Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Drakensberg and Lesotho Part 2

Part 2 (read part 1 first, find it here)

After an incredible day exploring the town near our awesome hostel yesterday, today we ventured to the mountains to climb the top of the Amphitheatre. Although we had seen pictures of what it might look like, we really have no idea what to expect, or how huge these mountains might be. 

We hoped in the bus at about 7.30am and drove for 2 hours, past thatched-roof homes, past beautiful scenery, past huge townships, past runners/ walkers participating in what seemed to be some type of fun run and finally up the mountain to our starting point. 

The bus ride up the mountain was quite interesting. We really should have been in a 4WD but in fact we were in a minibus. The road was unsealed and had many large rocks in the middle of it. I was seating at the back, so every time we went over a rock I jumped a foot in the air. It reminded me of our many wonderful bus rides in Nepal. Luckily this one was only bad for about 20 minutes rather than 12 hours. 

Now that we were all warmed up from our bumpy ride up the mountain, it was time to start walking. Our group, consisting of nearly 30 people began the big climb at about 10am. We had been told that we should get back to this spot at about 4pm, only time will tell if that happened. 

The gang going for a stroll
The walk started off quite easy. We were following a man-made path while trying to see the views of the mountains through the low-lying cloud. Sometimes the clouds broke and you could see the massive cliff faces above you, but only for a few seconds as it got cloudy again.  

Sentinal Peak, what we had to walk around
As we climbed higher and higher we could see more and more little specks of snow, until there was snow all around us. After about an hour of walking our feet were getting covered in snow. Us girls were not prepared for the amount of snow that we saw nor that we would need waterproof shoes. Our runners did not suffice at all. After about 2 hours of walking my feet were quite wet. The only good thing was that the water in my shoe become warm the more I walked (gross I know!), until I stepped into a big patch of snow, then it became cold again!
Emma and her snowball
Oh hello there snow!

The walk also became increasingly difficult the more snow we encountered. We had to carefully walk through the snow and the sludge and make sure we didn't fall over. The rocks that we were walking on became a little bit slippery as the snow melted when the clouds parted and the sun came out. Unfortunately for us that wasn't too often as we climbed up to the Amphitheatre mountain. But little did we know that our hardest challenge was still before us, and it came in the form of a 20m long ladder. We had to climb this ladder to get on the top of the plateau that was the Amphitheatre. I'm not afraid of heights, but climbing this ladder did give me the shakes. It was a metal ladder that was attached at the top the plateau and at the bottom, but not in between. So image you're climbing a pretty unstable ladder more like 2500m above the ground, up the cliff face of a mountain. Just a little bit scary. Oh and it's a bit wet because of the snow. Gosh was I relieved when I reached the top.  

The ladder begins!

Or at least I thought it was the top. But low and behold, there was another ladder. Luckily this one as only about 10m long and the views were definitely worth it when we reached the actual top! Sophie and Gaelle are a little afraid of heights so it was quite an amazing feat that they accomplished, walking straight up a cliff face, on a rickety ladder for 30m. Well done kids :) And we all made it up, fortunately we didn't lose anyone on the way up!

We made it! Emma and Marion
 Once we reached the snow covered plateau (it would have been at least 30cm deep), we ate our lunch. And it was a lunch with a view. We could see out onto the Drakensberg rangers, onto a dam and onto the houses that looked like little specks from the height that we were at. I think our guide said that we were at about 3200m,, crazy town!

Sophie reaches the top, with a lovely view in the background
On top of the world, almost!

I thought that we had nearly finished the walk because by this time it was about 2pm and we were supposed to be back at the bus at 4pm. But if I have learnt anything here, time is not a very structured concept. T.I.A baby (this is Africa). So after a quick lunch, we set off once again, through the snow to our destination which was the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world and the highest in Africa. The snow was getting remarkably deeper and I had given up trying to keep my feet at all dry. I was also towards the front of the pack so that mean the snow had not been broken into as much. I was trying to follow the footprints in front of me but the snow was getting in the way. It took us about an hour to walk what was probably 1.5km across the top of the mountains.  

Lots and lots of snow!
But after much trudging, me falling over while trying to cross a little creek (thanks Marion for getting a photo), getting wet feet, the water warming inside my shoes then getting cold again from the snow, we made it to the Tugela Falls! Phew! Five hours later we were there! The view was pretty glorious. Imagine you are standing on a 1km high cliff, and below you is more mountains, just before those mountains there is a drop of 1km. Well that's we were, at the top of the cliff/ mountain.  

At the top of the Amphitheatre Mountains
The view..

We stayed at the top of the mountain for only a short time because we had to get back to the bus before it got dark. It took us nearly 5 hours to reach the top, but we had to be quicker on the way down because it was already 3pm. We couldn't be walking at 7pm and onwards because it would be dark, and we could possibly fall off the mountain.

 The walk back across the plateau and to the ladders was a lot quicker and easy than before. The almost 30-strong group had created a path through the snow, much like a pack of animals would create a migration path. That's what first sprang to my mind walking back across the plateau. And when I looked across the snow covered mountain top, I did indeed see some animals (no not other humans). I saw baboons! Crazy to think that baboons could be living so high on a mountain top, but there they were. We couldn't get that close to them because the snow separated us, but I don't think I would have wanted to because I hear they can be quite feisty.

What took us nearly one hour to get across, took us 20 minutes to go back. And back to the scary ladders we were. Going down was just as bad as going up, or perhaps even worse, because you could see down the cliff when you looked at where to put your feet. But after what felt like a lifetime my feet hit solid ground, and off down the mountain we went. Down over the slippery rocks, through the sludgy snow, past the rocky terrain and across the beautiful landscape that is Drakensberg.

The sun coming through the clouds

Luckily for us the clouds had cleared and we were able to see the setting African sun, saying goodbye to us behind the Drakensberg ranges. It was such a beautiful site that I think I stopped at least 10 times to take a photo, even though the picture hadn't really changed.  

The view on the way down 

Can you see the people? The scale of how big the mountains were

Finally at just before 6pm we arrived at the buses! It had taken us 5 hours to walk up the mountain and 3 hours to walk down! A total of eight hours! But what a day. The scenery was so amazing that it's hard to describe in this blog (but I hope I've done it some justice). Everyone that walked up the mountain made it down again, even if we did have only two guides for the group of 30. By the time we made it back to our hostel it was almost 8.30pm, and time for dinner! After dinner Marion, Gaelle and I relaxed in the spa (in the middle of the bar), resting our weary feet and warming our bodies from the cold snow. Oh, and we had a cocktail or two in there as well.

It was another glorious day of our Drakensberg and Lesotho adventures. It's amazing how much you can fit into one day, and climbing a mountain in the snow is a fair effort.

Next up we travel overseas (again), well not literally but into another country, that of Lesotho! The country inside the country of South Africa, and the highest country in the world. I'll explain in the blog. Keep reading.

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