Day four of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. Written by Robbert Lorriman and photographed by Pall Catt.
20 October – Monday – Day four
My alarm failed again but I awoke at 05h00 and checked the time by 05h02. I called to Pall to wake up. There was ice on our fly sheets. We packed up and left by 06h17. We went straight up the steep, rocky valley to the first saddle then contoured around to the top of the peak. From there we had a long descent into the broad valley to the west of Windsor Castle. The whole area would make an ideal camp. If only we had known yesterday that this lay just on the other side of the ridge. There were cows and horses grazing. We started down the track and soon stopped on exposed rock close to water to make breakfast, almost instantly we were joined by two young shepherds. They claimed to be 14 years old and both had impossibly difficult names. We decided to move on to somewhere more private. I found that my water bladder had developed a leak so I fixed it with some masking tape. The leak slowed. We moved on, and shortly encountered two older Basothos in western clothing near to their gear and their donkey. The donkey was more interested in us than the old guys.
Our passage down the valley was marked by a series of little homesteads. We found a secluded spot out of sight of any of the dwellings and made breakfast. Sated, we continued on and found ourselves at a broad junction of three valleys with a prominent knoll at its centre. We identified the Tlanyaku valley with Yodlers Cascades marked on the map and continued south east up the stream. We had a surprising easy time climbing up the canyon whose contours had looked tricky on the map. The cascades are permanently watered and the winding valley dotted with little single hut settlements. At the foot of the valley we found a closely cropped perfect lawn of lush green grass studded with an even array of little flowers. In the centre of this perfection, as if carefully positioned for a fashion magazine photo shoot, was a serenely grazing pony. We decided not to photograph it as we did not wish to expose our cameras to inquisitive eyes. We both regretted this decision almost as soon as we moved on but the mission was on and there was no turning back.
I had by this stage been drinking the crystalline mountain water straight from stream without using purification tablets. Pall decided it was time to mention this risky behaviour. I explained my rationale but also mentioned that in the welsh hills it is a cliché proven countless times by experience that you will always find a dead sheep in the catchment area of any mountain stream. A mere two kilometres on with perfect waterfalls overflowing with pure crystalline water, there it was, a freshly expired sheep caught midstream at the top of a little cascade. The question of whether or not to purify water was settled. The sheep was lying on its side head down stream with its cheek perched on the spout of a little water fall. The skin around its mouth looked as if it had been nibbled where it had lain in the water. Perhaps the tiny fish, that our shadows chased through the shallow waters as we walked, had already taken advantage of the unusual feast. Afterwards, we debated whether or not the sheep had been left in the water deliberately as some form of slightly refrigerated storage and whether if we informed the Basothos we might be accused of causing the beast’s death.
As we walked, we were constantly harangued by Basotho herdsman. Their excited greetings are shouted across the valley. Their tone sounds quite aggressive. The noisy greetings are quickly followed by a Basotho or two loping across the inclines to catch up with us and see what we might have to offer them. Their agility and swiftness across these landscapes is remarkable. Later, we had a brief chat with two 20 year olds, both with the usual unrepeatable names. They were pleasant, open and not on the scrounge which made a refreshing change.
The final stretch of valley was a big grind up 300m over a distance of 1.5km. The sun shone hot all the way. We had lunch at the top. It was 14h00. Shoes came off to rest the feet. Once rested and fed we made good progress around a long level section of the escarpment with refreshing cloud cover and mist to ease our progress. I twisted my ankle on a small insignificant pebble on the path. It hurt but didn’t slow us down too much. Finally the mist came in and the path ran out. We were at the top of a steep path leading to Keith Bush Camp, one kilometre of vertical descent below us on the highest slopes of the Little Berg. This was a principal drug smuggling route where 18 months previously I had surreptitiously photographed a gang of three heavily burdened smugglers, piled high with contraband, glide down the steep path from Lesotho and effortlessly speed their way into South Africa.
We knew where we were but in the mist and with contradictory maps we couldn’t work out clearly which direction we should take next. It was 17h08. We called it a day. We found an ideal campsite and celebrated 24km and two tough ascents.