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July Camp in the Drakensberg

2 - 16TH JULY 2016

This year, July Camp will be held at Lotheni – a nature reserve in a remote and secluded part of the southern Drakensberg, or to give it its correct name, the Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. July Camp has been there only once before and that was in 1996, the year of the ‘Big Snow’, so 20 years later seems a good time to return! This site offers wide vistas with striking views of Redi, Hawk and Tent and to the north stands Giant’s Castle. The name Lotheni means ‘in the ashes’ referring to the burnt appearance of the shale found in the Lotheni River. The area is well watered by a number of rivers. There are several waterfalls and pools to delight the brave who want to swim, or the photo-enthusiast who prefers to experience the Berg through the lens of a camera or the trout fisherman (fishing licences are available from the Office). Both the Little Berg and the Escarpment call to the hiker to come and explore them. Mountain-biking is an option that is permitted in the reserve. Our Base Camp will be situated alongside the Lotheni River, in a part of the reserve that is well known for its grassland and marshland bird life. When we were at the Campsite on one of the recce trips, we disturbed a Reedbuck right at the Campsite. That seemed a very inviting omen.

The brochure and application forms are available and are on the KZN Section webpage. Or contact Rikki Abbot Wedderburn ronwedd@netactive.co.za Cell: 082 538 5389 Tel: 033 2392 374 or Mike Coke cokemd@the cokes.co.za who is handling the booking.

To acquaint yourself with the area, the relevant maps are the KZNatal Drakensberg Park Hiking Map nos. 4 and 5 which are available from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, P O Box 13609, Cascades, 3202 or customerservice@kznwildlife.com. Black and white MCSA Berg maps will be available in the Camp.

REPORT BACK OF THE JULY CAMP 2016 – by  RIKKI ABBOTT

July Camp 2016 at Lotheni in the Southern Drakensberg was a most enjoyable event.

 We continued our trend of recent years of an increasing number of very young Campers. We believe very strongly that this ensures not only the future of July Camp, but also of the Mountain Club. About ten adults asked for KZN MCSA membership forms.  Very grateful thanks go to the President of the KZN Section, Murray Saunders, who shared the concern of the July Camp organisers over the low number of KZN Section members who attended July Camp.  He pro-actively challenging all the KZN Section Committee members to attend the opening weekend and had a very pleasing response. More Section members attended than is usual.

We had more overseas visitors than in the past and let those of us who are still here catch up with news of many distant friends. Maybe we should get these erstwhile Natal Section members who now live overseas to compile and distribute an annual newsletter?

It was also special in that, at last, we have broken through the colour bar. Thanks to the commitment of Taffy, Miles and Afifa, and their intention to be back again next year with more of their hiking friends.

After years of trying to establish contact with the Scouts, this year we seem to have pushed the right button and had a party of 25 Cubs, Scouts, leaders and parents for the second weekend of Camp.  They all seem to have enjoyed it very much and are eager to be back again next year. They scored a hit with the organisers when some of them came back at the end to help with dismantling the Camp.

The Camp was well attended with the final number of man-nights even increasing during the Camp as we welcomed first-timers and old friends who made spur of the moment decisions to join us. Fortunately we had sufficient food and our chef, Vusi Ndlovu, son of the legendary Ishmael Ndlovu, took all in his stride and produced very tasty and satisfying meals that astonished newcomers and kept the regulars coming back for seconds.

Graham Smith led a very fit young party to the top and all returned very pleased with their trip. Other sub-camping parties were led by Norman Owen Smith, Liz Warren, Gerhard Venter and Rod Saunders. Every day saw at least one day party going out and these were led by Dave Morgan, Rachel Saunders, Margaret Brown, Liz Warren, Andy Hackland, Kate Davies and Roger Paul.

An outstanding feature of this Camp was the exceptional hospitality we received from the Ezemvelo staff. Sibongiseni Mica Khoza, the Acting Officer-in-Charge of Lotheni Nature Reserve visited us almost every other day, just to make sure that we did not need anything and Bongiwe Duma, the Receptionist was a most gracious and caring hostess.  We thoroughly enjoyed their visits and were able to reciprocate by inviting them to share several meals with us. Another pleasant surprise was a visit from Dumisane  Mpontshane, the Officer-in Charge of Vergelegen, the July Camp venue of two years ago.

The weather was relatively mild, with most days being typical for July, cold in the mornings until the sun reached the Camp site (about the end of breakfast), and then warming until it was quite warm to hot at mid-day and the earlier part of the afternoon, and then suddenly dropping when the sun left the Camp site at afternoon tea time. The evenings were still and certainly cold enough to ensure that we needed campfires. 

 I am immensely grateful to Ezemvelo KZNWildlife for the unique privileges they accord to July Camp.  Such is the relationship that we have built up with them over the years that we are allowed to have three fires at July Camp, the essential cooking fire (although we do take gas if the weather prevents the wise use of a kitchen fire), the fire under the hot water donkey and the camp fire (weather permitting). This year we had wonderful camp fires and enjoyed their warmth that encouraged chatting and singing.

After such a successful Camp, surely every July Camper must have left Lotheni refreshed in body and spirit.

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