MHC – Garden Castle
Swiman Hut Day Hikes
Garden Castle Nature Reserve
Sothern Drakensberg
EKZN Wildlife
World Heritage Site
16 – 18 December 2016

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders.

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

Katy Hart took the plunge and organized the long week-end break to have a hiking 3 day week end from the Garden Castle Drakensberg Nature Reserve in the Southern Berg. After the usual notices were advertised, 8 people had paid their dues to book into the EKZN Wildlife self catering cottage called Swiman Hut, at Bushman’s Nek. As it was to be a sort of a laid back hiking week end, start times was to be a little later than usual. Also add to the plans that there are a number of short walks shown on the map, and that the week end temperatures would be well acceptable for what was planned.

Many well laid plans of mice and men are bound to run into problems now and then. One car load missed the turn and ended up at Bushman’s Nek, so the early arrivers sort of had tea, and waited. Then the late arrivers arrived, had a quick cup of tea to be ready to walk, and headed for the river just below the hut. But by now the early arrivers were now having some lunch, so people split up went here and there to meet where ever. No problem, no one was going far.

The weather had started to turn to a bit wettish ??, so half decided that there was time to head 3 kilometers up-stream to Pillar Cave . The walk did not seem to be too far, or too hectic. Up along the path, the Orange Watsonia flowers were in spectacular bloom. So walking rate dropped and many photo’s were taken along the way. Later, a bit of a drizzle started, so we picked up the pace, convinced that the cave could not be far. Around the corner the rest of the party were met. They were also on their way to the cave, but turned around because the weather up ahead did not look good. Having discussed it, and felt that the cave was not far away, everyone headed back up the path. . We now had rivers to cross, and as we went further up, the weather looked worse, so the party decided to split, the 4 stronger would go on, and the other 4 would head home.

Pics 2 – 9 Swiman Hut to the big river crossing.

The last bit of path up to Pillar Cave was very worn and eroded, at the cave entrance itself, which is high up the sloop was very wet and eroded from the water running off of the rocks. The cave is easy to find, as the approach to it is dominated by what seems to be a large pillar holding up the roof of the cave. From the hikers book we knew that there would be hikers staying in the cave for the night. However we were very interested to see that there was a tent erected well at the back of this large cave. On asking if they were unsure about the weather, the answer came back , “ No, some of them are uneasy about snakes sleeping in the cave, so put their tent up.!!??” The view from the cave looking up stream was of a very rugged stream bed, and this is part of the path that leads one to Mashai Valley, and ultimately up to the top of the Rhino.

Pics 10 – 11A Pillar cave area.

Needless to say, we walked back in very wet conditions. The earlier party just got back when the rain started.

Saturday mornings plan was to head back along the Giant’s Cup trail towards the Black Eagle Pass. This route would give us great views of the Drakensberg range, mainly the Rhino Peak massive, as well as a long extent of the main escarpment of the area. The early part of the walk would be flat, then a short steep climb, then another long winding way on a fairy even contour path to the Black Eagle Pass. From this point we would then be able to see into the interior of the Underberg farming area. Our early great surprise of the day was to pass 4 very laid back eland on our way to our first climb. All along the way we would enjoy magnificent panoramas of the high berg.

On the way down we would pass a most spectacularly red Protea Flower.

Pics 12 – 22

The afternoon was spent resting around the hut, and the very nearby river. Also by mid-day the temperature had risen remarkably, so it was a very good afternoon not to be walking.

Sunday morning it was decided to head to the ‘NOT SO FAR” and seemingly quite easy walk to 3 Pools. “IN THE BEGINNING, the path was great, spectacular valley scenery, and the small “Protea drakomentana” was starting to bud and flower in specialized eco zones. We decided to take the longer circular route to the pools, but somewhere along the way, the path disappeared – berg paths have a habit of doing that. By now , although still early, the sun was flexing its heat panels, and the temperature rose very quickly to become quite unbearable. Arriving back at the correct path junction, and havibg dropped quite suddenly to a lower level where we could see a very steep drop beneath us, and the path snaking along the valley bottom to a far off place where the pools would be, a halt was called. What would the temperature be like when we had to return up here in the middle of the day, the prospect was frightening, and after all there was a river just below camp. So after a short rest, something to drink, the group turned around and headed for the hut, and shade and cooler waters nearer home.

I must say, Sunday morning was one of the hottest days I have experienced in the berg. I was very thankful that I was not on a hike from A – B, and so was able to get out of the sun early.

Thanks again to Katy for organizing the week end. It is a lot of work that is needed to get this sort of weekend organized. Good new friends were met and made, and the weather , well the weather was the weather. One should learn to expect the unexpected.
Following up on my last paragraph in my Newsletter 255, with such changeable weather, the mountains can be a very dangerous place to be at this time of year. WE experienced a very short hard downpour of rain on Saturday night, the river had risen considerably by Sunday mid morning. A more heavy , long lasting storm could have had serious possibilities for river crossings. Then the very hot day on Sunday leaves one very open to serious sunburn and dehydration, again with possible serious consequences. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED
May I wish all those who have shared our great outdoors with me this year a very Happy and Safe Festive Season. May you share great moments with Families and Friends. Here's to great hiking times in 2017.