Report by Peter Wedge, photos compliments of Keith Ashton

Keith had had this weekend arranged early in the New Year and it was well supported with 15 people and could have been 19 but the Conway’s had the flu bug and had to cancel.

The participants were Stella Wells, Harry Holderness, Christie Exall, Terri de Wet, Kathy Kruger, Peter Wedge, Dave Herselman, Terrance Watkins, Wendy Moss, Max Ramseier, Jacqui Kennedy and daughter Hannah, Apollo Pampallis, Keith (Leader) and Margaret Ashton - A good mix of experienced hikers. Peter managed to cram 6 people & all kit into his “beast” Toyota Land Cruiser with Kathy in foetal position in the back almost drowned by backpacks and daypacks.

FRIDAY - We had full backpacks, our sleeping gear, food etc and daypacks for the next 3 days so had to carry both packs from the KZN Wildlife office to our overnight hut – about 1 km but quite heavy and cumbersome. We offloaded our gear into 5 basic rooms in the hut complex. Each room taking up to 6 people so we had plenty of space with mattresses on the bunk beds – luxury! We set off around 10h00 in the reverse direction of the Giants Cup Trail – (this is a must for anyone who hasn’t experienced this 5 day trail) as far as an old Jeep track. The original track is now derelict, very rough and a bit hard on the feet and we re-traced its original route.

On the way up to where the track continues to an old lookout post we saw a herd of eland – magnificent in movement – literally poetry in motion. A lone jackal was also on the opposite mountain and having clearly seen the eland and ourselves wasted no time in going to ground.

On the way back to the hut and after crossing the Bushman’s river we came across two eland skeletons skull, rib cage, femur etc. These bones have to be left where they came to grief to maintain nature’s balance of ecology. (Probably a bearded vulture would sooner or later have a feast).

A good 10km hike and then our evening meal washed down with chateau plonk and Keith’s bottomless flask of Drambuie.

1. Day 1 - Eland encountered en-route to old Jeep track
2. Hannah taking photo - notice Eland behind her
3. Our group e-route to join old jeep track
4. Taking in the scenery - Devil's Knuckles background centre - Thaba Ngangwe to right
5. Harry - don't jump - Keiweg Peak far away - named by Keith after previous explore
6. Lovely views from our lunch spot
7. Walking down the now derelict old Jeep-track
8. Still downwards on the old Jeep-track
9. Crossing Bushman's River after descending old Jeep-track
10. Crossing back over river towards Bushman's Nek Hut
11. Back at Bushman's Nek Hut resting after a good hike

The following day (SATURDAY) was bright but cool and we had a long hike to Mystery Cave via Cedric’s Pool (same route when going to Lammergeier Cave. Mystery Cave has some wonderful Bushman’s paintings. Keith and Margaret are Rock Art custodians and we were reminded how vital it is to respect these mysterious and beautifully detailed san paintings, some of which are 5 or 600 years old.

We had lunch in the cave area and on the way back some of the ladies braved the chilly water in Cedric’s pool and went in for a swim. The men (wimps) watched and cheered them on! About 16 kms today.

Back in the hut by 15h30 and some of us going for cold showers - actually the accommodation is basic but OK with mattresses on the bunk beds – however tables and chairs would come in handy as only 1 room had such luxuries (well done Keith and Margaret!).

Usual evening fare – noodles, soup, freeze dried kos - exercise actually suppresses your appetite at least for a while/ and then into sleeping bags by 19h30 – long night ahead.

12. Our happy group ready to leave the hut for our 2nd days hike
13. First river crossing on day 2 - to Mystery Cave
14. Lets take a short well-earned break
15. Cedrics Pool en-route to Mystery Cave
16. Harry deciding not to swim in Cedrics Pool
17. After another river crossing we are still on way to Mystery Cave
18. Peter seems to be taking a bit of strain or is it the Jim Green boots
19. A very unusual Bushman's painting of a flower in Mystery Cave
20. Peter sleeping next to Margaret & Christie after lunch near Mystery Cave
21. Harry, Stella & Dave (Herselman) below Mystery Cave
22. Making our way back from Mystery Cave
23. Peter ribbing Apollo for not swimming in Cedrics Pool
24. Christie & Margaret swimming in Cedrics Pool on return from cave
25. Hannah taking a brave dive into the cool (cold) pool
26. Terri & Kathy above Cedrics Pool with Terrence & Wendy below rock

On our final day (SUNDAY) most people wanted to be away by 13h00 so Keith planned a shorter hike up the valley towards Slab and Bushman’s caves. Apollo, Jacqui and daughter Hannah deciding to stay in the hut as Apollo had serious blisters and Jacqui had sprained her ankle. After about 3km we stopped at the river and Christie decided to stay and have a skinny dip on her own. The rest of us walked about a further 2kms to a delightful waterfall and pool for lunch and then picked up Christie on the way back.

Almost 2kms from home (hut) one of the team saw a snake cross the track which turned out to be a rinkhals. These are highly venomous and can spit accurately to about 3m, generally aiming for the eyes. We all kept a conservative distance but a bonus as they are not often seen. The colours on the reptiles back are quite dramatic – gold rings on blackish scales. Keith managed to get a few photos before it disappeared.

Back to the Bushman’s Nek office by 13h00 – we had carried our back packs and day packs to the vehicles at the start of the morning hike to save time and a separate walk from the hut to the office. Apollo, Jacquie and Hannah had made their way down earlier.

Au revoir to all - a very enjoyable weekend with new territory for most of the team. Many thanks to Keith and Margaret for organising the 3 days – always very satisfying to be with people who have a common interest in Berg wilderness areas and wildlife. (See web site for photos of the weekend).

We all look forward to a repeat of the experience probably in a different area of the Berg.

27. Overhang Pool (Cave Pool) on 3rd days hike
28. Overhang Pool (where Christie skinny-dipped)
29. Lunch spot 3rd day - by Bushman's River
30. Terrence & Wendy relaxing after lunch by the river
31. Rinkhals getting ready to spit
32. Rinkhals sneaks away (without spitting) - nearing the end our 3rd day