My long suffering wife Colleen always said that I was a little strange after returning from a hiking trip into the mountains – she was right – I used to find it difficult adjusting back into the rush of daily life in the city after time in the wilderness – noise, smell, cars people, deadlines, phones and just dreary predictable routines.
For more than 20 years between the latter part of the 1970s until the early 1990s I hiked frequently in the KZN Drakensberg Mountains; weekend trips for the love it and in search of Bushman painting sites, some known and even the occasional new discovery to annual 10 day escarpment photographic hikes. My regular companions John ‘Mpondo’ Hone and Dave ‘Bushpig’ Osborne were more than hiking buddies they were best friends, the kind that you would want in the trenches with you. Sadly both left this earthly world prematurely after long struggles with cancer, but not before we had shared many adventures together, now indelibly etched in my memory.
We hiked the paths less travelled along the length and breadth of the Berg, up and down mountain passes in the rarified atmosphere at over 10 000 feet, some relatively easy others downright scary best suited to mountain goats and baboons. This is a breathtakingly beautiful environment, but also rugged and uncompromising – we hiked at the mercy of the elements and endured all that the weather Gods threw at us – there were balmy days under wide blues skies, wind that threatened to blow us off the very edge of the earth, rain, sleet and snow, pea soup mist, blizzards and frighteningly severe electrical thunderstorms that shook the ground and reverberated amongst the crags and high peaks. We slept under the stars, in flimsy hiking tents, in caves and huddled under rocky over-hangs, we shared the highs and lows, the physically demanding and emotional strains especially of the extended 10 day hikes carrying packs of 30kg and sometimes more – “it’s all character building” I recall someone saying as we eased our way through the boulder strewn, iced up Ifidi Pass in sub zero temperatures.
‘Mpondo’ making our supper out of the howling wind and sub-zero temperatures in what was known as ‘Ian’s Kitchen’.
The one and only ‘Bushpig’
The iced up, boulder strewn Ifidi Pass.
Spending time in the mountains made me realize just how insignificant and frail we are as individual human beings in the larger scheme of things, yet collectively and laying claim to be the intelligent species, our exploding populations threaten the very sustainability of our planet in our feeble attempts to mange all but ourselves – sorry I digress.
Bushman Rock Art a national heritage treasure.
It was on these hikes that mostly involved a route in and out of the mountains along a stream, that I realized the potential for small stream headwater fly fishing for the wild trout that I saw rising – descendants of the brown and rainbow trout that were introduced into the lower reaches of these waters more than 125 years ago – the rest is history. I have subsequently spent many years hunting trout in the streams in the deep folds below the Drakensberg escarpment, hiking and camping for 3 to 5 days at a time with a few close friends that share the passion.
The camaraderie of these hiking and fishing friends is something that I will treasure forever. Apart from the mountains we had common interests in photography, the natural world, books, music and good red wine. John is also a published author, his book titled ‘Encounters with the Dragon’ is destined to become a classic on the Drakensberg Mountains – the chapter ‘Comrades of the Trail’ succinctly sums up the kind of hiking adventures we experienced together.
Reg Pearce, author of ‘Barrier of Spears’ was also a great source of inspiration for my love of the Berg. I was privileged to meet Reg through Dave and together we visited him at his home in the Cathkin Valley whenever we could. We hung on his every word as he related stories of the many years of hiking his beloved Drakensberg Mountains in earlier days.
Apologies for the quality of some of the photographs – most are copies of old 35mm slides.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2015. All rights reserved