Thursday, October 13, 2016

Come On a Hike With Me 4 Part I

Sani Flats to Sehlabathebe

Come on a hike with me!
Our spring break coincides with Lesotho’s October 4th Independence day.  I’ve been wanting to do a long trip for a while now.  The week long break offered me the perfect opportunity.  I decided to hike from Sani Flats on the border of the Thaba Tseka district down to Sehlabathebe (Sesh-la-ba-tay-bay) National Park in the Qacha’s Nek district.  
Map courtesy of Google Maps.
The planned route had me following the Drakensberg cliffs along a 37 km traverse.  I wasn’t following a set trail so I knew I was going to zig zag.  I used the square root of 2 as a multiplier for the hypotenuse of my trip giving me a total hiking distance of 52 km (32 miles).  Because I was hiking solo (having to carry all of my own gear) and knowing I would be stopping to take plenty of pictures along the way, I planned on 3 days and 2 nights to get to Sehlabathebe.  
On Saturday Oct 1st, I headed up to the A1 road in order to hitch-hike to Sani Flats.  
I got an earlier start than expected by about two hours.  Sani Pass and the cliffs are visible in the left middle of the photo.  I was using my 6D with a polarizer filter, which gives the clouds amazing detail but accentuates the natural polarization of the sky caused by Rayleigh scattering.     
The A31 road is visible in the distance.  As I crossed my first peak, this marked the last road I would see for three days.  Thabana Ntlenyana is the dark peak rising just above the rest in the center-right of the photo.
The cliffs around the Drakensberg mountain range, which naturally separate Lesotho from South Africa, vary from around 500 feet to 2000 feet along the route.  They are partially responsible for the dry conditions in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert.  They also create some interesting weather systems and cloud patterns.  
I was trying my best to avoid the motebos (cattle posts) along the way.  I passed closely to these ones on my first day.  I was trying to be quiet but half way through them, around eight dogs were alerted of my presence and began barking at me.  There was only a small stream and 150 feet separating me from the dogs so I picked up a few rocks and continued on without incident.  
The clouds began to move into Lesotho as the afternoon cooled down.  
Pretty soon my visibility went to less than 100 feet and it stayed that way for 36 hours.  
At one point during the first day, the ground just disappeared in front of me.  I walked up to the edge and couldn’t see more than a few dozen feet.  I had inadvertently walked to the edge of the Drakensberg cliffs.
I reached Pitseng Pass with around three hours of light to spare so I decided to continue on in order to reduce the milage of my second day.  
I walked for another two hours and found a decent place to stay the night.

*********************End of Day 1******************

That tent you see is the biggest pile of crap I have ever slept in in my life.  It cost M350 or roughly $25.  It has such little ventilation that it fills with condensation every night.  The next morning everything was frozen, the outside of the tent, the inside of the tent, part of my sleeping bag, my beanie on my head, part of my backpack, everything.  Luckily I had a dry bag with me so I had some unaffected layers, which I promptly donned.  
Visibility continued to be poor except for small patches.  I saw a herd boy walking in the distance my first morning, which was the last person I would see for 30 hours.  Back in the states it’s easy to go on a multi-day trip without seeing people but in a country as densely populated as Lesotho, it’s relatively difficult to get away from people.  
When the clouds thinned, I was able to easily plan my routes over the passes.  When the visibility was low I had to use a combination of my GPS, a 1:50,000 scale topographic map, and a compass to find the easiest ways up each peak.  The whole trip was pretty much up and down.  Flat areas are sparse in the Drakensbergs. 
The weather was nasty and all of my sleeping gear was still wet.  I decided to head more west than south to get away from the cliffs and their associated weather.  There was literally ice in my beard.  
I climbed yet another peak and was rewarded with some sun.  I set everything out to dry and made some instant Idahoan potatoes for lunch (thanks Will!).  
My attempt at a panorama as looking SW.  The weather system seemed to be constrained to within about 1 km of the escarpment.  
I continued SW across the valley until I reached my next climb.  There was a small opening in the cliffs I decided to go for.  
Just to give you an idea of how narrow the opening was.  The small pass was only 4 feet wide at its narrowest point.  
This also marked one of the highest points on my trip at 10,812 feet.  I hiked down a fairly gentle slope and followed a stream west, in order to get away from the cliffs.  It was late in the afternoon and I wanted to sleep as far away from the weather as possible.  
The weather kept its distance and I was rewarded with some beautiful cloud formations.  The little point in the center of the photo is another motebo but this one and every other one I encountered was abandoned until the summer season arrives.  I set up my tent on a somewhat even patch of ground near the stream.  

******************End of Day 2******************

There was thick frost the second morning but not nearly like the first morning.  I laid everything out, made copious amounts of coffee, and basked in the sun.  After my gear was sufficiently dried out, I was fed, and overly caffeinated, I packed up and headed out for my longest day.  
I hiked up yet another 1000 foot hill and finally caught sight of my goal, Sehlabathebe National Park.  
The above photo was taken near the “O” and Sehlabathebe is at the “X”.  Only around 11.4 linear kilometers but I had to follow the dashed trail because of the impassable cliffs.  
I came across this beautifully situated motebo.  I stopped for a break and took several photos.  After descending 2,200 feet to the valley below, I saw my first person in 30 hours.  
He was a herd boy from the general area.  I asked him what the easiest route to Sehlabathebe was and he directed me to a trail, which eventually turned into the gravel A4 road.  
The landscape was stunning, Qacha’s Nek is a beautiful district.  
Guess which sheep I would be?

Some photos of the area
Above is the first tree I had seen the entire trip.  
After passing through the village Ha Motsekinyane, I turned and headed east over a pass and into Sehlabathebe National Park.
A view looking west from the top of the last pass.

Continued HERE...

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