I find that when experiences surpass my expectations and are almost too incredible to wrap my mind around, time needs to pass before I can revisit them. It has taken me just over a month to be "ready" to write this post.
Now if that hasn't set the scene for this hike, throw in challenge, deathly challenge, splendid humans, perfect weather and reward beyond measure.
Our group consisted of Merv Gavin, Mike Dickens, Michael Relihan(soon to be know as Uncle Mike), Kirsty Love, Scotty Rogers and me(mix). At 5am on the 15th we woke up to cracks of thunder shuddering our tents which were pitched at the Mnweni Cultural Centre. We needed to be waking by 5:30am. I think Scotty mentioned 7times that he thought we wouldn't be hiking that day. Then almost miraculously the storm died down, the clouds parted and a taxi shuddered into the cultural centre. The first 4km of our hike was to be along the dirt road, and what better way to begin than eliminate this. So the bartering began. Soon we were chugging along in a semi-dilapidated cab.
The day began. The first 15km along the Mnweni River made for quick walking. By 10am we were sheltering from the sun in 5 Star Cave. Now for the unknown. None of our party had hiked Fangs before. 3km along the Mubudini River and 4km up the pass. Easy enough we thought. The first stretch incorporated a tad bush-waking but within an hour we had reached the base of the pass. And possibly one of the most beautiful spots along the way.
How can you pass this without a swim?
Fangs Pass is brutal. You enter the river bed and boulder hop most of the way up. There are very few cairns. But it is beautiful.
The final kilometer is along grassy slopes, and you gain 500m altitude during it. Brutal. But every time you turn around and look down the valley your sense of awe urges you on.
We were to spend our first night in Fangs Cave which is in a side gully that joins the pass. If you are heading up the pass the gully is on your left. The cave is about 50m into the gully on the left. It surpassed our expectations. As we reached the cave, at 5:13pm, 10hours 43min later, the afternoon storm rolled in.
The following morning we were up early and began our day with a steep climb out of the gully to the escarpment. We headed down to the river where the brave took a dip in a beautiful pool. We walked along the river's edge towards Black and Tan Wall where the view forced us to take a coffee break.
The remainder of the day was tame walking along the ridge line, with a lunchbreak at the head of Mnweni Pass and a second swim in a glorious pool at the source of the Orange River. This pool was to be the location of Uncle Mike's shave the following day.
We reached Ledge's Cave by midday and spent the day exploring, practicing yoga and generally enjoying the Now. Around 5pm two crazy cyclists rounded the corner to the Cave carrying their bicycles....as they had up Mnweni Pass.
The sunset was one of the most powerful I have witnessed. The sky turned a bright orange before fading black. With the blackness, a storm was welcomed. The storm raged for about two hours above the Bergville/Winterton area. The strikes covering a 50km radius while we sat in the cave, peacefully and undisturbed.
We were up early the next morning and off for a swim before making our descent down Rockeries. At the base of Rockeries a large thunderstorm hit and we motored to the Kraal and infamous dirt road. Met with luck, the village chief had just finished herding cattle and so we hitched a ride back to the Cultural Centre in style.