Thursday 27 September 2007

Ice climbing in South Africa

On that first night we had an 'Ice Rat' (local rodent the size of a guinea pig) invade the tent and settle down in our food bag. It was most unexpected in snow and sub zero temperatures and we didnt discover it until we had settled down to sleep. The first day up on the plateau we went off to the Lotheni Couloir and abed and scrambled several pitches down this deeply incised gorge before turning around and climbing back out. The ice was bullet hard and about Scottish IV,5. We were still feeling the effects of travelling and ascending to altitude and found the going quite hard. That night was hellish. We had saved on baggage allowance by bringing an old lightweight tent. All night long the gales meant that we were forced to sit upright supporting the tent poles and got no sleep at all. Around 5 in the morning one of the South Africans came to ask for help with Gavin who was very ill; unable to move and couldnt keep even a sip of water down. We put an anti-emetic under his tongue and he managed to keep a cup of water down with difficulty. It didnt look like altitude sickness, the locals were betting on tick bite fever (we later discovered he had Meningitis and Encephalytis) but it was obvious we had to get him to medical care. Fortunately you get a good mobile signal on the 'Burg. Soon a helicopter from Durban was battling the winds to get in to us. It landed a longish stretcher carry away and took Gavin off to hospital. We were too knackered to do anything other than make our way out to a good viewpoint to look back into 'Makaza' (this means 'cold' in Zulu). This little coire with a drainage line is the most popular area for ice climbing with a number of single pitch options as the finish to several pitches of ice climbing in the gully below. We saw a small bushbuck on the plateau and came back to move the tent to a slightly more sheltered location.

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