CAMPING WEEK-END AT MONKS COWL
12/13 January 2002 - Aris Hofland
By 0730 on Saturday 12 January (Day One), Keith, Margaret and Aris were greeted by Warwick, Brenda and their daughter Kerry at the Monks Cowl Camping Site situated near the Champagne Castle Hotel in the Northern section of the Drakensberg. The Keating's who had arrived with their caravan the previous day had to endure a freak storm during the night but survived. After saying hello to Maarten and Erica , Keith/Margaret and Aris put up their nightshelters (tents) and by 09:00 all the other participants - Margaret, Sue, Deneys/Arlene and Cammpbell /Lorraine were ready to go.
We assembled for a short briefing by our leader Keith and then took off in high spirits, following the " Berg Walk " signs and in particular those of the Sphinx and Blindman's Corner. The walk passed through indigenous forest and continued into protea bushveld.
We topped up our waterbottles with prime quality fresh water at the Crystall Falls and somewhat later the view from the area on top of the Sphinx ( 1700m ) - a prominent rock feature, was admired. We continued up the steep path onto the grassland plateau, which is traversed by little streams. Here we had a short breakfast/midmorning rest.
The going on the plateau was easy even in a sunny atmosphere of more than 30°C, as it was the case on this Saturday.
In front of us we saw the mighty Sterkhorn ( 2973m ) mountain and the path going straight up to the top; on the left of Sterkhorn - Cathkin Peak ( 3149m ) and on the right the Tower and the Amphlett. Monks Cowl and Champagne Castle were hidden behind Cathkin Peak.
Somewhat further away to the right and on a ridge was Gatberg or Intunja, the mountain with a hole in it. We progressed until we got to Blindman's Corner, which is on the well known Contour Path. A nearby campsite offered a welcome shady spot, where we enjoyed our lunch.
The majority of the party decided to walk back to the Campsite via the same route, however Keith, Margaret and Aris followed the Contour for another kilometre before returning, initially on the same outward route and then turned left into the Keartland's Pass, a series of steep zig-zags through a band of sandstone formations. A recent rockfall, partly blocking the path, was the topic of some speculation.
The evening around the wood/charcoal fire, set-up by Warwick and under a cloudless sky with no wind was most enjoyable and appropriate quantities of braaied meat and drinks were consumed.
At dawn on Day 2 mist enveloped the high peaks round our Camp resulting in a cooler atmosphere. This made us feel happier and by 08:00 we were well prepared for another hike. Keith and Margaret eager for a challenge headed for the high hills northeast of the Camp; all the others listened to Warwick who promised us a more relaxed walk by descending into the Gorge. The Nandi falls at the end of the Gorge was the turning point. We retraced our steps for a while and then followed the Sterkspruit river, where we found ourselves in very varied vegetation with abundant birdlife. Side paths bring walkers to many lovely and romantic riverpools. We had a short rest by one of these and then continued to the Sterkspruit Falls, where a viewing platform has been provided for spectators.
The route back to the campsite was likewise made interesting by the wooden poled bridges built across the small and meandering streams. The well maintained paths with the many erosion poles was another feature which makes Monks Cowl so popular.
We returned to our base at about half past twelve, had lunch and packed our belongings. We were back in Howick well before dark.
It had been a very successful weekend and I grade the Monks Cowl area ideal for short as well as long distance hikes.
Thank you Keith for all your efforts and one day bring us back into the ‘Berg.