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July Camp in the Drakensberg

The July Winter Camp in the Drakensberg is hosted and organised by the Kwazulu-Natal Section of MCSA. This is the Camp that provides everything and that does mean ‘everything’.  You just bring your personal hiking kit and tent and snacks and favourite tipple – we supply the rest, and more!    For further information, contact Rikki Abbott Wedderburn on 082 538 538 9 or e-mail

Report-back on  JULY CAMP 2017 at CAMBALA

Well, it certainly was a Camp with a difference as we knew it would be
from the very first moments after the decision was made!

It is unlikely that we have ever had a July Camp so close to a
permanent dwelling. True, in 2006, also at Cathedral, we did have the
Base Camp in the idyllic Research Catchment 8 between the simple,
small buildings that had been built to house the instruments when the
earlier research programme was active. They had been left standing
(and looked for all the world like very solidly built, brick
outhouses) and we sited the 2006 Base Camp close to one of them which
made an ideal, icy cold meat store.  It was good to see that these
little buildings have come back into their own, and that they are
being used for research purposes again.

Jump to 2016.

We were so anxious to return to the beautiful Catchment 8 site, but
now it is, judging by the number of vehicles going into it every day,
in very active use for a multi-disciplinary research programme. As a
result, very understandably but very regretfully, we were not allowed
to Camp there. So, we decided to break new ground and have the Base
Camp with a difference in the grounds of Cambalala, formerly a forest
foreman’s home, but now restored. The  KwaZulu-Natal Section of MCSA
leases from Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife and which members can

Yet another difference was that while the Base Camp infrastructure, as
usual and for safety reasons was sited on a mown grassy knoll,
literally in the back yard of Cambalala, the Campers’ tents were
nestled in clearings the Advance Party had made in the ‘nchi ‘nchi
(spellings vary) bush, also known as ‘ouhout’. I am a ‘nchi ‘nchi bush
camp addict, so for me this camp site was highly evocative bliss,
while for many others this was a novel experience. However, as the
bush wove its magic there seemed to be many new addicts. Birdsong woke
me us before the ever welcome call of “Coffee, please”!

Before lightweight tents were so readily available, often an
escarpment sub-camp party that was relying on caves, where possible,
would find that there was one spot without a suitable shelter, but if
there was a copse of ‘nchi ‘nchi bush marked on the map, one
considered one’s party very fortunate and hastened towards that
special place. Hence my fondness for the bushes, which in fact, given
time, can develop into handsome large trees.

Yet another different aspect of this Camp was that within minutes of
leaving the cars parked near the bottom of Mike’s Pass, one was
walking up to Camp along a beautiful Berg stream and into a pristine
valley - one immediately felt the stresses drop away and petrol fumes
clear from one’s lungs.  A few hours later, one arrived at Base Camp
having already enjoyed the first, and possibly one of the best hikes
in the area. July Camp had begun before one even had sight of Base
Camp or tasted the first of the ever-present cups of tea or coffee.

Our youngest camper, Roelof Hauman, chose that he and his very
obliging father, Carel, should spend all their three days in this
enchanted river valley. On the last day he commented to his father,
“Pappa, vandag was ons in die hemel.”

But now, the carefully phrased paragraphs give way a racing crowd of
memories all rushing and jumbling for preference:

·         The glorious, ever-present uninterrupted panoramic view from
Amphlet and Turret to the very end of the Cathedral Ridge,

·         Successful Escarpment trips, happy contour path sub-camps
and numerous day walks,

·         We found and happily used Roland’s Cave, but Botha’s Shelter
remained elusive

·         Brilliant red Natal Bottlebrushes in full bloom,

·         At night, the beautifully whimsical coloured solar fairy
lights draped in the bushes and marking Dave’s tent,

·         Brilliant starry nights and fascinating discussions led by
Andy as he took us across the Southern skies,

·         A dramatic full moon on the opening night which also
happened to be Tineke’s birthday,

·         Roelof’s accounts of his daily adventures and Carel’s
delight in having shared these precious times with his son,

·         Being able to alert the authorities to a dramatic arson fire
easily seen from our high vantage point, while still hidden from them
at the official buildings

·         Re-greeting friends last seen 10 or 15 years ago and finding
that though there were a very few minor visual changes, the real
person remained unchanged,

·         The hugs, the embraces and the bubbling joy of greeting old
friends and then meeting new ones that had, till then, been only
e-mail names and suddenly were real people, and kindred spirits, what
is more,

·         The eager delight which greeted the first fragrant
appearance of the famous pickled pork,

·         The enthusiasm with which the healthy salad and cold
meat–type lunch disappeared,

·          The groans of delight as walk-tired muscles were lowered
into the hot water of the old tin baths. All tiredness  and pain
forgotten in the healing magic of ‘one bucket of hot water and as much
cold water as you like’

·         The fragrant, dancing delight of firelight on those nights
we could have campfires

·         The singing and chatter around the fires

·         The joyful, helpful, ever present Scouts who were always in
just the right spot to render assistance. What a privilege and a
pleasure to have them with us. Please become an entrenched part of
July Camp. We welcome you with open arms. Your presence lowered the
average age dramatically.

·         The joy of the Scouts even when weather conditions forced
then to retreat from their second attempt on the Bell Traverse, and
they arrived back in Base Camp in high spirits and wiser for having
made the right decision under the circumstances.

·         The generosity of the Duracell bunnies, Hanlie and Peter,
who brought two buckets of macadamia nuts for us all to share and

·         Delicious sweet, juicy oranges.

·         The wind that came out of nowhere and devastated the Base
Camp infrastructure in minutes.

·         The commitment with which the KZ-N Committee, as a man,
leapt up to hang onto and hold down the gazebos while others struggled
to get the heavy duty covers off and managed to do so without any

·         The sight of the two conical army tents that we use as the
swelling and billowing; the one ripped from top to bottome and the
other one just gracefully sank down on top of contents. Both,
considerately did not damage the solar lighting.

·         Two Scouts holding onto me while I tried to hold onto the
equipment tent which was determined to blow away, but was prevented
from doing so. While this battle against the billowing once-white
canvas was playing out, Jabulani just carried on quietly and
methodically hammering in the tent pegs as they were wrenched out.

·         The laughable sight of fully laden lunch tables being blown
away side-over-side and scattering their loads in all directions.

·         The delight that not one of the Campers’ tents that had been
set up in the gentle sheltering embrace of the ‘nchi ‘nchi bushes,
only a few metres away, was damaged.

·         The inevitable cries of the ‘The bathrooms have gone’,
followed shortly by ‘The loos have gone’.

·         The miracle that next, day by lunch-, a totally different
order was established and the Camp was fully functional again.

And those are just a few of the memories of July Camp 2017.

Do yourself a favour and come to July Camp 2018 and collect your own
vivid scrapbook wonderful July Camp memories.  Every July Camp, is a
Camp to remember and recall fondly.


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.