WHYTES CAVE BACKPACKING WEEKEND (Five caves weekend) - SAT-SUN 24-25 OCT 2015 - LEADER KEITH ASHTON
Report and photos by Keith Ashton
[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]
Participants : Steve & Lynda Verreynne, Tish Bryson, Felicity Kromhout, Mike Bennett & Keith Ashton, unfortunately Margaret my normal loyal companion got a chill & had to pull out.
It was misty on our way to Bushman's Nek but we all arrived safely at 08h00, however as we started to get ready it started pouring down with rain, so we had to pile into the tiny office (small timber hut) to finish putting on our raingear inc jackets, waterproof pants & backpack covers etc.
As we were completing the Mountain Register the ranger looked at us as though we were crazy & said you are not going to hike in this are you, use the mountain hut. "Of course we are" I said & there was no mutiny from our group.(A tough lot).
We set off on our stiff climb like drowned rats but within 10 minutes or so the rain stopped & we were very pleased to start stripping off as we had a 800 metre climb ahead of us.
Soon we were looking down into the valley & Bushman's Nek Hut far below, then making steady progress towards Painters Cave which takes about 3 hours when allowing sufficient time to appreciate the views & magnificent scenery as well as the wild flowers & keeping an eye out for the wildlife.
We spotted a black-backed Jackal before we crossed over the traces of the old jeep track which led to the old derelict look-out hut perched on a high point.
Great views of the Devil's Knuckles & Thaba Ngwangwe were appreciated as we climbed onwards past "Twin-Rocks" to reach Painters Cave, our well earned lunch stop.(Very good Bushmans paintings here, the best being up a little slope behind a big rock if you know where to find them).
1. A brief stop after stiff climb - Devils Knuckles in Background
2. Felicity & Tish still feeling strong
3. Lynda & Sreve enjoying the hike - Knuckles to the left - Thaba Ngwangwe to the right
4. On our way in the middle of nowhere - lovely flowers but need more rain
5. Still climbing strongly en-route to Painters Cave
6. Arrival at Painters Cave - now lunch time
7. Some of the Bushman's paintings at the cave
8. More paintings at the cave
9. Getting ready to leave Painters Cave
After lunch & filling our water bottles in the small stream close-by, we faced the daunting steep climb up towards "the gap" & "overhanging rock" where we dropped our backpacks before heading down to inspect Sherry Cave (New) closely. The cave name followed by (New) is due to the fact that the original Sherry Cave is in Hidden Valley & normally accessed from Garden Castle area.
Magnificent views are to be had from Sherry Cave (New) & includes the view clearly showing "elephant rock" & the scenery beyond.
Unfortunately on our way up to "the gap" the wind was blowing so strongly it ripped-off Felicity's backpack cover & blew it off into the abyss never to be seen again.
10. Its a very steep climb out of Painters Cave
11. Tish & Felicity making progress up the steep slope
12. Prominent rock feature above Painters Cave
13. Still battling uphill towards Sherry Cave (new)
14. Even more climbing towards Sherry Cave (new)
15. Now its downhill to Sherry Cave (new)
16. View of Elephant Rock etc from Sherry Cave (new)
17. Inside Sherry Cave (new)
18. Entry & exit from this cave is not for faint hearted when its wet
19. A closer view of how far you can fall from this cave
After our 2nd cave of the day we climbed up to our backpacks & after another short climb we were on our way down another valley towards our 3rd cave "White Horse Cave" which we soon reached after a bit of bundu bashing to reach one end of the cave. Besides other Bushman's Paintings there are, as the cave name suggests, beautiful paintings of white horses in various poses.
After appreciating the paintings & more beautiful views from this cave, it was downhill to reach a small track which led us to our 4th cave of the day "Whytes Cave" (less than a kilometre away from White Horse Cave) where we were to sleep on Sat night.
20. Now more climbing out from Sherry Cave (new)
21. Our entry through the bush into White Horse Cave
22. The Bushman's paintings of the white horses in the cave
23. Viewing the paintings in White Horse Cave
24. The view from White Horse Cave
25. Steep descent from White Horse Cave - en-route to Whytes Cave
Whytes Cave is the tallest cave in the Berg suitable for a comfortable nights sleep & as there were only 6 of us we had loads of space to spread-out & most sleeping areas had been prepared with straw for added comfort.
Close-by is a lovely waterfall & pool providing us with fresh water & a place to cool down, although the stream was only running slowly indicating the dire need for much wanted rain in the area. We did see quite a lot of wild flowers but not nearly as many as we normally see at this time of year.
As we were at the cave, we missed the S.A. v N.Z. rugby semi-final but by whatsapp, John, one of our sons kept me & our group informed every time the score changed, this was quite exciting & I sipped my usual Drambuie to keep me calm - the final score was disappointing but the boys did us proud.
After supper & a chat it was early to bed for a good nights sleep.
26. Whytes Cave - the tallest sleeping cave in the Berg
27. The welcome pool & waterfall next to Whytes Cave
28. Time for a chat & a rest at Whytes after 4 caves in the day
We arose early on Sunday morning to a beautiful day with the sun casting a red glow in the sky & on the mountains far away.
After breakfast & packing-up we were on our way just after 07h00 to our 5th cave via a different route with more contouring first, before dropping steeply over several rock-bands & down a rocky valley to Langalibalele Cave.
But first, just after leaving Whytes Cave, we looked back towards the cave to take-in the magnificent golden rock formations & fantastic views all around - what a privilege to be able to hike in these areas.
After arrival at Langalibalele Cave we had some snacks (some inc me having lunch) & others in our group took time to view the Bushman's paintings (faint & not as good as the other caves). Also those not previously familiar with this cave were able to explore through the "passage" into the dark back part of the cave & exit at a higher level.
We left our backpacks at the cave as it was still reasonably early & took a stroll further along the Giant's Cup Trail at this point, but in the reverse direction of course for further views in the direction of Garden Castle & Crystal Waters etc.
Then it was on with the backpacks for a further 5 km back to Bushman's Nek office - We did not see the usual eland but did see plenty of baboons & several mountain reedbuck.
We encountered a couple of very short storms with torrential rain & some hail whilst driving home on Sun afternoon, so we were pleased not to have been hiking in the mountains when this happened.
Thanks to our group for your enjoyable & friendly company & comradeship during another wonderful weekend in our beloved Drakensberg.
29. Ready to leave Whytes Cave early Sun morning
30. Spectacular views leaving Whytes Cave
31. More climbing after returning a different route from Whytes Cave
32. Descending a valley off the beaten track towards Langalibalele Cave
33. Still en-route to Langalibalele Cave
34. Langalibalele Cave