3 July 2016

Leader: Dave Sclanders; Report by Penny Purchase

Seven intrepid hikers met at the Mountain Park Hotel at Bulwer at 8.45 a.m. to climb the Bulwer Mountain on a very cold Midlands winter morning. Dave Sclanders was our leader and the 4 others from the Midlands Hiking Club were Kevin, Ansie, Bibi and Penny. We met up with 2 hikers from Durban – Frances Chisholm and Logan. Frances, the Consul-General for the USA Consulate in Durban, had spent the night at the hotel, so she was on time. Not the case for Penny! It was a freezing cold morning and a thick frost had settled on the Midlands. Penny delayed the group leaving Amber Valley and incurred the gentle ? wrath of the leader. She had to scrape the thick ice off her car windows, as her little Renault is left in her open driveway in Hilton. Apologies were accepted and the party set off, later than expected.

We went through the gate at the back of the hotel, which needed a key from the hotel staff, to gain access to the trail. Then the climb began …. up and up …. Dave, our leader finding the path and then losing it….. the path not his head! He did get us to the Bushman paintings on several large overhangs, without mishap. Then more climbing, often bundu bashing over tufts of grass. It was tough going and there was a chilly wind behind us. We had 2 short stops, just enough time to eat a banana. We went around the mountain to the back and made our ascent from behind. There were little patches of snow in rock crevices and at the base of the grass tufts on the south facing slope, as we neared the summit. Most of us wore our gloves, scarves and beanies to the top. Dave took a reading at the beacon and this was 2,090 m, so we had climbed 800 meters. This took us 3 hours. Quite a stiff climb but the reward was wonderful panoramic views across the Midlands and to the berg.

We had a short 20 minute lunch break near the pylon at the top – it was sunny but cold with a nippy wind. Hot coffee, sarmies and chocolate went down well. We enjoyed watching and waving to the paragliders, swirling and whirling overhead – hikers and paragliders in mutual admiration! Then our intrepid leader gave the command to get off our butts and start the descent. It was steep and direct. Finding a course over burnt grass was a prickly challenge. We stopped at the paragliders’ level jump off place to admire their skill in taking off, cruising and then landing. They were bundled up against the cold. Dave didn’t let us dally for long. It took us 2 and a half hours to climb down but we kept warm with our constant movement …. Dave sure kept us moving up and down the mountain!

We reached the hotel car park at 3.15 p.m. and said our goodbyes to the two Durbanites, who were swiftly on their long way home. It was a challenging 9.5 km hike with an 800 m ascent. Often it was a case of “pick your own path” as the trail wasn’t clear. Dave forged the way ahead and we all felt safe with this experienced mountain man as our leader. We enjoyed the company and I especially enjoyed quizzing Frances, the Consul-General, about the race to the US presidency, the lure of Trump, the many sides to Hillary, the social issues facing the American citizens and the American AIDS programmes in Africa. A true diplomat in her responses!

It was a challenging, inspiring, enjoyable hike. As always, on a MHC hike, you learn so much -more about your environment, your fellow hikers, your leader’s expertise and your own body’s capabilities ….. and lastly more about our beautiful province of KZN with its hills, mountains, valleys, dams, farmlands and forests. Long live hiking in KZN!