Saturday, April 2, 2016

Come on a Hike With Us 2 Part 1

Melinda and I have been planning a backpacking trip up the tallest peak in southern Africa, Thabana Ntlenyana, for a few months.  Enjoy!

Melinda and I arrived at my place late in the afternoon with arms full of exotic groceries.  We decided to make an onion pizza, which turned out well.  We ended up playing cards, which she won under the classic “oh I’m sure I told you about that obscure rule that I just used to beat you with” clause.  That game combined with a fluke loss of spades by Ryan and myself, places our W-L record at 2-0.5 in favor of me.  The 0.5 comes from the fact that she was a part of exactly one half of a winning team, giving her one half of a win against me.

Making the pizza, I cut the onions and stirred the sauce, Melinda did everything else.

The onions are particularly harsh in Lesotho.


We spent the rest of the night packing and finalizing the plan.  Melinda picked up these beautiful 1:50,000 scale topo maps for me a few months ago.  With these detailed maps and a GPS I only managed to get us a little lost.

We woke up early the morning of the hike.  We had to hitch hike to the A31 junction (about 10 km) and then up the A31 to our starting point (about 30 km).  

About to leave.  We ended up taking a taxi to the A31 junction because we didn’t want to waste precious time waiting for a hitch.  We were both in full hiking garb with our backpacks and my camera when the taxi picked us up.  The cashier tried to charge us M25 a piece to get dropped off 4 km before Mokhotlong when it only costs M14 to get all the way to Mokhotlong.  I gave him M30 and had to hold the sliding door open with my foot while they laughed at me for asking for my M2 change.  Laugh at me all you want but you’re not moving this vehicle full of people until I get my rightful change.  I was still a bit upset for being the only ones charged for a ride from Letseng to Mapholaneng the previous day.  It’s the principle of the matter.  Needless to say, I got my change.

We got a quick ride down 1/3 of the A31 by a some brothers in a GTI.  The driver was a nurse at the Mokhotlong hospital.  It was fun being in a hot hatch as opposed to a pickup for once.  

I mentioned in my Sani Pass blog how nice the A31 is but pictures often do more justice than words.  Unfortunately we became intimately familiar with the road as we ended up walking over two hours before we got another ride to the trail head.

A mildly amusing mountain name.

Some of the locals see a new mountain pass road as a great animal driving route.  We ran across numerous herds of livestock.

We had some company for a while.  These kids followed us for over half of the walk.  Here they are drinking out of a stream.

Melinda walks past the road construction equipment storage area.  As you can see from the language on the equipment, the Chinese were responsible for the newly finished road, fishy.  

I was wearing cold weather pants and it was very hot.  There was almost no traffic so I didn’t see the harm in drying out.  Melinda caught me in the act.

A calf resting in the road.  All of the black spots you see are livestock dung.  It was everywhere.  

We had a few long and steep climbs.  Here Melinda passes a cattle trading post.  Yes that is a herd of around 80 sheep heading down the road.

This is the American equivalent of the “Rocks” sign, which has always seemed to me to be the epitome of presenting a problem without a solution as far as signs are concerned.  

We finally got a hitch to the trailhead.

The driver dropped us off right at the trailhead.  After some mild loitering by some shepherds, we got a nice couple photo to mark the beginning of our hike.  It was around noon at this point so we were an hour or so behind schedule.

Melinda is really good at taking panoramic photos.  

I knew Thabana Ntlenyana was not an impressive sight based on online photos and talking to other volunteers but come on.  The highest peak in all of southern Africa is that little dimple in the center of the picture.  It’s only a few meters higher than the next highest peak.  

We were escorted around a hill by some shepherds.  They must be used to a lot of ill prepared Afrikaners, cause they would have taken us the whole way if we hadn’t insisted we were okay hiking the rest of the way.

was one of the only sections where we actually had a small trail to follow.  The rest of the trip was made without a trail.  The clouds were pretty spectacular.

After leaving the shepherd guides, we had a short lunch break and continued on.  We’re closing in on our goal.

Melinda enjoying the view on a brief break.

We hiked down a draw into a temporary river bed.  I took a reading as this would mark the low point of the day.  Ignore the odometer as I don’t leave the GPS on while hiking.  The important note is the elevation is 10,077 feet.  

We hiked a few hundred feet up and Thabana Ntlenyana finally came into view.  If you zoom in you can see three people on the summit.  Three volunteers Jeff, Ryan Wagner, and Ben were hiking to Sani Pass from Mokhotlong town and left the previous day.  

Looking the opposite direction from the peak.  You can see a small rondavel cattle post in the center of the photo.  It was around 4pm at this point and a storm was rolling in so we had to hurry.  

Well holly smokes it’s Ben, Jeff, and Wagner.  They were making great time on their hike.  We chatted for a few minutes and they continued to power on for another hour or so before dark.  

While Melinda never complained once, she was wearing sneaker / hiking shoes and I could tell her feet were hurting as the terrain was just brutal.  We’re almost there babe.  

We made it!  What a day.  It was windy, rainy, very cold, a storm was coming, and yet I still managed to capture a smile.  : )

I was ready to find a spot to camp at this point.

The summit of southern Africa at 11,425 feet.  The total ascent was only 1,348 feet but combined with the weather, elevation, and rough terrain and it was a long day.  

The rain stopped for the night and we quickly headed down the peak to find shelter in some rocks.  Our $20 tent turned out to be a miserable joke.

To be continued…


- Joel

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