Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Hiking with girlfriends in the Berg

I returned yesterday from a most wonderful weekend of hiking with girlfriends in the Drakensberg. It has been so long since I've been in the 'Berg... and even longer since I've seen these friends.

Tracey and I met at gym (step aerobics classes) in the mid 90s. We'd been attending the same class every week (twice a week, I think) for a few months. One day Tracey came up to me, another friend alongside, and proclaimed, "You've been coming to class regularly for long enough that it is time we introduced ourselves. I'm Tracey".

And we've been fast friends since.

We started orienteering together, participating as a pair. And just before she immigrated we won the women's category of the very first rogaining event, which was held in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve (a hot and rugged 8hr event).

The only sadness is that Tracey has been living in the UK for 13 years and so we've seen each other only a handful of times over these years.

If you're a long-time follower of my blog you may remember me doing the Midnight Hell Run with Tracey in 2009. I also saw her in the UK in 2008 when I travelled via London for the World Rogaining Champs in Estonia. We did some lovely runs on horse trails and paths and through farms. I also recall seeing Tracey here a few years after she left, when she returned for a holiday to visit her folks.

I hooked up with an old adventure racing friend, Erica, on Friday afternoon for the drive to Winterton. Tracey's sister lives in this little town. We met up with Tracey and her partner, Fay, at Charlotte's place.

Erica and I expected N3 South traffic to be slow getting out of Jo'burg and for the five-odd hour drive we chatted the whole way!

Although I've known Erica from adventure racing since the early 2000s, we only knew each other in passing. How much we have in common! I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend getting to know her. She is also based in London; I've had news of her via Tracey over the years.

This weekend was also planned for me to get to know Fay, the special person in Tracey's life. This was really a special weekend with three wonderful women.

Of course, the Berg is always a treat and I'm ashamed to admit that the last time I did overnight camping in the mountains was in 1996! I know! All of my other Berg visits have been fast one-day encounters, like various Mnweni Marathons and day hikes.

Our original plan was an out-and-back from Monk's Cowl to Keith's Bush Camp, up Grey's Pass and to camp at Vulture's Retreat.

At Keith's Bush Camp we met a charming group of hikers from Weston Agricultural College. With storms raging above, we decided not to head up the Pass. The boys kindly invited us to camp with them, even offering to make coffee for us. Very sweet. We declined their sweet offer and with changed plans headed down long the pass.

We made camp on a sunny spur and spent the evening watching lightning flashing in neighbouring valleys. The first big storm to hit us had us running across the spur and into a re-entrant. We got lucky because it passed quickly and we didn't get the worst of it. When the next storm hit shortly afterwards, we were in our tents. It was a lesser storm, thank goodness. And then the next storm passed... and the next. Apparently it rained more in the night. I just slept. Like a dead dog. It was quite a night with circling storms.

Our new route saw us waking up and heading for The Cascades and down Jacob's Ladder to the Drakensberg Sun. We had a few light showers and, for the rest, the day was hot and sunny.

We first saw the hotel at around 09h00 but it took the next nine hours to get there! One trail completely no longer exists and most of the other on this section were VERY overgrown. The only way to tell it is a path is because underfoot it is smooth and solid. We went through lots of scratchy lantana and also thorny brambles. Ow!

And so a magical weekend passed and we are left with renewed friendships, new friendships, tired feet, wonderful and treasured memories and some photos of our two days in the mountains.

At the start on Saturday morning. Monk's Cowl office. Erica, Tracey, Fay and me.

How neat is this. "Walking sticks for sale. Please put the money in the tin" Said tin was a Camphor Cream tub.

Heading up and looking back at the trail.

Erica looking towards Cathkin.
At Blind Man's Corner. Now taking the contour path to Keith's Bush Camp.

Heading into the wild yonder. Fay, Tracey and Erica.
Our original plan had us ascending the Berg from the left (Grey's Pass) to get up on top. We went to the base (Keith's Bush Camp) and then turned around.
The spur on which we camped (and watched storms building in the valleys in the far view.

Tracey and Fay waiting for the first storm to hit. Gatberg visible above their tent.

How lovely it is to play in the Berg.
Da storms... they are a-comin'

Brand new day. Ready to head out on Sunday morning.
Rain jackets on. Storms on the way.
A view of the Drakensberg Sun in the morning. It took hooouuurrrsss to walk around and get down.

Lower Berg scenery.

Overgrown trail through The Cascades. Very pretty area. We searched for another trail that is no longer there and then took this one.

Descending Jacob's Ladder. Shortly after we got lower a storm reached the top and there was lightning crackling above our heads!

On the correct trail. A very overgrown trail. Such a pity because this is a lovely section.
We went through lots of nasty brambles and scratchy lantana (I've always called this fern-like plant 'lantana' but my search online shows another plant to be lantana. Do you know what this is called? Ghastly stuff!) 

Late lunch stop. A perfect weekend with friends.
Although the world is 'small' - quick and easy access to countries by plane, the reality is that it is expensive to travel and thus, we don't see friends in other countries very often. We hope to get together to hike again in 2020 (give or take a year). I look forward to it.

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