Monday, December 20, 1993

A long walk in

We drove down from Johannesburg in the morning, through Harrismith and into Bergville and from there we headed inland towards Woodstock Dam which was where the tar ran out. Thereafter we drove on a reasonable grade dirt road towards Isandlwana Police station where we were counting on leaving the cars. In 1993 the country was still in a very precarious situation politically so there wasn't actually anywhere safe outside of the police station to leave the cars. There had been an unusual amount of rain during the week and we were very worried that we wouldn't be able to make it to Isandlwana Police Station and if we didn't make it there, there really weren't any alternative options. We were all jammed like sardines into my bright red Volkswagen Jetta 1.6 with all the gear in the trailer borrowed from my parents. Rob at 6'2, Tim at 6'4, not sure how tall Vivette and Anne are but they are both taller than me at 5'6 so saying it was a tight fit was putting it mildly. When we encountered taxis turning around, unwilling to cross one of the river fords, we knew we were in a spot of trouble, nevertheless there actually wasn't an option so we pressed on. Just before Isandlwana Police Station there is a river ford immediately followed by a very steep muddy hill which we had to get over and since the Jetta was a front wheel drive, it was going to be interesting. We tried with all of us in the car but that didn't work at all so we evicted all the passengers to make the car lighter but that didn't help as much as required so in desperation we put Vivette and Anne on the bonnet to try and give the front wheels a bit more traction while two of us, I think it was Tim and myself pushed from behind the trailer. Not really sure how much we contributed but we slipped and slithered our way up the hill and over the top. As the car gathered speed over the crest of the hill I spent a bit of time skiing behind the trailer on the muddy road which was great fun until I thought about all the rocks in the road which I might collide with and the speed of the accelerating vehicle. I let go and managed to remain on my feet but some of the antics to do so must have been quite amusing since I was going somewhat faster than I could run, especially on a muddy road.
Arriving at the Police Station, we kitted up, divvied out the climbing gear which added about 4 to 6 kg onto my normal load of 23kg. Tim had forgotten his climbing helmet but fortunately Rob had brought a yellow cycling helmet along which he offered to use, him having the hardest head out of the three of us. After signing the mountain register and never imagining that this time we would actually need it, we started on the 23km slog up to Mponjwane cave, 1800m above us.

Not a trivial day to start with and by the time we started the last 3km which included 900 of the total 1800m ascent the party was pretty tired already. Vivette was in tears so Rob was consoling and encouraging her. Tim got to the bottom of the pass and declared that he couldn't carry the rope a metre further and someone else had to take it, that someone else was me of course since Rob was already way overloaded as usual. Furious that Tim had the temerity to just abdicate because it was tough; I stomped on up towards the plateau eventually reaching it but the thought of the final 50m climb to the cave was too much and I gave the rope back to Tim who by now had recovered somewhat. Not quite sure exactly what time we reached the cave but I think it was about sundown at 18:30 or 19:00. Very pleased to have made the first leg of the trip we had supper and hit the sack exhausted and looking forward to the climb the next morning. Unbeknownst to us, Rob asked Vivette for her hand in marriage as we were going to sleep but Vivette didn't say yes nor no leaving Rob on tenterhooks.

Photograph of Mponjwane cave from a previous hike. Rob is the one in the brown jacket smiling.

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