MHC - Monk's Cowl Tenting Week End
Monk' s Cowl Nature Reserve
Northern Drakensberg
World Heritage Site
16 - 18 June 2017

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders.

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

With a long weekend ahead Brian planned to spend it with other members of the Midlands Hiking Club at the Monk s Cowl camping site. The weather in June is very cold, and the well-used weather forecast site that many of us use for the berg weather, painted a very miserably cold and wet week end. However, as we were camping at a provided camping site we could load our vehicles with as much warm stuff and hot goodies as we needed, weight was not a restriction. On the other hand, many mountain hikers had booked to camp and sleep in caves all over the high berg and they would have warmth and weighty backpack problems, undaunted these strong hikers were in the berg in their numbers.

After meeting and setting up our tents at Monk's on early Friday morning, the first day hike was started. The weather was unfriendly indeed, cold damp and misty, with very limited visibility for any distance. The plan was to hike to Makurumani Rock, and then see from there. Droplets of fine rain made a pretty picture on the leaves and stems of the tall dry veld grass, and somewhere in the mist we bumped into another group of hikers who were a bit lost. Their map reading and navigation skills were a bit wanting in this poor visibility. Also, they were cold and wet, not at all properly ready for the weather conditions. So, with Brian's help, they were pointed in the right direction.

Later the conditions cleared and a weak sun broke through the clouds. We had by now detoured to follow up progress on a very large mountain house that the owner had started to build 2 years ago. it was still very far from completion. A small dam alongside the road made a splash of colour amongst the dry grass.

From our lunch spot we could see the clouds lifting over the Makurumani Valley, which was where we were heading. The huge Makurumani Rock is quite difficult to see as it is surrounded by thick forest and low scrub, nevertheless once viewed by all we took the path back to camp. A broken style over the game fence added a bit of excitement and later a beautiful mountain getaway cottage gave rise to thoughts of wish it were mine. Getting back to camp a little early had its rewards as we could shower, get warmly dressed and enjoy a leisurely evening of social banter and braaiing.

Friday night the temperature dropped and dropped and by morning the area was well and truly frosted. However, the beauty of the early sunrise on the high escarpment made up for the cold night. Be aware, these magic colours of the rising sun on the mountains lasts only a short while, and then they are gone, if "you snooze you lose" !!.

Today' s task was to hike up past Crystal Falls to the top of the Sphinx, rest awhile, and then tackle the steeper climb up to Breakfast Rock for a well-deserved breather, then head to Blindman' s Corner. The views from the Sphinx of the high Champagne Castle, Cathkin Peak and Sterkhorn surrounds were incredibly beautiful this morning in the crisp winter air. The climb to Breakfast Rock where a rest was taken, and more water taken on board was made a bit easier by the beauty around us.

The long boring flattish walk along the long ridge to Blindman' s Corner was kept beautifully interesting by the incredible variation of colours in the grass, the mountain slope, and in the mountains and sky. A perfect day for hiking. The best thing of all was to see so many hikers of all shapes and sizes spending time in the wonderland paradise. Far in the distance the mountaintop called Intunja, or Gatberg or literally the mountain with a hole at the top , was easily visible. On closer inspection the path leading up to the top of Sterkhorn, or Mount Memory could be made out. Not a climb for the feint hearted. Passing the crowded camp site, we learnt that most of the campers were now well on their way to summit Sterkhorn. Lunch was had just above the camp site.

The trip back down was easier and quicker than the way up, at the Sphinx some hardy individuals had climbed onto the top of the Sphinx which takes a little bit of nerve. Back at camp, another early shower and relaxation time was enjoyed before cold and dark of the night settled in.

Sunday morning was again bright and clear, and as folk wanted to get home relatively early, a short walk was taken to Nandi' s Falls. This walk is a very easy and pretty river walk to the falls that are in a steep valley covered in thick beautiful indigenous forest. The path in the sun was hot, the falls in the shade was cold and dark, certainly not a day for swimming. Due to the contrast of light, it was quite difficult to get some pictures of the falls, nevertheless, some pictures to keep memories of this spot alive, were taken. A rainbow darted across the face of the dropping water, but sadly the camera could not catch the subtle colours.

We took a different route for the way back so that we could look up at the Sphinx high above us, the place we had been on top of and far higher yesterday.

Thanks to Brian and Sandy for organizing the trip, and thanks to everyone else who shared this wonderful week end, and thank goodness, the weather forecasts were so " NOT WITH IT"


When doing day hikes, it is worthwhile to try and get an idea of how long the whole trip may take. There cannot be any worse than having high expectations for the hike only to find out that you have to turn back due to bad timing, before you reach your destination. Especially if children are involved, they may be strong and fit on the way up, but a dead weight on a rushed way home