“Grand Travers & Re Supply 2008--, MHC & MBP Clubs”
Cathedral Peak
10 – 11 May 2008

Report & Pics by Dave Sclanders

The Grande Traverse (GT), the Comrades hike of Mountain hikers. The 2008 GT , the UP Hike, from Bushman’s Nek in the Southern Drakensberg, to The Sentinel in the Northern Berg. 230 kilometers, 13 grinding, grueling days of hiking across the inhospitable escarpment of the mighty uKhahlamba Drakensberg. Very few paths, no roads carry everything on your back from food, clothes and tents, and in the process climb a staggering 13 000 meters during the period.

To do the traverse one needs exceptionally fit, strong minded people, here the rule “No Pain no Gain” really applies. To do this extraordinary hike, one needs to be re-supplied twice during the hike. Good friends are needed for this.

The Midlands Hiking Club(MHC) and the Mountain Backpackers Club(MBP), both KZN based clubs have combined on several occasions to do this great hike. Club members from both clubs join in to help with taking re-supplies up to the top of the escarpment to supply their fellow club members.

The 2008 GT consisted of 12 exceptional hikers. These hikers are amongst a group of very few hikers who can say that they have done the GT in both directions, North to South, and South to North .

GT and Re-supply teams at the summit of Organ Pipes Pass

The GT Team ready to leave for the start of the hike

Amongst this successful team was

Keith Ashton , who at 68 years of age is the oldest known hiker to do the traverse in both directions

Luciano Colombo at 67 years of age, the 2nd eldest hiker to have done both G.T’s.

The re-supply team met on the 11th April at the top of Mikes Pass , where they were issued with the pre-packed food for the GT members and under the direction of leaders from the MHC & MBP clubs set off for the summit of Organ Pipes Pass. The early morning sunrise was marked by a wonderful sunrise on the Cathedral Peak range. The rest of the day was complemented by clear cool weather. The 1st rest and re-gathering of the hikers was at the old forestry Look Out Tower, the lunch break was taken at the stream near the bottom of Organ Pipes Pass .

This trip is not for the feint hearted, the distance to the top from the car park is 10,5 kilometers, but with the ups and downs of all the cut-backs, and the pas itself, one climbs 1200 meters over the day. Don’t be fooled, IT”S HARD .

Once at the top , tents were set up ,water collected from a nearby stream , tea made and warm clothing put on. The evening promised to be very cold

Then from out of a higher valley , the first GT member arrived, then the rest followed. A great relief for all, and a special welcome from all to all. Hugs and congratulations on getting this far, especially for those hikers who had family or friends on the GT.

Tents were put up, food parcels given out, and the inevitable bottles of sherry, whisky, drambuie, and other good stuff was shared, and enjoyed in great circle of friendship and camaraderie of special people in a special place. As the cold increased, so came the wind and the rain as well. Time to get into the tents, do a good supper, and snuggle down into a warm sleeping bag.

In this harsh environment, success comes at a cost, steely determination is needed, to get to the end, pain and suffering must be endured. For one of the hikers, this was no exception, day after day of pain was to be endured until the hike was finished. Keith Ashton – the old man of the group , had a toe problem which grew so large that he had to cut out the top of his boot to get his swollen foot into the boot. By sheer guts and determination, he completed the hike. (Rather him than me)

The next morning, we awoke to a clear but very cold morning with a strong wind blowing. Breakfast eaten , tents and new goodies packed, and soon the GT team was ready to leave on the last 4 days of this pic hike to get to the Sentinel car park in the North of the Drakensberg. From here the last leg of their journey would be by bus back to their homes.

The re-supply team packed up at a more leisurely pace, and also soon started off for home.

Sometimes going down is harder than going up. By the time many of us reached the cars thigh muscles were in spasms, feet were sore, and blistered feet were only to glad to get into more comfortable shoes.

Wonderful views over the berg this week end made it all worth while. Call it hiking, trekking, mountain walking, whatever. It was great to share these magnificent mountains with a few special people.