Late last summer, I went hiking with two wonderful women and slept in a cave for the first time ever.
Christeen Grant is a seasoned hiker and guides small groups of fortunate people to explore the Drakensberg, often. Carol Segal is all round happiness. How lucky was I to have these lovely creatures for company?
In high spirits we set off in the mist from Garden Castle bound for somewhere high in the hills. I am not a fan of carrying stuff, but if you are heading into the Wilderness Area you really do have to!
As some of my friends will know (artichokes around the campfire….), camping is no excuse for bad food. Carol and Christeen are also passionate about local, seasonal, healthy grub – a recipe for success! So, as many of my blog posts do – this one will mention the food. No palm oil laden, instant noodles or over packaged, dehydrated rubbish for us.
Garden Castle is the southern most part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, dominated by the Rhino – a 3051m Peak which extends about 2km from the main escarpment. The rivers are lined with my ‘Berg favourites – Merxmuellera (grass) and Ouhout (tree).
Walking with women who are on the same wavelength is always a joy. We all see the miniature gardens in the stream, notice reflections, the way the ground changes colour underfoot and the subtle hues of the grass alongside us,
the bathing bird, the half submerged, striped river frog, the string of ants, the grasshopper in his smart red and blue uniform, the lizard peeping out of a crack and interesting rocks. Always interesting rocks.
This walk was extra special because we were headed into the Wilderness area. We didn’t see a soul during the whole time we walked – how luxurious is that? Pristine Wilderness is defined as untouched by modern man, where humans are only visitors – areas with an intrinsic wild appearance and character. We are exceptionally fortunate to have these so close to home. No wonder Europeans think the Drakensberg is heaven (I have just observed first hand how crowded their world is).
Wilderness is valued not only for the biodiversity, ecosystem services and beauty, but also for spiritual and symbolic reasons. There are no signs of humanity, no alien invasive vegetation and no signs. You hear only natural sounds, you see no lights, the rhythms of nature dominate. Spending time in Wilderness is without doubt good for you.
We stopped for lunch in the shelter of some tall rocks, where a little stream burbled out of the bank. Carol had picked veggies in her garden that morning to share – so we were assured of good food energy to complete our hike!
TIP: Cos lettuce survives the rigours of hiking better than softer varieties. Seed crackers are super light.
While we were pretty wet, we didn’t mind because the misty light was perfect for photographs. Christeen could identify most of the flowers we found, but I have since forgotten the name of this lovely orchid.
We had intended to climb higher before stopping for the night, but my knees were sore and the mizzle was thick, so we called it a day at Sherry Cave. Amazing how Christeen managed to whip up hot tea out of nowhere!
Sherry Cave was remarkably comfortable! It was off the path, far above the river, where we went for a splash and to collect water, surrounded by grassland with incredible views across the valley. We explored a little, slithered on the smooth river rocks and did lots and lots of chatting before having an early supper.
Organic wheat grown in Lesotho, sundried tomatoes and olives (from the Karoo) and fresh basil pesto. Honestly, it couldn’t have been better if we were at home. There was even a drop of red wine to wash it down with.
TIP: dried tomatoes and dried olives are very light and super tasty. We cooked the wheat before we left and packed in individual locking plastic containers.
We woke to a rosy world as the dawn caught the cliffs opposite. Breakfast was water moistened oats with dried fruit – surprisingly yummy.
TIP: we carried the dry oats in three individual zip lock bags, so we did not have any extra weight – adding a little river water at breakfast time.
With no rain in sight we explored the enormous boulders around us, wandered in the grassland and had another cup of tea before heading off through the flowers.
We splashed and rock hopped across the streams.
We were dying to swim, but which wonderful pool was the best?
Late morning, we did stop for a long laze in the sunshine and skinny dipping in the cold mountain water. I plopped my pack down right next to a snake, who very politely slithered away.
Valiantly, we tried to finish off our delicious picnic food, but couldn’t. I have heard that hikers almost always take more food than they can eat. Sensible I suppose, as who knows what might happen (snow! floods!) and the need for extra rations arise.
As is to be expected on hikes like this, things just keep on getting better around every corner. Just before we reached Garden Castle Camp, we came across a troop of baboons and were able to observe them for ages. How splendid is this fellow?
Oh my word. We were tired, but ever so happy on the drive home to the Midlands along quiet country roads.
Christeen runs Southern Secrets Hiking and Backpacking with her husband Philip, so you could always hire her to take you on an adventure of your own.