Getting our winter Berg hit

Location

Destination: 

Mont aux sources

Country: 

South Africa
Trip Participants

Participants: 

Jono Hehrer
Graeme McFerren
Gavin Fleming
Bart Kluskens

 This was supposed to be a mid-winter snow and freeze-your-balls off excursion. Plans changed but we were still subject to the latter. Jono had planned a jaunt to the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho. A two day weekend was deemed to short to do it justice as it's seven hours away. Promising to hit Sehlabathebe another time, we settled on doing the Amphitheatre from Witsieshoek. Of snow all there was were scattered patches remaining after the previous week's fall.

The Sentinel stands just above the start and end point. There is a scramble route to the top, believe it or not.
Witsieshoek / Phutaditjaba must be the closest one can drive to the base of the berg. My, how Phuta has sprawled over the years. What a dirty, scrappy city. You drive though it on your way there and can't avoid seeing it from the top of the berg. An invigorating three hour hike gets you to the chain ladders and up on to the top from the Sentinel camp. The bowl above the Thukela Falls can be tent city at popular times. This time there was thankfully not one tent. The ground is visibly hammered though. There was a group of ice climbers standing by the Thukela who noticed us arriving. They watched as we did, in anticipation, as Jono exclaimed "Hey, I wonder if this ice will take my weight". As his foot crashed through the ice we and the ice climbers did the natural thing and fell about guffawing. Lunch above the frozen Thukela Falls was spoilt only by some loud day-trippers and someone jabbering away on a cell phone. Nothing much could detract from the vista though as we edged languidly along the lip of the amphitheatre, pausing at each crack and rift and minor waterfall, and afternoon malted barley tea. 
We had been forewarned about the regularity of thefts by Bazoots, so were nothing if not paranoid. There was one behind every rock. There was even one that had been lurking around recently, judging by the fresh soccer boot prints in the path. Graeme's rampant imagination was however curtailed when I showed him my boot soles. I had been making the tracks very freshly right in front of him!
We set up camp at sunset in a beautiful secluded valley at the far end of the Amphitheatre, on the Ribbon Falls stream. We went prepared for cold and did it get cold! OK, cold by South African standards. But -15°C plus wind chill is fairly shivery. We know that because the ice climbers who camped at iFidi had a thermometer that read -10°C inside their tent. 
You don't often see me wearing this many layers.What little water had been flowing beneath the ice the afternoon before was, needless to say, solid in the morning. An interesting sort of solid. Patterns and formations we'd never witnessed or imagined had emerged as the world solidified in the windy darkness. Here are just a couple of images--one of a frozen pool that apparently had frozen in successive bursts as the water drained out, leaving contours under the smooth surface and caused some sort of multi-angled stress planes that gave rise to mesmerising reflections and patterns.
If anyone can tell me what these are called, Bridget the Geography Teacher will be mightily impressed (even she doesn't know). If you've ever noticed the roughly circular, bare earth patches on the 'berg plateau, or bare, crumbly banks next to streams, this is what keeps them there and spreading. We saw them in action. Perpendicular to the surface, ice like peppermint crisp grows several centimetres, pushing up the surface of large expanses of soil. When it thaws, a soft crumbly, foot-enveloping material remains, only to be lifted again or pushed off the slope with the next freeze. After spending ice ages at the stream we headed back, this time popping into Lesotho on our way to the peak of Mont-aux-Sources and a lazy lunch, where Bart had his liver spread all to himself. Totally worth it. Here, as on the edge of the escarpment, we were privileged to see several Bearded vultures soaring. The gliders weren't too bad to watch either. Descending, we explored the real source of the Thukela, which is about 3,5km back from the falls. Even at this, the driest period of the year, the source was a bustling wetland. The soil all along from the source was ridden with the tunnels of a lemming-like create endemic to the berg. 
Climbing down the chain ladder was poignant as the last time I'd done it was twelve years ago with Duncan and Kirsten, on my first trip with WEES (and Bridget). 
Next time you're in the 'berg, walk a little slower, take it easy and take a little more in. You'll take a lot more out.
 

Date: 

Saturday, July 27, 2002 (All day) to Sunday, July 28, 2002 (All day)
Activities

activity: 

Mountaineering