After the half marathon in Sabie, a group of us headed out to KZN to hike the Drakensburg. This was a hike I had been wanting to do for some time and I was finally able to get out there and better yet I was going with a group whose company I would enjoy. It ended up being an amazing hike but there were a few sore spots sprinkled in along the way.
Before the pictures of Drakensberg and Lesotho it is worthwhile to detail how we managed to get to the trail head. There were 7 of us which is a kind of magic number for inconvenience. It is too few to buy out an entire taxi without spending twice the normal amount but too many to easily fit in a taxi with all of our gear. Choosing thriftiness over comfort, we made it about a third of the way to our ultimate destination by noon. Most of our driving was still ahead of us and we got stuck waiting for a taxi that was not filling up. We paid our fair, piled our gear, circled around and tried to psychically persuade every traveler to get into our taxi so we could get going (at least I did). Fearing we would not make it all the way on time, we started pursuing other options. A few of us started to seek out someone we could pay to take us all the way to where we wanted to go. It was a long shot but if it worked out, it would save us the trouble of a few more taxi ranks. After some searching, we found a willing driver and negotiated until we finally settled on an equitable price. There was still the matter of talking to the taxi rank.
You see, we already paid the fair to take us to the next taxi rank along the route. An honest and forthright business would be unhappy about refunding customers who decided not to partake in whatever service they were offering but would ultimately refund any money. Since we were dealing with a taxi rank, which takes most of its cues from the mafia, we anticipated problems in getting our money back. We decided to use deceit rather than honesty but I am convinced either way would have yielded similar results. A few tried telling the taxi rank office that some members of our party were feeling sick so we decided to stay in town and therefore no longer need a taxi. The taxi rank refused to give back any money. I suppose we had the option of just leaving our money and getting the hell out of there but like I said we are cheap and it would have justified the taxi's bullying techniques by giving them a cool 630R payday (we have principles to uphold). So we stood our ground and an actual argument ensued. I was not part of the team involved in this process and for good reason. I can be a stubborn and spiteful person and this was one of those situations where it was coming out. I was advocating calling the police, this would have taken hours and probably would have accomplished very little but if it had the slightest chance of interrupting and ruining their day, I was for it. I was willing to camp outside the rank and go into monumental debt by paying each customer twice as much as the fair of the taxi to stay home or walk. I was considering petitioning all of the gas stations in the area to go on a trade embargo with all taxis directly involved and kill their fuel supply. I wanted to start an uprising and squeeze the taxi rank out of existence! Thankfully, it was not up to me to handle this particular situation. It was left to more cheery and hopeful individuals who did not get us kicked out of the rank.
So the argument went back and forth. The taxi rank constitution was quoted to us which was also conveniently never offered for our own perusal. Thinly veiled racism was thrown at us which stung but didn't dissuade anybody. What really sunk us was that a man who had spotted us making a deal for our private taxi tattled. The man who we made a deal with was called to the rank and he had a short chat with the taxi rank officials where he probably had an offer made to him that he couldn't refuse. To no one's surprise, our private taxi was canceled and it was recommended we just work through the taxi rank. Now we were truly cornered and the taxi rank knew it. We had no choice but to go through the entire negotiation process again but this time for more money to go a shorter distance. Eventually after a large amount of grief we finally got on our way. We certainly could have handled the situation better. Maybe we brought it all upon ourselves by not going straight to the taxi rank in the first place but I am not sure we would have gotten a better deal. Perhaps we should have waited to pay the office until we were actually about to go but we only decided that we needed other plans until much later. The biggest lesson learned from the whole experience is that everyone should own cars.
After that whole debacle, the rest of the journey was a breeze. We hopped another taxi and then got a ride the final distance from the owners of the backpacker we were staying in. I slept well that night. The next morning we got our first glimpse of the mountains we would be hiking and everything was right with the world. Here are the photos from the hike.
It should be apparent now that I like signs. They are helpful to tourists such as myself. For my money, there is no better way to indicate certain information, like the name of an area.
The intrepid travelers set out into the wilderness. We got a bit of a late start after we bought our maps and figured out where we were on the maps and where we were going and what all those squiggly lines meant. We then had a few pre-hike beers. The clerks at the reception office did not look like they were placing a lot of confidence in our abilities. They were probably preparing their statements for when the news broke that 7 Americans died minutes after leaving the parking lot.
Up and up and up. The first day was hard, allow me to explain why. The elevation change for the first day was a little more than 1000m. This was the start of the hike meaning our packs were fully loaded. Also, two days prior most people ran a half marathon, one guy ran the entire ultra-marathon, and some walked and ate a lot of candy. So there was some fatigue and candy withdrawal.
That's a pretty cliff isn't it? How about a long story about the hike up to the point where we could see this cliff? There was a serious problem during our first day. As was mentioned, we started late and the hike was difficult. Naturally, people started to spread out according to hiking pace. The plan was to get to the top and camp there since the trail seemed easy enough to follow and it would make the next day easier. The problem started when those in front only made it to the top around dusk and those in the back were only beginning to make the ascent of the steepest part of the trail. The most fit of the group went down to check on the ones behind but they insisted on going ahead, they were fine but justed needed more time. Camp was setup at the top of the pass and dinner was prepared. Occasionally we would look down to see how far along they were by their headlamps. It was about 8 o'clock meaning it was fully dark, it had been rainy and windy for the past couple hours, the temperature dropped about 10 C, and a thick fog rolled in. The last time they were spotted it seemed they were about 30 minutes from the top. In hindsight, people should have gone down at this point to meet them and make sure they got up safely. Instead we waited and they still had not arrived and their headlamps could no longer be spotted. Emergency mode set in and everyone at the top started to panic and assume the worst (one or both injured/dead). Without cell phone reception to call, people went down and did a few sweeps to find our friends but we didn't hear or see them. A search party in the dark would only get someone else hurt so we decided to wait until morning to search again. At daybreak, one last sweep was made before we would have to get help from the park and luckily they were found coming out from behind the rock they slept behind. They had gotten disorientated and wisely decided to find a safe shelter for the night back down the mountain. I had thought for sure that this would be the end of the hike. Surprising, the two who spent the night exposed were undeterred and were actually quite chipper about finishing. In my opinion, this earns even more rugged survivalist points for the two than the night out in the elements does. This was the most dire hiking situation I have ever experienced and thankfully everyone was uninjured in the end.
After finding our comrades and deciding to finish the hike, it was agreed we would take a rest day or in hiker parlance a "zero day" (i.e. zero miles/kilometers hiked). During our zero day I did a little exploring. Our campsite is way down there in the middle. It was beautiful alright but the geography being what it was, we were in a wind tunnel all night. It is orders of magnitude less fun than it sounds.
Flowers gone wild! Notice how much I talk about flowers these days? All you flower lovers should be satisfied by now.
Lesotho has a pretty great natural defense that at one time might have been a huge strategic advantage. Lesotho is however, completely landlocked by South Africa. South Africa drinks Lesotho's milkshake, it drinks it right up! Is it still acceptable to say that?
I did not get any good pictures of the Basotho shepherds. These guys (only guys) were all over the place and were for the most part nice and kept to themselves but a few were incredibly irritating and rude which really put me off meeting any more shepherds. The sheep tended not to be a problem other than funking the valley up with their wet wool smell. I took this picture because this sheep looks like a total badass.
We did not follow a trail once we had made it into Lesotho. We followed the escarpment for large sections but at times it took some honest to goodness map reading. A couple of the fellas handled most of the orienteering and they did a bang up job. I would have gotten us to the end eventually but also would have gotten us lost about 15 times and with fewer people than we started with.
The swings in temperature during this hike were formidable. The evenings and mornings were quite chilly. That first dose of sunlight in the morning was wholeheartedly appreciated. I made the mistake of bringing my light summer sleeping bag which was not quite up to snuff. I used the double zipper feature where you can walk around while still wearing the sleeping bag. I looked the fool but I needed the warmth.
The hiking spread; walking speed, leg length and stamina, thins everyone out. Plus, everyone gets tired of looking at each others stupid faces all day.
It took us 5 days to finish, I might be wrong here because I don't actually remember, it's easy to lose track us such things when hiking. We entered at Giant's Castle and made it to Sani Pass to go back into South Africa. I snapped this in a hurry because I was ready to sit down indoors.
This caption contains nerd references, if you are not into that sort of thing, just move along. I got into big trouble in little Lesotho for taking this picture without asking the owners permission but he wasn't there and I needed to take a picture with this hat. He backed down after I blasted off some lightning bolts.
Being the highest pub in Africa and the only pub for probably a 20 km radius, the owners felt comfortable charging whatever the hell they wanted for everything. Ubuntu was not factored in when they decided on prices for their delicious warm rum drinks with little slices of lemon.
This was taken before the journey down Sani pass. We got into trouble again because we didn't go to the border control office as soon as we got there. The guy was just being a blow hard because he probably doesn't get too many chances to assert his authority. Fresh from our hike, we were not to be messed with, but in this instance it was better to just say we were very sorry and move on back to South Africa.