YET ANOTHER ALTOGETHER ABSOLUTELY AMAZINGLY AWESOME ASHTON ADVENTURE SANI BACKPACKERS 23rd to 26th MARCH 2018.

Report by Rose Dix, photos and comment by Keith Ashton

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



FRIDAY 23rd. The day dawned with heavy rain in Durban, as Ann and I made our way through thick mist and rain to meet with Keith,Margaret and Julia Preece at Sani Backpackers for some interesting hiking over the following 3 days.

FRIDAY 23rd - ANN'S WATERFALL - 14.ks No sooner had we dropped our bags, when Keith was off on an exploratory hike, which we all assumed would be a relaxing leg-stretch for the days to come. After all my years hiking with Keith, I should know better, but I live in optimistic bliss. However, this time, it wasn't Keith who upped the level from 'slow and easy' to "oh no, now what??"

As we were resting on our laurels-to-be, having a peaceful lunch at a cascading stream, Ann looks up to the sky line and says "ooh look at that waterfall" which was enough encouragement to get Keith leading us up a scary route, but with the help of tree branches, clumps of grass and handy rocks, we made it to "ANN'S WATERFALL"..but that wasn't the end, as then it was an exploration of the rock ledge with the discovery of a mini Pillar Cave. As we pulled ourselves towards upper- level ground, we were met with a noise resembling an aeroplane, which surprisingly turned out to be 5 young guys MOWING the Stromness Trail with their brush cutters. What a fun encounter in the middle of nowhere on a lonely hillside. An easy downward path took us back to our lodgings, but not before we just had to explore the scenic route back which added a few more ks to our easy first day.

Ann was going to pitch her tent, but as the camp site was soggy with recent rain- and with more rain predicted - the extremely helpful staff, let her sleep in the "overflow" room with 5 bunks, so we had little jokes at her expense re the possibility of an exciting Knight.

DAY ONE PHOTOS - 23 MARCH


1. Lesser Double-collared Sunbird at the backpackers
2. Near the start of our off-the-beaten-track hike - Ndlovini Mountain in background
3. Snack time near a lovely stream before we climb up to the distant waterfall
4. Top of the lovely waterfall near our snack spot
5. Rose and Margaret starting the climb - Ngenwa River is far left of photo
6. Rose looking forward to more climbing
7. Margaret still happy on the climb
8. Julia wondering how she managed to get to this point
9. Ann resting after the climb as Rose and Margaret arrive
10. What a pleasure to lead 4 enthusiastic ladies to a mini Pillar Cave
11. But still higher we climb
12. And higher we go - still off-the-beaten-track
13. Time for a rest for Julia, Rose and Ann
14. Another lovely waterfall - we named it (Ann's Waterfall).
15. Ann thinking its great to be away from civilisation
16. Rose posing near another waterfall
17. This is the life
18. More exploring
19. Taking in the beautiful scenery
20. Lets keep close together
21. Suddenly we find 5 workers with brush cutters on a track to the Giants Cup Trail
22. Descending the Stromness Trail Track
23. Time for a rest back near the Backpackers Lodge

SATURDAY 24th 8 hours/19ks/650m Climbing. Julia had treated herself to having meals at the Cafe, so after her breakfast, we left at 8am, with a short sharp climb up Stromness Trail to the long flat path on the plateau, but - always a BUT - a crossroads was reached and having been reached, had to be explored, so down down down into a beautiful valley, literally overflowing with majestic waterfalls - our destination now being "YELLOWWOOD POOLS", and after a photo-shoot, other waterfalls had to be explored. Their sheer magnificence silenced us all as we watched tons of precious, pristine water cascading down into a series of glistening crystal pools as far as the eye could see. Having puffed our way up the crossroads yet again, we wandered up to the Giants Cup Trail Junction and turned right towards Ngenwa Pools with the idea of eventually meeting up with the Gxalingenwa River and strolling happily home....the best made plans of mice and men etc etc.

While we were having lunch, we were joined by two delightful young girls from South Korea, who are here for a year, helping out at a Matatiele School. They asked to join us, which I think they regretted after a while.

The path to Ngenwa Pool is all downhill with some precarious descents, not much helped by badly placed, ancient wire, but we all made it safely enough, to the Ngenwa Cave where a huge waterfall fell from its roof. Quite breathtaking. We continued down to the Gxalingenwa River, where the wooden bridge, plus the helpful chain, has long been washed away, and not replaced - making the Giants Cup Trail First Day hike rather tricky. The river was pumping dangerously and after some clambering around through shoulder high grass up and down the river bank, Keith decided the better part of valour would be to retrace our tired footsteps to the original crossroads, a long and wearysome hike...all of us very quiet, willing our tired legs to carry us the extra distance..which of course, wasn't all that bad!!! Then it was once more down on a new path, which eventually met up with the Sani Road much to the relief of our two young girls who hot footed it back to the Lodge for a quick shower as they were going out to supper at the Sani Pass Hotel. That left us to our own thoughts on the 2ks of tar which always seems longer than it is.

DAY TWO PHOTOS - 24 MARCH


24. Taking in the view of the Giants Cup as we start day 2 hike
25. A closer view of the Giants Cup between Hodsons Peaks
26. Start of our route up the Stromness Trail
27. First climb up Stromness Trail
28. Still climbing up the Stromness Trail
29. View across the valley of Balancing Rocks and Nelsons Hat
30. View looking down onto Sani Valley Lodge
31. A close approach to a mountain reedbuck
32 Rose and Margaret inspecting another waterfall
33. Time for a rest and snacks
34. Photo-shoot at Yellowwood Pool and Waterfall
35. Yellowwood Pool with Ndlovini Mountain behind
36. Julia approaches yet another waterfall
37. Fabulous gorge pools
38. A lovely hesperantha
39. Making our way from Stromness to join the Giants Cup Trail
40. Passing a lovely cascade above the Giants Cup Trail
41. Ngenwa Cave and waterfall - two South Korean girls asked to follow us
42. An awkward exit from the cave
43. Giants Cup looking more ominous
44. Clouds over Balancing Rocks and Nelsons Hat

SUNDAY 25th 12+ks Ann decided to chill while we set off ..up through the rocks on the Stromness again, this time going straight through to the Giants Cup Trail Junction but now turning LEFT towards Cobham and Ndhlovini. The path here is undulating and pretty, running through little valleys which held their own mini waterfalls and clusters of shrubs and ferns. After an early lunch overlooking the valley where Yellowwood Waterfall begins, Keith decided on yet a further exploration so down we scrambled through rocks as large as small houses, newly filled tarns and boggy ground which revealed many tracks of eland and baboons. Here we came across a fairly fresh Eland skeleton. A little distance away, lay its beautiful skull with those always impressive horns. A sad and interesting find which had us all speculating on its fate. Imaginations running wild, with Julia keeping well down-wind of its decaying aroma, and wisely refusing a photo-shoot with Keith's trophy..

From here on, it was fun as we found the gorge with beautiful pools below the waterfalls and paddled our hot feet while Keith took videos with running commentary. Julia kept us amused with her sceptical remarks of "that looks like an easy route" and after due consideration "can we actually get UP THERE?""and then enthusiastically telling us we couldn t possibly get 'down there' but after due consideration, she boldly lead us down anyway....

None of us wanted to drag ourselves away from this beautiful peaceful place. A kilometre from home, the dark sky fulfilled its promise and we were briefly lashed with icy rain.The fulfilled promise of "four seasons in one day"

What a wonderful long week-end.

Thank you to Keith who always finds hidden beauty as he leads us off path into exploring unlikely places. The true magic of the Berg will live with all of us as we exchange rocky expanses for tar and street lights. Thank you for the wonderful company of Margaret, Ann and Julia. A perfect combination for perfect hikes.

DAY THREE PHOTOS - 25 MARCH


45. Day 3 - On our way towards Cobham
46. Nice rock formations as we head towards the Giants Cup Trail again.
47. Now on the Giants Cup Trail heading towards Cobham
48. One of the many rock features near our lunch spot
49. Off the beaten track again heading towards Gorge Pools
50. Rose and Margaret happy cooling their feet at Gorge Pools
51. Another waterfall near Yellowwood Pool
52. A closer view of the waterfall
53. Looking down onto Sani Backpackers Lodge
54. A closer view of Sani Backpackers Lodge

SOME ADDITIONAL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ROSE DIX




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