Taxi… TAXI… TAXI….Now .what were we doing calling for a taxi whilst out on a hike? The answer is, we were feeling too lazy to walk the last 4kms to Sani backpackers on the tar road after emerging from the beautiful Gxalingenwa Forest valley. Cobham to Sani Backpackers on the 28th – 29th June 2014 wa…
Lammergier Cave , not again. I had said on this hike route 2 years ago that that would be my last trip. Now I was leading it again, why? The logic was that perhaps we would have a number of new hikers with us, who might one day become leaders, and share this part of the Southern Berg with hi…
A sincere thank you to both Christine and John for their dedication and effort in making 2013 an enjoyable and memorable hiking year. I think the popularity of their “highs” surpassed all expectation and certainly added a new dimension to hiking.
Apart from my other hikes during the course of the year, some with the MBC and some with private groups, I was privileged to do 3 of their 13 “highs” - Cathedral Peak (3004m), Mont-Aux-Sources (3282m), a hike which included the mighty Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world and Thabana Ntlenyana, in Lesotho (the highest peak in Southern Africa at 3482m) and what amazing “highs” they were. Nothing beats the thrill of standing on top of one of the peaks, at over 3000m and taking in the surrounding awe-inspiring views and to be able to look back from ground level and say “I was there”. From the hikes themselves, to the snow fights, to the card games, to sitting in the back of a 4 x 4 in the pouring rain coming down Sani Pass, to Jacqui’s famous chocolate brownies, I loved every minute. For me, Mont-Aux-Sources especially will always hold a very special place in my heart - bitter sweet memories of fun times shared with special friends, a journey of self-discovery, of love and so much more. Perhaps one day I will find the courage to return there.
Whilst hiking can be pretty strenuous at times and we often vow, “never again”, within a few days the hardships are forgotten and we’re already planning the next challenge. Whatever our reasons for hiking and whoever we are, out there in the mountains the playing fields are levelled and often it is team work and a little word of encouragement from a fellow hiker that gets us through.
It is indeed a privilege to have leaders like Christine and John who are willing to give of their time and to share their knowledge, for our benefit and to further share the experience with others who have a passion for the magnificent Drakensberg mountains. I've seen some really awesome parts of the berg and have met some wonderful and interesting people, from all walks of life and all this made possible by the selflessness of two “ordinary” people whose energy and enthusiasm has inspired us to challenge ourselves, encouraged us to step out of our comfort zones and helped us to achieve our goals. Not forgetting others who have assisted in some or other way, special mention must be made of Clint, MBC’s own intrepid and highly knowledgeable hiker - from sweep, to car guard, to transporting us and our backpacks - thank you for sacrificing your weekends for us and for your unfaltering patience - without you, some of us would still be clinging precariously to a rope on the side of a mountain, dangling from the chain ladders or wandering aimlessly around the berg…
For me, hiking has become an integral part of my life. Being in the mountains is one of the few places where I feel completely at peace, a place where time stands still, a place that restores my soul and makes me feel alive, a place that makes me believe that I am invincible. It is unadulterated freedom at its best.
If the success of the 2013 “highs” is anything to go by, I think we can look forward to some equally exciting adventures in 2014. So, for those of you returning, I look forward to sharing many more epic hikes with you and for those who have been quietly observing from the sidelines, don’t miss out - it’s time to brush the cobwebs off your boots, shape up and get ready - there are mountains to climb and passes to conquer, most of which are well within the capabilities of the average hiker.
See you all in 2014, atop a mountain somewhere...
Vergelegen Route Update (You will need the Cobham Ezemvelo geomap to understand)
This was my last reserve in the berg I had not visited and what a gem. Four of us hiked up to the base of the pass along the Mlahlangubo omkhulu river and back along the ridge on its southern flank 03/11/2013. It was a great hike and made quite easy by a recent burn in the area (everything is now green again but the grass is short) . The map is a bit misleading so be warned, below are the route updates.
- The C2 junction does not branch off through the forest as shown on the map but skirts around it to the south. If you go South around the small forest, to get onto the ridge you need to bash for a 150-200m to a neck of sorts about 0.5km up the ridge. Much easier is to skirt around the north of the forest where a good path leads to the afore mentioned neck.
- From here there is no path up the ridge we looked for it both on the way up and down with no success. There are what seems to be small sections of it here and there but nothing of real substance. We took the only visible path that contours from the neck up the valley (much higher than shown on the map) and joins the maps path about half way up the valley. From the join it also crosses the river which is not indicated on the map. What a magic valley! great pools and gentle gradient all the way up.
- About a km before C6 there path disspaears again and we just made our own way to C7 and had lunch. Bewarned, despite the whole area being burnt we could not find the contour path here in either direction, so instead of heading to the plumpudding ridge we hiked back down the ridge we were already on (intermittent path but great easy walking) back to C2
Date: Sunday, 24 March 2013 to Saturday, 6 April 2013.
Place: uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.
Distance: 242 km from Sentinel Car Park to Bushman's Nek Border Post.
A sincere thank you to Farouk Omarjee, our leader and the rest of our party, for making our first trip, a so called “novice” hike, to Wonder Valley Cave in the central berg, with the MBC, a pleasant and memorable experience. After an absence of nearly 5 years from hiking and with minimal experience to my name, it was a wonderful re-introduction into the world of hiking.
Wonder Valley Cave has a grading of 3 and is at an altitude of 400m. The total distance covered is approximately 12km, spread over two days. The cave was accessed via Van Heyningen’s Pass, from the hutted camp at Injasuti, the easier and more popular route. Whilst not too strenuous overall, a reasonable level of fitness is required as the hike does afford some steep accents, exaggerated by carrying a weighty backpack, something which one obviously learns to master with practice. There were many breathtakingly beautiful views on route to the cave, the cave itself providing spectacular views of Champagne Castle, Monks Cowl, Cathkin Peak and Sterkhorn. A lovely pool, with a cascading waterfall, a mere 15/20 minute walk from the cave, provided much welcome relief after a hot day in the sun. For some of us, getting to the river proved a bit more challenging, after somehow missing the well-worn path to the pool - still, it was well worth the invigorating swim. The main cave, which was more of an overhang, as most of the caves in the berg are, was very spacious and lined with straw, making it quite comfortable. We were fortunate enough to have perfect weather so being sheltered wasn’t really an issue. The cave does however appear to offer adequate protection from the elements, though in a driving thunderstorm one would probably be a bit vulnerable as the front of the cave is somewhat exposed.
There was no doubt that we were the least experienced of our party, with some of our members having previously completed the Grand Traverse and some having had the prestige of having climbed to some of the greatest altitudes within the club and whilst the older members brought with them years of experience, it was encouraging to see some youngsters participating, furthermore displaying a sincere appreciation and respect for nature, despite their “hubbly-smoking habit”, which evoked mixed reactions within our party.
The weekend was a perfect getaway, the chance to restore one’s sanity, away from the everyday rush of modern society and all its related stresses and an opportunity to meet and spend time with like-minded people, all sharing a common interest and a love of the mountains.
We hope to continue our journey of discovery, both with the MBC and on our own, by exploring more of the berg in the coming months.
Whilst investigating the possibility of a three day hike from Baynesfield to Byrne, I came across the farm named Osgodsby which immediately caught my attention, and I had to investigate further. I was not disappointed, as not only was the farmer Campbell McKenzie extremely co-operative and enthusiastic as he had spent considerable time and effort in opening trails on his farm, and these trails fitted perfectly into my plan. So with the help of Dave Herselman we set off on a number of recce hikes, which proved successful in opening up a day hike to Joseph Baynes old cottage, which will eventually become the first overnight stop on a future planned three day hike.
The Mount Gilboa hike at Karkloof is a good comparison to this 12.5 kilometre hike, which starts at Campbell McKenzie’s farm “Osgodsby” near Richmond. The gentle amble along a level farm road for about 1km certainly does not prepare one for the steep grade ahead. We would gain approx. 400m in height over the next +- 4km. For those who don’t hike regularly or are unfit this would be a strenuous challenge.
After entering the cool canopy of the forest along the waterfall trail we were rewarded by the impressive 30m high Mkuzane Falls. The route then picks up the yellowwood trail and contours to a higher level arriving at a stand of very old magnificent yellowwood trees. We stopped for a well-deserved water break. The park-like appearance and the huge size of these trees was indescribably beautiful. Exploitation of yellowwoods began in the late 1800s and they were felled for use of floors and ceilings. However this stand was saved after a tragic personal family hunting accident. Roads had been constructed, the saw pits had been dug and all was ready for the extraction of this stand and because of this hunting accident the operation was abandoned.
The trail elevates further passing through a recently cut dense forest section into open grasslands and up to Lewis dam. The last uphill along a fire break to the Langa trig beacon at 1406m above sea level seemed never ending. The view from this point overlooks the Baynesfield estate and is stunning with the Baynesfield dam and the Mbangweni dam far below. As far as the eye can see the orchards, fields, and pastures of the estate stretch off into the distance. We made our way down to the cottage, which was our objective, the wind had picked up and had become quite a gale; it was a relief to get to the protection of the cottage on the lee side out of the wind, where we settled down to a leisurely lunch. The cottage is well constructed, the walls are solid natural stone, and a corrugated tin roof has replaced the original thatch. With a bit of a clean-up this will be the perfect overnight stopover for a future three day hike. As the strong wind had dropped and time was catching up, and with renewed vigour (for some of us anyway) we strolled off along the plantation contour road back to the Lewis dam. Our route now picked up the Mageu trail which is all downhill. Our pace increased as we descended back through the plantation and in no time at all we arrived back at the farmhouse to the welcome barking of the farm dogs.
Campbell McKenzie’s ancestors arrived with the Byrne settlers, I therefore asked him to give a talk on the history of the family and farm before we started our hike. He certainly kept us entertained with the story of how the family had arrived at Port Natal, and the dramatic shipwreck which the ill-fated ship The Minerva suffered at the foot of the Bluff on the night of 4th July 1850.The valuable cargo and all the passengers’ belongings were lost as the ship quickly broke up on the rocks. All 300 passengers had got off safely and Campbell’s great grandfather was born on the beach. The only casualty was a seaman off the ship Henrietta who tried to render assistance and was drowned. The positive fact to emerge from this tragedy was that the colonists were incredibly supportive; helping their distressed countrymen in every way, even arranging transport to Byrne to start their new life. However upon arrival at Byrne the McKenzie’s found that they had been allocated a rocky hilltop which was unsuitable for farming. They must have explored further and eventually found the forest-clad slopes and grass-covered hills with streams running through the valley to join the Illovo River on its way to the sea. They named it Osgodsby meaning “Home” after a hamlet in York England. The name is of Norse origin dating back to the Viking times.
This had been an enjoyable hike, made possible by Jenny Rooks from Ramblers Club who went about co-ordinating and getting together the twenty enthusiastic hikers from four hiking clubs. We can look forward to further hikes where one can get away from it all and walk amongst a paradise of yellowwood trees and contemplate the simple beauty of nature.
Thanks to Dave Herselman who co-lead, Max who lead from the back, Jenny, Rose, Frankie, Duncan, Linda, Colin, Jon, Margie, Gary, Dennis, Richard, Moira, Lee-Ann, Adrian, Colin, Christy, Shara & Mike
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER - FOREVER
Why did I do it? Why did I make a decision that nearly cost the lives of 6 fellow hikers? Was it the circumstances or was it just meant to happen? These are questions that I will agonize over for the rest of my life but what I would like to do is to share this experience with club members and other hikers in the hope that it will make us all aware once again, of the unpredictability and dangers of hiking in the Drakensberg.
It all began when Peter Connolly (a club leader) and myself, decided to invite a group of friends to join us on a 6 day mini-traverse from the Sentinel to Organ Pipes to celebrate Peter’s 60th year. Most of us had hiked together before with a lot of hiking experience to our credit. For example people like Tish Bryson (my tent buddy from the 1st Grand Traverse), Linda Feher (tent buddy on the 2nd and 3rd Traverses) and Peter who had completed the 4th Traverse, helped to make up a good experienced party. Other members of the group were Marius Verster, John Pickup and Graham Brunsdon.
We set off from the Sentinel on Monday morning 26 August 2001, in fine conditions. (I had checked the 7 day weather forecast the previous evening. Most days were to be fine with occasional storms in the evenings). It proved to be totally inadequate and unreliable with no warning of the strong winds, heavy continuous rain and snow which we encountered in the days to come.
Our first day was spent enjoying the breathtaking views from the Amphitheatre. Unfortunately the Tugela River was completely dried up so there were no spectacular shots of the waterfall. Although there was mist over Kwa-Zulu Natal, Peter was determined to climb Mount Amery which he did successfully with John, Tish and Marius.
After spending the night camped near Ifidi Cave we proceeded along the escarpment the next morning (Tuesday) passing the Icidi Buttress with its magnificent views of the Mnweni Cutback and Mpongwane. That afternoon we camped just below Madonna and her Worshippers. The weather wasn’t brilliant but it was still worth strolling up to Madonna to feel the mystery and intrigue of the area. The evening was spent cooking up our various interpretations of so called Berg suppers and relating old hiking experiences. Our little group was bonding together and settling down to relax and enjoy the wonder of the Drakensberg during the next few days.
We set off the next morning (Wednesday) encouraged by the thought of a night in Ledgers Cave. We reached the source of the Orange River at about 2 pm and after filling our water bottles headed for the Cave. The wind had picked up and it was fairly cloudy over Natal. The protection that we had hoped to find in the cave was dismal as the wind was blowing in from the North. We were totally exposed and quickly realized that we were going to have to protect ourselves from the elements to survive the night. Linda snuggled into her bivvie bag and Tish produced an old survival bag full of holes. I, for some reason had thrown a roll of duck tape into my pack and we used it to patch up the survival bag and to make a bag for myself using an emergency blanket. Marius and John constructed a shelter amongst the rocks using a ground sheet and Peter and Graham covered themselves as best they could. It poured with rain the whole night and although we were protected from most of it, the wind blew in a gentle spray which wet anything that was uncovered. It was a long night with very little sleep. Cooking was also a problem because of the wind blowing into the cave.
We were away by 8am the next morning (Thursday) hoping to reach Easter Cave by 3pm. The weather was not looking good. There was a cold wind blowing with lots of heavy cloud around. We pressed on to Rockeries Pass. Peter, Marius and John went up to inspect Mpongwane Cave while the rest of the group waited at the top of the Pass. By the time they rejoined us the weather had closed in and we had to negotiate the next two ridges in the mist. When we reached the area behind the South Peak of the Saddle, it was starting to rain hard. We decided to pitch camp in the valley. It was only 12.30pm but most of us were soaked to the skin and feeling very cold and uncomfortable. Tish and I erected the
flysheet of the Mnweni tent and crawled underneath for protection against the rain. Linda joined us for
a steaming cup of hot tea which Tish produced from the magic stove. We finished erecting the tent from the inside (one of the advantages of the old A-shaped tents) and prepared ourselves for whatever weather was to come our way. Although we were all very disappointed in the terrible weather conditions, our moral was still high. Jokes and constant chitchat continued to flow between the tents. Later in the afternoon the rain started to come down heavily and with the wind blowing relentlessly, Linda had to give up her attempt to bivouac the whole hike when the darn thing started taking in water. Marius and John kindly offered to take her in and made a cosy little space for her in their 3-man tent. It was a wise move because it snowed heavily during the night and we were constantly having to shake heavy snow from the sides of the tents to prevent them collapsing.
The next morning (Friday) we awoke to find it still raining and very misty with the surrounding slopes covered in snow. The wind had dropped but the prospects still looked bleak. At about 10am there was a break in the weather and Linda and I bolted for the escarpment edge in an attempt to phone out for an updated weather report. The effort was rewarding – partly cloudy in the morning but clearing later with fine weather predicted for Saturday. We headed back to camp with the heartening news. We had been in our tents now in cramped conditions for 24 hours. Even going to the toilet during that time had been a major mission. We even discussed how they managed the vital necessity on Everest expeditions. (Maybe someone should seriously invent something suitable for traverse hikers). Shortly after Linda and I got back to camp it started raining again but we were optimistic about setting out in the afternoon for Easter Cave.
At about 2pm the weather started clearing and there were shrieks of delight and joy when the sun finally peaked out from behind the clouds and blue sky appeared all around us. I could feel the eagerness in the group to get going and after a discussion with the party we agreed to pack up and head for Easter Cave or failing this, to pitch camp in the Kwakwatsi Valley. I felt uneasy about the time we would eventually set out, but I knew if all went well we would reach the cave in 2 and a half hours. Tish and Linda were also worried about this aspect but went along with the majority decision. Looking back, this is where I question my reasoning and judgment. In all my years of hiking and leading mini-traverses I have never believed in taking risks, in fact at times I have even angered fellow hikers by being over cautious. Was I influenced by the worry of spending another night in tents that were constantly being threatened by vicious gusts of wind? Had lack of sleep dulled my ability to think clearly? Did the sudden appearance of the sun lead me to forget that there were still other aspects of the weather that should be considered? I will always reflect on these questions, my only consolation being that maybe if we had stayed, that unbelievably strong wind would have ripped our tents to shreds during the night leaving us totally exposed to the elements.
We left just after 3pm heading for the ridge overlooking the Cathedral range and the Kwakwatsi River. As we were climbing up the ridge the first few gusts of strong wind starting hitting us full on. We struggled up and all I could think of was that it would be calmer on the other side. This was not the case, in fact it was stronger. We fought our way along the top of the ridge, battling to breath at times, resting behind the occasional rock band. From the top of the ridge the views of the Cathedral range were absolutely magnificent and despite the constant buffeting of the wind, we still managed to take photographs. Going down the side of the ridge we were slightly protected, but on reaching the little stream by Ntonyelana Pass we were hit by the full force of a wind that had now become a freezing cold blizzard. As we turned to head into the Kwakwatsi Valley the water in our bottles froze within minutes. I realized that our only hope now was to reach the cave as soon as possible. Pitching a tent in these conditions was absolutely out of the question.
Adding to my problems was Graham, who was showing signs of hypothermia due to lack of adequate clothing. John and Marius dropped back to help and encourage him along the last kilometer to the cave. We finally reached the first cairn situated on the ridge leading up to Easter Cave and this was where our
“night to remember” began. It was 5.30pm and had the wind not being blowing so ferociously we would have reached the cave safely.
I could see the 2 cairns about 20 meters up the ridge leading to the entrance of the cave but as we turned to climb up the ridge, the wind simply blew us over. We were finally reduced to crawling in our attempts to make some headway up the slope and to prevent ourselves being blown over the edge of the escarpment. Suddenly I saw Graham drop his pack and start walking frantically in the direction of the 2 cairns. He was totally unprotected and in immediate danger of being blown over the edge. I screamed at him to get down but my voice was whipped away by the wind, making communication with anyone absolutely impossible. Fortunately John, who was near me at the time, saw the predicament, dropped his pack and managed to reach him in time to prevent him going over the edge. By the time Marius reached him he was shivering uncontrollably. Marius’s immediate concern was to keep him warm. He took off his own pack and pulled out his polar fleece jacket. Between him and Peter they managed to get Graham into it. Marius wrapped an emergency blanket around himself and lay behind Graham protecting him from the wind. At this stage, Peter not realizing he was so close to the edge, stepped back and was saved from certain death by the quick reaction of John who managed to grab him before the wind swept him over. In the meantime, Marius’s exposed backpack was savagely picked up by the wind and blown over the edge never to be seen again.
From where I was lying on the slope I could see the whole group except for John who had disappeared behind a rock further up looking for the entrance to the cave. I desperately wanted him to come back so I could get the whole party back together again. After waiting for what seemed hours, I eventually slid down on my backside to join Linda, Tish and Peter who were taking shelter behind some rocks. Suddenly the shock hit me! Here I was, faced with a hike leaders worst nightmare – caught out in the open on top of the Drakensberg in the middle of autumn with evening fast approaching. A party member missing, another suffering from the first stages of hypothermia, a gale force wind that was making communication and mobility totally impossible and the prospect of trying to survive a night out with very little protection in zero temperatures.
Our options at this stage were greatly reduced by Graham’s condition. Marius somehow managed to get him down to where we were and I realized there was no way we could move him any further. We were going to have to make the best of where we were. I dived into my pack and pulled out the trusted Mnweni flysheet and between all of us we managed to form a little cocoon of warmth underneath it. I was lying on the outside fully exposed to the wind but managed to get into my sleeping bag, boots and all and secure that side of the tent. The area on the slope providing our shelter was very small and when I eventually looked underneath the flysheet all I could see were legs piled on top of one another. I was relieved to see that everyone was relatively safe and that Graham was stable, but I was worried sick about John! Where was he? Had he been swept over the edge in his attempt to find the entrance to the cave? Was he lying horribly injured somewhere, crying out for help. All we could hear was the horrible slapping of the flysheet as the wind threatened to blow it out of our hands. I could feel Marius shivering badly next to me as he desperately tried to wrap an emergency blanket that I had given him around himself for warmth. Moving around in that confined space while still trying to hold onto your portion of the tent was virtually impossible. Tish did a fantastic job organizing bodies into comfortable and warm positions and making sure that no one fell asleep and let go their portion of the tent. The night crept by agonizingly slowly until at around midnight the wind started easing off.
We were finally able to relax a little and stretch tired aching limbs but most importantly it gave us the opportunity to organise a search for John. Marius remembered that John had a whistle attached to his jacket and was very eager to be off in search of him in the area immediately above us. After making sure that we understood the meaning of the various whistling signals he was going to use and the promise to be back within the hour, he set off. Linda had very kindly lent him a polar fleece jacket. We could here him blowing his whistle frantically as he went up the slope. Peter and I feared the worse. John had been exposed to the elements for 6 hours with no backpack but Marius had hardly been gone 10 minutes when we heard a whistle from below us. To our utter amazement and relief there was John coming up the slope towards us blowing madly on his whistle. Helped by a full moon, he had managed to find the small shelter that Tish had pointed out earlier on and spent hours there singing to himself for encouragement. A remarkable feat for someone still new to hiking in the Berg. I don’t think that I will ever be able to describe the enormous sense of relief and gratitude of seeing him alive.
Now that all the party was back together again, our main concern was to stay alive until dawn eventually signaled that our ordeal was over. The temperature outside our makeshift shelter dropped alarmingly in the hours just before sunrise. The wind picked up again and everything left outside (backpacks, water bottles) froze solid. It would be hours before we could eat or drink again. It was definitely our most difficult time. We were all very weak from lack of sleep and nourishment. Tish managed to keep us all focused by encouraging endless chatter and singing. Who amongst us will ever forget Peter’s rendering of “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain” through badly chattering teeth. When the sun eventually rose over the Cathedral range on Saturday morning, all seven of us quietly gave thanks in our own way. We were alive! We quickly gathered our scattered belongings, anxious to leave our “night to remember” shelter and begin the long and painful hike down Mlambonja Pass to the safety of the Cathedral Hotel.
What we as a group experienced during those twelve cold and frightening hours before dawn, will be special and unique to us forever. We stared death in the face and survived by working as a team and by drawing on each other’s strengths. It brought out the very best in all of us. For some reason unbeknown to us as yet, we were given a second chance at life. As the team leader, I feel very humble and fortunate to have been in the company of such a courageous group of people.
To Pete Connolly, thank you for being the wonderful person you are. You truly are amazing to have achieved what you have at the age of sixty. Your lovely sense of humour and refreshing outlook on life have certainly been an inspiration to me. Just one request, please don’t ask me to do anything special with you for your 70th!
To my dearest friend and hiking buddy of many years, Linda Feher. Thank you for your loyal support during this difficult and traumatic time and for not saying, I told you so!
To Marius Verster. Someone I feel very honoured and proud to have met quite recently. This is a guy that cares very deeply about other people, so much so that he was prepared to put his life on the line more than once during that Friday night. Thank you!
To John Pickup. Your physical strength helped us through a lot. Who will ever forget that life saving rugby tackle on Graham. Thank you for coming back to us!
To Tish Bryson. Without your motivation and ability to take charge of a difficult situation, we might just have gone to sleep that night and never woken up again! Thank you Tish, you were an inspiration!
To Graham Brunsdon. You went through an unbelievable ordeal and survived. Well done for pulling through and still managing to walk back down the following day. Thank you for your belief in me as a leader despite what happened.
To whoever may read this article. I hope that it has given you the confidence to know that you can survive dangerous situations in the Berg by first of all making sure that you have the best equipment money can buy (its your life at stake), by believing in yourself and having the determination to survive and by accepting the fact that the weather up there is totally unpredictable.
Jenny Owen (September 2001)
Well, not really...five of us met at Nottingham Road SPAR at 8am, on Saturday 15 January 2011 for a hike to Mckenzie’s Cave for the weekend. We took the road to Loteni and 35 minutes later we arrived at Mkhomazi Parks Board office. The park rangers very kindly allowed us to leave the vehicles in a lock up garage. It was a short hike to the cave, but boy was it steep! Farouk Omarjee was leading and he was the only one in our party who was fit – the rest of us were a little out of shape to say the least! The start altitude was 1585meters, and we reached the highest point at 2290 meters. Thankfully, we had great weather - sunny but overcast with a welcoming cool breeze. We struggled up the long 5 kilometre ascent which took us a good five hours. But I have to add that we stopped regularly along the way – at the first stream for a quick break and at 12h30 we stopped at a beautiful waterfall for lunch. With the recent rains, there was plenty of water everywhere, all the streams were flowing fast.
The last kilometre to the cave was all downhill; it was great to finally get there at 2pm! We spent the afternoon exploring the area and taking in all the breathtaking views from the top of the hill. Mckenzie’s is a great cave with a field in front of it, quite different to other caves that would normally have a dramatic drop close to the mouth. The field also serves as a catchment area where all the runoff water collects into a strong flowing stream with a great pool to wash in; about 100 meters from the cave.
After a refreshing bath in the pool, it was time for a Whiskey and a chat with our fellow hikers in the cave. Dinner was served at about 7pm and by 8pm everyone was fast asleep! During the night I woke up to see a very bright moon shining directly into the cave like a huge spotlight! A few hours later, the moon was replaced by a starry sky....where else in the world would we rather be – absolutely nowhere! What freedom we have to sleep under the stars like this!! What a beautiful country.
The next morning someone started stirring and by 5h30 we were all up and about – the sun was already high in the sky, another beautiful day. Breakfast was soon over and then the packing up started. Since the party was so small, we were all set to go at 7h15! We took a different route back and it was beautiful to see the mini Agapanthus with their lilac flowers in bloom all over the fields of grass. We groped our way down a short bit of gulley and then joined the path that we followed up the previous day. It was very hot, so we stopped to swim in the stream just before reaching the car park. Almost exactly 24 hours after we started our hike, we were back at the Parks Board office! What a magnificent hike – so glad we were able to test our fitness before the next planned hike! Thanks to Farouk for leading a great hike!
Minerva day Hike : 14 Feb 2010
Imagine standing in a cave where 12 natives were apprehended in 1906 by the British Police then tried and executed shortly thereafter?? This is part of the history behind the scenic Minerva day hike, led by David Tighe on Valentine’s Day 2010! We were a group of 7 enthusiastic hikers, meeting just outside Richmond to go on this great day hike. The previous couple of days had been the normal blistering hot Durban February summer days but on the evening before the hike, the heavens opened and broke the spell with much rain. Sunday morning arrived and the weather was much, much cooler and the Richmond area was almost totally covered in mist! I was thankful I had packed my rain gear for this hike even though it was midsummer and we were not in the Drakensberg! We first drove our vehicles up a long dirt track to the top of a hill and parked at a farm house where the altitude was 1400m. Sadly, we were unable to see any of the normally spectacular views visible on a sunny day. The hike started at 9am along the same dirt track and we reached the tallest point at an MTN mast, at 1500m. http://i47.tinypic.com/1626sm0.jpg Just before we got to the mast, a large herd of Blesbuck ran through the grasslands in front of us. http://tinypic.com/r/slgymh/6 Dave is extremely knowledgeable on the history of the area and gave us full details on the farm owners down in the valley below us and also gave us a lot of history on the Byrne and Baynesfield areas. He is an absolute fountain of information, and makes story telling an art! The hike took us along Nyamakazi Ridge and then down into the Pine Forest below. http://tinypic.com/r/2r5g2zn/6 Along the way, we could clearly see many ox wagon tracks on the other side of the hill from centuries ago! This area is indeed steeped in history. The bird’s song drifting through the forest was just beautiful. We had a water break at Porcupine dam where Dave had previously come to watch the Porcupine who frequents this particular area at night. We moved on to Picnic Rock which has a most magnificent view over the entire valley below.
After we had eaten Dave invited us to go and look at some caves. Naively, we all followed him and suddenly realised there were chain ladders!! Not for the feint hearted....or so we thought, but Dave had done an outstanding job of securing these ladders in place and it was perfectly safe to go down into the wet, mossy forest in search of the caves. http://tinypic.com/r/2v2xn48/6 These were the caves that Dave had searched for and found (man alone, mind you!) for many months, just so that he could bring day visitors like ourselves and tell us the story of the uprising between the natives and the British which ultimately resulted in their execution! It was quite a privilege to be invited to such a historic site! http://tinypic.com/r/30rtu9t/6 We all made it back to the top quite safely, just covered in mud from the very damp forest. After lunch we took a walk to the Woodcutters Trail and Dave took us along the trail for a couple of meters, just to show us how lovely the trail would be once it was cleaned up, but unfortunately it had become overgrown and needed quite a bit of clearing before anyone could successfully complete the route. We back-tracked to the main path and walked steadily back to the farm which we reached at 2.30pm.
We were then treated to a visit to the Minerva museum...... what a place, it is filled with machinery, engines, tools, and numerous other items from way back. A jet engine, circular aeroplane motors, a motor from a Sherman tank, old cameras, an air lung, old tractors, and..... and....and....
I started this hike thinking this is just another walk in the hills, but it turned out to be an awesome experience! definitely to be recommended. Thanks David. http://tinypic.com/r/9u27aa/6
Marie von Bargen