VE Berg Trip 6

07 Jul 2015 06:59 - 07 Jul 2015 07:05 #64478 by tonymarshall
VE Berg Trip 6 was created by tonymarshall
VE Berg Trip 6 was held on the last weekend in June at the Monk’s Cowl Area. Five VE members attended, intrepid, diverian, witchiwoo, Smurfatefrog and tonymarshall, and we were joined for the whole trip by the Monk’s Cowl EKZNW Officer in Charge, Mark Robertson. This was another pine tree trip, and for the first time we were able to adopt a three phased approach; follow up on previous work done, undertake some planned work, and scope out the area for future work, which turned out to pretty much follow the three days of the trip.

In 2013 we had worked on a pine cluster in the upper Hlatikhulu catchment, and wanted to check up on this work, as well as pioneer a shorter direct route up to the site, as the route via the Sphinx or Keartland’s Pass past Blind Man’s Corner and Hlatikhulu Nek and down into the upper catchment was rather roundabout.

From the Monk’s Cowl office we followed the Hlatikhulu Forest Walk, in misty weather with rain forecast and snow forecast for the summit overnight, although we would be tenting lower down near Keith Bush Camp, towards the forest.



In the Hlatikhulu Forest.



Once through the first portion of the forest, we headed directly up the ridge towards our work area in the upper Hlatikhulu catchment, intrepid, Mark and Smurf looking back down the slope.



On the previous trip to this area in 2013 intrepid and diverian had seen a way up via a grassy gully, the only break in the rock band below the work area, and we managed to find this gap and head steeply up through the rock band to the ridge above.



On the ridge it started raining lightly, and we soon neared the work area, the edge being marked by the first dead tree we came to, a double stemmed pine with the smaller stem cut off and the larger stem ring barked.



We had a lunch break in the rain, and it began raining harder and the wind picked up and it was really miserable. All the trees on the ridge that we had worked on had died, including a large female pine that we had spent several hours ring barking; it had been a successful 2013 trip. After a long slog up the ridge to Hlatikhulu Nek, we descended into the Mhlwazini valley on the path towards Keith Bush Camp, and tented on a flat area in the valley near the base of Intunja/Gatberg during a break in the light rain. We had planned to do some more work on pines here, but with the poor weather decided to postpone the work to the next day, which was forecast to be sunny and clear.

After some evening rain, it stopped raining sometime during the night, and the wind picked up, drying the tents and grass out. We awoke to a clear day with some light snow visible on the summit peaks around Champagne Castle and Dragon’s Back.



We split the group, with Mark, Smurf and tony heading upstream towards Keith Bush Camp to work on a pine cluster higher up the valley, while intrepid, diverian and witchiwoo would start on the pines in the valley near the tents. Smaller pines are sawed off, and the trunk ring barked to prevent easy regrowth (or if they are small enough they can just be pulled out of the ground). Here Mark ring barks the trunk of a sawed off pine.



Larger trees are ring barked due to the difficulty in sawing off thicker trees with hand tools, and here Mark and Smurf ring bark a larger tree while Monk’s Cowl watches from above, hopefully with approval.

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Last edit: 07 Jul 2015 07:05 by tonymarshall.
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07 Jul 2015 07:01 - 08 Jul 2015 06:55 #64479 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic VE Berg Trip 6
Two of the larger pines near Keith Bush Camp that were ring barked, with Cathkin Peak and Monk’s Cowl in the background.



Having completed work on the pine cluster near Keith Bush Camp, we returned to the others in time to have lunch together at the tents below Gatberg. We had underestimated the pines here, with the bush hiding several hundred smaller trees in addition to the large ones.



This area was the start of the pine tree project, and site of the first pine tree trip done in 2011. Several larger trees that had been ring barked had died, while three still survived, and seemed to be healthier than when last observed in 2014. Much to our surprise, the bark had partially regrown over the ring barked area, and was keeping the trees alive. The smaller of the three was sawed off, and the other two thoroughly ring barked, while several hundred smaller trees were sawed off or pulled out of the ground, under the watchful eye of Intunja/Gatberg.



Ian and Wendy – diverian and witchiwoo – decided to stay another night here in their new tent, and finish work on the cluster in the afternoon, while the rest of us packed up and headed down valley towards Eagle Gorge, where we were hoping to find Eagle Cave and overnight there. The final tally of pines worked on in the upper Mhlwazini area near Keith Bush Camp and the base of Gatberg was 4 large pines ring barked and 360 smaller pines sawed off or pulled out of the ground.

We arrived at Eagle Cave, near the junction of Eagle Gorge and the Mhlwazini River in the late afternoon. It is not an obvious cave, although we were able to find it without any difficulty.



Being late, we decided against going to work on the pines we could see downstream, and instead cleaned up the cave a bit and cut some grass for the cave floor. We will use Eagle Cave as a base when we work on the pines in the area, so it will be worth making it comfortable, although some more work will be required.



Chris (intrepid), Merv (Smurfatefrog), Tony and Mark in Eagle Cave.



Just downstream of Eagle Cave, around the junction of Eagle Gorge and the Mhlwazini River there was a cluster of pine trees. These can be seen in the photo below, with the confluence at the centre of the photo, the Mhlwazini River on the left and Eagle Gorge stream on the right. Oddly enough, the large round tree to the right is also a pine, just not the typical conical shape. These pines will be included into our work area for future trips.



A view of Eagle Gorge.



We walked out upstream parallel with Eagle Gorge, and also found a few more smaller clusters of pines in the area in the valleys, which we will include into our work area as well. There were also several large clusters on the ridge above Eagle Gorge, but these are not so remote and are concentrated enough for the EKZNW teams to deal with. Continuing on up to the top of the ridge at a point just south of iNdanyana, we headed down the other side on a trail that has recently developed down into the Makhulumane Forest, having a break for lunch just before entering the forest. We then completed the walk out through the forest past Makhulumane Rock, to join with the Steilberg path, where Mark had kindly arranged a lift for us back to Monk’s Cowl office, where Ian and Wendy were already waiting for us.

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Last edit: 08 Jul 2015 06:55 by tonymarshall.

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07 Jul 2015 10:54 #64481 by Papa Dragon
Replied by Papa Dragon on topic VE Berg Trip 6
Thanks for your work restoring the wilderness :thumbsup:
How often are the VE trips done?
Are the pines trees that have spread from the Forestry Department's experiments at top of Mike's years ago?

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07 Jul 2015 11:09 #64483 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic VE Berg Trip 6
Currently we average 2 trips per year, one at Monk's Cowl (which is our biggest project area), and the other in the upper Tseketseke Valley at Cathedral Peak. Certainly the old test station played a big role in the current pine infestation, definitely the stuff we are seeing in the Tseke, Nyosi, Mlambonja, Thuthumi Valleys etc. How much of it spread to Monk's Cowl (which has the worst pine infestation in the Berg that I can see) I am not sure about, since there used to be forestry in this area (and still is) that has undoubtedly also contributed to this.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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07 Jul 2015 19:34 #64492 by Richard Hunt
Replied by Richard Hunt on topic VE Berg Trip 6
Hi Guys, this Pine problem in the Berg has been bugging me for some time. On the farm we have to yearly send an alien plant control team to remove Pines and other invaders. These Pine tree seeds arrive on the farm most probably with birds and animals (still do not know who are the culprits) In the Berg the Pines are growing on steep slopes right up to the base of the escarpment, so it has to be a bird or animal that spreads the seeds. If Pine trees grow higher than knee height they become a costly problem as we see in the Berg there are now many mature Pines and spreading rapidly. If the Parks Board and Water Affairs do not tackle this problem soon our Berg will look like the Canadian mountains in the next 50 years!!!! I take off my hat to the VE Team...well done guys.....but the Parks Board and Water Affairs have to tackle this problem head on as soon as possible. It will be initially a big exercise but after that a yearly run through will be very easy. Have the Parks Board been approached and what do you chaps think??

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07 Jul 2015 21:09 - 07 Jul 2015 21:21 #64494 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic VE Berg Trip 6
I don't speak on behalf of EKZNW, but some of the things I currently understand are:

1. A certain portion of Working For Water resources is allocated to the Berg - these teams tackle low lying pine and other invasives that are readily/easily accessible.

2. A new set of teams - Working On Fire - has been trained to tackle so-called "high-altitude pines", as part of keeping them employed outside of the fire season. They have training to deal with pines on steep slopes, near or on cliffs etc. I understand some of these have been allocated to Culfargie and Cathedral Peak. But this is all relatively new and I am not sure what they are currently working on.

Other than that I am not aware of further budgets on a local level to deal with invasives.

Our small VE team deals mostly with "remote and high-high altitude pines" :P Its the low density areas we are trying to specialise in, that are not worth pursuing in the short term since the labour resources mentioned above would be best used in high density areas. We do report our work to higher levels in EKZNW and we are drawing their attention to the problem areas.

I wish they would/could allocate more resources to the problem, I agree, and not just on pine but to bramble and wattle too, which are far more aggressive. Apparently the battle against bramble is among the most serious in the Berg.

Notwithstanding that the authorities need to tackle this strongly, they can never fully do it on their own, and we as the public can help, even in small ways. Its easy to carry a panga strapped to your pack and to ring-bark a tree or two on a weekend hike.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 07 Jul 2015 21:21 by intrepid.

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08 Jul 2015 12:14 #64495 by Papa Dragon
Replied by Papa Dragon on topic VE Berg Trip 6
Intrepid do you know offhand if there's any that need doing near Wonder Valley Cave?

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08 Jul 2015 12:37 #64496 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic VE Berg Trip 6
More than you want to even know exist :D
VE stays out of Wonder Valley for a reason.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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09 Jul 2015 07:33 #64498 by Silverthorne
Replied by Silverthorne on topic VE Berg Trip 6
Sign me up for the next hike please :thumbsup:

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09 Jul 2015 18:45 #64503 by Richard Hunt
Replied by Richard Hunt on topic VE Berg Trip 6
Hello intrepid, thanks for shedding the light on which authorities are busy with the Drakensberg alien invader problem. It seems that they are just starting to realize the magnitude of this problem in the Drakensberg. I am going to contact Doug Burden from DUCT.... www.duct.org.za/ and chat to him about this issue. He is ex Parks Board and during his time he walked the GT before it was called GT, and this was a patrol of the Parks Board boundary.....those were the days!!!!! Thanks for your great effort and I am sure many new VE Berg Trip volunteers to follow :thumbsup:

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