Didima day hiking
So this past weekend, myself and Hobbit went up to spend 2 nights at Didima camp.
Day 1: fire the hungry dog
Mlambonja Pass is a route that has partially been on my radar for a long time, but has always been on my later-list, much like Mbundini Pass, except without a second backpack . After much debate on what route to do, I settled on shooting for Mlambonja Pass as a day hike. At about 30km it makes for a tough day, and there isn’t really any other pass to loop it with if done in a day, so the goal was to shoot up, bag Twins Top and Easter Cave Peak and be back earlier rather than later (after all, it was almost full moon).
At first light – about 5:45AM – we were leaving Cathedral Peak Hotel’s car park en route to One Tree Hill. The pass can be approached from either side (the other route being past Neptune’s Pools), but we decided to tackle it from this side.
When you reach One Tree Hill, you immediately notice 2 things – firstly, there are a few hundred trees, secondly, it is one incredibly steep hill! The trail is made up on long zig-zags which makes life a lot easier. By taking it slow and not stopping, soon we found ourselves on a plateau with extensive escarpment views in every direction. Tarn Hill used to be my favourite small Berg hill, but I have to say, this one beats even Tarn Hill. Really worth the walk!
We hit the contour path just before 8AM, leaving us an hour to reach the pass in time for the 9AM target. 9AM being the time when we expected we could get up the pass, bag the khulus, get back down and at least be close to the car park before it was dark. I was surprised how quickly we were moving.
The morning was getting even better – when we reached the river that flows from the saddle between the horns, there was actually a good trickle in it. The drastic loss in altitude to cross this river was annoying, but I could live with it in exchange for a full waterbottle.
I had noticed a rather substantial amount of smoke coming up ahead of us, but having seen fires the previous night, I assumed it was probably just smouldering bushes. As we rounded the first corner, we found that it wasn’t what I had at first thought. A large fire was burning down the slopes of the Inner Horn and just happened to be on the contour path in front of us at this point in time. We were walking on burned grass, and the wind was blowing from the south east, so we were theoretically safe. We both had our buffs over our noses due to the amount of smoke in the air. Foremost in my mind was the fact that smoke inhalation kills far more people than direct fire.
We dropped back a bit to get some cover from the ridge we had just walked around. I told Hobbit to wait there while I went ahead and checked the situation out.
The fire was mostly burning down the hill, and about 20m above the contour path there was a substantial gap which we could easily get through. I updated Hobbit on it and I decided to go ahead. As we approached it the wind changed direction. It was now blowing vast amounts of smoke at us – but was still burning down the hill rather than across the slopes. We climbed the bank, got through the gap and motored it for the next 500m knowing fully well that a change in wind direction could put us in a position of running away from a raging fire – and we both knew that fire generally moves faster than hikers do. This decision may sound rash or reckless, but I had inspected the grass and found it to be mostly rather green above the trail, and the areas after about 500m had already been burned. Staying where we were would have not been safe, so I had to make a call, and in retrospect the call worked out.
We were soon on the freshly burned and relatively overgrown stretch of contour path where you ironically loose quite a bit of altitude before hitting the base of the pass. But coming round the corner where you actually see the pass our hearts sank once more – there was a massive fire right at the beginning of the pass. The way was shut.
We sat on the Mlambonja River, with a bush about 10m away still on fire, and a massive blaze going on around 150m away. We sat right next to the water, knowing that this area had already burned, but not wanting to take any chances. On either side of the contour path we would be faced with fire, so we had to just sit and wait it out. Having reached the base of the pass before 9:30AM, I would like to think we would have had success on the day in the absence of the fires, but we will never know.
After a very long break – well in excess of an hour – the fire up the pass had become a cloud of smoke, smouldering vegetation was everywhere. The bush burning near us was still crackling and continued to slowly burn, but most of our surroundings were simply ash.
We eventually put our packs back on and headed south on the contour path. We considered traversing to Tarn Hill, but after realising how far that is, we decided to try the Neptune Pools off-ramp on the highways found at Didima.
After a long sustained climb and some impressive views of the Column and Pyramid, we reached our turnoff. The hill has the usual exposure that makes the Didima small Berg so special, but without the steepness found on many of the others (courtesy of zig-zags). From the top of the ridge, Xeni cave is quite clearly visible. The trail from the cave up to the top of the small Berg looks badly eroded – not something I would want to do with an overnight pack on!
We had no reason to rush, it wasn’t midday yet and we had absolutely nothing to do back at the camp site, so we decided to go and check out the Neptune Pools. We had our lunch break there, spending about 2 hours sitting on a large rock next to the pools. The walk out from there isn’t at all difficult, and we were back at the hotel before 4PM. From there we drove back to the camp and decided to take a leisurely stroll down to the river where we sat and watched the sunset. By moonlight (after having supper) we walked up the hill to the EKZN offices to sign the mountain register (which we had failed to do after the hike).
The total GPS measured day was 22km and the additional late afternoon and evening strolls added another approx. 4km to the day.
Even though we didn’t reach our target, it was great to spend most of the day relaxing and enjoying the mountains.
Day 2: try me if you dare
When I first looked at the Didima map a few years ago I was confused as to the pronunciation of the name “Tryme Hill”. This was until Tony Marshall pointed out that the word is “Try Me”, much like the bump on top of the Amphitheatre named after Bill and Jill.
Wanting to get back to PMB earlier rather than later, we drove up to the Didima offices and set off at 8:15AM with a goal of walking to the contour path and back again in 4 hours via Tryme Hill. The map shows a distance of 11km for the return trip.
It was a rather hot morning, and it didn’t take long before we were both dripping with sweat. The trail up this hill is steep and eroded in places. Any map assertion that ropes may be required is misleading though – there is a bit of walking up rocks, but the rocks are more like a staircase and are easier and less exposed than the rocks at the base of Keartlands Pass or half way up the Neptune Pool ridge.
The trail traverses under an unnamed hilltop marked as 1810m on the map. My GPS rated it as closer to 1876m, and looking around I could not see a higher peak on this ridge, despite the map showing the top called Tryme Hill as being 1m higher than this top – this one was quite clearly higher.
We took advantage of our altitude and walked up to the top of this hill. After a break admiring the view from this summit, we continued along the trail. The ridge offers some great views of pretty much everything from Intunja/Sterkhorn to Cathedral Peak. It is a great spot. Smoke rising from the fires around the area obscured some of the view – we could see parts of Mlambonja Pass (and noticed how steep this pass is), but visibility could have been better.
We eventually hit the contour path (which is actually 6.5km, not 5.5km from the EKZN offices, according to my GPS), stopped there for a short break, and then reversed the route back to the car. Our final time – 4h12m, but bearing in mind that we based our target time on an 11km distance, not a 13km distance, I think we did pretty well.
During the weekend I had wondered why firebreaks were being burned so late in the year, but apparently the locals in our friendly neighbour had come over the border and set the slopes alight – which is why the fires were burning down the hill.
Ps. Thanks to finally having a GPS that can be plugged into a computer (I got a Dakota 20 in the end), I have attached the GPS tracks from each day. They don't serve much purpose, but its nice to actually be able to keep records like this!
Photos to follow soon.
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Sun rises over the Cathedral range
Steep drop-offs on One Tree Hill provide an incredibly view
A failed attempt to do a forces perspective shot with "one" of the smaller trees...
The Column and Pyramid with Cleft Peak
Why I wasn't worried about fires at first
A few minutes later:
Fire on the pass
Mlambonja Pass as we left it:
You may notice a high concentration of photos of these 2 non-khulus, this may give away the fact that I think they look really awesome...
The fire we had walked through a few hours earlier was still making its way down the hill
Looking across from the Neptune Pool Hill - there are so many pines scattered across Didima, and many are in difficult to reach spots. The more I hike there, the more I appreciate the work done by the Pine Tree Project team.
Fires burning down Cockade on Saturday night
The great Tryme Hill
Looking across from the "may require ropes" section of Tryme Hill - I guess you would need ropes if you got badly lost...
Hobbit reaches the plateau of Tryme Hill
This ridge provides a spectacular panoramic view of the area
It has been said that Cathedral Peak is the best located hotel on earth. It may be a difficult point to argue against...
Looking towards Mlambonja Pass:
The hill which is 1876m according to my GPS and 1801m according to the map.
The contour path is further than it seems
Once again just in case you guys missed these peaks. Photo taken from the contour path.
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This map also shows it 1m lower than Tryme, but it supports your higher altitude readings
ghaznavid wrote: The trail traverses under an unnamed hilltop marked as 1810m on the map. My GPS rated it as closer to 1876m, and looking around I could not see a higher peak on this ridge, despite the map showing the top called Tryme Hill as being 1m higher than this top – this one was quite clearly higher.