30 DEC 16 TO 2 JAN 17

Report and photos by LEADER KEITH ASHTON

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

We always have a good turn-out for celebrating New Year from Bushmans Nek Hut & this year was no exception with 16 participants. Most were staying 3-nights (allowing for 4 day hikes from this base) & the rest staying 2-nights Our participants were Rose Dix, Anna Kapp, Christa Gadd, Margret Kirsten, Saurabh Padwal & two other friends from India (all living in Johannesburg at the moment & working on contracts with a cell phone company), Marie Gurr, Neville Walmsley, Rob Krogh, Linda de Beer, Inky Daly, Eric Essenwein, Helge Mehrtens (from Germany but working in S.A. at the moment), Margaret & Keith Ashton. Besides our group, Steve Stott had phoned me before we left home to ask if he and his young family + brother & wife could join us on a cave hike as they were staying near-by at Silver Streams Caravan/Camping park over the festive season, so on the day we hiked to Mystery Cave we had 22 hikers.

First Day 30 Dec 2016 (Climbing & traversing a long lost Jeep track)

As we had to arrive at Bushmans Nek, complete the formalities & then backpack to the hut, sort ourselves out & wait for some later arrivals, we had lunch at the hut & then we set off on a scorching hot day to first cross the Bushmans River, then follow it upstream before crossing it again to climb up the route of a very old Jeep track. This track was originally hand-built many years ago to zig-zag upwards to a very high point to allow the building of a look-out hut with sleeping quarters & for the transport of look-out personnel & re-supplies when the area was under the control of the Department of Forestry. It was abandoned many years ago as a jeep track & later became part of the old Giants Cup Trail before Bushmans Hut was built & the last section of the route changed & shortened. This route now makes a very scenic hiking route but is very rarely used. The photos illustrate this interesting route.


1. Early arrivals at Bushmans Nek - Eric, Margaret, Christa & Anna
2. We are joined by Margret K & Rose at the hut (+Rob not in pic)
3. Crossing Bushmans River en-route to the very old Jeep track
4. Climbing steeply up the route of the old Jeep track
5. Eric taking a breather - the Devil's Knuckles & Thaba Ngangwe in the background
6. Christa rocking - Devil's Knuckles background left & Thaba Ngangwe right
7. Margret K on the rock (face) - Ash-Wed mountain in distance
8. Ominous clouds building up
9. Making our way down the Giant's Cup Trail route
10. Last section back to the Hut - Giant's Cup Trail seen above

Second Day 31 Dec 2016 - New Years Eve (To Mystery Cave containing spectacular Bushmans paintings)

Another beautiful but scorching hot day as we left the hut, luckily with several river crossings to cool our feet & soak our hats etc. The first section of the route follows the Ngwangwane River up-stream reaching Cedric's Pool after about 5 km & this is where the young family etc joined us increasing our group size to 22. It was then further on alongside the river before crossing it & climbing steeply up to "The Gap" for a short break to take in the scenery all around, with a good view of "Vast Cave" across another valley. From here I indicated where other Bushmans paintings can be found but continued along the narrow & partly overgrown scenic & rugged route to Mystery Cave for a well earned rest in the shade & to view the very good Bushman's paintings before having lunch followed by several members of our group having a swim in the stream not far from the cave. We then took the same way back, quickly building up a sweat in the scorching sun, but the thoughts of a swim to cool-off in Cedrics Pool kept most of us in good spirits but one or two were taking a bit of strain. However what a joy at reaching Cedrics Pool to frolic in the cool water & under a lovely waterfall. Then we still had another 5 km back to the hut, crossing rivers en-route & making our return hike of over 16 km in very hot conditions. At the hut it was cold shower time before supper & drinks & New Years Eve celebrations aptly recorded on the photos.


11. Early morning view of Thaba Ngangwe as the sun rises
12. First river crossing on our way to Mystery Cave
13. Second river crossing - a young family (right) joined us for this hike
14. Two fit little boys standing proudly in Mystery Cave
15. Neville took some strain reaching the cave in scorching heat
16. Lunch in the shade of Mystery Cave
17. Still lunch & rest time in Mystery Cave
18. Anna looking beady & Christa with hi-technology gear in the cave
19. Helge looking happy as we descend from Mystery Cave
20. At The Gap on our way back from Mystery Cave
21. Another river to cross as we head for Cedric's Pool
22. Arriving at Cedric's Pool ready to cool off from scorching heat
23. Inky (our friend from the Mountain Club) very happy to cool off
24. Now this is the life say all of us
25. We are having a swimming time
26. Making our way back to the Hut - Anna in foreground
27. Yet another river crossing on way back to Hut
28. At last a rest & a chat in late afternoon on New Years Eve
29. A sparkling New Years Eve celebration

Third Day - 1 Jan 2017 - New Years Day (To Painters Cave & Langalibalele Cave)

As it was very hot again we decided on an early start at about 07h00, however several of our group having already done 1 or 2 hikes the previous days decided on a more leisurely time but obviously still enjoyed themselves very much. So 9 of our "stronger hikers" set off up from the hut to join the Giant's Cup Trail but our route being in the reverse direction with a continuous climbing height of about 600 metres & about 8 km distance to Painters Cave which has very good Bushmans paintings as the name suggests. In the heat there was much sweating & heavy breathing as we climbed higher & higher but we saw many Eland on our route from a couple of groups of 4 to a group of over 30. We deviated from the trail before reaching Langalibalele Cave to the "off the beaten track" picking up some minor tracks later as we climbed further, eventually reaching the small rock tarn for "upside-down" photos, then on to Twin Rocks" for a group photo & a shady rest. Not too long afterwards we reached Painters Cave where we enjoyed lunch & filled our water bottles from the lovely stream below the Cave. After our lunch & a well earned rest we made our way back, but on reaching an escarpment I suggested another "off the beaten track" route down a rock strewn valley to Langalibalele Cave (all of our hardy hikers agreed to this for a bit more adventure). After a while we reached Langalibalele Cave & did some exploring & climbing on the upper reaches of the cave. Then we explored some of the beautiful areas towards Garden Castle including gullies & magnificent waterfalls - after this we returned to the hut for supper, socialising & a rest - again the photos illustrate our day.


30. Early New Years Day - after the night before
31. Our (feeling stronger group) on way to Painters Cave
32. A large lizard catching the early morning sun
33. Another large lizard basking in the sun
34. Saurabh & friends from India posing in front of the Devils Knuckles
35. Three Eland with Hodgson's Peaks in the background
36. Our strong group still on our way to Painters Cave
37. Up & up we go
38. Time for a quick break
39. The horns of a group of over 30 Eland
40. Reflections - still on our way to Painters Cave
41. Our group at Twin Rocks
42. Getting a bit of shade before we push on to Painters Cave
43. A group of Eland between two rock bands
44. Christa doing her King of the Castle at Painters Cave
45. Seeing what we can find in these rock pools
46. A beautiful very small rock pool full of minute fish
47. Off the beaten track route down to Langalibalele Cave
48. Exploring Langalibalele Cave
49. Helge poses in the shade of Langalibalele Cave
50. Rob looking down from the top of Langalibalele Cave
51. Rugged scene near Langalibalele Cave
52. Three adult Eland with two baby Eland a bit lower
53. Eric, that pool is too far down to have a swim
54. Cascading waterfalls in a beautiful valley not far from Langalibalele Cave
55. Eric getting a few minutes in the shade, away from the scorching sun
56. Getting back down to the Hut on New Years Day after a lovely hike
57. Time for Margaret & Keith's supper on New Years Day
58. Relaxing with drinks at about supper time on New Years Day

Fourth Day - 2 Jan 2017 - To "Halfway Cave" which is also known as "Slab Cave" or "Fisherman's Cave" & lovely pools.

Some of our group had to leave fairly early in the morning for home but the rest of us were to have a relatively easy hike which included swimming in "Overhang Cave Pool" & the big lovely pool beyond "Halfway Cave" - The cave being named because it is half-way to "Bushman's Cave" - Once inside "Halfway Cave" behind the big "Slab" (hence this alterative name for the cave), I challenged anyone in our group to crawl & squeeze into the dark recess of the mini-cave within the main cave & Linda de Beer bravely took up the challenge, as I explained that I had done it several time & she was not to be outdone by an old pensioner. Once at the big pool with gushing waterfall we spent about an hour frolicking & cooling-off & getting massages from the invigorating waterfall. Here we met Philip Grant with two Swiss clients returning from "Tarn Cave" (first night) & "Bushman's Cave" on their second night - the 3 of them joined us for a long swim. After another fantastic hike with much enjoyment in the pools, we returned to the hut, packed our backpacks & said our good byes & returned to the car park to drive home after an excellent 4-days to celebrate New Year.

Thanks to everyone in our group for sharing the time with us & your friendship, good humour & camaraderie.



59. Ready for our 4th days hike beyond Slab Cave on 2nd Jan
60. On our way to cross Bushmans River en-route to Slab Cave
61. Our water babes in Overhang Rock pool
62. Eric under the Overhang cooling off
63. More swimming in Overhang Rock pool
64. On our way to Slab (Halfway Cave)
65. Lovely upper reaches of the Bushmans River
66. Another river crossing before Slab Cave
67. Helge in a precarious position near the pool beyond Slab Cave
68. The beautiful deep pool beyond Slab Cave
69. We met Philip Grant at the pool on his way back from Bushmans Cave
70. Relaxing & drying out near the pool beyond Slab Cave
71. A beautiful flower growing from a crack above the pool
72. Philip trying unsuccessfully to boulder hop across the river
73. The rest of us paddling across the river
74. Our spread-out group steadfastly making our way back to the Hut
75. Linda & Anna travelling light, ready for the way home
76. Christa with the farewell smile as she readys for home
77. Anna, Helga & Inky ready for home
78. All good things come to an end- so homeward bound