Photos courtesy of Keith Ashton

Participants : Keith Ashton (Leader), Margaret Ashton, Sebastian Szur, George Archibald, Irene Wisdom, Sheldon Bode, Sonya Jansen van Vuuren & Hettie Randall.

To fully relate to my anticipation and enjoyment of overnighting in Tarn Cave, I need to go back a bit and tell the story of a new life I have made for myself, far, far removed from my beloved mountains.

After 31 years of managerial responsibility and accountability, I broke the chains of mediocrity and left my desk, finally, for a life of travelling abroad. With my home in the care of strangers, its contents in storage, I left SA with a bag of personals, high expectations and very little money.

I worked as a "Carer of Vulnerable Elderly" for 2 week stretches and explored for a week. I got to see a lot of new technology, new advancements, a very different lifestyle, different culture, enjoyed the countryside and marvelled at the incredibly ancient history of England. Time was spent too in Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, Bordeaux, Brugge and Amsterdam, all an easy and affordable distance with no border controls or bureaucracy to impede the free flow of travel in the EU.

Of course it wouldn't be true to give the impression that I was on a lifelong holiday! The Vulnerable Elderly are a challenging bunch. With my management skills, I was not qualified to deal with any of the geriatric trials and tribulations of daily life. In fact I found muyself rooted to the spot many times when faced with personal habits I was expected to assist with. One lady who needs special mention, was very particular about cleanliness and would bend over for inspection and my approval, every morning after her wash, before pulling up her drawers!

I have come to realise that a lot of what I felt uncomfortable with, was considered perfectly acceptable behaviour by my more hardened and experienced colleagues. I just had to toughen up!

Through the sad times (and there were sad times, home and family are at the centre of values, trust me), I hungrily read news from SA on e-mail. My hiking buddy, Irene Wisdom, kept me up to date on the mountains with pictures of flowing streams, magnificent views and familiar faces.

On arriving home after 7 months, my priority was to get onto the hiking schedule and go hiking. This I did with an overnight hike to Tarn Cave. I had walked the path from Sehlabathebi many, many times and stood in the cave mouth overlooking the valley far below, but I had never sat, laid out on the cave floor, hot drink in hand, with the last of the sun's rays washing over me through the Devil's Knuckles, illuminating them as if they were sanctified, setting the young sapling that grows in the centre of the cave mouth, alight, like a candle at the close of day. I was home!

As always, there was evening entertainment laid on by my fellow hikers, stories that brought laughter and information that I would never have learned anywhere else.

Early to bed early to rise, saw a few bravehearts go out to greet the dawn. As for the rest of us, playing with the several inch thick slabs of ice on the Tarns on the way back, was brave enough. How we had survived the night's sub zero temperatures, which had created these frozen pools we were playing on, I thought we were all heroes.

A wonderful hike under blue skies, hard to beat accommodation and fabulously entertaining company. It's going to be tough leaving it behind again as I set sail for my next sojourn abroad.

Thanks guys!

1. On our way up - Devil's Knuckles in background

2. Irene & Hettie enjoying a welcome break

3. George getting some liquid energy down

4. Hole Rock - close to Tarn Cave

5. Irene & Sebastian climbing up Hole Rock

6. Irene exiting from the hole

7. Leader Keith - look no crutches - top of Hole Rock

8. Arriving at the cave

9. Cave entrance

10. Irene on top of overhang above Tarn Cave

11. View from inside the cave

12. Margaret making herself at home

13. Sun setting behind the Knuckles

14. Early Sunday morning sunrise

15. Sunrise through the hole in Hole Rock

16. The Knuckles bathed in early morning sunshine

17. Early morning - Irene with her Knuckles

18. Ice on the tarn above Tarn Cave

19. Can we ski or skate on the ice

20. Sebastian & George showing the thickness of the ice

21. George hiding behind the ice

22. Working our way back down from the cave

23. Reassemble & collect some water

24. One of our Eland sitings