Mind Games in the Mountains
The Drakensberg is essentially a gigantic 1000 kilometre long cliff, and as a result climbing to the top will often result in some exposure to large drops. The paths are also often quite rough and when rough paths and extreme exposure coincide it can lead to some hair raising moments (as I discovered on ‘shaky leg corner’ going up Manxome Pass).There have been a couple of names I've heard repeatedly as being exposed and exciting: the Bell Traverse and Roland's Cave. When I saw a walk with the Mountain Backpackers Club that took in both of them I felt I had to do it.
The first obstacle was the Bell Traverse. I've heard it mentioned a lot and so was quite nervous approaching it, so I was quite surprised when it seemed really quite easy. The drops were big at times but the path was good. There were a few hairy bits that I wasn't expecting after the traverse, but I did these without thinking about them until afterwards.
Day 2 was a relatively uneventful walk along the plateau. It did absolutely bucket down in the afternoon though, and I was reminded of the holes in my waterproof trousers that I've been intending to fix for a while, and the pack cover that I haven't yet bought.
We were to spend the second night in Roland's Cave. This is another place I've heard a fair bit about, and I'd seen photos of the approach - traversing a cliff with a huge drop. I got nervous as we got closer: the mist was thick and the wind was howling up from below. I was second to make the traverse into the cave: there was water running down the cliff face, disappearing into a misty oblivion below. There was only one difficult point, where without handholds it was necessary to just lean onto the cliff and hope that the ledge your feet were on wasn't too slippery!
It was only 2 o'clock, but the weather was horrendous and there was no way we were going to be doing any more that day. Everything I had was wet, and I had to get into my sleeping bag to try to stay warm: I'm not sure I got out of it again until the following morning.
That evening John told us about the following day's walk down Camel Pass. The last time he had led the walk, two years ago, somebody had died from a fall. This was a little hard to take in, and Ruan's questions didn't help:
"You've done it recently though?"
"But you know somebody who has?"
"But it won't have washed away much will it?"
I know that at least a couple of us spent the night pondering what was to come the following day.
There was plenty of adrenaline inside me as we headed down Camel Pass, the exit from Roland's Cave having been dramatic in the clear morning. We paused at the point, very near the top, where Luciano had fallen and died two years previously. It's actually on a very straightforward bit of path: nobody saw why he fell. There were a couple of hair raising exposed sections as we continued, but before long we were on a nice path again and I realised that all the hype had made me far more scared than I needed to be.