Mkhomasi Wilderness Area, Drakensberg
16-17 February 2013
Hike Leader: John Fourie
Report by Peter Rippon
Photos by Peter, Katy, and Karyn
The cave is a 4km hike from the Mkhomasi office, which makes it a good hike for beginner backpackers. John Fourie was the hike leader, joined by Christie, Keith, Margaret, Katy, Charlie, Karyn, and me. We were also joined on the first morning by Mary Clover s group of hikers who were staying at the Spinney.
Pic 1: Charlie, Katy, and Karyn ready to begin. (Photo: Karyn)
We met at the Mkhomasi office and signed the mountain register. The weather was overcast and drizzly, so people donned their rain gear and we set off. Less than 500m into the hike we were faced with a fast flowing river (the Kumalungana) so it was time to tie our boots around our necks and wade through. We were up to our waists in water, whereas the report from the Cyprus Cave hike three months ago shows the hikers only up to their ankles crossing at the same point, which shows how much rivers can change.
Pic 2: Crossing the river. (Photo: Peter)
Pic 3: Crossing the river. (Photo: Karyn)
Pic 4: Gearing up again on the other side. (Photo: Peter)
Once we had our boots back on, we were off again, climbing uphill for about a kilometre before the land levelled off. The last few kilometres to the cave were a gentle downhill. The tops of the surrounding mountains were hidden in clouds, but at times sunlight snuck through and lit the sides of the mountains, making them shine out from the gloomy valleys below.
Pic 5: Starting the uphill climb; the river is visible below, and further off the Mkhomasi office nestled amongst the trees. (Photo: Peter)
Pic 6: The weather. (Photo: Peter)
Pic 7: Uphill some more. (Photo: Peter)
Pic 8-9: Sunlight sneaking through to light up the mountainsides. (Photos: Peter)
We finally met up with the Nzinga River and followed the path down the bank to Cyprus Cave, nestled under a fast flowing waterfall. We had a snack break in the cave, and then both groups set off together for some further hiking (those of us in John s cave group left our heavy backpacks in the cave).
Pic 10: The Nzinga River. (Photo: Peter)
Pic 11: The smaller second cave is visible on the opposite bank, but we didn t use it on this occasion; Cyprus Cave is further left, hidden behind the hill. (Photo: Peter)
We headed up the long slope of the mountain west of the cave. The top of ridge closest to us was barricaded by a long cliff face, broken in only two places. John led us through the gap on the south-western end of the ridge, and we had lunch at the top of the ridge, overlooking the valley with Cyprus Cave our left, and a ravine to our right that separated us from another ridge of the mountain.
Pic 12: Wending our way up the mountainside; Cyprus Cave is down below, not visible because it faces the other way, but the wide shelf of the waterfall is visible. (Photo: Karyn)
Pic 13: A view through protea trees of the distant mountains. (Photo: Katy)
Pic 14-15: Views from the top. (Photos: Katy)
Pic 16: Our lunch spot. (Photo: Katy)
After lunch, the Spinney group planned their route back to the Mkhomasi office. They chose to go down the other side of the ridge into the ravine, heading south-east down from the mountain. We said our farewells and they went on their way. Our group decided to continue along the ridge to the north-west to find one of the waterfalls that fell down the mountainside.
We traversed the upper slope of the mountain above the cliff and above the sparse tree line of protea trees. After about 2km we found a river cascading down the mountain side, but not the waterfall John had in mind. John and Keith explored a bit further and concluded we were either higher up than the waterfall or we hadn t come to the right river yet. However it was decided to call it a day and head back towards the lunch spot and then down the mountain the way we came up.
Pic 17: A smaller cascade than the one we were looking for, but picturesque nonetheless. (Photo: Katy)
However, the clouds had descended by this time and we were enveloped in mist. This wasn t a problem at first, because we kept the steep upper portion of the mountain to our right and followed the top of the tree line to our left. We anticipated reaching the lunch spot this way, and headed back past many landmarks that we recognized from earlier. However, after a while things started to look unfamiliar, and instead of finding the lunch spot, we eventually reached a cliff face with a waterfall falling from above. Deciding that we would have remembered this if we have come this way earlier (and since there didn t seem to be any way to go further) we turned around. We did a fair amount of back and forth while we tried to find one of the two gaps in the cliff face that would allow us to descend. Keith was armed with his GPS, which only showed us our distance from Cyprus Cave but ensured we didn t move too far in the wrong direction, and John was equipped with his knowledge of the area.
The cloud showed no sign of lifting, and after a while John prepared us for the possibility that we might need to find shelter for the night, but before the light faded John and Keith made another search for a gap in the cliff, and this time they were rewarded with success. It was with relief that we made our way down and suddenly found ourselves beneath the cloud layer and could see all the way down the valley.
After a slow descent we arrived back at the cave and enjoyed snacks and hot drinks before preparing our sleeping areas and cooking our suppers. Conversation was kept to a minimum by the waterfall, because like the other river, the one above us was also swollen with summer rainwater, and the waterfall was a roaring torrent. I can only speak for myself, but I found it strangely peaceful, and that evening was one of my favourite parts of the weekend.
The next morning we awoke to sunny skies. It was the first time I d slept in a cave since my school days, and although the hard ground had kept me awake for much of the night I awoke feeling completely refreshed. Must have been the fresh mountain air! After a leisurely breakfast and a splash of cold water we packed up our things and made the return hike to the Mkhomasi office.
Pic 18: Looking out of the cave the next morning; Katy, Charlie, and Karyn had the spot closest to the waterfall, and set up a barrier to try block the fine spray that made its way in. (Photo: Karyn)
Pic 19: A view from the other side of the cave, the morning sun warming the hills. (Photo: Peter)
Pic 20: The view from my sleeping bag of my morning tea and the muddy entrance to the cave. (Photo: Peter)
Pic 21: Margaret sitting by the river, the cave and the waterfall in the background. (Photo: Karyn)
This was a great hike, which we all enjoyed. I look forward to doing it again.
For more photos of the hike see: Keith s photo report and the photo album by: Katy, Karyn, and Charlie