MHC - New Year's Hike - 2015/16
Bushman's Nek Hut
Southern Drakensberg World Heritage Site
31 Dec 2015 - 2nd Jan 2016

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders

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

Keith and Margaret planned the their usual Midlands Hiking Club New Year's eve outing to take place at Bushman's Nek Hut in the Southern Drakensberg. The hut is the last hut on the well known Giant's Cup Trail, a 4 night - 5 day hiking trail in the Southern berg. As the hut is only a short distance from the Bushman's Nek EKZN Wildlife's office, it meant participants could pack a few extra New Years Eve's treats and drinks with them for New Years Evening. Some of the hikers went down on the 30th, and a few brave souls left Durban in the early hours of the 31st, to meet at the hut by 08h30.

Once everyone had repacked their day packs for the day, Keith outlined the days hike, and we set off. The weather was going to be unpredictable, so each hiker packed as they saw fit.

The day started coolish, there were streams and rivers to cross, and the inevitable helping hand was given at crucial times. A good pace was set at the early stages, and one or two started to feel the thin mountain air on their breathing. A rest break was taken for the back markers to "re-breath". Then it was off to Cedric's pool for another rest, and a swim. The area was green, but dry, the rivers low, and the water was warm. From around the corner the magnificent "Devil's Knuckles" stood high and menacing on the skyline. Back at the pool, Keith was the ever watchful "lifeguard".

The heat of the day had now started to be a factor, and Keith changed his earlier plan for a long hard day to a shorter hard day. From Cedric's pool, we headed up the valley towards the foot of the steep climb to Tarn Cave, then turned right, crossed the stream and climbed a rather cheeky steep hill to get into another valley. At the top of the climb, a rest was taken for all to recuperate. A very pleasant surprise awaited us along this climb. The very short but beautiful Protea dracomontana was in flower all around us, and with beautiful colours of red , yellow and white flowers, help us up the steep incline as worked our way upwards, and for part of our afternoon return trip to the hut.

Back at the hut, it was time for tea and Xmas cake, and to watch a brilliant sun setting on the old year. A variety of differing suppers and drinks were enjoyed by the preparing chefs, from simple pre cooked and frozen food, to freshly fried steak, eggs, onions, tomatoes and potatoes. Due to the early start for some, and a long pleasant walk during the day, midnight started at 20h00, when all went to bed.

2016 was ushered in with an amazing sunrise, however rain clouds were gathering, and the forecast was for a wet morning.

However, once again Keith "had a plan" and no weather was going to make anyone deviate from it. So with rain gear on and rain gear off, a new route was followed. The changing weather made the decision hard as what to wear, from full on rain gear to umbrella's, to well - let's get wet if we had to. At times the peaked rain gear was in "sync" with the high peaks ahead of us.

From the hut we had climbed significantly, then followed a long winding path that took us back down to the river. A lot of stops were made to enjoy the ever changing scenery.

A long walk was taken up the valley where the party hoped to have lunch and swim in a large pool. However, the signs of an imminent storm at the pool, help the decision to turn for the hut, and maybe swim later.

The last morning broke very bright and hot. Some of the hikers had planned to head for home after breakfast, and others to do a morning hike. So back at the cars, the homeward bound left the party, and once again were "under Keith's command." He pointed to a mast high up on a steep sided mountain, and said "we won't go there!!!" Well, we did, after much huffing and puffing the mast was reached, the view made for a longer than usual snack break, before we headed down again. Back at the car park, some left for a nearby coffee shop, and some stayed for a swim and lunch in nearby pool. By now the sun was really "up", and the swim in the river was a great ending to a great "Old Year's, New Year" mountain outing.

Thanks to Keith and Margaret for organizing, and leading this 3 day trip.

At this time of the year, one would have thought that water would be plentiful in the berg streams. The fact is, that due to the drought, water is very scarce, and hikers are advised to plan their trips carefully around well known, constant water sources. Check with the officials at your departure point as to what the water situation is at the place where you intend to spend the night. You may have to carry water from far to overnight in certain caves. Ensure that you have adequate water carrying containers to supply you with the water needed for a night camp. This is especially so if one is high up in the mountains.