Climbing with MCSA


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Hiking, camping and climbing adventure

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By Andrew Louw (4th epic in a series of….tba.)

It really does get easier…or at least less scary. Just in cast you missed my first report (Pom-pom weeding on 23 Jan 2010), I am referring to taking a massive group of children out for an adventure.

This weekend was larger than life and I think we got so much more than any of us expected. It all started at just after the sun peaked over the horizon on Saturday morning. The volunteers arrived at Mountain Sanctuary Park either bright-and-bushy-tailed OR half asleep…..hopefully the drivers were the awake ones. Introductions were made (I meet new people on almost every outing) and then the exited bantering/teasing and exchange of info started on how much kit was packed and so on.

The children arrived soon after (ALL of them were out-of-their-skin exited) and when the baggage was sorted out, we moved to a shady spot for breakfast and introductions to each other as well as the rules for the weekend.

THIS was a lively, rowdy and LOUD group of boys with heaps of questions about human to leopard survival techniques and how to catch an attacking snake behind the head. (and I was getting a bit apprehensive again about my kid-to-me skills)

After breakfast and quite a bit of repeating of the rules (they were too exited to be able to sit still and concentrate for more than 45 seconds), we suited up and got the show on the road.

The hike started with a 200m walk thought the campsite to the start of the trail. Hahahaha the WEIGHT of the undertaking (notice the pun) became evident when I pointed out this little fact to the kids.

The (real) hike started out with a loooooooong and very gradual climb through some of the most beautiful rock formations you will ever see. I enjoy Mountain Sanctuary Park and if you let you imagination run free, you notice the most amazing things in the rocks. We saw monkeys, lizards, rhino, faces of old ladies and many more things. The trail then levels out, and except for one gorge we had to cross, remains quite level.

Close to the end of the trail (the day’s walk) we drop into an absolutely stunning gorge about 60-100 meters deep with spectacular cliff faces, water streams, pools, trees and everything beautiful. With the heavy backpacks, the descend was quite hair-raising (on my previous hikes with a small daypack this descend was totally exiting).

At the bottom we lost some of the “packhorses” as 2 stunning ladies, who joined us for a day’s hike, had to return home. The descent gave us grownups quite a workout and I think most of us were very aware of out legs at this point.

The load they helped carry to this point, was redistributed and since we were almost “there”, our team leader and the MCSA representative (Andrew….not me) mercilessly drove us on to the campsite.

The bottom of the gorge was obviously not quite level and every stream crossing felt like the Nile and every bolder to step over was summiting Mount Everest. (Unless I was the only tired one?) We continued up the stream for probably around 200 m and then had a serious ascend to the campsite. The incline was murder (probably around 60 degrees and steeper in some places) but it then led onto a plateau that was just absolutely worth it. A short 20-50 m walk in any direction from the trees at the camping spot rewarded you with spectacular views of 120m cliff faces, trees overgrown with monkey vines and the gentle murmur of running water rising from the hidden streams below them.

Here we lost 2 more of our members who had other engagements for the weekend. One of them was a body builder who safely got out stew over all this rough terrain without spilling more than a teaspoon of it. Thanks dude! NO-ONE else in the group would have managed that uncomfortable load.

Everyone quickly pitched their tents and then most of the grownups were very grateful to sit down and relax for a bit. I think most of us had anxious thoughts of having to amuse and keep the kids busy for the afternoon, but they took care of that themselves. There was so much to explore and talk about...and it seems like they still had unlimited reserves of energy.

An hour or so later the buzz of the kids grew a little louder and more insistent. They were getting restless and wanted to go and swim. So down we went to the cool (ice cold) stream and stunning pools. Andrew led us to some nice and safe places for them to splash around in. Hahahaha. There was MUCH squealing, splashing, teasing, chasing each other and second attempts at entering the water, but very little swimming. The water was very cold.

We even discovered a cave and did some caving which was unexpected and awesome. The entrance was a small crawl hole in the side of a cliff under the roots of a tree perched on the edge 6 m above. The cave quickly became large enough to stand up in and the roots of the tree on the top hung down inside the cave as well. We could continue deeper into the cave and it turned back on itself to exit at ground level at a stunning pool about 20 m from where we entered.

When the kids cooled down sufficiently, we went back to the camp. The sun started setting soon after and we all did the short trek to the edge of plateau where we had a unobstructed view down the gorge towards the sunset. It was amazing. The mist slowly rose thought the trees and creeped up towards us as the sun turned all shades of orange and red while it lazily slid behind the cheer cliffs in the distance. It was poetry and even the boys were reasonably quite for a change.

Perhaps I should try to explain the positioning of the campsite to assist you with the visualization: There are actually 2(3) gorges that meet here to form a Y. Our campsite is in the V section of the Y and the above sunset was viewed from the left leg of the Y with a clear view down this gorge/leg as well as down the bottom leg for kilometers of unobstructed cliffs and scenery.

Sorry...I see my write-up is getting a bit long and I am still on the first day. Stay with me, we are almost there.

That evening we were blessed with an absolutely glorious full moon. We did not even need flashlights to walk around and some people were worried about being able to sleep (it was that bright). It also provided creepy views of the surrounding cliffs. The looked like shadowy waves looming up over us. It was also the first time that I actually watched a moon-rise (as far as I remember)

The weather was also perfect. A little cool but not nearly as cold (freezing perhaps?) as experienced a week ago.

The pot of stew was heated a bit and it was absolutely delicious. We wondered about the practicality of slugging around a pot of stew, but it was SOOOOOOO worth it. After 2nds and 3rds the kids sat around for 2-3 hours and then slowly disappeared by themselves or in small groups to go sleep. The grownups followed soon after.

Sunday morning we were up bright and early.

Today we were going to climb some of these towering cliffs. It was decided (during the previous evening over some wine) that we will strike camp and take everything along (down) to the climbing spot. Then we don’t have to return to do it when we are tired.

After breakfast of coffee, hot chocolate and rusks, we quickly packed up and did a walk around to make sure no litter stayed behind. We then tackled the steep descend from the campsite and followed the stream downwards to a safe place to leave the baggage while we do climbing. With safe I mean from the monkeys. There was a wire cage in which we packed all the foodstuff to prevent them from stealing it.

Andrew then found us a nice cliff and did some trad climbing to set up a top rope for the rest of us. We soon had 2 routes going up the cliff face. One of them was quite challenging for the few more-experienced climbers in the group and an easier one for the kids. The stop/anchor/top point of the climbs was just short of halfway up the cliff at probably about 16m high. The easier route was soon shortened to about 6meters.

Hunger drove most of us back to the baggage at around 1 pm. Andrew had to climb back up to the gear that he used to set up the routes, and then (since you can’t climb downwards on trad equipment) had to climb clear to the top of the cliff and then walk around to where we were waiting. Stéphane and Pauline joined him in this excursion.

The 3 of them rejoined the group at about 2:30 and since we started getting worried about the amount of daylight left and possibly doing the last bit of the 3hour walk back in the dark, we agreed to leave them some lunch and start the hike back.

I led the group back up the “exiting” ascend out of the gorge. It was not as tough as coming down but it was scarier because you felt like your backpack was pulling you backwards.

We all made it safely up and out….and then I lost it. The trail that is hahahaha. Somehow I took a “less traveled” foot path to the right of the one we came in on but luckily realized it about 5-10min into the walk. (I have been here 2 times before and things were unfamiliar). Unfortunately there were huge rocks preventing us from simply going 90deg left to pick up te trail, so we continued the hike in the correct direction but veering to the left so we will eventually intersect the correct footpath.

Just as we found it, the group that stayed behind came over the hill behind us and we took a 3 min break so they could catch up with us. (I am sure everyone in my group was relieved to follow the MCSA guide again hahahaha)

The walk back to the cars was quite tough on the tired muscles and I think everyone was relieved when the parking lot came into view. I also know that everyone would have enjoyed another day in the mountains, gorge and our perfect campsite.

As a SOAPkidz event this one was easier because the kids looked after themselves. They kept themselves busy and except for worrying about them falling on the boulders (and feeding them), we really did not have to give them a second thought.

It was a great weekend and we have to give special thanks to MCSA for making their property available to us and providing us with two stunning people as guides

...when is the next one?

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