Highmoor Exploration
Highmoor Drakensberg Park
Central Drakensberg
11 - 12 April 2015

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders
[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]

Highmoor is situated in the Central Drakensberg Mountains. It has one of the highest camping facilities in the berg, with a very comfortably protected camp site, with limited ablutions and hot shower. However, once you have driven up to the top, set up your tents, then from then on, it is a matter of going for walks that offer great views all around. There is also trout fishing, and 2 caves to overnight in if the urge to sleep in a cave calls you.

A club hike was organized for the week end, but probably due to the fact that it was so near to the Easter Holidays, there were no takers from the clubs. However, I had wanted to do a long recce to a new part of the berg, so took this opportunity to do this recce with a fellow hiker.

Once we had arrived at our allocated camp site, we parked the vehicle, packed our day packs and headed off on the exploration walk. The Drakensberg at this time of year is very beautiful, calm and clear, the grass just starting to turn to it s winter colours, and plenty of water about.

An uninterrupted view from Giant s Castle to Monk s Cowl just seemed to make the berg seem that smaller. A sprinkling of antelope grazed around us, and just up the hill, 4 Eland were happy to lie and wait for us to get closer before ambling across the skyline into the next valley. Very noticeable were the dark brown strips of treated grass  called tracer lines  that were prepared for the annual burning of the winter veld firebreaks. Burning long , large strips of veld grass prior to the onset of winter helps to control possible run away veld fires in the winter.

Pics 1A - 5 - On the way to the valley

We eventually reached the edge of the Highmoor plateau, and looked down into the awesome valley that we would descend down into, down a very steep and fairly dangerous slope. The normal way of getting out of this valley is up the same very steep slope that you traverse down in the first place. Quite a daunting task given that there no proper paths back up again, and one that spoils the days hike in no uncertain way.

Pic  6 - Ready to drop down into the valley
Pic  7 - The valley below. Awesome from the top, terrifying from the bottom
Pic  8 - The beautiful stream that runs from the heights of Giant s Castle far in the background,
Pic  9 - Down on the stream , easy down BUT what about going back up ?

Higher up the slope on the other side of the valley, is a shelter with Rock Art. It is amazing that after so many years despite many of the paintings being in direct sunlight for part of the day, that they have survived this harsh environment. Freezing in winter, cooked in summer.

Pics  10  15 - Rock Art Shelter
Pic  16  In places it is a sharp drop into the river.

From the shelter one can now look back across the stream, and face the frightening fact, that you now have to climb back up the side of the valley to get to the top, and ultimately back to camp.

Pic  17 -  The Climb

We had decided that we would explore a route that would take us a long way up river, then hopefully find an easier and more friendly route back home. If it was a bit longer, maybe if it was easier, it might be worthwhile. !!!! The animal path we followed was strong for a while but gradually got lost in the deep riverine vegetation. We knew we would have to cross the stream somewhere , but the stream banks sides were very steep, and hidden by very long, hard, sharp prickly grass. After a long hard walk, we saw what appeared to be a path on the other side of the stream that pointed towards a possible crossing place. With much effort, and carefull foot planting, falling into concealed holes, we found a crossing of sorts, and while one of us crossed dry foot, the other fell into the water. As we were now climbing away from water, we stopped for a rest, had a good drink of water, and carried on. After a hard pull out of the river bed, we looked down into the stream, and just above our water stop, we saw the well washed and clean a skeleton of an Eland in the water. It had been there a long time, luckily for us. So, we probably had not found the ideal crossing place.

Pic  19 - Eland Skull & horns in the water

The lower part of the climb was fairly easy, and as we climbed we looked down onto the meandering stream that had caused us some difficulty and time in crossing. The old meander, where the stream used to run was easily see by the lighter colour of the grass in the old streambed.

Pic - 20  21  Old and new stream meander.

Towards the top of the climb, so we thought, the path disappeared in long, twisted grass that made walking very difficult indeed. High steps had to be taken to get the boots above the grass, it seemed to go on and on. Eventually we came to a well used path, and were back at camp in the early afternoon.

On Sunday we again set off on a shorter exploratory hike, to find some paintings I had seen some years. Unfortunately, we did not find the right valley, but we very lucky and amazed at finding some rather large egg shells at the base of a very steep cliff. Looking up, we could make out a very large nest made of very rough sticks and branches. We assumed that this was a nest of a Black Eagle. We are awaiting confirmation from EKZN Wildlife that this is correct. So for reasons of keeping the area safe for the moment, I have left out pictures that may give this site away.

Pics  22  29 A beautiful Sunday in the berg, the Giant tall and proud on the skyline.

We arrived back at camp, had lunch then packed and came home. Other were still quite at home at the camp site, and obviously quite used to camping by the huge covered area that they had put up for the duration of their stay.

Pic 30 A huge tent set up.

The question is, was the exploration hike to find a new route out of the valley a success, under the prevailing conditions, probably not. It was a very tough hike. If the grass was shorter, say after a burn, it could be another route to follow. However, the old adage  what goes down must come up, is very true , and there is very often, not a much easier way to get back.