Northern Berg Photo Trip June 2013

18 Sep 2013 01:46 - 19 Sep 2013 01:08 #58510 by Serious tribe
The Mweni area has always been a major draw card for me, and even though I did a trip there last year, and am now only able to do about two trips a year, I decided I had to get back there again this year.

The plan was to go up Rockeries and down Manxome Pass, but only if I managed to get the images I wanted around Mponjwane, if not we would spend the extra day in the area and go down Mweni Pass. I also really wanted to sleep in both Mponjwane Cave for the amazing views and Ledgers Cave which I have never got around to doing. This in the end, is what eventually transpired.

When Brad aka ST2 and I arrived at the MCC it was with the outside chance that we would be able to organise a vehicle to transport us to Hlongwane's Kraal. We had not pre-booked one, but we were still hopeful! It turned out that the the guy on duty at the MCC has a brother with a bakkie, so after a few phone calls and a bit of haggling, we were soon on our way. While Brad was busy kitting up, I spied this beautiful Zulu maiden and asked her mom if i could get an image of her, fortuitously enough, there was an old man walking along the road in the background which made for an interesting pic.

The friendly staff and myself share a laugh.

What a relief not to have to do those 6 clicks! Soon enough, following Brad’s desire to become a 'vehicularized' goat herder we arrived at the end of the road and some huts. The owner and his mate were busy making bricks for a new pad, so we stopped in for a chat. After our greetings in Zulu, we were able to revert to a mixture of poor zulu and english, but it was all cool and everyone understood each other. We said to him that we were going to be sleeping near Mponjwane, to which he responded by pointing in the direction of Cathedral Peak. We said no and pointed to Rockeries, he said ‘Cha’ and told us that the peak we know as Mponjwane is actually called Ncedamabutho. Mponjwane Peak is the peak we know as Cathedral. If you look in Barrier of Spears on pages 179 and 180 it confirms this info. Local knowledge trumps every time!

We passed a good supply of fast running water- always a good sign in winter.

A bygone era, a wooden sledge being constructed!

We eventually arrived near to the base of our cave. Brad though was keen to sleep a bit closer to the start of the pass in Scaly Cave, and I wanted to be closer to the images I needed to take. Anyhow after a bit of searching we could not find it, thankfully. Who has ever been thankful not to find a cave, but there you go, us photogs are a rare breed. Anyhow we traversed back along the rock band back to the unnamed cave. As is usually the case, we engaged in a bit of house maintenance, repaired the walls and cut heaps of grass for the floor. So if you go there now, it will be quite palatial! Actually while it does not have a name, it is a rather nice cave. The only issue is getting water. That required a bit of throtching through bush and skidding down a wet rockslide until we reached a small pool from which we were able to fill our containers. The real mission came when we had to climb back up the slippery rock shute. Fortunately, there is a tree whose bough grows down along the rock and you can haul yourself up while balancing water bladders and pots in the other. I promise, I did not spill a drop!

The following morning I packed and left the cave at about six so that I could shoot morning images and then meet Brad on the path opposite Sunshine Cave. Just as I finished the shoot, along the path came a small group of Basotho and their donkeys. They were quite happy to let me photograph them; in fact they actively encouraged me to do so. Very friendly guys!

I met up with Brad and then photographed him negotiating the crossing over the Nguza River. Pretty fast that ST2!

We met up with our friendly crew and they once again wanted to be in on the scene. They were really chuffed when I showed them the images on the back of the camera. They had not asked for sweets or anything, but I thought it only right that they get some anyway. We traded places along the route up the pass a couple of times until they overtook us near the top. We had decided we were going to eat lunch near the top of the pass anyhow, and did so near the shadow of the big finger.

quadruped transport



On reaching the top, we soon found a string of cairns leading up to the cave. I have only been to Mponjwane Cave once, and on that occasion we approached it from the Mweni Pass side. It was with great excitement, and I mean that quite literally, that I approached the area of the cave, and with increasing delight watched the tower slowly grow before my eyes. I mean it really does seems to do this, step by step, it just becomes this immense block of rock taking up all the view in front of you. What a view!

We soon engaged in our usual cutting of grass for the floor. In this case it was a good idea, as a fire in the cave had left a fair amount of ash. That done, it was time to explore the area for potential viewpoints, and there are plenty to choose from.

Sunset, sunrise there is a panoply of scenes!

A room with a view. And what a view! The cave is on the rhs under the overhang.

We had decided that we were going to go down Mweni Pass rather than Manxome, which would afford us the opportunity to sleep over in Ledgers Cave. So it was rather late that we left Mponjwane Cave, but time for once was on our side. It was refreshing not to have to rush anything and we meandered our way along the ridge down toward Ledgers. There were at least ten Cape Griffons that were circling and flying in and out of nest sites so we stopped to get a good look at the sites along the face between Mponje and Ncedamabutho. There were at least fifteen sites that we could see dotted amongst the cliff bands, and even a few eggs in the nesting sites. How they don't roll off and clobber the birds below them, I don't know. Likely occasionally they do, talk about egg on your face!

From the write ups I have read, Ledgers Cave seems to have an aura of risk associated with it. Likely some have viewed it as a dangerous cave because of the steep and tricky approach to it. And yes if you are nervous of heights or a bit clumsy you might feel the need to be a bit worried. It has an amazing approach as you climb down the gully. Elevated rock fingers that stretch out into the air and in the distance the rest of the cutback in front of you! I think where you have to be careful is traversing the sections between the sleeping platforms, especially at night. If you slipped, it would be a very quick drop to the bottom. On the positive, it has a great view, and because the sun bakes the cave for most of the day, the rock maintains a fair degree of warmth long after the sun has gone down.

We had a not so funny incident that afternoon. Brad and I had gone our separate ways, him to explore, and me on my ever-present goal of searching out image viewpoints. When I had completed the recce and got back to the top of the gully overlooking the cave, I heard him shouting and throwing rocks at something. I had had a snack before I left for the recon and shoved my food packet underneath the pack. The crows had got it! One of the little blighters was busy tucking into my remaining Tex bar and the other into a soup packet when Brad chanced upon them. Well that was the end of most of my food! Fortunately they had not snaffled absolutely everything, and with only one day remaining and Brad’s extra food I would be fine. I had noticed the two crows flying around earlier, but obviously have become a bit blasé. Well I certainly learnt my lesson; crows around this particular cave are likely used to getting food so one needs to be extra careful.

The following morning, I again packed and left early, dumped my pack at the top of the gully, and as the sun began to colour the early morning sky quickly walked over to my viewpoints. There was one view that I had got the day before that required a small tricky down climb and then traverse onto a narrow rock finger and then around a small bulging rock that had tons of exposure and a huge drop on each side. The day before I had to seriously convince myself that it was ok and that as long as I kept in the middle of it and had three points of contact around the bulge I would be fine. I managed to do it, even stopping at the rock bulge and forcing myself to look down into the drop and rationalize that I would only fall if I actually lent out and let go. So the next morning with a foggy brain, I was wondering how brave I would be. The fact that I had done it the day before, and also that now, the drop was in inky blackness, seemed to make the whole endeavor a lot easier. Also I was alone, so I could not afford to fall off!

I moseyed back shooting a few images of the sun through the grasses and met Brad at the predetermined time as he was clambering up the gully leading from the cave.

We struck off for the top of Mweni Pass, crunching through the iced up gravel margins of the rivulets. Three Grey Reedbuck surged out of the grass, tails flashing white, stopped on the ridge challenging us to chase them, and were then gone.

Into the pass.

Mweni Pass has certainly been abused! I found that near the top s-bends, it was easier to traverse over to the cliff line and avoid the ball-bearings on the path. Obviously this cow took the ball-bearing route!

Mweni over, and so to the last lunch spot near the base of Fangs Pass.

We had not managed to organize a lift on the return trip. But about a km from the MCC a foreign women, by her accent we assumed that she was French, passed us in a green Jeep SUV and offered us a lift. Why not we thought! It transpires that she is conducting a project in the evolution of languages.

A hot shower and we were on our way to a burger, chips and coke at the N2 Steers. No better way to finish a trip!

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Last edit: 19 Sep 2013 01:08 by Serious tribe.

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18 Sep 2013 05:57 #58513 by intrepid
Nice shots Karl, glad you finally got your fill of Mponj and the Needles.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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18 Sep 2013 06:12 #58515 by Asterix
Excellent photographs.

What camera gear did use to get these?

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18 Sep 2013 08:09 #58516 by hasamatt
Excellent images! Are you using third party software to Tone-map your images, or are you just merging to HDR in photoshop?

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18 Sep 2013 09:53 #58517 by firephish
fantastic pics, thanks for sharing. I will be in mweni this weekend ... can't wait B)

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18 Sep 2013 10:57 - 18 Sep 2013 11:03 #58518 by Bigsnake
Not sure if it's polite to ask a photographer what camera he uses :)
It's like enjoying a great meal at a restaurant and then asking to see the chef.
Imagine the thrill he will get when you ask him what pots he uses !

Articles like these are liberating and can save one a lot of money!
Last edit: 18 Sep 2013 11:03 by Bigsnake.

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18 Sep 2013 11:40 #58520 by elinda
Thanks for sharing the great photos Karl - a real inspiration! I will also be in the Mnweni area this weekend and hope to get some good shots

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18 Sep 2013 11:53 #58521 by Asterix
As with all great photographers and chefs, the art lies mostly in your ability and experience and NOT in the tools you use. Meaning, you may have the best camera and lens which means nothing in the hands of an idiot. The type of camera does not define the result but merely assist in obtaining it. Similar if you have a Canon 5D mark 2 with a top of the range lens, it does not make you a great photographer.

A proper DSLR camera and lens together with a tripod which would have been used to take some of these photos can be hefty, hence the questions to fully appreciate the photos. If a “mik en druk” camera was used then this was a very skilled photographer.

Therefore, no disrespect was meant by my question.

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18 Sep 2013 12:26 #58522 by Bigsnake
I'm sure no disrespect was intended!
By the way, you nailed the DSLR used in your reply !!

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18 Sep 2013 13:29 #58523 by Sabine
Fantastic photography! Indeed, its the guy behind the camera who makes the difference, not the camera itself.

What is annoying is, when someone looks at photos and instead of commenting on the photo, says "wow, you must have a stunning camera!"

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