MHC – Aasvoelskranz Cave
Highmoor Nature Reserve
Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site
13 – 14 June 2015

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders

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

For those who may not have noticed, the signs at the entrance to the Nature Reserves in the Drakensberg have been changed.

This hike to Highmoor was Katy’s first hike as a leader for Midlands Hiking Club, and we as members of the MHC would like to thank her and Charlie for being prepared to take on a leaders mantle for the club. We really need younger people to come out and take on a leaders task.

We met at the Highmoor office at a reasonable hour as the cave was not that far away, filled in the paper work, and set off at a slow enjoyable pace towards the cave. Just outside of the parking area is a very deep and interesting valley that has many attractive features that not many people know about, or care to explore. So we headed there first, and had an interesting time looking into the valley, and for one, the opportunity to climb down the steep side to the bottom of the valley. The steep sides of this valley offer a number of safe sleeping areas for the resident baboon clan.

Pics - 3 – The stream above the falls
Pic - 4 - The falls
Pics - 5-6 The valley.

Donning our packs we headed for the wall of the lower dam which was our crossing point for another river. In the clear winter air of the mountain morning, Giant’s Castle stood clear and free against the skyline. The high tops, and some valleys of the escarpment, covered in a light sprinkling of pure white snow from a snow shower a few days previously. Blue grey brown and splashes of white were the clear colours of the moment. The water in the dam was still and clear, and as we looked into the water we were lucky enough to see a rather large trout lazing in the water just off the bank.

Heading down the valley a group of 4 Rhey buck broke cover and did their normal trick of dashing at full speed up the hill, then stopping to see if anyone was following - I wish !! From where we stood looking at these speed merchants of the berg, the path spilled down the hill to the stream far below.

Pics – 7-10 On the way

As we continue our way, a couple from overseas passed us, they were on their way to the cave for lunch. When we reached the turn off to the cave, we decided to carry on to nearby high point for our lunch and give them some quiet time in the cave. The views from this high ridge are always spectacular, and despite a cold nippy wind whispering cold thoughts into our ears, we enjoyed lunch and a long and deep view down the farming valley into faraway land.

Pics – 11-14 – Lunch break

It was now time to head down to the cave which entails a very steep, precarious, badly eroded path down to the river bed where the cave is situated in a steep Sandstone Cliff just above the river. Taking it slowly and carefully we all took our own pace to descend, as we rounded a high corner we looked down into the river, and shining white and bright in the cold leafy greenness of the valley bush were two very brave bathers. A third person sitting high up saw us, and gave a loud shout, and the two disappeared into the leafy riverine bush. Beware, as I have said before, you never know who else may be in the area, you know. However, they were happy to climb up past us with a happy giggle. They were not the same two who had passed us earlier. There were a lot of people in this part of the berg – nice to see. !!!

Dropping our packs where we had chosen our sleeping places, it was time to fetch water and check out the stream below, before going on another short walk.

Pics – 16 – 22 – Just enjoying the river scene.

After a good cup of hot tea, it was time to go on a short exploration walk. This included investigating the upper cave, and its river pool, then heading through the gap to another steep cliff , and for those who were not too busy watching the their steps on a very narrow steep ledge like path, had they looked up they might have recognized a large lookalike wind and rain cut bust of a late French President !! ?? After following a badly visible and eroded rough path, we came to an area of rock that contained some Bushman paintings which were done “who knows when” ago.

Pics – 23 – The valley
Pic – 24 - Who’s who ??
Pics- 25 – 28 – Long ago’s art gallery

Later, another look down the valley showed the last warmth of the setting sun on a small rocky patch on the valley floor. Meanwhile, on the shade side of the hill, the cold grayness of a long cold winter’s night was steadily creeping deeper and deeper into the valley. Back at the cave it was time to chat and start to prepare for supper. Meanwhile, high on a cliff across the valley from our cave, an old master baboon caught the last of the days warmth, and at the same time keeping watch while the rest of the troop climbed into their sleeping area in the cliff face some distance away.

Pics – 29 – 32 – “At the going down of the sun”

Fairly early, or maybe a bit later than usual the next morning, a climb back up to the top of the valley brought it’s just rewards. Magical colours on the valley floor, and on the high mountains of Monk’s Cowl area, sun spots and all, made for an incredible vista for the start of another very beautiful day in the berg. For those who have never experienced a berg sunrise, no words or pictures can define the purity and beauty of that moment.

Pics – 33 – 36 – “At the rising of the sun”

As one of our members had experienced a very bad night, and was not feeling up to a long day’s hike, Katy decided that we should head back to the cars straight away. The steep climb out of the valley caught our novice hikers by surprise, and left them rather breathless. You may be assured it was not the view. Reaching the top , Monk’s was clearer than yesterday, and striding purposely along a ridge just away from us , a very seldom seen secretary Bird. They say the “Early bird catches the snake” – or something like that !!. Rounding the corner we walked toward the Giant, then after crossing the stream, and the dam wall, we arrived at the cars. The “breathless ones” now felt a bit better, our “newbies” vowed to get fitter and come again, then it was goodbye – and early home.

Pics – 37 – 43 – The way home

Thanks to Katy and Charlie for a very great week end. May they lead many more in the future.

It’s not how far or how hard you walked, it is about how much you enjoyed the experience. The harder you work at it, the greater the experience. The berg is always enjoyable, just go prepared