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  • There was still much to do especially since we had left around an hour later than planned because Mike battled get away from work in time. But in due course, he picked up the trio of Jeff, myself and Paul. As the sun started to drop like a stone, Paul had to buy a map of the Injasuthi area and Mike had to buy snacks. The Parks-board Office in Petermaritzburg was practically closing and they did not have a copy of the one map we needed, but they kindly made a photocopy for us and we were now finally off to Injasuthi. However, we would have to make up some serious time if we were to make the 1800 gate time. As it became clear this would not happen, Paul called ahead and asked them very nicely if the could leave the gate open for us. Now the final piece of road into the camp is seriously poor, so it took a while for the heavily laden Corolla to bounce and dodge the potholes and detour around the 3 year debunked bridge in the valley.

    We arrived in the dark and cold of the Middelberg night and geared up as best we could for the supposed 7km hike to Wonder Valley Cave. It was headlamps on and 1900 when we illegally set off up into the mountains. After scampering up the short O’Hannigans Pass, the moonlight really took over and we travelled quickly over flat ground. There were a few navigational issues which caused us to double back a number of times and eventually added about 3km to our journey. At 2230 we were happily greeted by our overnight stop. It was a fantastic cave with plenty space, sheltered from the elements and close to a water source. Once we had settled in, it was out with the cookers for tea and noodles. The night in the cave was comfortable, though we did wake up a little late because the sun rose on the other side of the ridge.

    On Day 2 we had 21km to cover over relatively flat ground once we had hit the contour path. The view of Monks Cowl and the surrounding peaks was utterly spectacular and for the first time we realised how deep into the berg we were and began to appreciate our surroundings a lot more. Around 0930 we took a brake on a flat plain and chucked a frisbee around in a sought of tribute to the Prawn Bunny practice taking place at the same time over 250km away at UKZN. When the energy from the oats that morning ran out, we stopped for lunch at an awesome little shady pool next to the trail. This pool, needless to say, was extremely cold. Nevertheless, we were pretty stinky already so a bit of a wash was in order. So it was off with the kit and out came the environmentally friendly soap. To his credit, Mike was the only one brave enough to don the birthday suite and completely immerse himself in the mountain bath. This was followed by girly screams and much laughter.

    It was a little hard to find, but we got to our destination of Keith’s Bush Camp about an hour after the sun had dropped behind the mountains. The setting of the campsite is very impressive as it is situated in a valley where the mountains of the escarpment border three sides and there is a river on the fourth. But because it’s the dry season, the river was exceptionally parched. This was a bit of a worry because in the mountains, water is life, and now all we had was a few sips in our bottles and the last water point was over 2km back down the path. Fortunately, Jeff found what was essentially a puddle no deeper than a can of Coke. It was from here that we replenished our water after filtering through Paul’s slightly snotty handkerchief and boiling it. It was humbling to spend so much time and effort to procure the most simplest of things, things that are ‘needs’ as opposed to ‘wants’. In the mountains you are reduced to the basics of human needs. Its rad.

    At any rate, the position of the campsite also gave us an idea of the size of the challenge that lay ahead because it was at the foot of Grey’s Pass and the mountains that we planned to be on top of the next day. That nights 3 course mountain-meal included tea, noodles with bacon and some chocolate. It was bladdy delicious. Because there was a Pass and much ground to cover on the escarpment the next day, it was early to bed and early to rise. However, we were all sleeping in the tent that night and it was quite a tight fit to say the least. If you turned over, snored or sneezed it would wake pretty much everyone up. As a result of this, we were all up at 0300 and a decision was made that instead of pretending to sleep, we should rather start the day a little earlier. So there we were at 0400 making breakfast under the stars.

    We departed at around 0530 to head up Grey’s Pass, which was over 1000 vertical metres and 3km from the camp. The higher we climbed the more incredible the views were and the more treacherous the path became. Our spacious campsite was a mere speck on the mountainside. There were a couple scrambles as we reached the top of the Pass, and by ‘scrambles’ I mean rock climbing where if you make a bad mistake, you will, err, loose altitude rather quickly. Nevertheless, we all got up safely and took a well earned rest at the end. The escarpment is a very arid place indeed. Nothing grows higher than your shin and everything is kinda the same colour. Following our rest, we ambled down to the river to fill up, breaking the surface ice to do so. But the Pass had taken much longer than expected to conquer and a lot out of us physically, so our planned overnight stop at another cave would have to change. The closest summit to us and the third highest peak in South Africa, Champagne Castle, was an easy choice to make! That said, hiking on the escarpment is not for the weak. The path faded away and the ground became very uneven, thus making it difficult to get into any rhythm or even take a full stride. The wind also picked up and really hammered us on the way to the summit. Reaching the Champagne Castle peak lifted the spirits, and there were many photo’s taken. There was even a little rubber duck called Thrasher in some of them. Feeling a sense of achievement, we ambled down the windward side of the peak to scout out a place to set up camp.

    The Pass we would have to descend down the following day was called Ships Prow Pass, so it made sense to get into that area to camp. On the way there, we saw our first bit of snow on the shady side of a ridge. Others chowed down while I made a rad but modest snowman with a mowhawk. It was about 1400 when we found a flat grassy outcrop around 50metres down the Pass itself. It had everything we really needed: snow for water, shelter from the wind and rocks for seats. And at over 3000metres, it was the highest bedroom any of us had slept in. We sat down on the spongy grass and were asleep within 10minutes. We had definitely earned that afternoon nap. Later, it was time to collect snow and melt it so we could cook our most tremendous supper yet: bacon and cheese with noodles. The mountains make food taste simply amazing. As we patted our full tummies, we were all quietly remembering our horrid night in the tent that felt like a week ago. It was a slight relief when it was decided that we should sleep outside. After supper we set up some rocks to play cards, then it was definitely bed time as it was simply to chilly to do anything else.

    That night we were supremely grateful for the quality gear we had, it did the job and kept us warm as toast. The wind picked up again during the night, making everything outside the solace of one’s sleeping-bag seem chaotic. In the morning we were greeted by the most fantastic sunrise our eyes had ever seen. A red belt of light formed on the horizon as we overlooked the misty valleys far below us. After our final bowl of oats, we melted as much snow as we could for the trip down Ships Prow Pass and said goodbye to the ledge that had treated us so well.
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