Nicky Rodseth Recalls the Bell Traverse "Attempt"
Just before dawn at 3h45 we set off from Durban to meet our hiking group at Cathedral Peak Hotel for 7h30. The early departure added to a sense of adventure. Our Goal – The Bell Traverse, climb Cathedral Peak, pass the Bell and overnight in Twins Cave.
Being an older hiker, I paid special attention to my backpack and packed super-light, considering the weight of each item coming up the mountain with me, I succeeded remarkably well and even with 3litres of water my pack just hit 10kg – feather-weight! I will remember this packing prototype for all future overnight hikes.
We set off promptly at about 8h30 and began what I consider one of the most scenic climbs in the whole Drakensberg, walking the spine of the dragon up and up on a beautiful velvety ridge all the way to the top of Cathedral Peak. Walking with the end destination in sight is both awe inspiring and a little terrifying as you can see how far and how high you still have to go. Turning around and seeing how far you have come is immensely rewarding, and a trick I use to keep me going.
We trekked steadily upward and stopped for lunch in Orange Peel Gap, relishing the sun on our shoulders. Thus reinforced we continued on to Bugger Gully, which I now understand why it was so christened. Over the gully, a whole new world opened up, other, further away mountains were now close and the Bell was right there. A while earlier Michaela consulted with us and we all decided it best to only go as far as Bell cave as we would need to up our pace quite significantly in order to make the original destination.
We proceeded to Bell Cave, with enough time to set up camp and warm up. The sun treated us to a spectacular sunset and an almost full moon watched over us the still night through. We chose to all stay in the cave and not split into the annex , so suitable sardined in we spent a cosy and warm night.
Nothing beats waking up right in the mountains, brewing a coffee and drinking in the views.
Walking off the mountain is just as special, tinged with a little nostalgia for this beautiful place you are leaving behind, but nicely physically weary and spiritually replete it’s a precious time to be still and present.
Our Pathfinders group was a treat, a group of eight of the most positive people I have ever met, along the way chatting to each was very special and mountain talk is very real , not contrived and one is so concerned with walking that sharing is more honest and banter more brutal.
Michaela is so professional and helpful in the mountains and really assists everyone with a word of encouragement or even physically relieving whoever needs of their packs when climbing the very steep passes. This group was so helpful to each other! When Michaela was helping others, some were taking her pack up too. We shared many rusks, Old Brown sherry in the cave, noodles , chocolate, mattresses (since mine fell off my pack and down a gully) and mostly fun , memories and the very unique Mountain stillness.
What I realised, although I know the mountains must be treated with respect always, is that on any time in them anything can happen. While descending Bugger Gully on the way to Bell Cave I heard an awful rumbling sound a little ahead of me. Michaela herself had fallen on the loose scree of the pass. She lost her footing as a rock gave way under her feet and she slid down the steep gully for about four metres, badly injuring her knee. She continued on, slowly and carefully and fortunately we were only 800m from the cave. The next day we set off again, our group helped share her pack weight and she painfully began to climb up the gully. Once off the mountain many hours later, still leading us and never complaining: we learnt she tore her knee ligaments.
Thank you for having me along….the token geriatric.