Monday, June 11, 2007

White Winter Weekend

Caron and I were away for the weekend, originally we were going to go on a small hike up the Drakensberg near Mont-Aux-Sources which is one of the highest points in South Africa at 3282m. By Monday evening, there were odd references to "cold" and "windy" and "uncomfortable" and by Tuesday there was open rebellion and my nice little hike was scuppered to be replaced by a day walk. Same destination, we just weren't going to spend the night up on top of the Drakensberg.

We drove down on Friday evening to Windmill Bungalows which are self catering bungalows on the edge of the escarpment just south of Sterkfontein dam. Brilliant position but rather basic and as luck would have it, by the time we arrrived, our pre-booked room had been let out to someone else so we ended up in a much larger bungalow for the same price.
We weren't feeling very hungry due to all the junk food that we had consumed on the way down so we just went to the bar for a drink before retiring. When we walked in there was a girl sitting really, really close to the log fire and I jokingly asked her if she could get any closer to the fire. She promptly not only moved away from the fire but left the room entirely, I didn't think it was that bad a comment.
We woke up early on Saturday packed and were at the start of the hike after driving around Sterkfontein dam and through Phutadjithaba by 08:30. Phutadjithaba may have the worlds most polite taxi drivers, I have been coming to this area for a couple of decades and their courtesy has always struck me as I drive through. It was very encouraging to see that where there had been shacks a few years ago, there is now RDP housing which is very basic but much superior to a shack. Where there had been RDP, there were now either additional rooms or in the odd case a entirely new face brick house with tiled roof. I think what was so encouraging was not the fact that there is great housing on show because even the best houses are still quite modest but the fact that there is a definite general improvement in the standard of the housing.
By 08:30 we had started walking, me with the backpack and Caron without one. By the time we, or rather I, reached the chain ladder I was about 500m ahead of Caron. A fact that did not go un-noticed nor un-chastised by the party waiting at the bottom of the chain ladder. Fortunately I did have a pack on whereas Caron didn't which at least gave me a little respite.
After negotiating the first portion of the chain ladder we realised that the wind on top was going to be blowing so we put on some extra clothes to keep the wind at bay and sure enough, there was a nice fresh breeze on top - along with a dusting of snow.

Caron doing her michelin man impression.

A short easy kilometer or two brought us to the edge of the amphitheatre and a view of Eastern Buttress, Devils tooth and the Inner Tower which Rob is going to climb in a couple of weeks time.

We had lunch in the lee of a large boulder next to the frozen Tugela river and then wandered up to the Mountain Club Hut which is starting to look quite dilapidated. Someone has not only taken the glass out of the windows but in one case, the window frame as well. As a result, hikers have torn down some of the ceiling board in order to shut off the window so all in all it was a bit sad to see.
We were just leaving when the group that we had met at the bottom of the chain ladder arrived to take up residence in the hut - it is going to be a really chilly night for all of them. That's for sure. When we were looking around the hut we found a very nice sheath knife one of the previous parties had left behind. Someone, somewhere is busy kicking himself.

We took a very leisurely stroll back down stopping at anything that caught our eyes like the frozen stream sometimes or just magnificent views like the one below.

If you look carefully you will just be able to see Caron walking on the path at the bottom of the photograph right in the middle. It does give a sense of the scale of the cliff above her.

Got back to the car park and wrote down the names of all the parties in the last 5 days along with phone numbers but I doubt if I will be able to track the owner of the knife down. Gotta at least try I suppose.

We arrived back at the Windmill Bungalows for a really hot shower, great meal in the restaurant and then drinks at the bar and finally a warm bed while the icy wind howled outside. Maybe this isn't so bad after all.

No comments: