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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hiking (2002)

A few days ago I had an almost English weather experience, which will illustrate to you why I have grown to hate hiking.

We were in the Drakensberg mountains, and I was convinced to do a 30km hike to the top of The Amphitheatre (or the "roof of africa"). It is a natural rock amphitheatre 1000m wide and 3000m high, and is widely reckoned to be one of the most spectacular views in the world. Also, from the top of this go the Tugela Falls, the 2nd highest waterfall in the world, falling for 1000m. So I thought that the effort of this 7hr hard work climb would be worth it.

So we leave at 7am the next morning in the beautiful warm sunshine, shorts and t-shirt, it's early but all is good. There are 4 of us and we take a local guide with us who knows the way. 1 hour in and we are already knackered, and have done some seriously hairy bits and are pretty glad to be alive. One bit was a sheer cliff 3m wide over a drop of a few hundred metres (ie certain death), and all there was was a 1 inch wide shelf of rock to step your feet on to get across. What's worse there was a small stream running down the rock, and it was slippery with algae. Getting across that boy was a teeny bit stressful, let me tell you. Anyway, what happened then? A cloud comes down on us, doesn't it. Absoultely freezing, wet, and reducing visibility to about 5m.

The guide reckons that it is low, so by the time we get to the top we should be above it. So we carry on, and finally 2hrs later we get to the most spectacular view in the world, and what can we see? All of two things: Jack and Shit. Not even close to funny. We stand on the edge of what looks like a cliff, and I ask the guide how high up the cliff is. He throws a huge boulder off to demonstrate, it doesn't land for 9 seconds, DAMN that's high. We can HEAR the waterfall so we go looking for it. We find it but as suspected can't see anything. Which led to the next fun bit.

By now we are all freezing, soaked, knackered, and not happy, so we decide to head back. Only the fog is so thick that the guide gets lost. After 3hrs walking we have passed the same waterfall 5 times. We finally find an emergency hut 10 metres away that we didn't even know was there. Outside it was a handmade gravestone for an 18 year old girl who had gone up 5 years ago and died of cold, which was reassuring. Finally one of the guys we were with remembers that he has a compass and we manage to navagate our way back to the edge again, and the final bit of fun.

The final bit of fun was a 60m chain ladder going off the edge of a cliff. Not nice at any time, but especially not when you are cold, tired, weak and wet, and your hands are numb. I go and decide to look down, I look to my right and we are HIGH. I look to my left and immediately regret it, the cloud briefly chooses that moment to clear and I see a 3km drop straight down waiting for me if I decide to let go and fall left. Anyway, that all turned out OK and we just about make it down before nightfall.

The next day no-one could walk properly because of our muscles being all mashed up from the effort and cold. And oh look, the mountain is perfectly clear with amazing visibility.

I hate hiking.





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