Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The first Span-African Bell Traverse - March 2011

A great outlook point of the Mlabonja Valley no far from Twins Cave.

Last week I had the opportunity to lead my first black group in the Drakensberg Mountains. African people haven’t traditionally practised mountain sports for pleasure, but times are changing and, with better education and economical resources, cultural barriers are gradually disappearing. So this was a really special trip and I had been looking forward to experiencing the new South Africa since the moment my clients had confirmed.

I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment I met the tenacious trio Tank, Brian and Ntokozo at the car park, I knew it was going to be a really fun weekend. It was their first overnight hike and they were full with excitement. Their enthusiasm and humour was highly contagious and kept our spirits high for the duration of the hike. A Sotho, a Zulu, a Xhosa and a Spanish, we were the most extraordinary group, probably the first Span-African hiking party in these mountains ever!

The Bell Traverse is not a trip suitable for beginners. But they were young, eager, sporty and, most importantly, had the right attitude, so I knew they could cope well. Although it was a real challenge for them at times, especially that long slog up the Mlabonja Pass, these three took it all in their stride showing their determination. Once we arrived at the Cathedral Peak Hotel, and we could look back at the mountains over a 5-star burger and a beer, the “hardship” was quickly forgotten and they asked me: So, what’s next?

If you would like to do this hike contact us at info@spanafrican-adventures.co.za or have a look at our website www.spanafrican-adventures.co.za for other exciting options.

My very excited African group - They kept their spirits up until the end

uring our first day we had to cross the river an unending number of times. Here barefooted Ntokozo.

The very rocky and busy Tseketseke Valley tested our patience

The Tseketseke Valley. A very faint footpath runs along the steep hillside

The Tseketseke river. Here we had to take our boots off once again.

Our first night, a cosy shelter near Xeni Cave.

On the second day we made our way up the Mlabonja Pass

The side valley of the Mlabonja where Xeni Cave is. Unfortunately the spectacular Pyramid was in the mist.

Taking a well-deserved break after reaching the contour path which we would follow for 2km before regaining the Mlabonja Valley for the start of the pass.

Mlabonja Pass, a very steep and long climb

At the end of the summer the grass is at its highest making progress more difficult.

Some sections of the pass are really steep and hiking becomes scrambling
High about the clouds. Here the final steps to Twins Cave

Morning of the 3rd and final day. Leaving Twins Caves towards the Bell Traverse

Some sections of the Bell Traverse require a head for heights, which my friends had.

The Bell Traverse contours for 6km from Twins Cave to Bugger's Gully.

Bugger's Gully, no need to wonder about the origin of the name.

From this point, the adreanaline kicks in as one wonders how on earth you can make it safely to the gully.

It's just an optical illusion, the path is actually 100% safe

The ominous looking Bugger's Gully is littered with loose rocks. But with a little patience one can make his way up safely

It's not a route that I would like to attempt in icy conditions.

Brian and Ntokozo close to the top on safer ground

Tank showing the tension of the moment. On this kind of situation you need to be 100% focused.

The other side of the gully is not any better.

The final ridge down the mountain. The Cathedral Peak Hotel is only a few km away.

A cold drink and a pub meal at the Cathedral Peak Hotel is one of the highlights of the hike

And you can finally relax while looking back in awe at where you have been a few hours before.


  1. “Were the human brain able to recall the pain of Field’s Hill, no one would run the down Comrades twice. This then is the point each runner, from the first to the last, must pass to arrive in Durban on their own feet. It is here, stripped of any of society’s false privileges, that he finds no hiding place, no shelter of convenience. Face to face with himself he must look deep inside. 'These miles,will challenge everything he holds dear, his value system, his lifestyle. They will ask nothing less than his view of the Universe.'" George Sheehan

    After reading this quote I don't think i can better summarise my experience. As painful as it was at times, i thouroughly enjoyed it. And since my body now knows what is expected of it, i will certainly be doing something similar in the near future. Carlos, I thank you. This is a great post. Super-Tank and Mr Cool Calm Collected will agree :-)

  2. Nice one Brian! Lovely comment! You're so sharp that you could cut yourself. I look forward to the next one.

  3. i cant thank you enough Carlos. the experience was wonderful and i am going to do it again. Hopefully during winter months we will do another one, with the same team and possibly even more people. this was truly something new to some of us.

    The are many guides up the Drakensburg, but it who you do it with that matters. Interesting enough was the fact that other hikers that we came across, were first given their experience by this humble, down to earth Spaniard, Carlos Gonzalez.

  4. Thanks for such lovely comment, Tank! You're way too kind. I can't wait to be in the mountains with guys again. You're such fun!