Rhino Peak: a decade later

On 29 December 2009, a very unfit (and slightly overwight) version of myself stood on the summit of Rhino Peak in the Southern KZN Drakensberg. It was my first Drakensberg pass, my first 3000ers, my first time on the Drakensberg escarpment.

Over the decade that followed, I would stand on this summit a few more times, along with various others.

In April 2016, I would lead a team that included Matthew and Emily, that attempted the summit of Rhino. Unfortunately that was not to be on that day – with Matthew not reaching the summit. A year later, I would return, this time with the goal of getting them both up, along with their father. This time Emily didn’t make the summit.

So when we found ourselves back at Swiman Hut in late December 2019, there were a number of reasons to have another crack at this.

Being just after the summer solstice, sunrise was very early, and at 5AM we were already on the trail. I had hoped to do the peak a decade to the day since my first time, but seeing as the weather forecast was really bad, we opted for 28 December. Technically this would mean that my decade would have started and ended with the same summit – a period covering 3652 days (with 2 leap days in there).

Ironically I forgot my camera at home, so my phone became my camera. This is exactly what had happened a decade earlier.

Picture1.jpg

It was cloudy, but bright. I predicted that we would be in sunlight by around 2600m. It sounds like an oddly specific prediction – but in reality I was predicting the time of day we would be at that altitude and not what the weather would do. A Drakensberg summer day below the cloud is incredibly predictable. I have been through plenty of these and they are almost always exactly the same.

FB_IMG_1578476484703.jpg
Photo by Eugene Burger

We stopped for breakfast at Pillar Cave before heading up Mashai Pass.

FB_IMG_1578476472869.jpg
Photo by Eugene Burger

The pass proved largely uneventful. We were a bit slower than expected, but we first saw sun at 2650m and were properly out of the mist by 2700m. My prediction was noted, although no one seemed particularly surprised that I was correct about this.

Picture2.jpg

Naturally our shoes were wet. Those of us who had been stupid enough to wear long pants (everyone aside from Eugene) also had wet pants from the knee down. It is funny – I did Mashai Pass in almost identical conditions 7 weeks earlier. On that occasion, I had made the obvious call of shorts. I probably just didn’t really think about gear choices on this occasion.

Picture3.jpg

Coming out of the mist, you can feel morale rising. I didn’t really doubt that the team would get up – Matthew and Eugene were far fitter than past attempts, and Emily had been hiking in Canada. But it is still nice to see the group enjoying some sunlight – not to mention that feeling as your clothes slowly start to dry.

FB_IMG_1578476468327.jpg

Picture4.jpg

Weather couldn’t have been much better, and as we rounded the top of the pass, everyone seemed in high spirits.

Picture5.jpg

There was some ominous cloud over Lesotho, and it was getting a bit windy. I knew the conditions and wasn’t worried myself – but I knew our time on the summit would be limited.

Picture6.jpg

FB_IMG_1578476458703.jpg
Photo by Eugene Burger

It was great to finally get that summit shot with all four of us on top. The victory Milo Bar was dished out and a rendition of Green Jelly’s Bear Song may have been performed. But as always, the summit is only halfway.

FB_IMG_1578476452960.jpg
Photo by Eugene Burger

It began to rain as we made our way back to the pass. The combination of rain and wind is never fun, but luckily it was only a minor storm, and by the time we were back at the top of the pass, it had blown over.

Picture7.jpg

The new trail that leads into the riverbed much higher up – rendering it slower and less pleasant – caught us out. This must be the most popular trail at the moment as it is clearly the one most commonly used. This is probably the 4th time in just over a year that I have made this mistake.

Picture8.jpg

I looked around a bit and found the correct trail, which is far more pleasant.

Dropping back into the mist is never ideal, but with the summit behind us, I think we were all looking forward to those rib burgers we would be making back at Swiman Hut!

At Pillar Cave, I finally met Michael B, who I had had conversations with online in the past. Always nice to meet someone out in the mountains!

The walk back was mostly uneventful. Matthew decided to bolt ahead about 3km before the end, supposedly to make hot chocolate for all of us. As we passed the Ezemvelo offices, the skies opened and our final 700m back to the hut was in pouring rain. By the time we reached the hut, we (well, minus Matthew) were all soaked!

I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between my hike a decade earlier and this one – the mist in the valleys, wind on top, rain at the end. Overall a great day out!

2 comments

  1. Great post 🙂

  2. You have a great way with words. It was lovely to read about this very special time the four of us enjoyed together. Thank you for leading us so well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: