Thursday, May 25, 2017

Champagne Valley Walking Club - Sunset trail

On Tuesday I deemed myself well enough to do a hike in the mountains with my fellow hikers. Grant opted to stay home as he was busy on a project.  We all met at Champagne Castle Hotel car park and at 8am (now that it's winter) five of us intrepids set off.

Neil, who was the leader said as we started, that this is by far the most strenuous of all the walks we've done as a club.

*Ergh* (thought I,) but once I'd taken the photo below, I strode up behind the group.
Five of our regular 12 hikers set off for Sunset Trail and the Matterhorn
Just past the hotel, I photographed these beautiful aloes in full bloom

Then I stepped onto the road and saw a path to the left of me. It said Sunset Trail with an arrow pointing in the direction of the mountain. I called out to fellow hiker, Trish who said they were up that path and to just follow! 

Then reality struck! The climb started IMMEDIATELY. Not one kilometer into the hike; not a gently incline. We started to hike up and up and around the mountain - for two solid hours! 

The beginning of the hike was an immediate climb 

We climbed, straightened out for a few meters; climbed again and straightened out for a few more meters. On and on and up and up! 
 Trish, Josh and Neil had got to a resting spot 
a few minutes ahead of me and Price 
 The view of the hotel and the valley beyond

The hike we did is in the 29000ha Mdelelo Wilderness Area of the Ukhalamba/Drakensberg. Familiar landmarks are Monks Cowl, Cathkin Peak, Gatberg and the Dragons Back. Below is Gatberg which is Ntunja in Zula and means "the eye of the needle". 
Gatberg was one of the first peaks we saw on our hike on Tuesday

When I arrived at the second rest stop (Neil said he didn't mind admitting but he's legs were like jelly - I was glad for the rest for the same reason) Neil was pointing to a property down below. When I heard him mention the very rough gravel access road, I remembered that we were originally supposed to go and live there. It was a beautiful huge house with five rondawels nestled in the trees under Cathkin Peak. The idea was that Grant and I get the homesetead and rondawels up and running as a Guest House.  

Then Grant became very ill and between John and Debbie they decided that the purchase is called off. Now in retrospect I'm so pleased we didn't take on that challenge. I hear quite a number of horror stories when Guest House owners relate about difficult guests and often the same ones who leave the accommodation in a terrible state when their stay is over. 
Neil points to the road leading to the property Grant and I would have taken on as a challenge project 
Price coming up behind me on the incline shows how steep our path is
 Onwards ...

...and upwards again

 Again, when I stopped to catch my wheezy breath, I turned around and there was Price, resting lower down on the path
 Another stop two-thirds of the way to our first tea break
The views are well worth the slog up the mountain 
 As we hiked up the last few hundred meters to our tea break, I captured one of the peaks mentioned above : Monks Cowl  
It felt surreal to be almost on eye-level with this 3234m high monolith. The visible snow is in the neighboring country,  Lesotho 
 My friend, Trish already sitting on the knoll waiting for Price (just ahead of me this time) to bring the flask of tea 
 Tea and sandwiches taste 5* when eaten at this altitude! 
The scenery is dominated by Cathkin Peak (3149m). The Zulu word for it is Mdelelo, which means ‘make room for him’ and refers to the theory that Cathkin Peak pushed aside other peaks to make room for itself

 While having my tea, I couldn't resist photographing the wildflowers ...
...and grasses nearby 

We descended from our tea spot and then ascended another hill, and another. 
 ...and another 
 Time to stop, catch your breath and survey the beautiful scenery
 Trish was the first to spot these, the mountain rhebuck running up a hill to the right of us
 Hiking across the plateau with the mighty Cathkin Peak above us
 Josh had to stop and retie his bootlace; we were pleased to stop and rest 
Far ahead to the North, we could clearly see The Bell at Cathedral Peak  (My photo)

Cathedral Peak and The Bell (Google image) 
Then it was downhill for a while

 Our second tea stop was at Breakfast Stream 

One of the most popular routes in this area is the contour path via the Sphinx. This route takes you to the higher peaks and passes of the area and gains some 450m in altitude. 
Then we wended our way downwards... 
...and ever downwards to the Sphinx  

Three members of the hiking group had opted to do a slightly shorter route to the Sphinx. Alan (87,) Anthony (76) and Jenny (support lady!) walked from Alan's house to the Sphinx where they waited for us to meet them on the way down. 

Meeting up with the other group of our hiking club who had waited for us at the Sphinx

Then we set off for the rather long downhill descent back to the hotel. 

As you round the Sphinx, legend has it that if you toss a stone into the hollow (visible about a third of the way up on the right)  you will have a good life. Price and Neil tossed stones successfully into the pool but I only took the photo below AFTER the fact! 
The contour path under the Sphinx 
 The path below gives an idea of the height and descent of the hike 
 I stopped to photograph this Leonotus Leonurus against the rugged cliffs 
The last few kilometers is through the yellowwood forests which thrive on the mountainside 

For those of my blog readers who enjoy hiking, the outdoors and generally exerting yourself, I hope you enjoyed this post. I certainly enjoyed the hike and also retelling (and reliving)  it here. 


  1. I am totally amazed that all of you at your age can climb that mountain and go down the other side I don't think that I could even make it halfway up. I have not been on anything other than flat ground since I was a child. The views are just breathtaking and your photos are absolutely gorgeous period I am impressed with all of you

  2. I am super impressed. And grateful. I couldn't do that hike and loved the photos you took. Thank you.

  3. Beautiful scenes of this challenging hike. Good for you (and the others) for being able to accomplish it.

  4. I have so enjoyed these photos Jo. The views you had are incredible! I smiled when I read the word "Gatberg" as in Dutch this makes a lot of sense too :). And the blooming aloes are beautiful.

  5. Jo You must be so fit. I could not do that hike. the scenery is fabulous.

  6. That was quite the hike. I remember John and I hiking up past the Sphinx, Breakfast Creek, and the Eye of the Needle.

  7. A wonderful recap of your hike, the photos are absolutely gorgeous. It must be great to be a part of such a fun walking group. A great hike and a great time.


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