do something worthwhile. Chris may have finally found his long sought after and very elusive cave. About half the party got to climb their first Drakensberg peak. For me, I finally managed to hike the Bell Traverse.
The idea behind the meet originated a while back. I wanted to do something that would be a challenging mission not only for myself, but at the same time coming up with something that would be suitable for beginners, or anyone else attending the meet.
The eventual plan thus became:
- We would hike the Bell Traverse
- By taking 4 days, we would then give ourselves time to climb a few of the peaks along the way
- Each person attending the meet could decide how many and which peaks to climb
- I personally had in mind to climb the whole lot, trying to climb a route on each peak and then descend in such a way that would closest follow the skyline itself. This would most likely involve a fair amount of night time climbing to fit it all in.
This would of course involve a few logistical matters such as how much gear to bring, or leave behind so you can climb with a pack, and to find a way of linking stoves/food to the people who are climbing similar list of peaks.
The first day started out as for any other first day on a Drakensberg hike. We hiked up the BIG hill. It did not help that we took a scenic and very slow detour through the river bed 15 minutes into the hike. Nor did it help that some packs were too heavy, or that fitness was not always as good as thought. A great team effort though ensured that everyone made it to Bell Cave that night, including a sunset summiting of Cathedral Peak. An almost full moon made it possible to descent with a minimal use of torches.
For the second day, the party started splitting up. An early and enthusiastic party set off for The Bell. The usual and expected grassy or slabby rock traverses with no hope of gear slowed us down a bit. Eventually, we made our way into the shady and cold side of the mountain we planned to climb. The cold gave good incentive to move fast, so off I went. Pitch 1 is essentially a solo, although a wobbly and extremely well hidden peg does provide a solitary piece of pro. The single peg at the stance is not great either, so I resorted to the tried and trusted method of bracing myself against a few grass tuffs. Pitch 2 has good gear for the seconders at least, and before too long, we had all reached the sunny summit. The summit book indicates this as being the first ascent of the Bell since 2010.
Two abseils (off shiny bolts) took us down. Kirk and Kelly headed off to climb Cathedral Peak. Greg, Chris and I headed off towards the Horns. By now, Gunther, Oliver and Edward had figured out the apparent lack of gear on pitch one. They backed off, just below the point at which the peg becomes visible.
The Outer Horn is a fairly easy scramble. The exposure though is not trivial, and death is an option on several occasions. Especially on the grassy traverse leading towards the final summit ridge. The final summit ridge is great. On this, I decided to kick off a loose block, and watched with delight as it bounced its way down the hill for about 200m to crash into the side of the Inner Horn.
With time running low, we raced back to the cave, ticking off 2 of the Sisters along the way. The 3rd Sister as approached from the Inner Horn involves a very scary move that would be hard to down climb, so that was left alone as darkness surrounded us.
For day 3, we all hiked across to the Inner Horn. I found an easier way up the ‘missing sister’ to tag another summit. Light rain and strong winds reminded us that this is after all a mountain. We worked our way up the steep, grassy gully separating the Inner Horn from the Chessmen, and then had a little fun on the first Chessman. This is a pile of loose blocks held together with a prayer and a bit of grass. Trying to do yoga poses on this in the strong wind turned out to be rather silly, so we headed off to find the relatively new standard route established by Gavin Peckham in the 1990’s. Our route did not match his description too well, but it seemed to start in the same place, and went at the same grade. We scrambled up easily enough and enjoyed a few photos on the summit. Cold wind chased us down, via a 20m abseil back to the neck with the Chessmen.
A few practical jokes ensured that the meet leader was given a healthy dose of exercise, before setting off on a brisk hike to Twins Cave. Thoughts of climbing the other Chessmen or the Mitre were disregarded thanks to the wind and threatening storms.
The drips near the cave were rather pathetic, so we set off in dribs and drabs to collect water in Lesotho. The same dribs and drabs took the opportunity to wash themselves to a great or mainly a lesser degree. About sunset, Greg, Chris and I joined forces to climb the Twins. The inner most Twin is simple enough. The second Twin is a typical pillar of berg rock - loose and exposed. The third Twin (think hitchhikers trilogy here) is a simple run.
On the final day, we took a leisurely walk down to the cars.
In all, we had a fairly successful time summiting the peaks. From a party of 11, 9 people got up Cathedral Peak, 9 up Inner Horn, and between us we also summited The Bell, Outer Horn, the 3 Sisters, the Twins and the 1st Chessman.