HIGHMOOR - CARACAL CAVE WEEKEND & EXPLORATION FROM THE CAVE - 22-23 APRIL 2017 - LEADER KEITH ASHTON

Report and photos courtesy of KEITH ASHTON

[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]



The following 6 participants took part in this cave & exploration weekend, being :- Steve & Lynda Verreynne, Margret Kirsten, Sthabile Khumalo, Margaret & Keith Ashton. After the formalities at KZN Wildlife Highmoor Office at 08h00, we were soon on our way on a beautiful sunny day, with a clear blue sky & crossing our first stream on the tiny bridge. Our next photo stop was next to Salma Dam with the magnificent Giants Castle as a back-drop. On a very calm day beautiful mirror images of "The Giant" can be seen in the calm dam water, but today was not quite that calm but still serene.

Beyond Salma Dam we had our first climb, but it was not long before we reached Shasta Dam where we still had the lovely view of Giants Castle in the distance, as we chatted away about all & sundry & the marvels of backpacking in such amazing surroundings & breathing in the fresh air. Further on & way across the deep valley to our left we could see the "Pines" Rangers Outpost & in the far hazy distance was the majestic view of Champagne Castle, Monks Cowl, Cathkin Peak, Sterkhorn, Turret & Amphletts.

Having eventually reached our highest point we commenced our descent towards Caracal Cave, first looking down towards the large "old kraal" & after a long downhill route we diverted towards the "old kraal" as we needed to fill-up our water bottles from a small hidden stream not far from the kraal, as there is very little water at the cave at this time of year & virtually no water at the cave in mid-winter. Having filled our water bottles plus water bladders/reusable wine or juice bags, we made our way to Caracal Cave to leave our backpacks/gear in our sleeping areas & to have some early lunch before starting our exploration to a remote Rangers Outpost at Louisdale.


1. Crossing our first stream
2. Steve, Margaret, Lynda, Margret K & Sthabile happy on the bridge
3. Sthabile poses next to Salma Dam - Giants Castle on horizon
4. All looking happy by the dam as the Giant looks on
5. Now for some climbing as Margret K leads the pack
6. Time for a chat close to Shasta Dam - the Giant still looks on
7. Pines Field Rangers Outpost can be seen across the valley
8. Champagne Castle, Monks Cowl, Cathkin Peak, Sterkhorn, Turret & Amphletts in the hazy distance
9. The old kraal down below, as we get closer to Caracal Cave
10. Down we go to the old kraal
11. A closer view of the old kraal layout
12. Margret K at the old kraal ruins - The Giant in the distance
13. Sthabile poses at the old kraal
14. Caracal Cave to left with Steve looking towards Giants Castle

After lunch we changed from backpacks to our day packs for another 9 km further exploration from the cave & were soon on our way climbing above the cave towards Louisdale, eventually passing a very large remote cave which we had explored in detail sometime ago when we found it very difficult to reach & not suitable for sleeping (see photo 17). This time we continued on our way in very scenic areas but on the very rarely used route & the feint signs of an intermittent track eventually disappeared. But in the far distance we could make out what looked like our ranger outpost destination, so we continued off-the beaten track & then down steep rugged terrain towards the Ncibidwana Stream. At a few hundred metres from this stream we were about a km from the outpost but the route was overgrown with grass & bush over head-high, however I found an old route which was very slow going but we eventually got to Louisdale Ranger Outpost.

After having a talk with two rangers stationed at the outpost we made our way back parallel to the river at first but due to a combination of circumstances we started to run out of time & we had some serious climbing to do to get back to our direction above the cave & progress of our group was slow. Light started to fade & eventually went pitch dark & we could not even see where we were putting our feet on the rough ground & although I knew the direction to go I decided for the sake of safety to stay put as we found a large rock to provide a bit of shelter. We huddled together ready to stay the night out in the mountains until first light. To say it was a long night is a complete understatement as we had to brave the cold & tried to get a bit of sleep as the minutes & hours passed by very slowly indeed as we huddled together & tried to keep a sense of humour.

Eventually first light came & we set off to higher ground to get our bearings & within about an hour we were back in the cave to get a bit of rest, some hot drinks & food & laugh about a more serious adventure than we at first anticipated. We were soon in good spirits, packed-up & had an incident free return to our Highmoor base, but all well aware that the mountains will be there long after many of our human generations have past-on & are far tougher than any of us will ever be.

Thanks to all of our group for sharing this precious time in the great outdoors & I am sure you will remember this experience for the rest of your lives.

Keith

15. Starting our exploration from the cave - Margret K & Margaret A
16. On our way from the cave to Louisdale Ranger Outpost
17. Another cave we visited previously but not suitable for sleeping
18. Still en-route to Louisdale - off-the beaten track
19. A rugged route down towards Louisdale
20. The Ranger Outpost at Louisdale - extra 9km round trip after reaching the cave
21. Margret K trying to sleep out on the mountain in the cold
22. Lynda also trying to keep warm in the pitch dark in the mountains
23. The return route from Caracal Cave on Sunday
24. Margaret A climbs the tricky bit (with a backpack) on return from Caracal Cave
25. Steve, Lynda & Sthabile at the tricky bit
26. Sthabile - Wow yes this is a bit tricky with a backpack - but no problem for seasoned hikers
27. Always beautiful flowers to see whilst out hiking



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