MHC/MBP Bushman’s Nek
Whyte’s Cave
uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park
Southern Drakensberg
21 – 22 February 2015

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders

[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]

Whilst this was a combined club hike, only 4 members from the MHC decided to do the hike. Again, the weather promised a mixed weather experience, cool – overcast morning, rain in the afternoon, and not much better on Sunday. With the proper gear, and most crucial of all - knowing the area very well. Hiking in rugged broken, steep dangerous country in thick mist, with the path not all the way, and in critical stages – no path at all, can make for an interesting brain and nerve testing experience.

We left the office at 08h30 as planned, and as expected walked in a cool overcast slight breezy condition. The higher areas were under thick cloud and mist, which we knew we would climb into later. Following the Giants Cup trail heading back to Garden Castle, the path was good, and a good pace was set. The group was strong, and with a combined age of nearly 3 score and 10 years, we did good. We breezed up the hills, then dropped down towards Langalibalele Cave before turning left , following a very faint and lost path up into the high areas. Our combined memories now starting to get into gear. There is no mapped path to the cave, just the following of old animal paths, and then relying on knowing where to go.

Pic – 2- First long climb, high berg a bit misty
Pic – 3 - First rest
Pic – 4 – Up past the big cairn and carry on up –
Pic – 5 – Follow down the hill, until you turn left off the main path into nowhere land

As you climb and twist and turn , old bits of path sort of point you in a direction to head. Here and there on the top of rocky outcrops, cairns can be found that lead you on. Some are knocked down by the local baboons looking for insects amongst the rocks. Rebuild these carefully so that they will be good pointers should you have to come back through thick , sight limiting, grey dense droplets of water. Miss the cairns at your peril !!!!. Don’t build new cairns to suit yourself, some future hikers might aim for the wrong cairn and end up in big trouble. As we continued to climb., a herd of about 40 eland were seen on a plateau above us. On seeing us they took off at speed, when we got to the high point, there was no sign of them.

After the final long climb , we summated the last crest in the area, and had a rest, and looked at the Garden Castle mountain far away in the distance.

Pic – 6 – Rebuild the cairn
Pic – 7 - Eland above us
Pic – 8 – Reflective rest

Following the contour around the base of the cliff, we walked up the valley till the cliffs met the stream that divided the great valley. We would climb over the high ridge on the right of the stream after lunch. A quick lunch was had, great paintings, and great views down the valley. To our right, the “Old Man” looked out across the world.

Pic – 9 – At the base of the cliffs – lunch time
Pic – 10 – 11- Paintings a few of hundreds
Pic – 12 - Lunch with a view
Pic – 13 – “Old Man” on the right

One could feel the change in the air, and 14h30 was getting closer and we still had a hard grind ahead of us. So, crossed the stream, and immediately turned left and started to climb, and climb and climb till we reached Castle Rock on the summit of the ridge.

Pic – 14 – Cross the stream and go left – straight up the side
Pic – 15 – 17 – keep climbing, we came from – down there, till we reached Castle Rock

Resting here for a while, we could see the rain coming in from our left. How much longer would it hold off???. Behind us – from where we had come, looked pretty good With that , we saddled up , crossed the ridge and had to make our way down, down, down a very steep gully to get into the valley where our overnight cave was situated. Not the best place to walk in bad weather.

Pic – 20 – Drop down steeply to the cave far below.
Pic – 21 - There are some tricky places to cross !!, watch where you step.
Pic – 22 – Watch out as to who is watching you !

We stopped in at White Horse Cave for a while to put on rain gear as the rain was now imminent – 14h15 , and set off for our final leg to the cave. Needless to say, some of us were pretty wet by the time we arrived. Fortunately the overhang was very high and broad, so the sleeping area was very dry. Packs were dropped, and water bags were filled. This was a saga in itself, as at the waterfall the wind blew the water all over the place, and we were constantly drenched as we filled our containers. Probably got more wet here that on the walk. Wet clothes were changed for dry, and the local “windy Drier” came into play. Then the sun came out – I think just to tease us, then everything changed.

Pics - 23 – 24 – White Horse Shelter
Pic – 25 – Sleeping area
Pic 26 – 28 – Waterfall and pool
Pic - 29 – Windy Drier
Pic – 30 - High Sunshine !!??

Then, a thick damp blanket of tiny, grayish ,cold droplets of water swamped the area, cutting out all views, and dropping the temperature. The dampness invaded our sleeping area, and clung to our wet clothes hanging on the windy driers of the shelter. It was early to bed . The next morning we were up at 05h30, too long a night in the sleeping bags, which by now were decidedly damp. The weather outside was “not the best for sunbathing!”

Pics – 31 – 32 Late afternoon mist rolling in – it stayed till next day.

WE left earlier than expected, all togged up in our best rain suites, and “waterproof boots – WHAT are THOSE?”

The walk back was interesting from two points of view. Hettie remarked that she had absolutely no idea as to where we were, and Keith did a brilliant job of navigating through nowhere land to get us back onto the main track some hours later. Experience counts !

Pics – 33 - 37 “ I’m walking in the Mist” – NOT the rain ( See pics 8 and 36 , same place 24 hours later)

Once we had dropped considerable height, we walked out of the mist and had some clearing of the area so that walking was a bit easier. On walks like this , in grey, wet nothingness, it does help if one can find the right spot to have a break, and maybe disrobe some of the heavy rain gear. Then take a look round and see what you might see. Wet grass , flowers and plants can be really beautiful with a fine thin covering of thin water and round shiny droplets of water.

Pic – 38 – Breaking into sunshine !!
Pics – 39 – 45 – The beauty and fragility below our feet

The last stretch was down the hill, round the corner, and into the car park.

Pics 46 – 47 Just down and round. !!!

In weather like this – and it can happen at any time, no experience of the area, and no experience of hiking in very poor conditions can be dangerous. Especially if the area is very broken and steep, where the terrain can dictate where you walk and where you go.

A GPS reading of some point somewhere ahead, can be very dangerous as it cannot show all the dips and turns and serious crossing point etc.. Go to new places with people who know. Join a hiking club and learn from the experienced, then try on your own.