words & pic by TONY LOURENS
It had been nearly 30 years since I stood at the foot of Bugger Gully near the summit of Cathedral Peak. I didn’t really remember it from way back then, but right now it looked steep and ugly.
In 1988 I was with my old china Willie Koen, and our plan was to do the circular trek from Cathedral Peak Hotel, along the upper slopes of Cathedral Peak, across the treacherous, snow-choked traverse beneath the Bell, past the Outer and Inner Horns and the Mitre to reach Twins Cave before nightfall. That night was desperately cold, icicles hanging off the roof of the cave, the two of us snuggled deep in our double down sleeping bags, waiting expectantly for the weak warmth of dawn to pry us reluctantly from our downy pits.
The next day’s plan was to get to the top of the escarpment, trek over the top of Cleft Peak and camp in a cave near the Ndumeni Dome. We eventually traversed over Cleft and descended to the head of the Organ Pipes trail that reaches the top of the escarpment on the other side of Cleft. At this stage we had about two hours of daylight left and needed to find our overnight cave somewhere on the Dome behind us. But we both stood fixedly at the edge of the escarpment and gazed longingly at the warm and cozy looking Cathedral Peak hotel nestled in the valley far below. We looked at each other and we both had the same thought. I think it was I who voiced it first, ‘Hey boetman, should we just gooi for the fleshpots in the valley below and stuff sleeping up here in a cold damp cave?’ Willie didn’t answer; he just started walking in a downward direction. So that was it. We were on a mission to get to the hotel by nightfall and we nearly succeeded. We practically jogged half the way, but we still had to haul out our torches (I don’t think we had headlamps in those days) to guide us through the last 30 minutes or so.
The Cathedral Peak Hotel appeared out the darkness like a heavenly apparition and not a moment too soon. We were all but broken and fell into the warm and welcoming Harry’s Bar, dropped our heavy, cumbersome packs, found two chairs in front of the fireplace, ordered a plate of sandwiches, treble whiskeys, fought off the fatigue just long enough to wolf it all down, then made our way to our cold tent (but oh so much better than a windswept cave nearly 2 000 metres higher) and passed out listening to the hypnotic tunes of Shawn Phillips’s Second Contribution, played from my old rectangular cassette recorder.