Clear, Cool Sehlabathebe Lodge
Bushman’s Nek
Southern Drakensberg
22 - 24 September 2012

Report and photos courtesy Dave Sclanders (additional pics courtesy of Keith Ashton)

Sehlabathebe Lodge, situated in the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho, is a stone’s throw hike from the Bushman’s Nek border post. A comfortable lodge run by the Lesotho authorities in SE Lesotho. As this lodge is so remote bookings have to be done well in advance, to get there and find that some other party has booked the lodge and you have nowhere to go, it could be a long cold night somewhere in the freezing Maluti Highlands. For those who do not book, and arrive and hope that the lodge is empty, and find that it is “legally” occupied – are really bad planners, and very unworthy visitors to this mountain lodge, and also put stress on the well planned visitors who sometimes feel obliged to let the “marauders” in , and so spoil their own wilderness experience.

A group of us , well planned hikers , set off early on Saturday morning for a 3 day stay at the lodge. Passports are needed to go to the lodge as it is in a foreign country, and if one has organized some horse or mule transport to help carry some of your supplies to the lodge, one hopes that they will be on time at the border post to load the extra “goodies”

Pic - 6 South African Police Border Post
Pic - 7 Crossing the first river – this river can get quite high in the rainy reason
Pic - 8 Waiting for the pack horses 5 kilometers down the track from the border – are they going to come ?? If not some hikers have lots to carry by hand.
Pic - 9 The old branch points to the peaks which are our goal for tomorrow.

In our case they were not, so one cannot wait for them , what if they don’t arrive ???? . So all kit was tied onto where ever the owners could on their packs and we set off. The pack animals only arrived much later when we were nearly half way to our destination , much to the relief of the over packed hikers .

Pic - 10 Pack animals taking the load from greatfull hikers.

It was then upwards and onwards , up the steepest part of the climb, where some started to drop back , thank goodness our weather was cool to cold with a slight drizzle, had it been hot some of our party would have found the going very tough on the steepest sections.

Pic - 11 Waiting for some of the back markers at the top of a long pull
Pic - 12 , 13, 14 , The mist swirling , coming and going giving tempting flashes of great the great views around us.
Pic - 15 , the last bridge before reaching the lodge which was still hidden in the mist.

We all reached the lodge in good time, sorted our accommodation out, and found that there were 3 “invaders” , who had not booked in , and so were in our midst for the evening, which rather put a damper on our spirits.

In the lodge garden there is an aloe that grows only in a very selected part of Leshoto, and limited by climatic conditions to these selected areas. It is very protected as it is becoming extinct due to various reasons, one being moved by those “ who must have it at home” of course where it dies .

The late sunset came through the mist clouds and shone a golden hue over the brown mountain grasslands. At the same time the peaks of the 3 Devil’s Knuckles broke through the mist belt.

Pic - 16 Aloe polyphylla
Pic - 17 Golden sunset
Pic - 18 The Knuckles rise above the mist.

The fire place warmed the lounge for the evening, and a well prepared supper was enjoyed by …………

Pic - 19 The warm social lounge
Pic - 20 Supper – steak, eggs, fried potatoes and onion, gravy and thick bread wedges to wipe the plate clean

Next morning the sky was clear for a while, then the mist settled in again, however that did not deter some of us who had planned to climb up the top of the Knuckles. The cool conditions certainly helped with the climb , as we had elected to go up a new route, the top of which was very steep, however with a lot of rests, and the ever changing views as the mist lifted, rolled here and there, then finally settled over the lowlands of KZN, we had plenty to take our minds off the hard climb.

Pic - 21 Good morning – Devil’s Knuckles
Pic - 22 Morning mist over the dam below the lodge
Pic - 23 The climbers
Pic - 24 One of the many beautiful tarns in the area at this time of year

Ascending the new route brought us at a new point at the summit, a point we had not been to before, so skirting the higher ridge to our right, we walked along the contour for a while, and came across a high point we had not been to before. That needed looking at , we turned around and headed up to the top of the ridge behind us, and back to familiar territory. Time was spent going to the top of the Southern Knuckle, lunch and views enjoyed, then the trip back and down to the lodge was started. We had enjoyed great hiking weather, cool, clear and great visibility. The whole day Kwa Zulu-Natal was covered in a great white mist cloud below us.

Pic - 25 On top of the “new peak”
Pic - 26 , 27 Looking down into misty KZN below .
Pic - 28 On top of the South Knuckle
Pic - 29 It’s a long way down
Pic - 30 Number 1 ??????? !!!!!!
Pic - 31 That is NOT the way down

The homeward trip went off without any problems, on reaching the bottom , we were great full to fill our water bottles again – we had had no water all day being on the very summit of the mountain

Pic - 32 Life giving clear fresh cool water
Pic - 33 Great mountain views

Back at the lodge, tea, biscuits and whatever was enjoyed, then some of the hardy decided to go for an afternoon of exploring across the valley from the lodge. There would be no time tomorrow, so NOW was the hour.

This small area around the lodge is blessed with many beautiful tarns at this time of the year. The rock formations are incredible , and hidden amongst the formations are old herder huts, The Arch , Irish Cave , and many wonderful features. The tarns are only have water during the rainy months, and are dry for the rest of the year.

Pic - 34 A window onto the Knuckles
Pic - 35 Blue Pools
Pic - 36 The lodge below the rock formation
Pic - 37, 38 Pools and mountain views
Pic - 39 On top of The ARCH
Pic - 40 The Peak
Pic - 41 Thro the Arch on the Peak
Pic - 42 The Arch and the Knuckles
Pic - 43 View from IRISH Cave
Pic - 44 Flowers in Irish Cave

Back at the lodge, warm fire, good wine and a great supper topped off a great days hiking.

Pic - 45 Cheers
Pic - 46 Tuck In while it’s hot > Thanks to the chef !!!!

The next morning started clear and warm , some of us “broke out of bed” at 0545 to scramble across the dark cold, windy mountain plain to view the sun break through onto the Knuckles. Unfortunately, my camera battery decided it was to early and cold to work , so no pics of this sunrise.

After breakfast , we packed and headed on a different route to get to the cars. A visit to the Arch for those who had visited it yesterday, the onto Tarn Cave , and down the ‘Nose” to Cedric’s Pool for lunch . Then on home

(Thanks to Keith Ashton for the following set of pictures which help complete the story- Dave)

Pic - 47 From the Peak , looking down on the Arch with the tarn and Knuckles in the background
Pic - 48 Above Tarn Cave looking across the valley
Pic - 49 For those who may have read my Newsletter 155, and those who have not (it’s worth a read to see this area under other extremes). Go to pictures 22/23 , and see this same tarn under freezing conditions.
Pic 50 Carefull over the Rock Face
Pic 51 The last long down hill
Pic 52 Lunch at Cedric’s pool
Pic 53 Back at the border – end of a great hike.

Week ends like this serve to highlight the greatness of our mountain heritage. So many people live so close to the Drakensberg, yet they choose to ignore the beauty on our doorstep, and travel to far away places , and never visit their own heritage. What a waste of resources, and what a loss of greatness on their doorsteps.

To all of us who hiked together this week end thank you for sharing this experience , and to Keith , thank you for organizing and booking the whole trip. We are surely blessed for our efforts..