11/12 May 2002
Leaving Howick at about 06h00 on the Saturday morning, four club members, Dave (leader), Joan, Margaret and Keith plus Di (a guest from KZN Wildlife) set off for the Cathedral Peak area. We met two more guests at the Cathedral Peak office, overseas students Fabian (Swiss) and Soeren (German). Having completed the formalities we drove back past the old Brotherton trading store (now demolished) and parked our two vehicles at a nearby kraal in the safekeeping of a contact of Dave’s.
Backpacks donned we started our hike on a beautiful sunny day, passing Brotherton Rock on our right and heading towards the magnificent view of Cathkin Peak and Champagne Castle in the distance. After a while we reached Solar Cliffs rangers outpost where we had a break and drink in the shade of the trees.
It was then onwards and slightly downhill to cross the Mhlwazini river which necessitated most of us removing our boots. We continued roughly parallel to the Mhlwazini river, with beautiful views all around us until we reached our river crossing point at the junction of the Ndedema and Mhlwazini rivers. Some careful boulder hopping and balancing here avoided the need to remove boots. Lunch was enjoyed at the small shady “campsite” before we started climbing roughly parallel to the Ndedema river. The views on this stretch of the hike along the Ndedema Gorge are stunning with rugged rock formations and high waterfalls from mountain streams whilst still listening to the rippling water of the Ndedema river far below.
Having gradually climbed over 2 km with our backpacks since lunch (and about 10km since starting out) it was soon time for a drink and rest next to a pool in a lovely mountain stream. We were hot and sweaty with the climb and the bright sunshine beating down on us. Some of us had the courage to cool (freeze) our feet and legs but Dave shamed us all by having a “bracing” swim.
We were soon off again, now climbing even more steeply through shoulder-high dense grass towards Poachers Cave. After what seemed a long time it was a delight to enter the cave, which is very sheltered and comfortable (by cave standards of course).
After a short rest, snacks and setting up our sleeping quarters, four of us (Dave, Fabian, Margaret and I) with a little “persuasion” from Dave set off to climb higher for about another hour (fortunately without backpacks) to Gravel Cave which is well above Poachers Cave and on the same water source. There are no paintings in Gravel Cave but it would be useful to sit-out a storm and it was a brisk and enjoy- able detour for us. By the time we got back to Poachers Cave it was getting dark and our other hikers were nice and comfortable by now. Soon we were eating supper and having our medicinal drinks etc. Margaret and I enjoyed Drambuie while Dave had a mixture of Brandy and Van der Hum (very good indeed). Our overseas students had an unlimited supply of chocolate and enough apples to last us all a week.
After a relatively warm night for winter in a cave, it was up bright and early on the Sunday morning. After breakfast we set off towards Leopard Cave which meant making our way through head-high grass again and more climbing before we reached the cave with the famous leopard painting as well as several other Bushmen’s paintings. Rested we continued with more climbing in brilliant sunshine towards Eland Cave. The steep climbing was eventually completed and we “strolled” downwards to a dip where we left our now heavy backpacks in long grass before we made our way to Eland Cave to view the numerous magnificent paintings (our overseas students were amazed). We still had a long way to go so it was back to our backpacks and on towards Junction Cave, still with brilliant sunshine and beautiful scenery. We reached the large boulder looking far down to the junction of the Ndedema and Mhlwazini rivers (our proposed lunch spot. Soeren stayed here to admire the view whilst the rest of us went to explore Junction Cave and view more paintings.
Hunger pangs set in and we were off down the steep zigzag descent to eventually enjoy lunch under the trees at the junction of the rivers. Dave and Fabian even braved the freezing river to have a quick swim. Soon we had to re-cross the river and footslog it back to Solar Cliffs to re-cross the river again before heading back to our vehicles at the kraal (a good 7 km from our lunch spot and about 16 km of backpacking in the day).
Thanks Dave for great leadership and an extremely interesting (5 caves) and enjoyable week-end.