Start 06:30 End 16:10 Peak: Namahadi (Free State Province)3275m
True to our word, we are up at 4am. It’s still black outside. None of us slept well. Colin due to uncertainty of the route, and me due to what I discover is a massive bruise on my arse, no doubt a result of the saddle slamming into me during my escapades of yesterday. As soon as the grey starts to show, we drive to the Sentinel Peak car park (see, method in our madness for having schlepped up there yesterday – we don’t have to cycle up there today.) We are the second people to sign in. I contemplate what a lonely job the gate marshal must have at times. A flurry of people in the morning then often nothing to do but wait until they start trickling back. It puts me in mind of old myths where ancient gatekeepers on mountains ask travelers riddles to allow them to ascend the narrow paths. He doesn’t ask us anything more complicated than when we expect to return fortunately.
We shoulder our daypacks and commence the zig-zagging up the mountain side. Occasionally we zig when we should have zagged, resulting in us doing some admiring of the views then backtracking to find the actual route. There was some debate the previous evening regarding our intended route. There are two ways up – the chain ladders and the gorge. Colin’s right hand is still a bit weak after the attack so we decide to not risk clutching to a 40m ladder and go up the gorge. I am secretly relieved as I am not fond of heights, although I have successfully done the chain ladders before with ER Adventure.
There’s still a fair amount of fear-inducing ledges before we get to that point. The paths are sturdy but one slip can send you straight off the edge of a rather steep slope. There’s a mini-ladder up a rockface as well, only 4 rungs long but I decide whoever sited it was a bit of a sadist, or 7 feet tall. I have to do a bit of a scramble and jump up to catch the lowest rung.
The gully is quite a climb. Proper rock scrambling, often requiring use of arms and legs to ascend. It is hard work in warm clothes and I am perspiring rivers by the time we get to the top. There is no easy way up the mountain – while the gully is mentally easier, the chain ladders are certainly physically easier.
After a brief break, we continue our hike in the direction of Namahadi, It’s 6km as the crow flies. We are not crows and must therefore wind our way over several smaller peaks that intervene. There is tufty grass and frequent bogs so it is not easy walking. Occasionally we strike what we think is a path and the ankles are relieved for a few metres but they never last long or head in the wrong direction. I stand on a loose rock at a river crossing and get my feet wet. My socks dry out remarkably quickly (either that, or my toes go numb so I can’t feel the dampness anymore).
Gradually, the peak is visible. A thick cloud of mist is rolling in behind us, fortunately we manage to make the summit before it closes over.
We don’t hang about long as it is cold, windy and we are in need of lunch. Any experienced adventurer will probably tell you that they count the passing of the hours as to how much closer they are to their next meal. We descend and then cluster behind some rocks to try cut off the worst of the wind.
The valley and river spreads out before us. Lunch with a view. It is brief as it becomes very cold when not moving and we must make it down before dark. It starts to spit a bit.
The descents are much harder on the joints and muscles than the ascents, although less cardiovascularly demanding. I feel slightly relieved when the last climb arrives, it’s a steep slog up that I don’t quite remember coming down. As Colin says, the legs were fresh at that early stage and don’t remember the incline.
The scramble back down the gully is challenging too. I adopt what I call the “reverse spider” method of descent, back to the wall and using hands and legs to gradually let myself down the drops. Anyone who has seen a horror film about a possessed teenage girl has probably seen this manoeuvre. I don’t know if I look less alarming.
We take the rest of the hike back down the mountain, once again on demarcated paths, slowly and cautiously. The rain has held off. We are passed on the way down by a busload of ill-equipped schoolchildren on their way up (by ill-equipped, I mean in whatever casual wear they had on, no warm clothing, no water). It is about 3pm at this stage and looking grey. This is how things go wrong on the mountains and quite inexcusable on account of the escorting adults.
Namahadi is the second tallest peak on our 9 Peaks Tour and it was testing. We made it and hopefully learnt a few lessons for the next two big peaks. I learnt that memory foam insoles are not designed for hiking as these get chewed up on the hike. Colin learnt that climbing big mountains the day after pushing your bike up a big mountain is probably not advisable. These last two days were the toughest so far; who knows what the next few days will bring?