Report and photos by Keith Ashton

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

Twenty two people had put their names down for this popular venue again, but it was a very chilly morning as we assembled in the reserve, so it was still good to have 17 hikers actually participating.

We set off suitably clad at about 08h30 & first made our way from the office towards Shelter Falls Camp & it was an easy downhill route until we reached the top of Shelter Falls, the stream cascading down the shear rock face into the pool far below. Braver members of our group stood close to the shear drop peering over the edge to get a better view - certainly not the place to stand if you suffer from vertigo. From here we took the lovely route alongside & upstream in the Shelter Falls valley - in summer sometimes it is difficult to do this route due to the stronger flows in the stream.

It was then a climb out of the valley & after reaching the top track it was time to strip-off some of our gear as we had thoroughly warmed up with our efforts & in any case the ambient temperature was rising & it was a beautiful day in exquisite surroundings. We continued along this higher track looking down into the lovely valley below & soon we had very good views of the Shelter Falls Camp rustic accommodation. Not long afterwards we saw the beautiful view of Howick Falls in the distance & also looked down onto the small building alongside the Umgeni River which houses the water turbine/generator plant - the original turbine was installed in 1919 & later replaced by a more modern turbine in 1939 which is still operating. This originally generated electricity for "SARMCOL" (South African Rubber Manufacturing Company Ltd).

Next was a descent & then a climb until we reached the top & start of the Black Eagle Trail along the escarpment with beautiful views down to the Umgeni River well below & eventually views of Albert Falls Dam in the far distance. We stopped here for a short rest & snacks & to admire the lovely views all around us. Soon we were passing Anniversary & Hepworth cottages which can be reserved through Wessa for comfortable overnight accommodation.

1. Descending the track to Shelter Falls
2. Dave & Christeen looking down to the pool below Shelter Falls
3. Julia & the group rising from Shelter Falls Valley
4. New hut accommodation for volunteers at Freeme animal rehabilitation centre
5. View of the track down to Shelter Falls Camp
6. Looking down to Shelter Falls Camp

We then descended steeply to Indulu Camp for another short rest before making our way to Cycad Camp for a well earned lunch break & relaxation as we had already hiked 9 km & one or two of our group were starting to feel the strain, especially thinking about another 9 km return route.

After lunch it was decision time in order for those feeling the strain to take an easier route back - but this means splitting the group & the leader has to make this decision as long as we have a minimum of 4 hikers & at least one experienced hiker who knows the route & can act as a leader - As Philip Grant who we all know is very experienced & is a professional guide volunteered to lead those who were feeling the strain as did his wife Christeen who is also very experienced & a professional cultural guide, the leaders decision was easy & we split the group).

The rest of us continued along our planned route back, mostly close to the Umgeni River, diverting en-route to view a lovely shady spot alongside the river which can also be used for swimming (at own risk) as there is a large lovely pool at this point (do not ingest any water or you may regret it).

Shortly after this point we came upon a rather distressing sight of a dead zebra which must have died in the past day or so as it looked very fresh & none of it had been eaten by any scavengers. Continuing onwards we passed below Indulu Camp & eventually reached Inkonka Camp after which we had the very stiff & winding climb out of the valley with much heavy breathing & profuse sweating. As we reached the top track we met up again with the group who had taken the "easier route" & were with Philip but two were taking the strain & had not even reached this point & were not in sight (however they were in good hands as Christine was still with them). At this stage the leader (me) decided to hot-foot it back to the vehicles & drive back to collect the stragglers which I did & they were of course very grateful & they had enjoyed their day & realised it was necessary to build up their fitness, but very well done to them for making the effort with no complaints at all. Everyone arrived back safely & happily after a very nice 18 km hike & looking forward to the same in the future, as everyone knows the more practice accomplished the easier things become.

Thanks to everyone for your company & friendship & especially to Philip & Christeen for your invaluable help so freely given.


7. Our group at Cycad Camp
8. Pat training for her Kilimanjaro Hike
9. Siphokazi taking a photo at Cycad Camp
10. We encountered a recent Zebra death - an act of nature !!
11. Even in the drought we encountered a muddy patch
12. Taking a short break near the Umgeni River
13. Julia's face shows the strain after climbing up from Inkonka Camp