Lost in Lesotho

We had to be weary of rock falls along the winding road up to Bokong Nature Reserve in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho. At more than 3000m above sea level, the nature reserve is one of the highest in Africa. Our group of eight began a three-day hike at the Mafika Lisiu Pass. The scenic mountains were humbling and inspiring and tested our stamina and will power, mine especially. During the day we hiked upon the ridges, following cairns built by shepherds. They were baffled by our presence in the Highlands, lugging everything but the kitchen sink, while all they carried was a stick and a traditional Basuto blanket for protection. We roller-coasted up and down. My knees were none-too-pleased. At dusk we descended to the nearest water source and a suitably flat area to camp. We looked forward to seeing stars. Unfortunately, due to overnight cloud cover we never saw any. A highlight for me though, was witnessing Cape Vultures soaring gracefully through the skies, close by and at eye level. It was spiritual.

On the last day when we got to the GPS co-ordinates where we were meant to descend into the valley, we had two choices:- the Holome Pass, which was steeper but shorter, or the Solane Pass, which was gentler but longer. The Solane Pass was closer so we continued down from there. Three quarter way down it was late in the afternoon and some of our knees were buckling and blisters bursting. It was only when we couldn’t find the resort we were meant to finish at, or any sign of civilization, that we realized we were lost. We had hiked down the wrong valley and further away from our last verified position. To compound matters it began raining. The rain became hail and we got pelted.

Eventually we got to a remote village. Most of the inhabitants were indoors. The village had no electricity. No form of telecommunication and from the few people we met, no one that spoke English or who could tell us where we were or how to get to the resort. For safety concerns we trudged ahead away from the village. We encountered a river and had to wade through snow-melted water. Our feet and legs froze and it wasn’t long before we couldn’t feel where we placed them. When we got to the opposite side we were fatigued and decided to set up camp. We discussed our dilemma and the alternatives. We decided to follow a muddy road we had seen earlier, till it got us to civilization, not knowing how far civilization was. Our group leader favoured heading back up to the site we camped at the previous evening and than making a dash down Holome Pass, weather permitting. It would be demanding, tedious and risky, especially with the weather closing in on us. We could get to the top okay, but conditions could get worse up there and we’d have to wait it out in the cold. We decided to sleep on it and make the final decision in the morning. Exhausted as we were, few of us slept much that night.

Next morning we decided the best option was to return up the mountain to our last known GPS co-ordinate and make our way from there. We passed back through the village towards the mountain. The locals cautioned us but we thought this the best solution. Our food reserves were low as was our morale. To infuriate matters, a third of the way up it began snowing. But there was no turning back. I struggled but we had a helpful group and all got to the top safely. The mountains appeared different covered in snow, both beautiful but also treacherous. We camped in the same area we did previously. Everyone climbed into their tents and got into their sleeping bags to keep warm. We prayed the next day wouldn’t be as challenging. When we awoke, the sun was shining, though we could see clouds gathering in the distance. We disassembled our tents, packed up and found the correct path, making certain this time, down to the resort. Our families were relieved upon our return. We had had no contact since beginning the hike. Another hiking group had also got caught in the snowfall on the Drakensburg Mountains. Sadly some of them perished. We all learned a few valuable lessons about hiking, about ourselves and about not putting all our trust in the individual using the GPS.

S R Bhowandas

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