Drakensberg Gardens - Cottage 3-night mid-week. 24-27 May 2016. Leaders : Keith and Margaret Ashton

Report by Rose Dix, photos by Keith Ashton

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

Participants : Lynda and Steve Verreynne: Margret Kirsten: Margaret Robberts: CHristie Exall;Margie Forbes; Alice Uys; Rose Dix; Keith & Margaret Ashton

Once again, 8 of us lucky hikers shared the Mountain Cottage with Keith and Margaret – and what a magnificient mid-week it was. Four hikers(Margret K, Margaret R , Lynda and Steve) were fortunate enough to arrive early enough to do a new hike with Keith & Margaret, (so here Keith will add the salient details - see footnote below) – but to we late comers, I think a collective sigh of relief secretly escaped us as we viewed the height and terrain which they had conquered.

Footnote from Keith:-
Thanks Rose for your infectious enthusiasm - Just a short note to say that the 4 early-birds on Tues morning joined us for another off-the beaten track hike, firstly up a very steep hill after crossing the Thukelana River about 2 km away from the cottage, then down again before more climbing steeply onto a ridge, parallel to, but high above the road in the direction to Underberg, with brilliant views towards Garden Castle Mountain & the valley below. After the ridge walk it was steeply down into the valley & our return walk was along the Mlambonja River where Steve, Lynda & Margret had an extemely cold swim in an inviting pool, before we met Rose & Margie having a late afternoon stroll. Over the three & a half days most of us did a total distance of about 40 km with about 1000m of ascent. - Another leisurely time at the cottage. The accomanying photos illustrate the views & the good time we had with such friendly & cheerful hikers.

1. Our early group ready for Tues hike
2. On our way up off the beaten track
3. Even further up
4. On our way down to the river through the bundu
5. Steve looking a bit cold but Lynda enjoying it
6. Margret joins in but the other two Margarets & me gave it a miss

The following morning having braved an early morning of a shivery 6 degrees, which to thin-blooded Durbanites, constitutes the original Frozen Wastes. But as always, once we viewed Rhino in the early sun, and the sparkle on the ripples of our first water crossing, we forgot our discomfort and revelled in the companionship and the sheer joy of hiking far away from paths and houses. An easy hike to Keimarg cave which is nestled cozily under a protective overhang, and furnished with dried grass and artistically arranged stone walls (hand-laid by K&M of course!) A few of the more intrepid (read YOUNGER) members followed Keith back up to the Beacon (climbed the previous day but on a different route), while we – the more mature and decidedly more sensible ones, watched them making their way home down an almost vertical slope (oh yes, we DID feel envous!!)

A lovely evening of preparing individual suppers – varying from spartan to gourmet – followed by chats until bedtime which is at the witching hour of 8pm for most of us.

7. Our full group ready for our Wed hike - Christie opting for a relaxing day
8. En-route to Keimarg Cave
9. What a lovely day for a hike
10. Crossing the Mzimkhulu River
11. Taking in the beauty of the waterfall on the Mzimkhulu River
12. Crossing the Sandleni River
13 . The pool on the Mahlhangubo River
14. Taking a break above the pool
15. Too cold to jump in Rose
16. A beautiful spot for a rest
17. Margaret A, Margret K & Margaret R at Keimarg Cave
18. A rocky spot for lunch for Steve & Lynda
19. Margie & Margret near another Ashton built cairn
20. Looking down on those who chose the easy way back
21. Alice nearing the end of our Wed hike

A cosy night filled with dreams of the forthcoming hike, and waking to a cold crisp morning with misty views of Garden Castle..and the brilliant rising of the morning sun. Our last full day hike was new to most of us as we started from behind the cottage and went straight up the rocky, golden-grassed hillside, clambering up to the rockband, and then following a gentle contour to the left where we overlooked KZN office, Swiman Hut and the beautiful campsite .

What followed was a scramble up and down very steep hills – with, wonderfully! – not a path in sight. Most of us had to use the sturdy grass tufts to drag ourselves to the top where we were met with a breathlessly beautiful view of Rhino and the accompanying mountain range, and finding a small army of rock formations and tarns which still held enough water to provide bright reflections. What a magic place...Always something new and enthralling in the mountains if one ventures off the beaten track.

After a leisurely lunch, watching a lone eland bull elegantly picking his solitary way across the lower valleys, we hiked back to the Beacon where we added our stones and nursed our memories before the tricky descent to the valley far below.

Christie – who most of you know, had a serious health setback a while ago, made an amazing recovery this mid-week, and was waiting for us when we eventually got the bottom of this mountain – tears in her eyes as she reminisced about the times we had all hiked together. Christie, we all take our hats and boots off to you

22. Starting our Thurs hike high above the cottage
23. View of the snow on Thurs - again off the beaten track
24. Where are we now - we are here of course
25. Middle of nowhere
26. A horny Steve
27. Another steep climb
28. Alice King of the Castle
29. Margie & Alice in a remote virtually never visited spot
30. Sharing the beauty of remoteness
31. See the enjoyment on their faces
32. Wow the view gets even better - even upside down

33. A lone eland wonders who we are
34. Garden Castle Mountain stands proud
35. Lovely ladies at the cairn high above the cottage
36. A heart shaped rock placed by Rose in memory of Dan
37. Alice with joy - riding the 'rock'ing horse
38. Admiring the intricate rock formations
39. At last on our way down from the steep section
40. Christie did you not read the notice - after meeting our Thurs hikers

The following morning (Friday) is really about Christie's recovery. She and I walked all the way to Three Pools without a rest as she strode confidently along the path...a remarkable achievement. Having reached the Pools, we took a short break and then the main group arrived, singing HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Christie, their voices echoing in the sunlight cliffs. A lump-in-throat- moment indeed. The hiking fraternity at its very best. Congratulations Christie. You are a lady of true grit.

41. Meeting Christie on her birthday at 3-pools on Fri morning
42. Happy Birthday Christie - this speaks for itself
43. What a joy to celebrate Christie's Birthday with friends
44. Bushman Rock 1.
45. A few of the paintings at Bushman Rock 1.
46. Arriving at Bushman Rock 2.
47. Leaving Bushman Rock 2.
48. On our way back to the cottage on last day (Fri)

Now, because I dont ever take notice of important things like distances and what mountain we are climbing because my head is always in the clouds, I will fall back on dear Keith to supply the relevant left brain info. (Keith -Over the three & a half days most of us did a total distance of about 40 km with about 1000m of ascent)

Keith and Margaret – its been said so many times, but never enough...THANK YOU.THANK YOU. THANK YOU. You give so generously of your time and knowledge to make our hikes special and spectacular.