An unforgettable portrait of an awesome landscape is Cathedral peak situated eastwards of the main wall of the sprawling Drakensberg. Bushman folklore tells us that the Drakensberg with its high mountain ranges was designed to keep imaginary intruders out. One such prominent place is Cathedral Peak (3004 metres). The region was also a place of cultural significance with intertribal bloodshed between Zulu kings and clans over a long period.
I had the good fortune to be invited by some friends to the Cathedral Peak hotel for a three-day stay. We joined a bunch of hardy twenty-something hikers who were to climb Cathedral Peak with an experienced guide. (A return distance of some nineteen kilometres) After an early breakfast the following day we got underway. Distant cloud covered mountains looked somehow more compelling in the early morning. In addition, cloud formations vanished and reformed themselves with unsettled turbulence. Shafts of sunlight were breaking through constantly like gigantic spotlights. The hike grade was reasonable for the first six kilometres. Climbing out of a gully at Orange Peel Gap the angle of ascent increased markedly with uncouth rugged surfaces and hikers began posturing, puffing and panting. Rest periods were more frequent and the opportunity was taken to examine the surrounding flora. Proteas were dotted all around as far as the eye could see and Sugar Birds with their curved bills and long tails were hopping from plant to plant seeking petals that had good yields of nectar. With a promise of new life for other flowers, Beatles and other airborne goggas inside petals were also gathering pollen. Timid Partridges were darting in and out of grassland scrub, running in front of us squawking frenziedly as if we were invading their territory. Interestingly, a visit to a waterfall where brilliant white columns of water spray gleaming like crushed diamonds tumbled into a heavily wooded gorge. The ravine was surrounded with tall proud trees that were host to other kinds of bird life. After replenishing our water supplies we continued with our hairy scrambling assault on the beckoning mountain.
Aside from windy conditions, the freestanding summit with its magnificent wraparound views was indeed a glorious extravaganza. I felt so privileged to be up there. Unmistakably, the Bell and Inner and Outer Horn peaks surrounded us in all their grandeur whilst distant humped mountains reached into the clouds. This mountain mass seemed to shoulder aside all lesser peaks in the range. From the edge, we glimpsed a jagged rock formation that appeared long and treacherous. Its spiny back lay twisted and tormented like the petrified remains of a stranded mythical monster. Romantic! You bet. Pity this dramatic scene is totally lost to the majority of non-hikers in South Africa. After a lunch break and rest in a sheltered overhang we started our descent.
The many “oh wow” moments on the return trip included observing clouds anchoring themselves to the peak we had just visited. At the base of the mountain the place appeared as close to paradise as you could ever hope to get. Occasional wild flower beds were bursting out all over with vivid tropical colours. They seem to flourish happily in alpine conditions. The mountain, valleys, mist and clouds were all inextricably mixed into a gigantic scenic symphony. It seems that nature has bestowed its gifts with a lavish hand. Later, snarls of thunder followed by intermittent rain, made our trail slippery for the last five kilometres. We arrived at the resort as the sun began to slowly douse itself behind the mountain range.
Next day, some hikers were resting fatigued feet, a twisted ankle and some injuries from unplanned slippery falls whilst others went swimming and horse riding.
A lasting impression was the majestic view of the berg from the hotel terrace to see where we went and where we came from. This was indeed a rewarding physical accomplishment. I had really developed an umbilical attachment to this place.
Hopefully all these influences should inspire hikers to expand their own knowledge of nature and venture further into the great outdoors of our wonderful land.
By Selwyn Lager