Charley Boorman Log- Day 21

July 2, 2012

In which Charley and the team take on Tugela Falls.  Tugela 1

With the Sani Pass tackled in style, today we took on the other jewel of the Drakensberg and climbed to the top of Tugela Falls. It starts with a fairly sedate climb up Sentinel Peak. The path is rocky with some occasional steep drops at the side, but on the whole it’s an easy way up with some breathtaking views of the distant horizon.

That all changes when, near the top of the mountain, you encounter something that makes sense on paper but is, in practice, terrifying. This part of the mountain in a shear rock face and there’s no path to take you further. So in the 1930’s they installed two sets of iron chain link ladders – the first set being about 30 metres high, followed by a second set above them, climbing another 20. The wind is funnelled through this part of the mountain and gusts around you with unexpected ferocity.

While sturdy enough, the old ladders creak and groan, and move around more than you’d like. Their closeness to the rock also means that some rungs have less to hold on to than others. All in all, it makes for an unpredictable, unpleasant climb that’s not for the feint hearted, especially when you’re hauling yourself up wearing a few layers of clothing and a heavy, ungainly backpack.

Tugela 2One at a time, hand over hand, we made it to the top of the two ladders and sat back, momentarily worn out. Our feet and hands tingling with the fading hints of vertigo, which soon faded into a rush of achievement. But we weren’t finished yet. The top of the mountain is called the Amphitheatre, thanks to it’s wide, bowl shape. Once you’re off the side and on that flat top, the wind reaches maximum force and this time of year, there’s snow on the ground. Trudging through the crispy off-white surface, braced against the wind, we trudged on. The sun was already setting as we crossed the lip of the mountain and now our shadows stretched far ahead of us.

The temperature, never particularly high up here, was also dropping rapidly. As we approached the top of the falls, any bare skin was starting to sting and our limbs grew weary. In the darkening twilight, we realised we had to pitch the tents before it was too late and attempt the Falls tomorrow instead. It was disappointing not to reach our goal on the day we set out to do it, but we’d achieved a lot. It was time to make a hasty meal over the fluttering gas flame and crawl into the only place that was even slightly warm – our sleeping bags.

As the wind increased further and loudly buffeted the tents over our heads, we settled down onto thin groundsheets on the snow and shivering, waited until morning.

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