Report by Rose Dix; Photos & photo comments courtesy Keith Ashton. Additional pics by Rose Dix


Keith and Margaret Ashton: Margret Kirsten: Margaret Robberts: Steve and Lynda Verreynne:Marie Gurr and Nevil Walmsley: Linda de Beer and Rose Dix

Once again, Keith and Margaret hosted 8 of us in the beautiful cottage near Drakensberg Gardens, looking out onto Garden Castle, which on a clear day, seems one could reach out to touch its parapets.

Most of us had driven up early to enable us to catch the extra hike which turned out to be quite different from the norm, as it was an easy hike(!) – on a Biking Path (Skudla Track)– with softly undulating climbs, even a strategically placed rest-bench overlooking Drakensberg Gardens Golf Course and amenities. After an early lunch break where we had a competition to test who could keep their feet in the freezing water the longest (Steve won!), we laced up our boots to hike up to the Giants Cup Trail which took us on its familiar path back via Swiman Hut to our cars at the nearby car park.

For those of us who have hiked the Giants Cup Trail, we were reminded of the relief of seeing the hut appearing over the low hills. Here we were afforded the delightful bonus of two elegant eland ladies basking on the warm grass near our path. A lovely hike to ease us into the next few days.

1. Day 1 - Steve, King of the Castle - supported by the ladies
2. Lynda - freezing water competition for longest in
3. Margaret's turn
4. Rose's turn
5. Steve's turn & he won
6. Long lost Wildebeest
7. New member Linda near( bath pool) - 2 m deep even in drought
8. A lone eland keeping an eye on us - near the end of day 1.

Having spent a relaxing evening catching up with our friends and welcoming Linda de Beer to our group as this was to be her first hike with Midlands, we tucked up in our cozy beds and fell asleep to the haunting cries of jackals.

What a day awaited us. We set off on a relatively easy route which meandered to the Mzimkhulu River where the path became quite a challenge as its obviously not very well used by hikers going to the various caves in that area (Fun and Verkyker).

After a fairly strenuous 10+ks, we stopped at a magnificent pool for a welcome lunch break. For us who are city dwellers, the absolute glory of these pristine waters and the healing solitude is what keeps us coming back again and again. The river is still running gently, but the small grassland streams are often quite dry – the once luxurious growth of tree ferns now sadly drooping. By this time, we were all fairly tired and feeling that the hike home might be a “bit much”!!! Keith kindly offered us an alternate route, but as it entailed going straight UP , we declined and plodded along the well marked path back home...which proved much easier than we anticipated as it was gently downhill.

9. Day 2 - A happy morning bunch ready for the hike
10. Margaret leads the group onwards & upwards
11. Descending into the beautiful valley - upper reaches of Umzimkhulu River
12. Continuing alongside the river
13. On the route towards Fun Cave
14. After 10 km & half-way its time for lunch
15. Beautiful spot for lunch at a detour from Fun Cave route
16. After lunch - get ready for a 10 km return
17. Time for photos - still in the upper reaches of the Umzimkhulu River
18. heading back to the cottage only about 5 km to go
19. Company from the Shadow Hiking Club
20. Heading down a bit of an awkward slope
21. Only about 3 km to go to end our 20 km day 2

A couple of us had not done this hike before, so a major challenge loomed as we tried not to look at the far-away beacon at the top of a very very steep hill. (Personally, I was worried that I wouldnt make it !) Of course, Keiths prophetic words of ‘ïts not as bad as it looks’....were true, and that wonderful feeling of achievement having reached the beacon was indeed shortlived as the next hill – and the next - and the next – caused much heavy breathing and thoughts of why we do actually hike !...Having reached the top of the top of the top, naturally we had to go down again...this was tricky over freshly burned grass where the small loose stones made for a tentatively slow descent..our journey brightened by a few tenacious early flowers braving the drought and the scorched grass. Controlled fire burns were all around us – far away enough to be impressive without a threat to safety. A late night line of fire traversing the height of Little Bamboo was an awe inspiring sight against the night sky..

22. Day 3 - A stiff climb to warm us up on a cold morning
23. Still feeling good - but a long climb still awaits
24. Still climbing
25. A short rest after first climb & yes we are heading off the beaten track over the mountains ahead
26. Linda just in front of another Pillar Pillar Cave we discovered
27. A good view of the new Pillar Cave we discovered off the beaten track
28. Lynda left & Linda right in the new Pillar Cave
29. Nevil & Marie still on their way up to the cave
30. Linda, Margaret, Margret, Rose & Lynda very happy in the cave
31. Steve enjoying doing his thing
32. The start of what goes up must come down eventually
33. A loose stony descent
34. Margret through the rocking glass
35. As we descend our group poses under a lovely overhang
36. But further along some more climbing - Linda leading the pack
37. And now down again still well off the beaten track
38. A final descent then back to the cottage to end day 3

Always the highlight of the trip – a hike to Three Pools, taking in the two caves with their interesting indigenous trees and paintings. This time, Keith led us on a harder route, climbing up behind the Cottage, and then contouring amongst rocky outcrops, finally meeting up with the well defined path (relief!). A short climb to the two caves where we had a breather and a snack before taking the low road back to Margaret’s celebrated Waffles and Double Cream.

What a marvellous stay-over.

We say Thank You to Keith and Margaret – we say it over and over – and its never enough to convey our immense gratitude for sharing their lives and beautiful new hikes with us. We are indeed privileged, and we all do so appreciate the extra work involved in finding – and marking – safe, new and exciting routes.

As usual, Keith has added the relevant information which I always tend to overlook in favour of my wandering thoughts. A very big WELCOME to Linda de Beer who brought her cheerful, fun and very strong self to join us. What a pleasure to have you hiking with us, Linda.

39. Morning of day 4 on a very different route to 3 pools & Bushman's paintings
40. Small stream crossing before Bushman's Rock 1
41. Linda looking for the myriad of Bushman's paintings
42. Linda, two Margarets & Rose enjoying a rest & view of Garden Castle outside Bushman Rock Cave
43. Linda, Rose, Margaret & Lynda cooling their feet
44. Margret you know that's not allowed on a MHC hike - please pull them up
45. Departing from the lovely bath tub & pool new Bushman's Rock 1
46. On our way up from the pool
47. Looking down on another pool - one of The Three Pools
48. Magnificent view of Rhino Peak from the Thukelana River crossing about 2 km from Cottage

Following photos courtesy of Rose Dix:

Photo 1: Keith doing his "thing"
Photo 2: Keith elaborating in doing his "thing"
Photo 3: Jet skying over the mountains!
Photo 4: Steve "learning the tricks"