For some, waking up in a warm bed is not so much a luxury but the norm. But that’s not what life was all about for a young group of adventure hungry friends. This past weekend created some of the most unforgettable memories that any of the 14 hikers have ever experienced.
The adventure began its story in the Mnweni Cultural Village. This small, quiet dimple of the Drakensberg mountain range served as our base camp for the start and finish point of the imminent 45km journey.
From the early hours of Saturday morning, we spent some time doing the final sorting of needed/unnecessary gear, moved the cars, filled up on water and caked ourselves in sunblock. Crucial little factors that need to be taken into consideration.
We left the base camp and set off onto the dirt road that eventually broke off onto a single track trail. Alongside the trail were scattered clusters of huts, the homes of the villagers that inhabit the Mnweni valley. Echoing from both sides of the trail were the excited chants of the villagers children dashing through the grass to get to us… “Sweets! Sweets!” became the general sound for the next few kilometres until we were out of the village.
The valley is engrossed with twisted trails that glance over the mountains. Eventually, our path lead us to our first sleep spot just off the Mnweni River. Camp set up and boots kicked off, a comforting evening was spent with laughs and a joke shared amongst us and a satisfying day of hiking was drawing to a close.
Sunday, on the other hand, was much more unforgiving… we woke up to gushing winds and dropping temperatures that were becoming dangerously piercing on any exposed bare skin. We grabbed buffs, beanies, gloves, thermals and anything else that could shield us from the frosty wind.
Regardless of the bitter conditions, the hike went on and soon enough after all the shivering hands had packed away tents, we were back on the trails making our way up to our biggest challenge of the hike… the Mnweni Pass.
The Pass a small slice of the Drakensberg belt that bears a 6/10 difficulty rating presenting itself as a 1.5 km climb with an altitude gain of 900m. We began the ascent and conditions took a turn for the worst. The early morning wind gushes soon grew to gayle force. Nevertheless, we pushed on. The constant fear of being snatched off the mountains edge by the taunting winds pelting you from above was probably the scariest factor. The occasional drop to the ground and head tuck was pretty much the only skill you needed on the way up. Eventually after a gruelling 4hr climb, we summited.
We settled back into a steady hiking pace, crossing the source of the Orange River and now en route to our next sleep spot, Ledger’s Cave. We hiked for another several hours searching for the cave and we were running out of daylight… fast. But the team were adamant to find this cave, even after the sun had set. Despite our indomitable efforts, the heavens clearly weren’t ready to grant any mercy and with safety becoming more of a concern, the team settled for the evening.
In the Berg, orientation skills are everything. It’s the make or break factor and is something that poses a threat to lives of each hiker if they aren’t up to scratch.
During the night, roaring winds threatening to snap the fragile tent poles echoed amongst the clustered tents and everyone was somewhat on edge ready to assist on the first cry for help.
But soon enough, eyelids got heavy and a few hours of sleep were savoured.
Monday morning finally arrived and as we emerged from our tents, heads turned to the skyline and the most phenomenal site of the pink backdrop behind the silhouette of the Berg made last nights struggle worthwhile.
It then came time to make our way down to our final obstacle, a knee-breaking gaping chasm known locally as Rockeries. Each step took you forward another 2metres with gravel and pebbles sliding forward between the boulders and fallen chunks from the towering walls either side of you. This technical, but beautiful, section of the range lead us back down to the waters edge of the Mnweni River and we were on our final few kilometres back to base camp.
Monday evening we touched back to base and after a final group photo, the Mnweni Pass, Rockeries and everything in between was considered conquered.