Amathole Day 4 Cata to Mnyameni Hut 13.4km
The curtainless windows reveal that it is still dark outside, except for the occasional flash of white lighting and low distant grumbling of a thunderstorm. But I am awake and watch and count for the next one. I miss my alarm clock at home that assures me of the time with just a turn of my head and a crack of an eyelid. Our party begins to rise though, so it must be waking up time already.
I always doze as my parents get going and while they lean over to greet me and wish me a happy new year, my grumpy morning response is feeble and followed by ‘do I really need to hike 13,4km today?’
Through the hut’s passage and front door I notice Karin taking photos of something outside … so I investigate. The pictures will explain what I mean, but it’s the unique collision of a distant thunderstorm with a spectacular dawn. It’s only the most epic sunrise I’ve ever experienced. My camera battery is running lower that I’d like by this stage already, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture such a scene. No tripod and no time for long exposure, I just plant myself firmly and take several high speed shots. And I manage to catch some lighting. Win. All of this at 5:15am on 1 January 2014. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year. It felt like God was smiling down and saying: “Pretty neat, huh?”.
We set off while the others are still breakfasting and admiring the by now much less impressive sunrise. We got the real show. It starts to drizzle though, so bag comes off, rain jacket goes on. Start hiking. Rain stops. Get hot. Bag comes off. Rain jacket comes off. Bag goes back on. Continue walking. #hikerslament
The morning’s adventure continues as we find ourselves in this open mountainous space of lush green hills and dark blue-grey skies – thunder groaning and lightning flashing in the distance above. I know it’s not safe. But. It. Is. Awesome. And I feel happy and alive to be here and now. What a privilege!
Then it hits us in its bucketing large drops. The flat rocks are darkened and the earth is muddier thanks to the sudden downpour. The ponchos are out in a flash. The real fun starts when I get caught flinching at the assault of tiny rocks of ice. Yup, hail. It hurts! Stephan shouts ‘head for the trees!’ and we’re shouting and squealing and laughing all at once. What an adventure.
Moments later the rain and hail subsides and we can clearly see the storm moving over the speck of a hut below and then further beyond. Again I am spoilt with breathtaking landscape photo opportunities. Before us lie sunny cyan skies that remain with us for the rest of the day. The ascent continues fairly gently up and over the grassy hills and we are in good spirits.
We’re not the only ones passing through these parts apparently. We’re met by a small (insert correct collective noun here) of wild horses. My last encounter with a horse left me a little paranoid – and I am just generally fearful of large, unpredictable animals – so like a scared child I hold back until my parents catch up and we can walk past them together. My mom, of course, stops for a little bovine chit chat.
Further up ahead, Karin and Stephan seem to have been led astray by the clear and convincing cattle paths, so off we go in search of yellow painted feet. I spot one much farther away, thanks to my fantastic and youthful eyesight.
We seem to be descending into the next valley – none more beautiful than the last. An avalanche of rock rubble has torn its path down this hill, and what do you know … we have to cross it. Seriously, hiking is just an obstacle course of nature. But we love it. Stephan comes back over without his backpack to assist where needed. A few metres down though, the yellow feet direct us back over the rocks again. Are they having a laugh? Sure, it’s fun. But do they want us to sprain an ankle? My dad nearly does.
By this point my left – and ‘good’ knee – has begun to ache, especially on the gradual downhill. Arnica, bandages, knee guards, painkillers and trying new techniques of walking (which must look weird) all help to alleviate but not remove this pain. I hope it’s just exertion.
After some pine plantations we’re back in a more forest environment. I’m struck by how I almost don’t even notice the transition anymore. We pass a perfect waterfall pool and I don’t need any coaxing to get in there. Man, swims like that just make you feel alive. This is happiness.
We have to cross several streams (or the same one) in our onwards journey and I honestly don’t even bother removing my shoes. Often it’s safer to just walk through the water rather than over the deceiving rocks.
Late afternoon and it’s the last push to get to the hut, which is once again eluding us. Where are you? Cathy and co are just up ahead and I am overjoyed when she calls back that she can see it. The lone wooden building brings solace to our souls as we settle down for a lekker kuier and some tea on the stoep. I’ve gotten to know some of the others a bit better and we always enjoy recalling the day’s adventures and highlights. They are all curious about the morning’s storm! We hear about the snake in the basin (so use the closer shower!), which I do. Bare feet feel amazing on this soft grass.
There is, however, trouble brewing amongst the slackpackers and I overhear a number of confused and angry phone conversations about roads and dams and where the hut is located … point is: their bags haven’t been delivered today. Uh oh. That means no clean clothes, no sleeping bags, and no food. Eish. While they giggle and rant about this misfortune, Biddi (my colleague) calls me over and kindly barters for some of my parent’s wine – to be replaced tomorrow, and more! – to ease their troubles and make the drama more fun. The deal takes place and it’s not long before they are passing the box wine around the circle like a bunch of giddy teenagers.
Marinus and Steven have set off to find the gentleman in possession of their bags. They have strict instructions to only bring back the most important things, namely sleeping bags and wine. We enjoy a delicious dinner of jazzed up Pasta & Sauce in the meantime and are treated to a pretty pink sunset. The scouts return successfully in the dark with supplies for Biddi and Sven to finally cook the
Our room doesn’t have a door, but thankfully I have earplugs. Despite the sensation of being deep underwater, it drowns out the noise of our chattering friends and I’m free to drift off to sleep.
This was easily my favourite day of the Amathole experience. Hands down.