Friday, January 20, 2017

Come on a Hike With Us 5

Come on a hike with us!

Melinda and I have been on school break since early December.  We’ve done a lot of traveling together this vacation but we had not been backpacking since last Easter, when we hiked to Thabana Ntlenyana I’ve had a trip in mind for a while now from the Bokong Nature Reserve to Katse Dam but that trip would have required a day of hitch-hiking in order to reach the start.  Traveling is the pits for us volunteers and one of the most frustrating processes we have to deal with.  

We decided to do something more local.  The Senqu River (Orange River) is the longest river in Southern Africa.  

The river starts in the Northern Drakensberg Mountain Range and travels through Lesotho and all the way across South Africa, where it eventually spills into the Atlantic Ocean.  

We planned the trip to be 5 days and 4 nights.  We would leave from the Butha Buthe district around the Motete River, travel to the Drakensberg Range, hike along the escarpment until we reached the mouth of the Senqu River, and then head back towards Letseng.  

Melinda thought we were just going on a long hike together but I had a secret mission planned…

Day 1

It’s early summer in Lesotho and there are herd boys everywhere in the highlands.  Typically they head to the lowlands to escape the cold winters but spend most of the summer months, with their animals, in the highlands.  I was not very active with my GPS but we began somewhere around 3,110 meters (10,200 feet) in elevation.

There is plenty of interesting plants to look at along the way but for the most part this area of Lesotho is just grasslands.  

It’s the rainy season here and while we lucked out big time with the weather, the whole area got pummeled with rain a few days prior to our arrival.  We had several river crossings.  

The Khubelu River was our largest crossing.  Our path took us very close to where it forks into two rivers.  The plan was that even though we would have two crossings at the fork, the river would be smaller and easier to manage. 

After the final crossing, we set camp on a level sand bar right next to the river.  

Our tent had all the creature comforts of a wet jail cell.  The following morning some goats stormed our campsite while we were at the river.  Fortunately only a single apple fell victim to their appetites.  

Day 2

We crossed one of the highest passes the next morning at 3,170 meters (10,400 feet).  Three herd boys escorted us over the peak.  There was a brief English-Sesotho lesson by both parties.  

Mushrooms growing out of cow dung, interesting.

From the top of the peak we got our first glimpse of the Drakensbergs.  The Drakensberg Range spans 1000 km (620 miles) and separates about 1/3 of Lesotho from South Africa.  We were only a few kilometers from the second highest waterfall in the world, Tugela Falls, but we didn’t visit it because of time constraints and partly due to the fact that I had never heard of it prior to researching for this blog.  Oh like you’ve heard of the second highest waterfall in the world.  

We followed the Makhapung River in the above photo up to our camp.

The views were pretty good, the company was great.  

We set up camp near Rwanqa.  I hiked up over the pass to scope out our surroundings.  I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the Mnweni Pinnacles.  

Unfortunately the clouds rolled in and spoiled our view the following morning. 

Day 3

Melinda is more of a night owl than a morning person.  

There were a few breaks in the clouds, which let the sun through.  We crossed over a pass and hiked along the clouded-over escarpment.  

We could see some of the cliffs when the clouds thinned out.  

While stopping for a quick break, around 40 goats walked right up to us.  I spoke to the herd boy for a few minutes and he agreed to a photo.  They usually keep dogs at their cattle posts when they are out with their animals.  The dogs can be vicious so it’s always advised to just avoid the cattle posts all together.  

Most of the 3rd day was spent in or around thick clouds.  We did have a nice trail to walk on.  I performed my first international trundle around here.  

There were some wildflowers and blooms. 

This was a 49 megapixel panorama before resizing. 

Finally we were in sight of our goal.  This is the Senqu Valley and the source of the Senqu River.  It is known locally as Ncedamabutho, Xhosa for “help troops”.  The mouth is in the distant center of the photo.  

It was about this time that I informed Melinda about my secret mission,

 she laughed upon hearing my plan,

 I didn’t…

Aha take that South Africa!

Upon completion of my mission, we decided to hike past our intended camping spot in order to lessen the distance the following day.  

We were really tired at this point but managed to find a nice camping spot.  The clouds rolled in and it grew cold.

What do Melinda and an amateur gambler with an 11 at a blackjack table have in common?

They both double down ; ) 

That night I made a risotto that Chef Ramsey himself would have proudly sent off to a customer.  

We saw our first wildlife on the trip, a jackal.  It’s sad but there are almost no wild animals in all of Lesotho.  The Basotho have killed most of the wildlife off to make room for livestock.  

Day 4

The fourth day was a long one.  We were both feeling it.  We had one Mountain House meal reserved for an emergency pick-us-up.  Our bags were extremely overweight.  She had all of the food and I carried the tent, stove, and lots of camera equipment.  My shoulders had reached their pinnacle of soreness around this time and Melinda’s feet were torn up.

The only casualty the entire trip.  Her blister covered feet started bleeding and I forgot the bandaids.  She used a piece of gauze and a rubber band to make a little… well you see what it is… a little mummy toe.

We hiked up to the highest point on our trip at 3182 meters (10,440 feet) and just followed the ridge line as long as we could.  

We probably saw a hundred Drakensberg Crag Lizards.  

It’s a bit blurry because I was lazy and didn’t pull the tripod out.  I’ve pulled off sharp 1/6 second hand held photos before but this was after descending a steep hill with a heavy bag on my back.  

We ate our only Mountain House spaghetti meal for lunch next to this waterfall.  That was a huge motivator.  Thanks Jordan!

Our second wildlife spotting was a pair of grey rhebok.  

There were lots of common milkweed locusts or bush locust on our descent back down to the Khubelu River.  

We were both exhausted when we got to the river.  We set up camp and ate a pretty basic dinner.  It was very pleasant that evening because we were much lower in elevation that the other three nights, which were cold.  We decided to play a game of Shanghai rummy.  

This photo pretty much sums up how it went for me.  I’m done playing for a while.  I used to beat her all the time but now I just can’t seem to win a game.  

Day 5

I was up for the sunrise around the mountains mainly cause I didn’t sleep well.

We had to start the day by backtracking a bit to the footbridge.  It was all uphill from here.  We had to climb 730 meters (2,400 feet) to reach the A1 road near Letseng.  

The road was nearly impassible except by serious 4x4's so I’m sure the area we were in doesn’t see many tourists or police.  

I smelled something “herby” while crossing a well manicured field.  

I’m told this plant is called marijuana, I think it’s pronounced mary-jew-ona, and some people smoke it.  We didn’t want to stick around and meet the owners so we hiked up and out of sight before taking our second break.  

Finally we reached the border of Letseng Mine.  

After reaching the road we waited forever to get a ride.  We eventually settled on a taxi, which we were able to haggle down in price a bit, and slumped into our seats.  

The total trip ended up being around 40 miles.  

Thanks for coming along with us.


- Joel


  1. Very interesting trip. And i never saw the red grasshopper before. What is that called? rhebok?

    1. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed reading. The red grasshopper is actually a type of locust called a common milkweed locust or bush locust. They come in a variety of colorations but all of them are toxic to eat. The grey rhebok is a deer-like creature that lives in mountainous regions.