MHC – Caracal Cave
Highmoor Nature Reserve
Central Drakensberg
25 – 26 February 2017

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders.

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

Another week end of rather unsavory weather forecasts for the berg, which again saw to it that a once fully booked hike, suddenly had a few gaps. Nevertheless, 8 of us met at Highmoor at the appointed time. The weather was beautiful, the Giants Range was clear, and only a touch away and a myriad of small flowers waved frantically for attention amongst the tall veld grasses. As we crossed the first foot bridge we could see that due to the rains during the week, the streams were running and dancing in sparkling white and blue. fast cool and clear.

(Unfortunately – I did not notice that my camera setting had changed when I put it back into the bag , so pictures 3 – 8 are fuzzy). Nevertheless, the scenery was magnificent for as far as one could see. A little later as we explored around the old cattle kraal, a huge build up of menacing, and warning bad weather clouds appeared over the Giant ( who had been pointing????) ( For those who do not know, there is an old African legend that says – “If you point at the Giant, expect bad weather”. As the lack of drinking water is a problem at Caracal Cave, we stopped on our way to the cave to take on extra water for the rest of the day and for Sunday. The view of valley below the cave was right up to Centenary Hut – if you knew where to look!!.

After lunch we went North along an old forgotten path to see where the cave was that we were to try and get to the next morning. This cave was an unknown cave that I had seen 2 years ago, and had planned to come back one day and an check it out. We soon saw it, down the valley and across the river. It was decided to go down the valley to the river and see if the cave could be accessed from our side of the valley. However, on getting down towards the river, it was apparent that the river valley was very deep and steep, and that some mountaineering with ropes would be needed to get into the cave from the river bed, or from the top of the ridge above the cave. So, that was that, Sunday was suddenly over.

Some decided to head back to the cave, and some decided to carry on along the ridge for a while. On the way back, we saw that the Giant, and the whole escarpment was now under a threatening rain storm, and as it started to drizzle, the wandering group arrived back at the cave, just in time .

Well, the rain came, the mist came, the temperature dropped, and to to long later, we were all in our sleeping bags listening to Margaret rendering her version of that old story of “Albert and the Lion”.

Next morning we woke to a very heavy misty and wet world. We enjoyed a slow breakfast, and packed up slowly hoping that the mist might start to clear. But nothing changed so it was decided to head for the cars, and get a early start home for lunch.

It is not much fun hiking in thick mist, the most important point is to stay on the path, and not look for short cuts along the way, and keep your group close together.

Pictures 4 and 19 taken from the same place on Saturday and Sunday.

As we had hiked out to the cave on a slightly different route on Saturday morning, some of the first time hikers felt a bit lost once we joined the path where we had not walk yesterday. However, the old cairn on the way put a few minds at rest.

The noise of the river that we had crossed on the old footbridge was loud in the gloom of the mist, and once on the bridge, the view upstream , that had been so pretty yesterday, was now a totally different setting.

Compare pictures 2 and 22.

Back at the cars, wet clothes were swopped for dry, soggy boots and hiking gear put into plastic bags and stuffed into the car trunks, and we were on our way home.

After we had decided on Saturday afternoon that the cave that we were to explore on Sunday was not feasible, we had decided to take a back route to Aasvoelskranz cave. This route has no path, and one relies on features and some old animal tracks to find the way. In poor weather this was not an option to be tackled. So the safe alternative, although making the hike much shorter, was to head along the proper path to the cars. Safe, is always the way to go. Exploring in the mist is not the way to go.!!

With the Easter holidays fast approaching, and all the schools in the country on holiday at the same time, the berg camps and caves will be very busy. Do your bookings early, and if you decided to hike on the off chance that the cave or hut might be empty, go prepared to tent,, somebody may be there ahead of you , then where do you sleep. Also carry your booking papers with you, if someone is there on the off chance, they may leave without a fight if you can prove you have booked, or you may have to leave if they have booked.