Journey to the Deep South

Hike report written by Andrew Porter:

Ghaznavid and I started making plans for an Eastern Cape trip several months ago. At the time, I was still planning to run the Skyrun, so we chose dates accordingly. Then, I decided that an extra pair of socks weighs too much and pulled out of Skyrun. Taking the expected turnout for this year’s race into account, it was a no brainer to shift the dates of our trip to a quieter weekend…

By shuffling the dates a bit, we could time it to co-incide both with the end of exams for Hobbit and a slide show for MCSA Durban.

On 8 December, nice and early, we drove out of Pietermaritzburg, target Tiffendell. We passed a record number of trucks before reaching Ixopo (Ghaz does of course keep records of this sort of detail), and shortly afterwards, the Hobbit passed into the Eastern Cape for his first time. We took note of a not-so-random signpost as we passed through Matatiele and another one later on as we got close to the town of Mt. Fletcher. But, this belongs to the second episode, so I will not spoil the story to come.

Soon afterwards, Google directed us onto a dirt road. It started out in good condition and was appreciably shorter than the alternative, so we carried on. About 50km of really scenic driving later, we hit an intersection. Instead of the expected tar road it brought about a rather dodgy dirt road. And a sign to “Naude’s Nek”. Now, in a normal car, you do not want to see this, but we had no option but to carry on. By now, the Google arrival time was making a whooshing sound.

Slow driving got Ghaz’s Etios to the top of a high berg pass, where we stopped at the view point. A sign post suggested that swimming was not allowed. Really, the only pool within 10km is 2cm deep!

We did see a few fields of lucern in full bloom, and it really is a pretty drive. We all agreed that we were happy with the route, but would not have taken it had we known better.

Here, the road improved and before long we had reached the road up to Tiffendell. At parts, it is really steep, and the key signpost says amongst other things “drive confidently”. Ghaz handed the driving back to me, and we got to Tiffendell in mostly one piece.

It is really quiet in summer, but still open, so we were given a tour of the facilities. We all agreed that the grass skis look a bit too dangerous. We had burgers for lunch, in an attempt to sit out the rain. As they were not charging us for the parking, this seemed fair anyway.

We eventually started walking, and headed straight up the ski slope (now grass of course). Pretty soon, a storm rolled over and we all headed over to the nearby wooden fence for shelter from the hail. We later found out that the staff of the resort had seen this manoeuvre!

Once the storm eased off, we continued up the ski slope and got onto a dirt road that takes you all the way to the top of Ben Macdhui. A sign tells you this is the highest point in the Cape, which is of course rubbish. It is though the highest summit entirely in the Cape, as the Lesotho border is a few 100m away. We took the obligatory photos, and noted that Ghaz had now summited as many hiking khulus as me.

We now headed into Lesotho, on a high ridge line, target Thaba Ntso about 15m km away.

We got wet so many times on the trip, that I honestly cannot remember if it rained on us again, but I think it did. At least with thunderstorms, you do dry out and warm up again once the rain stops.

We saw fewer signs of locals than expected.

We found a decent enough campsite shortly before dark, and importantly got the tents up before yet another thunderstorm moved over. Ghaz and Hobbit braved it out with a cold supper and I used some Jetboil magic to warm me up. Thaba Ntso in the background.

The next morning, we woke early and soon reached Thaba Ntso, which at 3020m is the highest peak in the area. It looked like some of the nearby peaks might have been higher than 3000m high, but limited time forced us to abandon them. It turns out that the map does list them as 3000m high! The views from here are really great – the valley to the north is really deep. The views from deep inside Lesotho are a bit different to the escarpment – you trade off the steep dramatic drop on one side for a more complex valley and hill system that provides peaks with far greater prominence in an environment that just seems more 3D.

In the far distance, we could see KwaDuma.

We bagged the all important key saddle of Ben Mac, bagging the summit again on the way back. We got back to Tiffendell dry! Somehow, the trip managed to get in well over 1000m altitude gain, despite starting out at an altitude of 2700m.

I drove down to Rhodes, which sadly did not reveal any petrol or lunch stops. Ghaz then took over the driving on yet another dirt road…We filled up with petrol in Elliot, bought a huge bag of apricots, and narrowly escaped the Pokemon demons lurking nearby.

And then drove off to Matatiele, our over night spot before the Kwa Duma mission.

My photos:

 

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