“They own cattle but own no land.” These are the words my host uttered to me upon showing me to the quaint cottage room near a misty dam. Quite a bizarre statement to hear for a city slicker like myself. I was unfamiliar with this kind of problem.
A problem experienced in the hinterlands surrounding the majestic Drakensberg mountains. However, this article is not to do with the logistics of modern South African cattle grazing complexities. I digress.
The Drakensberg Had Ideas of Its Own For Me
I arrived in the Drakensberg mountains from a stint at a friend’s apartment in the coastal town of Umhlanga. The entire trip was a miracle, really. South Africa moved to level 2 of the lockdown. It felt amazing to move around again after months of being cooped up in my Johannesburg home.
Regardless, I had arrived in the Berg and my mission was to do an overnight trek in the Giants Castle region, the first trek in a while.
While I experienced a warm winter climate in Umhlanga, I showed up to some cold weather in the Berg. The mist was thick. I knew from previous experience that the grassy mountain hills lay hidden under the veil of this fog. A bitter wind hustled the stark trees, a gentle, but constant, rain fell upon my jacket.
I prepared for this eventuality. The weather App had predicted correctly. The only problem being that the weather was worse than expected, and lone trekking would not be an option for the foreseeable future.
I was ready to buckle in. Sit it out.
Today was Tuesday.
Wednesday arrived. The weather remained the same. No walking in these torrid conditions. The only option left was to get the camera out, record the local environment; even in inclement weather. It is fair to state that some of the most unusual photos happen in this type of weather.
Poor weather is seldom an excuse for laziness.
The Nikon came out of the bag. Into the mist, I wondered.
A Braai for One
A braai for one later that night, and plenty hoping the sun would appear the following day. I desired a gap that could allow me to begin my photographic inspired hiking mission.
The mission was to overnight at Bannerman’s hut on the Little Berg. A straight forward hike, with some steep incline. I wanted to get a sighting of the Bearded vultures indigenous to the Drakensberg area too. I had my camera geared towards that occasion. A 70–200mm f/2.8 Nikon lens locked in.
I needed the vulture to come in close, or I needed to get some elevation towards the bird.
Sun, Glorious Sun
Thursday and the early morning sun was out. Hallelujah! The hike was on. Being the organised person I am, I had everything ready to go. I packed the car and drove towards Giants Castle’s main gate. I paid the fees and did the health check as per the COVID-19 regulations.
Before I knew it, I was at the start of the path, camera in hand and backpack in tow. The clouds were still around, scattered, and no rain in sight. The temperature was cool, and favourable for climbing a constant, gradual incline with about 20kg’s on your back.
Finally, I Got Hiking in The Berg
The hike was duly scenic. I was unfit after months of sitting at home during the lockdown, so I felt the weight of the rucksack by the end of the hike. With quivering legs, I arrived at the hut late afternoon and I was the only person in sight, amongst the splendour of the peaks.
After a gas burner coffee and some snacks, later on, night fell, and the cold arrived again. After watching the moon rise, I took out the wide-angle lens, did some night shots before heading to bed.
The following day I awoke to a vicious wind that appeared as suddenly as the sun arose, and then just as suddenly, the howling wind disappeared.
After the howling wind, the most beautiful day arose. It was crisp and clear, no haziness at all; something not so common in the berg, especially in winter. The peaks of Giants Castle stood tall, clear, and majestic before me.
Satisfied with the results, I began the journey back to the base of the mountain, taking scenic shots as I progressed.
Along the way, I was further blessed when I spotted a Bearded Vulture soaring in the mid-morning, blue skies above. Amazingly, it flew in close.
I was happy and appreciative of the gifts that nature had displayed to me. From that point on, I settled into a comfortable pace. I proceeded to make my way down the steep ridge back to the Giants Castle main camp area, stopping only to refresh at the river for a short time.