Below a detailed account of the events leading up to a near miss experience:Cathedral Peak Hike: 23 April 2011 General Notes This is an account of our hike to the top of Cathedral Peak from the Cathedral Peak Hotel and back – a guided hike offered by the Cathedral Peak Hotel – on Saturday 23 April 2011. There were 6 hikers in the party along with our Hotel Guide Daniel. The 6 hikers were 4 hotel guests (my wife and I plus two other hotel guests) and a couple that stayed at another hotel in the Drakensberg area. The attached profile is a copy of my Polar Heart Rate Monitor information. The information pictured shows two pieces of important information for the purpose of this document (1) Time on the route (“Time: 0:00:00”) – this is also the horizontal axis and (2) Altitude (“Altitude: 1473m”) – this is the right hand side vertical axis. Note on altitude – although the altitude is reasonably accurate, Polar uses a barometric altitude calculation so it is out by a couple of metres of altitude to the exactly measured altitude. On the first graph (next page) the left side time is noted as 0:00:00 and time of day (when we started the hike) as 07:30:28. Our altitude at the start was 1473m. Before the hike: The 4 Cathedral Peak Hotel guests were ready to go at just about 07h00, which was the scheduled start per the Hotel plan. When we got to the Sundial (the start point) the hotel representative (Kate) told us we were waiting for two other hikers from the outside. After a few more minutes she asked us if this was ok (to wait). What do we say? The pressure was on us as hikers to make a call; we looked at one another and indicated that it was fine to wait. I made a comment that as long as we could still get to the top by the Hotel-specified cut-off for summiting – which was 12h30 in winter. Kate noted with words to the effect that that “It is not quite winter maybe we can summit a bit later”. While waiting we read the safety cards handed around by the hotel. My wife pointed out then that the card noted that the guide was carrying torches, headlamps, safety kits, radio, etc. and we were advised to carry something warm, water, etc. After waiting a while the other couple arrived and we started just after 07h30.
We reached the first water point (+- 1900m altitude) after about 90 minutes of walking. This is more than the average amount of time for hikers to reach the first water point. Bearing in mind that we started 30 minutes later than the Hotel scheduled start (walking time plus delay time = 120 minutes), this milestone should have been a first checkpoint in terms of how the overall hike was going to go.
After the first water point we started a steeper ascend (than the first part of the route) and about 20 minutes or so later we took a quick breather. Here Daniel I thought did a great thing. It was apparent that three of the hikers and one in particular (incidentally, this lady was wearing ‘tackies’, not hiking boots) was struggling. Daniel re-arranged the walking order to ensure the slower hikers were sandwiched between him (leading) and the quicker ones - my wife, me, and another hotel guest - at the back. From here we walked to Orange Peel Gap, took a break, and went on to Buggers Gully. On our way to Buggers Gully I reflected on the hike and came to the conclusion that we probably won’t summit today, my reasoning being that we started late and the walking was slow going because of the limitation of the slower hikers. Although the weather was fine at that point, there were some cloud and signs of possible poorer weather around. Not summiting did not bother me too much as my wife and I hiked this route twice before so summiting was not at all a major objective and safety first would have to take priority. Up to this point the group hiked together. About 10 minutes or so into the section up Buggers Gully my wife and I kept our walking rhythm and broke away from the other hikers. We reached the top of Buggers Gully about 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the group at about 11h29 (+-4 hours into the hike) - altitude +- 2691m. The rest of the hikers arrived at about 11h45. The top of Buggers Gully is indicated by the vertical line that cuts into the Altitude graph line at 2691m. See graphs on the next pages. Almost immediately that the rest of the group arrived Daniel called us together and indicated we were going to ascend Cathedral Peak. I was surprised and with hindsight should have questioned this decision with Daniel. I however at the time said nothing. I don’t recall Daniel checking in with the Hotel control room about this decision, although I can’t be sure about this. Leaving at about 11h50 to summit gave us +- 40 minutes to the winter cut-off of 12h30 to do +- 300 vertical metres of climbing up some tricky bits for novices. It was also known that some of the steep section in the last 300m ascend were wet and slippery because of quite a wet season the preceding months. Up to this point we did an ascent of +- 1200m in 4 hours. A bit of maths to get a baseline means we did each 300m vertical climb from the start of the hike up to this point in about an hour each. Now, 4 hours later, a bit more tired, and with the steepest and trickiest sections waiting we give ourselves 40 minutes for this 300m vertical section.