The Day Mare
December 2017: I was going to be heading overseas for a while and was desperate to spend just one more day in the Drakensberg. I managed to convince Cameron Hofer and Grae Holliday to join me. The plan was outrageous. We would ascend Tseketseke Pass and descend Cockade Pass. All new territory. We left Durban early (3am) one December morning, sped to Cathedral Peak Hotel and embarked on our day mission. I always prepare a time line for hikes and if we are have not reached our desired location by my predetermined deadline, the plan has to change. I’ve been in unpleasant situations in the Drakensberg and I am not eager to repeat them.
The day’s deadline:
10am: At the base of Tseketseke Pass
1pm: Summit of Tseketseke Pass
4pm: base of Cockade Pass
I checked my watch as we passed Mushroom Rock. We were on track for time. I checked my watch when we took the contour path at the Camel Pass Junction. We were on track for time. The contour path edges into the creases of the mountain and when you finally start walking north towards Tseketseke Pass it loses a decent amount of altitude.
Grae and I looked at each other. The slopes were not too steep and definitely walkable. “The path is always the easiest way” flashed into my mind. It is a truth that I believe. But, this looked so doable. Grae nodded. Cam shook his head. I nodded. Two against One. We made the mistake of designing our own path. The creases had hidden shear drops and waterfalls galore. We scrambled down these drops, hanging onto branches. We slipped down waterfalls and after an hour of walking hadn’t even covered 1km. By the time we finally reached Tseketseke pass it was 1am. Too late. But only just. We pondered and I decided not to break a second rule in one day. A storm was predicted for 4pm.
We opted for a relaxed walk along the contour path, circumventing the pyramid, and as many swimming stops as possible.
We soon discovered that this is not a commonly walked route. The path was overgrown beyond words. We slowly fought our way around the pyramid, moving at 1.5km an hour. Eventually we reached the point for descent into the Xeni Valley. The clouds had rolled in early. It was around 3pm and lighting streaked the sky. Cam was not happy. His boots were not treating him well and his toenails were badly bruised. Grae and I beckoned him to hurry up. To little avail. We cut straight down the hillside, shortening the zig-zaging path by a third. I wanted to get off the platue. I wanted us to be less vulnerable. Grae turned on his music and the Indie tunes pulled us off the mountain.
We walked back to the resort, bleeding and bruised. A wedding party appeared to like our rugged look and invited us to join in their celebrations. Exhausted, we declined. As we jumped into our car, the sky turned black. One could not see the mountains that had enveloped us earlier. Pure black. Lit by the occasional lighting flash. The sun set behind Cathedral Peak and we turned into a rural road to capture the moment. The day was now worth it.
Cam dropped his sausage roll in my car. Grae turned up the mountain mix. The storm followed us the whole was home.