2014 One Hundred Kilometre Solo Hike
Each year beginning in 2007 when World Scouting celebrated its One Hundredth birthday, I have undertaken a yearly one hundred kilometre hike in the Matobo Hills with the Scouts of my Troop, 1st Bulawayo (Pioneer) Scout Troop, to celebrate that anniversary. The Troop's own one hundredth anniversary being in 2009. Traditionally, the hikes have always been held during the April school holidays, a pleasant time of the year as the temperatures during the day have started to drop with the night temperatures still warm enough so as not to need any heavy bedding. Further, there is still a plentiful supply of water in the rivers, with the chances of it raining rather minimal. This year the hike was not held in April owing to other commitments, so I decided that it would be held during the August school holidays. This was not to be, as I brought the Chimanimani Mountains hike forward into the August school holidays and so with the end of the year drawing to a close and the December school holidays already booked for another external expedition, I decided that I would have to fit the hike into September, before the October heat made hiking unpleasant. Unfortunately, this meant that no Scouts could be on the hike as they would be back at school. So the dates of 20 to 23 September were set. These dates are significant, for they are when the sun is crossing over the equator heading south, I.e. The Equinox. In retrospect, I could not have timed it better.
Following the Troop meeting on Friday evening of 19 September, I journeyed out to Gordon Park where I was to leave my vehicle, Inguluvane, in order that I had transport home at the end of the hike. Usually when there is a group of us, a parent drops us off at the starting point of the hike and picks us up where ever we have planned to end the hike. In this instance I planned on doing a solo hike and in addition had planned the beginning and end to be at the same place, so there was no need to get anyone else involved.
Saturday 20 September
White Rhino Cave to Worlds View to Nungu
The week ending on Friday 19th had been extremely hot, but to my delight I awoke to a strong easterly wind that had blown in over night, bringing with it cool cloudy weather, absolute ideal conditions for hiking. And so, following a hurried breakfast, at 07.15 hours, I donned my ruck sack and headed off towards the Bowl Camp Ground and on up over the saddle of "Everest", my first stop being, The White Rhino shelter which contains some magnificent style 3 (outline) rock art, that of White Rhino being prominent.
Dropping down from the high elevation of the shelter to the car park off the main road, I headed south along the road to where there is a gap in the western range and then headed off through the virgin bush, following vestiges of animal trails up onto the plateau. Whilst bumbling along, now heading in a southerly direction I came across an iron furnace of the Makalanga era, possibly about three hundred years old. In the same vicinity sheltered under a rock nestled a grain bin fashioned out of mud, possibly two hundred years old. Also, whilst trudging along in the same area, I came across a leopard scat which was reasonably fresh, which meant that he/she was sizing me up as his next meal. Well, as I did not relish the thought of ending up as the next day's scat, I took a photograph and hurried on my way.
Making my way through the short wintered grass, I started my ascent of Malindidizimu, coming up to the Shangani Memorial from the east using the still visible ox-wagon road along which the quarried and dressed granite blocks were hauled to their final resting site in 1904. Being still early in the morning, I was somewhat surprised, for as I was about five metres from the grave of Cecil John Rhodes I was confronted by three 'visitors' approaching the grave, also about five metres away, from the opposite direction. I could not contain myself as I exclaimed in a bold voice, 'Doctor(s) Livingstone I presume'. We all had a good laugh, especially as the 'visitors' turned out to be good friends of mine. It is indeed a small world. After a short chat, which included an invitation to breakfast, I headed off down from the summit passing Sir Charles Patrick Coghlan's grave on my way towards Mount Inungu, the next point of reference along my route.
Bundu bashing my way for the next five kilometres was made easy by the dried out and withered winter grass. Rounding the northern end of Mount Inungu, I could not resist paying my respects at a memorial to that well known Matobo icon, Fr. Odilo Weeger. Shaded by a large fig tree at the base of Mount Inungu, the memorial set up by Mr John Sullivan, on whose farm the kopje is located, is indeed a fitting tribute to such a man as Fr. Odilo who loved and knew the Matobo hills so dearly. Leaving from here I headed down towards the Maleme river and another project John is engaged in at the moment. I first came to the Inungu Meditation Labyrinth known as The Weeger Wendel. Further on, John is in the process of constructing a chapel to, Mother of Peace.
Leaving John's farm, I continued on my way down the Maleme river to a point where a small tributary tumbled down from the kopjes on the right hand side. At this point I headed up the tributary and the now dry waterfall to gain access to the headwaters of a valley, the Emadwaleni vlei, that I was to follow due south for the next four kilometres. It was along this section that I encountered the dreaded Wag-n-'n-bietjie, a thorn tree of note. I was literally a 'bloody' mess by the time I crossed the Maleme - Nswatugi road where I washed myself off at the road/river crossing, now to be known to me as 'Blood Drift'. Having cleaned myself in the stream, I continued on my journey, shortly to meet up with a well known tour guide and his clients. A further three and a half kilometres saw me at the Hlombamesiluma stream and one kilometre further I had reached an opposing valley flowing from the south to the north. Here I stopped for an hour and a half lunch break. The sky was still clouded over providing me with a cool day for hiking.
Having had a good rest, I was now ready to tackle the afternoon leg of the hike. Hiking up the valley on the eastern side of Emashangambaya, a huge boulder strewn kopje, the footpath I followed was well trodden as the ladies living in the Communal land had been using it regularly during the thatching grass cutting season, which is just ending. At the head of the valley I found myself in the Kumalo Communal Land amid many foot paths criss-crossing from fields to huts. Looking at the map I chose the best route around the hills, finally ending up at the White Waters shops. This was further north than what I had intended, but my error in map reading turned out in my favor, or was I being watched over, for later that afternoon as I was about to change direction and head for the Whove river where I intended to make camp, there was a clap of thunder and this was September! I had not even thought of it raining and so was not in the least prepared. I had not even brought my rain coat; a real Tenderfoot Scout, Huh! At this sudden turn of events, I headed for White Waters Primary school instead, hoping to find covered shelter, which fortunately, I did. Distance for the day :- 29.25 kilometres.
Sunday 21 September.
I had been woken up during the night by the sound of gently falling rain, fortunately for me on the asbestos roof of the veranda of the school office building under which I had laid out my sleeping bag. By day break the rain had ceased and only a few puddles remained - I had not been dreaming. Having had breakfast, I offered my thanks to a young teacher who had been left in charge of the school for the weekend for allowing me to camp under the shelter of the office roof and continued on my way. As I had not gone as far as the Whovi river to the west the previous evening to make camp, there was no reason for me now to go there as I was to soon change from a southerly direction of hiking, to that of an easterly direction. I instead followed the main narrow tar road for a few kilometres towards Kezi until the Natisa Business Centre. Here, I changed direction and headed east along the foothills of the southern most range of the Matobo Hills. As it was still very early, only a few of the shops were open, but as I was still full of energy and the sky overcast I did not stop but carried on my way along a series of footpaths with the fresh early morning breeze ruffling my hair. My first stop was when I crossed the Maleme river, many kilometres south of where I had crossed a dry Maleme river near Inungu Hill on Saturday morning. Here, there was water banked up by a small dam wall. Water lilies crowded round the edges and water fowl took to flight at my sudden arrival. Oh for the magic of Africa.
After having a short rest, my route took me back into the mountains, as I picked my way along this trail and that one, gaining altitude with every step. On either side, I would pass a homestead where more often than not children were already playing outside their huts while their parents were going about their daily chores. It being Sunday, many were dressed in their finery and far in the distance I could hear the slow chimes of a church bell, not like the ones in town but more akin to very large cowbells. Being the end of winter, some of the trees had festooned their twisted and bare boughs with fine sprays of flowers; white of the Dombeya rotundifolia's, yellow of the Pterocarpus angolensis and Cassia abbreviata's and the creamy white fluffy heads of the Albizia tanganyicensis. Many more trees of which I could not identify were also just a profusion of flowers. Mixed into the different scents of the flowers on the trees as I passed by was the scent of the damp earth spurning me on through this garden of Eden - my Matobo hills.
As I rambled along through the Communal Lands lost in my inner thoughts of how fortunate I was to live here, a peaceful land, a land of rural people going about their business as nature intended, every so often to be awoken from my day dreaming to a cheerful call of:-
Salibonane? (How are you)
To which I would reply;
Yebo, lingane (Yes and how are you).
Uyangaphi? (Where are you going)
To which I would reply;
Nefuna ukuya Emtsheleli dam (I am going to Mtsheleli dam).
Now and again, when I was asked where I was going, I would be given advice as to the shortest route to follow. One of these 'shortest' routes took me far from my intended place and to get back on track I requested the assistance of a person working in a field. He summoned his children, and then told me to follow them. Well, they took me straight over the top of a range of hills that I had been following. After huffing and puffing for the next fifteen minutes, I was looking down on a familiar road that led to Silozwane hill, a hill with a cave that I take tourists to. "OK, you can go back now, I know where I am". But no, the children were having fun and so we all walked off together on my way to Mtsheleli dam, until it dawned on them that they would get back to their home very late, so giving them some sweets in appreciation for their help, they left me.
It was late afternoon when I arrived at Mtsheleli dam, but as there was still at least an hour or so before it got dark, I continued on my way heading for Lushumbe school following the bush paths heading in that direction. I knew the area well from previous hikes, so there was no need to consult the map. Nearing the school I headed off into the grazing and woodlot's where I found an ideal place to camp in among the boulders that had cascaded down from the kopje of the ridge, away from the homesteads and the sound of people, for the night. Suddenly I felt extremely tired, for I had not planned on such a long distance in one day, also, I had not taken a lunch break, but as the day had been overcast with no sun to remind me of the time and a gentle breeze blowing into my face as I walked along, I had lost myself in time and space.
Distance for the day :- 36.75 kilometres.
Monday 22 September.
Somehow my planned meals were not as I had planned them, for after a bowl of tasty Museli, and a mug of coffee, I had a boiled egg that had been intended for my Sunday lunch and then promptly finished off the tin of peaches that I had not finished at dinner time. I did state that I was extremely tired at the end of Sunday!
Packing my kit, I made an early start for the next leg of my journey, that to Tove Mountain, some seven kilometres distant to the south of my present location. I was familiar with the countryside that I was to pass through as I had been this route before, but in the opposite direction. It is a very beautiful area, even though it was now dry following winter. The gradual uphill walk sped by as I gazed upon the mountains on either side of me. Along the way I caught up with a fellow early morning traveller, he too was going toward Tove to visit a friend. After some general chatter, we fell silent as we both fell into step at a brisk pace. When he finally turned off from the path we were following to continue to his friend's house, he wished me well and I was once again on my own, felling elated at being in familiar country with no need to consult the map I could gaze at the scenery, my feet just knowing the way.
In next to no time I found myself on the low saddle of a spur leading down from the top of Tove. I glanced up, not being able to see the top, as it is a colossal mountain. I looked again. Should I go to the top? It looked so close, but then again I had set my sights on reaching a certain point on the Tokwe river where I was to make camp for that night and that was many kilometres distant over unknown territory. No. I decided to continue on.
Not far down the other side from the top of the spur I had crossed, I came to a very special campsite that I had used on several past hikes over the years. I had to stop, not so much as for a rest, but just to relive the pleasant memories that this particular campsite, in the forest with its two little streams, one on each side (at this time of the year dry), held. I turned off the main path and there, a few metres ahead of me in an open glade, was the campsite. A gasp of surprise. The site was still as it had been left in all those years ago after our first hike, for we had not changed a thing each time we had used it. Not a thing was out of place. The short grass of the glade; the fire place covered over with flat stones to prevent any glowing embers from our morning fire setting the surrounding bush alight; the thin twisted log on one side of the fireplace that curved up and then dropped back again to the ground to form a seat. The scattered branches of firewood that we had not burnt, laying exactly as we had left them. The places we had cleared and then dug our 'bum holes' to sleep comfortably, were still visible, even the cattle which used the forest to graze in, had not ventured into the glade to foul the ground. The campsite was still being guarded over by the spirits of our camps of yesteryear. I stayed here for some time reminiscing over my fellow hikers, on the two hikes that they had been my companions, a smile faintly forming on my face as I thought of each individual in turn, then I moved silently out of the glade wiping away a stray tear. Time had stood still. Now, just memories. A few years older. This time alone.
The cloud cover remained, but was higher. Hiking conditions were still perfect. I soon found myself on the Gwandavale road which I followed for only about three hundred metres before turning off down a side track to the east to reach the Tokwe river, near to where it joined the Tuli river. My mission for this hike was to hike up steam, the length of the Tokwe. Filling my now exhausted drinking water bottles I found that cattle trails followed on both sides of the river. However, on looking upstream I decided to cross over to the left hand bank as the kopjes on that side did not come down to the river's edge and therefore, it should prove for easier hiking. As this was new territory to me, I looked at the map to see how far the river ran through the National Park; twenty-one kilometres from where I was on the southern boundary to the northern boundary. No major obstacles were marked on the map even where kopjes on opposing banks came together. I should be able to clear that distance before nightfall, so off I set.
No sooner had I started than I noticed that the cloud cover had thinned considerably and within an hour I was hiking in the blazing sun. I made good progress crossing from bank to bank where necessary and when the sun was directly overhead I decided that I should have lunch and a siesta before proceeding. I chose a place next to a clear pool in the river, had a bath and then retired up on the bank under a shady tree to have a lunch break. Little did I know what lay ahead and it was just as well that I had my lunch break at that particular place. For the second time, was I being watched over?
Within twenty minutes of leaving my lunch stop, I came across my first hurdle, a series of rapids blocking the valley. On looking around I noticed a trail going off to the right hand bank. I followed this and to my delight it led me high up and over the side of the kopje, then back down to the valley. Great, a little extra exertion and a bit of extra time, but I was past the rapids and on my way. About two and a half kilometres further on, I encountered another series of rapids blocking the river. The path diviated to the right and then straight into the rapids. The boulders were small, so I just went ahead, bounding from rock to rock. That trick did not last for long and I found myself in serious trouble. However, not daunted I continued thinking that I was sure to find a way through. The going just got harder and harder, but I was too stubborn to turn back. The short story is that I was confronted by huge boulders once in the gorge. Down to water level, then up and over boulders some as big as houses, squeezing through crevices, throwing my kit up onto a boulder and then trying to find a way around and back to my kit. But, then the madness, masses of Lantana bushes that were so thickly mattered together, I had great difficulty in getting through. To add insult to injury as I approached the end of the rapids, I was confronted by a forest of stinging nettle trees. All in all, it took me two hours to get past the approximately two hundred metres of rapids. Next time, I will (a) - study the map a little closer and (b) - go around any obstruction such a rapids. My arms and legs were cut to shreds and bleeding profusely by pushing through the Lantana bushes and I was exhausted from the ordeal of climbing over, crawling under the boulders and squeezing through narrow passages.
With the sun dropping ever so quickly to the horizon, I hurried on my way, knowing full well that I would not be able to cover the remaining approximately eleven kilometres to reach the northern boundary of the National Park before nightfall. I made camp away from the river, sheltering behind a huge boulder out of a strong breeze that started blowing as the sun sank behind the western range of hills, one of which was Maholoholo kopje. Distance for the day :- 25 kilometres.
Tuesday 23 September
The sun seemed to get up earlier, or had I slept later than on the other mornings? The map showed a clearer path from here on so I figured that I would be able to make up the time I had lost. A further plus factor was that I was approaching the upper reaches of the Tokwe and I knew the area well. The fourth set of rapids were a doddle as a well defined path led me around higher up the kopje that cascaded down to the river. I was soon in familiar territory and made the most of the shadow cast by the eastern range of kopjes as the sun rose higher and higher. All to soon I was out of the Tokwe gorge and the National Park into the Gulati Communal Land. Here the grass had been grazed low by the cattle and donkeys of the rural people. In next to no time I reached the headwaters of the Tokwe, where, to my surprise at this time of the year, there were still pools of water in the river and crossing over the watershed I entered the Toghwana river system. My mission to hike the Tokwe river had been accomplished and may I add with much blood, sweat, but no tears as I had unbelievingly, thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The end of my hike was in sight, as I was well acquainted with the remaining eight or so kilometres to get back to Gordon Park. However, there was one surprise in store for me and that was I discovered a new church that had been built in the area that I knew so well. In 2011 a new Catholic church, St. Francis Freinademetz had been constructed. Having been given a conducted tour of the church I headed for Shumbashaba from the top of which I surveyed Gordon Park far below and the end of my hike. It did not take long to reach Headquarters and at 12.30 hours I put my now rather ripped and battered ruck sack down for the last time on this hike. A sigh of satisfaction. Elated beyond words and grateful for a safe but gruelling hike. Mission accomplished.
Distance for the day :- 21 kilometres. Total distance for the 2014 cross country Matobo hike: - 112 kilometres .
For those of you who know the Matobo Hills, I trust this account of my hike will bring memories flooding back. It is not too late. Avail yourself of the opportunity of living for awhile, in the very "Heart of Scouting".
Bulawayo, 9th Oct 2014