The Big Chill (Part II)

INJISUTHI, DRAKENSBERG

Misplaced car keys, a baboon raid and a bout of food poisoning – what more could a bunch of hikers ask for?

Unlike our previous escapade to Lesotho, our overnight hike to Wonder Cave in Injisuthi Valley had been planned months in advance. Luckily, or perhaps ‘ignorance is bliss’ should have applied in this scenario, we had gauged an idea of how cold it would be, and as such were a little apprehensive about sleeping in the open.

1

What would a hike be without a little drama? A misplaced set of car keys resulted in our delayed departure on Saturday morning, having only left our base camp at 10am. Nevertheless we soldiered on through dense forested valley – a steep uphill climb for the first 2.5 kilometres of our hike. After we reached the open plateau, we made our way across rolling hills to be stunned by the magnificent vista of Champagne Castle, Cathkin Peak, Monks Cowl and The Sterkhorn.

2

After a steep descent into Injisuthi Valley we arrived at the Wonder Cave just after 1pm – offering up some of the best views we could have asked for. We settled in, chose our sleeping spots and ventured further down into the valley to have our lunch beside the river, only to have our remaining backpacks completely raided by a troop of baboons, who incidentally, prefer chocolate to bananas. Rookie error – despite not really being rookies.

3

After the sun set behind the adjacent mountain pass, the sky was lit up, casting Champagne Castle into a stunning silhouette. Sunday, 21 June, marked the beginning of the Winter Solstice, and as such, Venus and Jupiter shone brightly beside the moon that evening – a true blessing to be able to experience such a beautiful moment.

4

That evening we donned our layers, lit a small, well-contained fire and sipped mulled Glühwein – one of the best accompaniments to a winter hike. Surprisingly, not one of us complained about the cold throughout the evening, the cave being well sheltered from the elements.

In order to survive an overnight hike – and that is meant in every sense of the word because the cold and the elements are a very real threat in the Drakensberg – here are a few essential items to pack:

  • A good quality sleeping bag – below zero degrees.
  • Thermal long-sleeve top and pants
  • An emergency blanket to place underneath your sleeping mat, preventing the cold from creeping up from the ground.
  • Hiking shoes with good grip and ankle support.
  • Enough drinking water. River water can be drunk the higher you ascend, but ensure the water is running and not stagnant wherever you choose to fill your water bottle.
  • Well packaged, dry foods that are easy to cook and full of energy – packet pasta, instant oats, dried fruit, energy bars
  • A small gas cooker – it is not always permitted to light a fire in the Drakensberg due to fire threats.
  • An emergency First Aid Kit and a GPS / map of the area.

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