Start 07:30 End 18:00 Peak: Kwaduma (Eastern Cape) 3019m
We intend to start our climb of Kwaduma at first light. Unfortunately, we take a wrong turn on the way to the start and the sun has already been up about an hour by the time we start. We have been up almost 4. Unlike the other two peaks in the Berg, Kwaduma isn’t in a reserve. No fees, no registration with mountain rescue, no track maintenance. It’s an approximately 12 hour round trip though the wilderness between SA and Lesotho. The land in between is open space, utilised by the local people to raise cattle, goats and sheep. The start is a grassy plain next to the roadside from the village of Tabase.
We walk up the first part of the hill with some locals from the village; they have 8 steers yoked together, for the purpose of dragging a tree back home. We look around; there are no nearby trees. He assures us there are some further on. I suspect as the years go on, him and his cattle will have to walk further and further to procure firewood. He asks where we are going. We tell him, “Kwaduma”. He asks if we are sleeping up there and looks very surprised when we tell him we intend coming back the same day. Never a promising sign when those who know the mountain well question your choices…
The mountain side is a labyrinth of cattle paths and footpaths. There are contour paths at multiple levels. They all appear to head in the same direction, so we pick one and gradually increase altitude up the mountain.
We can’t find an obvious path to the gap in the escarpment so we hike up a ridge, scramble up some rocks and manage to pass over onto the plateau. From here, it’s just straight on towards the peak. There are lots of cattle grazing as well as herds of Basotho ponies.
We stop for lunch just below the summit of Kwaduma. As I eat my sandwich, I wonder how many sarmies I have eaten in various isolated spots across the country, not only on this journey but on previous trips as well. Not all of them have had as great views as this one – miles of green mountains and streams splayed out below my feet. However, on a long, hot 100km cycle, even a simple snack under the shade of the only roadside tree for kilometres is luxury.
Kwaduma has fantastic views over the countryside on all directions. It’s windy (as is usual for these peaks) and we are under time pressure (as usual) so after a few pictures we head back down. Colin says, “This is the part of the mountain we came up but I wonder if there’s a quicker way down.” I point out that there is always a quicker way down but we might not necessarily want to take it. Unfortunately, I don’t have sufficient bubble wrap on me to test an alternative method of descent so we stick to the old fashioned method of jarring our joints down the slopes. My blistered feet have still not healed and my feet ache. There’s nothing else to do but keep moving forward though, so that’s what we do.
Once down the escarpment and back on the ridge, we encounter a local grazing his loyal Basotho pony. I can see the hide of a freshly caught hare sticking out his saddle bag. I wonder what my horse would do when faced with the prospect of lugging a dead rabbit around. Colin asks him for the quickest route from here back to Tabase. Through a combination of Sotho, Afrikaans and hand gestures he gives us directions. Hikers are obviously a familiar sight to him, as he knows we are looking to go back to the police station, where most Kwaduma hikers park their vehicles. We thank him and move on. As we pass down the slope, we are entertained by the Basotho version of, “One man and his dog” on a nearby slope, except in this case it’s, “Three men, about six dogs and one confused looking pony” as the shepherds attempt to herd their flock of somewhat antagonistic sheep into a kraal. Eventually they manage to subdue the itinerant ungulates for the night.
The sun is starting to set behind the mountains as we reach the bottom of the ridge and reach the path indicated by the Basotho man, which is actually a well-used cattle pathway. So well-used, it’s terribly eroded and the walls of dirt are over a storey tall in places. We pass another shepherd who appears to have a slightly better rapport with his flock; he sings to them and they swarm around him into their kraal. There’s lots of return bleating, on par with his singing. We also pass a man changing out of his traditional Basotho gear into a suit and tie. I figure he is heading into town for the evening but he never materialises on the road behind us. Colin suggests it was the other way around – he was about to change out of his church clothes into his traditional clothing. I prefer my version, in which a Basotho shepherd roams the field at night in a formal suit looking for stray cattle.
We follow the paths back to the dirt road. There are some cavernous holes over 6 feet deep at the bottom of the hill – I would not want to be wandering about in the complete dark here. As I think about this, I trip over an uneven piece of ground and almost fall flat on my face. Thank goodness we managed to procure a lift back to Tabase Station (not to be confused with Tosche Station where Luke wanted to pick up power converters) earlier, as the road is dark, uneven and we have walked a long way in one day already. We plod a bit down the road and are both delighted to see headlights approaching in the distance.
For those wondering, we portaged by vehicle to Tabase as we could not afford the time delay arriving by bicycle and still complete the hike in one day. In addition, we had to allow time to walk to the start from the safe parking at the police station, about 4km away (and time to walk back). With our late arrival in the village, we were fortunate to have found a lift to and from the mountain. If we had not, we would only have arrived back at the station after 9pm. It’s back on the bikes tomorrow however for the rest of the trip. Now the cycling really starts – about 1500km to get to the last two peaks. We are leaving the escarpment though so technically it’s all downhill from here (right?).