Report and photos courtesy of hike leader Keith Ashton, additional photos (40-46) courtesy of Steve Verreynne

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

This hike was initially over subscribed (max allowed in a Berg cave 12), but unfortunately 2 cancelled due to flu & a group of 4 cancelled virtually at the last minute on Friday afternoon & this was too late to give others a chance as we were leaving at crack of dawn on Saturday morning.

However the good news being that this would give our small group of 5 more sleeping space in the cave.

We were a strong group with Steve & Lynda Verreynne & Loga Chetty joining Margaret & myself. After arrival at Bushman's Nek by 08h00 & completion of the formalities we were soon on our way climbing up in the reverse direction of the Giants Cup trail, but as we climbed the wind got stronger, soon reaching gale force. After a short while we turned to look down into the Bushmans river valley & were very please to see in the distance a new roof on Bushmans Nek Hut.

We continued climbing, battling against the wind but making steady progress towards Painters Cave which normally takes about 3 hours but the wind was slowing us down & nearly blowing us off our feet. We did see several groups of Eland as well as Mountain Reedbuck & loads of baboons. Great views of the Devil's Knuckles & Thaba Ngwangwe were appreciated as we climbed onwards past "Twin-Rocks" to reach Painters Cave, our well earned lunch stop.(Very good Bushmans paintings here, the best being up a little slope behind a big rock if you know where to find them).

After lunch & filling our water bottles in the small stream close-by, we faced the daunting steep climb in gale force wind up towards "the gap" & "overhanging rock" where we dropped our backpacks before heading down to inspect Sherry Cave (New) closely. The cave name followed by (New) is due to the fact that the original Sherry Cave is in Wonder Valley & normally accessed from Garden Castle area. It was a bit tricky in the very strong wind entering this cave but magnificent views are to be had from Sherry Cave (New) & includes the view clearly showing "elephant rock" & the scenery beyond. Apart from a scary slip by Steve when exiting this cave we all got out safely - see the photos to see what I mean.

After our 2nd cave of the day we climbed up to our backpacks & after another short climb we were on our way down another valley towards our 3rd cave "White Horse Cave" which we soon reached after a bit of bundu bashing to reach one end of the cave. Besides other Bushman's Paintings there are, as the cave name suggests, beautiful paintings of white horses in various poses. After appreciating the paintings & more beautiful views from this cave, it was downhill to reach a small track which led us to our 4th cave of the day "Whytes Cave" (less than a kilometre away from White Horse Cave) where we were to sleep on Sat night.

Whytes Cave is the tallest cave in the Berg suitable for a comfortable nights sleep & as there were only 5 of us we had loads of space to spread-out & most sleeping areas had been prepared with straw for added comfort. Close-by is a lovely waterfall & pool providing us with fresh water & a place to cool down, although the stream was only running slowly indicating the dire need for much wanted rain in the area. We did see a few flowers but not many as there had been severe burning, but there were signs that plenty of flowers should be seen in the next few weeks if we get some more rain. After supper & a chat & my usual tot of Drambuie it was early to bed for a good nights sleep, although it was still quite draughty.

We arose early on Sunday morning to a beautiful day with the sun casting a red glow in the sky. After breakfast & packing-up we were on our way just after 08h00 to our 5th cave via a different route with more contouring first, passing below White Horse Cave before dropping steeply over several rock-bands & down a rocky valley to Langalibalele Cave. But first, just after leaving Whytes Cave, we looked back towards the cave to take-in the magnificent rock formations & fantastic views all around - what a privilege to be able to hike in these areas. After arrival at Langalibalele Cave we had some snacks (some inc me having lunch) & others in our group took time to view the Bushman's paintings (faint & not as good as the other caves). Also those not previously familiar with this cave were able to explore through the "passage" into the dark back part of the cave & exit at a higher level. Then it was on with the backpacks for a further 5+ km back to Bushman's Nek office - However this time we deviated down to Bushmans Nek Hut to view the new roof etc more closely & we were pleasantly surprised at how good it all looked. Knowing the combination of the locks I was able to look inside each of the 5 dorm rooms & all had new ceilings fitted as did the toilet areas. All the internal walls had also been newly painted, but the same mattresses remained.

With the above in mind don't forget I will be leading a 3-night stay over the New Year period at Bushmans Nek Hut - Why don't you join us if you have not already booked for this great venue.

Thanks to Steve, Lynda & Loga for your enjoyable & friendly company & comradeship during another wonderful weekend in our beloved Drakensberg.

Here's to the next time.

Keith & Margaret

1.Ready to start from Bushmans Nek Office
2.Starting our climb as we view Thaba Ngwangwane mountain
3.Still climbing as we look down onto Bushmans Hut new roof
4.Margaret, Lynda, Steve & Loga - Devils Knuckles in background
5.Now much higher - Garden Castle mountain in background
6.Our next climb as we try to get a reflection in a nearly empty tarn
7.Passing Twin Rocks as Loga gets ready to pose
8. Loga pausing and posing at Twin Rocks

9. A few of the many Bushmans paintings in Painters Cave
10. A few more of the paintings
11. And yet a few more of the paintings
12. Getting ready to leave Painters Cave
13. Loga on his way up a very steep slope from Painters Cave
14.Margaret, Lynda and Steve still climbing up the very steep slope from Painters Cave
15. Approaching THE SADDLE high above Painters Cave

16. Dropping down to visit Sherry Cave (New)
17. Steve ready to take photos inside Sherry Cave (New)
18. Spectacular views from the precarious Sherry Cave (New)
19. Loga, Lynda and Steve very carefully exit Sherry Cave (New) - Don't sleep walk in this cave

20. Making our way down another steep valley towards White Horse Cave
21. Loga in awe as we enter White Horse Cave
22. Another spectacular view as we enter White Horse Cave
23. The Bushman's paintings of the white horses IN THE CAVE

24. Just after our arrival at Whytes Cave
25.Starting to prepare our sleeping areas in Whytes Cave
26. Margaret fully organised in Whytes Cave
27. Lovely pool and waterfall close to Whytes Cave
28. The full height of Whytes Cave and waterfall
29. Making our way back from Whytes Cave on Sun morning
30. Looking back to the rock formations at Whytes Cave

31. Passing below White Horse Cave on our return from Whytes Cave
32. Still on our return from Whytes Cave on Sun morning
33. A bit of an obstacle on our return
34. Still making good progress
35. Steve climbed high just after arrival at Langalebalele Cave (5th cave of our weekend)
36. Ready to leave Langalabalele Cave

37. We decided to check-out the newly renovated Bushmans Hut on our return
38. Good front view of the new roof on Bushmans Nek Hut
39. New ceilings and paintwork in all of the rooms - but still the same mattresses

Additional photos courtesy of Steve Verreynne