Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In the Clouds

We woke to dark skies and cold rain on our first day in the Ukhalamba-Drakensberg mountains. With hope and disregard we loaded into the minibus to hike to the Ampitheatre, a five kilometer wide, one kilometer deep rock face. Our fearless leader Sim drove through Free State province with the wipers on high yet maintaining a positive outlook. Hakuna matata. It'll clear up. We reached the trail head. Stepping out into the clouds, we were completely soaked in seconds. One Dutch girl refused to get out, saying she'd rather spend six hours in the van. Visibility was low but the hale and hearty set out on the trek. Six of us with Sim in the lead pushed through, our heads down and wind and rain blowing in our faces. About ten minutes in, a German girl and the Dutch girl's boyfriend turned back. And then there were four. We marched on but as the weather worsened and gusts of cold rain persisted with no hope of clearing, we all decided to turn back and try another day.

Two days later it was still cloudy and cold but the rain and wind held off so we jumped in Sim's van and were determined to get to the top. At the starting point, the cloud cover was incredibly thick. Sim described what we would be seeing had it been a clear day and the canyons and river valley all looked great in our imaginations. After a series of cutbacks we got to a rocky climb straight up to the top of Amp. Once we arrived at the top we enjoyed our cheese sandwiches and hard boiled eggs but no Amp view. I could barely see Temple 20 feet away. She walked across the way curious if there was anything to see besides white. When she turned around she yelled, "I see something!" Yes, the clouds were moving! The Ampitheatre materialized before our eyes. Pure joy. Everyone ran for the rim of the mountain taking pictures furiously of the cliff walls and river valley, not sure if the next wind would obscure the view once again. But the lingering clouds stayed back and actually added to the dramatic views.

We walked along the rim and saw the 2nd highest waterfall in the world though it was just a trickle in dry season. The clouds were moving back in as we made our way off the mountain. We climbed down chain link ladders which were bolted into the rock face. There were two ladders to choose from: the more stable one and the more fun one. Temple was the first on the more stable one and I was next to her on the more fun one. For an added degree of difficulty it began to rain as we stepped onto the ladders. Many people in our group were a little nervous about the descent. I told Sim I was lucky to have a girlfriend without fear. After the climb down it finally cleared for good and we saw all the views that we could only imagine hours before.


Ted said...

It's fantastic that with your "no schedule" you are able to wait out the Clouds and have an incredible experience!

CMase said...

SO COOL, T and Clay!! I MISS YOU!!! xoxo, CMASE