Falling for Tugela.

Who was the original person who started this rhetoric about needing to conquer your fears? Well, he or she sucks for starting that trend. After this weekend, I want to not face anymore fears for a long time, okay. Let me just sit in my comfort zone for a while. Am I being serious? Of course not. Facing your fears is scary. In this case, stupid crazy scary. Will I do it again? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows!

This quick little detour of an adventure started out with a pothole-ridden road that led to a tyre puncture in the darkness. No, no one was speeding. Those potholes were no joke. But we still had many hours before curfew and we were finally going on a hike and camping…woohoo! Nothing would get our spirits down; not even a Friday night stay at an airbnb where we learnt after the fact that premium means shower and standard means bathtub. It was also the difference between having hot water or not. There were 5 of us, one bathtub, only cold water that took forever to run and we were to leave for our hike the next morning at 6. Think we made it? Damn straight we did. That’s how high our spirits were. Still jovial and happy, we made the airbnb lady pick up the keys at 6am and by 6.15am we were on the road. Sentinel Peak here we come!

Now, according to research, Tugela Falls in South Africa is the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world. BUT there are debates around this given when the measurements were taken and the fact that one (Angel Falls in Venezuela) is uninterrupted flow and Tugela Falls is. So, of course I’m on the side of Africa here. Just redo the measurements and give us our first place. That’s where we were headed. To see a waterfall 948m high. As in above ground. You know, all the way up there.

Since we were staying overnight (it can be done as a day hike) we packed up our camping bags, tried to make them as light as possible (fail) and with about 12 kilograms on our backs, we were ready to tackle a mountain. Except one problem. The 7 kilometer road to the start of the hike required a 4×4 or equivalent which was not flagged as a requirement. We were in a tiny little hatchback. But this did not even deter us. We saw a sign for Witsieshoek Resort and upon arrival there, we discovered for a little extra fee, they’d do a transfer for us and we could leave our car there. Oh, their transfer vehicles were full so on the back of a bakkie we went. As I’m typing this, it only occurs to me now the amount of signs received that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this hike.

Okay, so let’s try this again. At the starting point of Sentinel Peak, backpacks on, weather is in its top most form, and we start. And every 500 metres or so we’d take a break. Because did I mention this hike was purely upwards? Oh, right forgot that part. It was ultimately only 6 kilometers but the first part zigzagged across the mountain, then we took a quick official detour (yep, can you tell how excited we still were?) to a view point. OMG. Even height-falling-off-mountain-fearing me lay close to the edge to take in all of nature’s glory. And we were only about 2 kilometres into our hike. Yes, I mean they say it gets better. I didn’t understand how.

We finish off the zigzags; following the one experienced hiker on our trip who forgot that he had a few inexperienced hikers with him plus two individuals exceptionally afraid of heights (why was I doing this again?) and I’m pretty sure we swore him a couple of times when he tried to encourage us to take shortcuts over water-flowing rocks…with the weight on our backs. The entire hike is a freefall. And beautiful. Glorious even. I didn’t look down but I definitely looked out. Rivers, greenery, wow.

Here’s the part I definitely swore at. There’s 2 points immediately after each other where ladders need to be used, the first 40 metres high, the second 20 metres high. Against the mountain. Freeeeeeeeeee as a bird if you fall. And to really test our resilience, at the first point, the strongest looking ladder had a “No entry” sign next to it which meant we needed to use the ladder that dropped into the middle of nowhere. I cursed the planner of this hike properly. And myself for agreeing to this. And the weight on my back because it was such an irritation. Did I go up with my camping bag and all? Yep. Did I shake and tremble the whole way? Yep. Did I swear. Oh yes. Did I get to the top? Duh. 2991 metres – we were at the top. 4 hours and 5 kilometres in. We had made it. No more climbing. Another kilometer across the plateau and we found the falls and the most spectacular sight I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of one of those Chinese landscape paintings that look too real to be real. Chain ladders and upward hiking was forgotten after being above the clouds (literally), sunshine all around and the falls heard so near. The water was crystal clear and tasted like how water should taste, pure. The view of the peaks, valleys, river and valleys is something I’ve never seen before. Breath-taking is all that comes to mind.

Tugela Falls

Tents up next to the edge (but far away enough), wind starting, lunch was made and I lay down in the tent, enjoying the fresh air and the breeze. We had arrived. I wasn’t as brave as two of my hiking buddies who flashed the mountain or jumped into the freezing pools near the edge of the falls; taking life on in a different form. What I kept finding interesting about this hike was no one tried to hide or cover their emotional state. We barely knew each other and yet when I was hangry or freaking grumpy from those ladders, there was no need to be polite. When we were all over joyed by the views, no one restrained their excitement. Maybe it was the lack of other humans around or maybe it was just the company but it matched the level of freedom this mountain range gave.

Sunset time, another two tents popped up closeby and I thought can it get any more beautiful and freeing than this? Photo after photo taken. This wind. Go away. Supper time and the stars. This is what I came for. The wind was gushing now, so I popped my head out of the tent and stared up looking at this sparkling milky-way. I haven’t seen this many stars since my primary school class trip. Yes that long. No city lights around, no cars, no noise. Just the stars, the wind and the water fall. I had forgotten how many stars exist. I had forgotten how many thousands of sparkles are above us. I had forgotten that there’s no gaps from sparkle to sparkle. I had forgotten that’s for sure.

The night of terror began when we went to sleep. As the experienced hiker put it in the morning, “this was the most annoying conditions” he had ever camped in. The wind was so intense it blew the neighbours tent until it broke and I was convinced we were going to get blown off the mountain. When this didn’t happen, I was convinced our tent would break. It did not die down. So no sleep was had until 6 in the morning when the sun had risen and I braved the wind to catch a few shots of the sun rise. As we were packing up in the it-just-won’t-go-away wind, I thought about how lucky we were. To be able to witness all this scenery with no cloud cover or rain, it was worth every upward climb. I missed the outdoors and nature, and here it was being blown in our faces to appreciate.

This trip wasn’t about facing fears but it was about being one with nature and in order to do that, you just have to get through whatever you’re facing. As I look back at these photos, I pinch myself. I can’t believe I was there. I can’t believe time went by so fast. I can’t believe beauty in nature like this still exists. I had become smitten with a mountain range and a waterfall. Extraordinary.

8 thoughts on “Falling for Tugela.

  1. Tharanta says

    I’m so glad you went on this trip with me! It was such an amazing experience and in glad to face shared this joy with you 😘😘

  2. Thelma says

    At first I thought you were talking about the fictional book I have written in Sesotho for a competition but later realised mine was different to yours. This was very interesting and enjoyed reading it

  3. hi_king_mule says

    Just did that trail this past weekend and I appreciate your literature even more so because of that. Brilliant and very fun read.


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