AMATHOLE Day 5. Mnyameni Hut to Zingcuka Hut 18.2km
My parents are still tending to blisters, plasters and shoelaces on the wooden porch of the hut when I set off shortly after Karin and Stephan. Hardly fifty metres in and we’re crossing water again. Should I run back and tell them to forget the shoes at first? Luckily the streams are shallow and the pebbles plentiful for crossing over.
Once again we are enclosed in indigenous forest with a steady climb along the contours of the mountain. Then, almost without noticing, you’re out in the open in the grasslands walking along an ‘exciting’ (as the brochure would say) path along the ridge behind the tallest Hogsback peak. The path is certainly narrow in places and the gradient down is steep. I find out later that my dad had a little tense moment where he slipped and held onto the yellow vegetation for dear life. Hence you keeping your eyes on the path at all times …
We often lose sight of one another along the contours and many of my photos look like pure landscapes until you spot the tiny people on closer inspection. (See my parents above middle left). It’s nice to stop and look across the gorge to where you had hiked just half an hour ago. Sadly there are few kilometre markers, so my sense of distance is muddled, but it’s day 5 already so the energy levels are up and spirits are high. We are almost at the end. There is still much to see and enjoy along the way though.
We reach some sort of plateau and after refilling water bottles and a private meet and greet with a black grasshopper, it’s a gradual descent into the most picturesque valley of green grass, cloudy skies and dark pools. And it seems to go on forever. Man, it’s just too beautiful.
It’s supposed to the section with the most swim spots, but we pass these knowing that it’s still morning (afternoon swims to cool down are way better!) and the full 18,2kms are not going to hike themselves. In hindsight we should perhaps have swum or at least slowed down here.
We pass Rob, Paige and Cathy who are having a delightful riverside breakfast and we have our own tea break on a flat rock further on. My left knee is killing me on the downhill, so the seated leaning against the now-lighter backpack is blissful. As is, of course, taking off my shoes and wetting my feet in the cobbling water. A moth comes to rest on my plaster-decorated toes. Look at me, bonding with nature.
The slack-packing pioneers pass at this point and we watch them cross the river like confident klipspringers .. until the one girl slips and half falls in the water. She’s okay – just got a fright and hoping her soaked camera will survive. I opt for the ‘get your shoes wet by just walking through’ approach when it’s my turn to cross.
More kilometres and hills pass by and sometimes the distance between the five of us gets so vast that it feels like I am alone for hours. Most of the time it’s fine, but occasionally it freaks me out. Desperate for lunch, we stop at a really random place beside a stream (perhaps it’s all the same one) where my dad cools off like a shrieking child for comic relief. Too lazy to get properly changed, a quick dip of my shirt does the trick and while it’s weird to be wearing a completely wet top, it’s a sure-fire way to cool off!
I can’t describe the joy and solace of a nice meal. Even if it’s the fifth day of eating Nola packet chicken on crackers … it fills the gap and fuels the engine.
Of course, a couple hundred meters further we walk past a much better lunch spot. Alas. Too late.
For a brief moment we leave the greenery, flat rock waterfalls and pools flowing into more pools for an area blackened by fire damage. And then we’re on a mountain contour again, this time higher than I’ve felt before and overlooking the treetop canopy of endless leaves about forty meters below. It’s a precarious path, I won’t lie, and the danger of the Amathole becomes evident again. Concentrate, or you could actually trip or slip, and possibly fall to your death. Pleasant thoughts.
The view is exciting and epic though. We take time to stop and soak it all in and look at the enormous trees seemingly competing for the most wind. It’s so dense and so big. Soon it’s time for the most hectic descent that we’ve been dreading all day. We take some photos and have a little peptalk before. Take it slow. Use your walking stick, hands and bum. And we do. Thankfully there are some log-like steps to help along the way and in the end it’s not all that bad. In fact, it opens up to a very pleasant wide path under the shady forest canopy. We’re surrounded by fallen wood giants, mushrooms, darkness and a lot of brown. But it’s peaceful, not rushed and kind of fun.
Incredibly, for the first time in three days, we reach the hut long before I begin pining for it. Amazing! And it’s even before 5pm. Zingcuka hut is lovely with a great social area. Even the longdrop is forgivable. Marinus and Stephen are naturally there already, lazily hanging about and stoking the donkey fire. Stephan lends a hand and less than an hour later I have my first proper warm shower in days. Heaven.
The rest of the group arrives with mixed reviews of the day and certainly feeling gross in their sweaty unwashed clothes. Later we listen and watch as there is almost a repeat of last night’s bag fiasco. There are angry phone calls and rising tension and Theuns’s hilarious comic relief to make for excellent reality TV. But they arrive and order and happiness is restored. Just as well, because they owe us wine!
We cosy up next to Rob and Paige during dinner prep time (we’re having jazzed up Pasta & Sauce again) while Marinus whips up an exotic Japanese dish for the rest. Mom naturally investigates. It’s strange to think that it is our last night out with these new friends and we share some last conversations and contact details before the night is through.
A highlight of the evening is the mesmerising sight of fireflies in the darkness near the hut. That and the knowledge that tomorrow, fifteen kilometres from now, we’ll be done.