The Watered Garden

Since completing the khulus around the Chain Ladders, I have been left with the task of banging some widely spaced khulus. Some rather optimistic trips have resulted in no progress on this front, and thus my final 8 continued to remain unbagged.

The three easiest and closest khulus I had left were Random Peak, Verkyker Buttress and Verkyker Pass Peak. The first two had been added to the list by myself many years ago, and Andrew had since audited them and suggested that they will come off the next list, the latter was added by him. But a peak being on a list isn’t the only reason to do it, so a hike takes shape…

On Saturday morning at 5:27AM, in some light drizzle, Mike and I left off from Hermitwood Campsite at Garden Castle. The walk to Pilar Cave was very wet and cold, but otherwise uneventful. The river was very low. We hit the cave in 1h01, so not a bad start.

After a short break in the cave, we continued along. We were between two layers of mist, but found ourselves back in the mist low down on the pass.

Our progress up the pass was reasonably slow, you can’t motor up Mashai Pass like you can up Langies (well, I can’t). Mist doesn’t help either. So at 9:07AM, 3h40 into the hike, we found ourselves leaving the mist and entering a moderate wind on the escarpment. Rhino was entirely in the mist, but the peaks we had our eyes on were in the sun.

We had planned to knock off the peaks and then head south to some 3400m peaks, but the wet start had resulted in some chronic apathy. This at least meant we had time to chill and enjoy being above the mist.

By 10:15 we had Random Peak, with some spectacular views of Wilsons Peak and the free standers below it. With 39m prominence, this peak is actually more prominent than the likes of Trojan Wall, and has a great view. It is worth the effort.

From here we headed down to a bone dry river behind Rhino, but fortunately found some flowing water flowing down from Verkyker Buttress. This peak had been added to the khulu list on the grounds that you can’t reach it from any nearby khulu with less than 1km of walking. The views were great, including that spire that John Hone wrote about in his book, but I rate the best view would be towards Rhino, and that was completely hidden in the mist.

We proceeded up Verkyker, taking a norther breach that I haven’t used before, and bagged the khulu at midday. The view was, once again, quite well obscured by the mist, and the wind was picking up. There was also a massive storm on the way. Around this time, Mike decided that he wanted to head home early. This meant we needed to get back to the car park by 3:40PM to pay for our permits. This resulted in a significantly shorter lunch break.

We shot up Verkyker Pass Peak, agreeing with Andrew’s reading of 50m prominence. Somehow the peak felt smaller than it was, perhaps the running is paying off.

From here we motored back over the Verkyker Ridge – funny, seeing as we were at the top of Verkyker Pass, which neither of us had done. But doing a pass without a trail or GPS track, in the mist and knowing the walkout from the base – this wasn’t the time to do it.

At 1:31PM we found ourselves enjoying the rainbows at the top of Mashai Pass. Rhino was still hidden in the mist. We knew it would be cold and wet once we get off the top, so Mike put his raincoat on, although we were both about to learn that leaving our fleeces off was a bad idea!

I think a meme best sums up the next bit:

canvas

We still got down the pass pretty quickly, with the occasional slips and falls along the way. We passed Pillar Annex Cave at 2:46PM – but knew it would be an uphill battle (downhill battle?) to get from here to the camp that quickly.

We continued to up our pace, and at 3:15, about 1.5km from the finish, I allowed Mike to run ahead to pay for our permits. At 3:39PM, I reached the campsite, cold and wet – but finishing a hike knowing that you have bagged every non-technical khulu in the Southern Berg, at least it was a case of “objective achieved”.

Final stats per my GPS:

Distance: 27km

Altitude gain: 1851m

Average moving pace: 3.5km/h

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