Duke of Edinburgh International Gold Award Group to South Africa

Duke of Edinburgh International Gold Award group in the Drakensberg, South Africa

Congratulations are in order to the 18 students and 4 teaching staff from the Bristish School of Kuwait, who completed their challenging 5 day trek through the Southern Drakensberg a few weeks ago.  The trek formed part of the students’ Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award (International), and this was the first D of E expedition arranged by Traverse Line - feedback from all involved (local guides and the school) is that the expedition was a roaring success, and one which we hope will be repeated.  The students were divided into three trekking parties, each accompanied by a member of the teaching staff and a local mountain guide, which then set off from Garden Castle laden with full packs, and maps and compasses at the ready – group leadership, navigation, camp planning and cooking, all formed practical objectives for the students.  5 days later they emerged at Sani Lodge with wide grins, and mercifully lighter packs.  After a shower, celebration dinner, and a night’s rest in a real bed, the group finished their tour with a two day safari in the Hluhluwe-iMfolosi Game reserve, where a 3 hour early morning bush walk with an armed ranger was the most popular and rewarding activity.

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A new flag at Kala Patthar?

This RNLI flag travelled to Kala Patthar via Ama Dablam base camp, Island Peak and Everest Base Camp,

Having taken photos at Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp of the Dorset Army Cadet Force Group posing with their company’s flag, it wasn’t long before another group of our clients were photographed at Kala Patthar with this one from the RNLI, after their climb on Island Peak.  Well done to the Easterford party!

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Island Peak and Everest Base Camp

Everest Base Camp and Island Peak Expedition October 2011This is the most recent of our groups to reach Everest Base Camp, following an expedition to Island Peak.  Not all made it to the summit of Island Peak owing to some reported sickness picked up in one of the lodges, and difficult snow conditions, but all of the team made it on to Everest Base Camp (seen here) and Kala Pathar – an impressive acheivement after being on Island Peak.

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Sani Pass under snow

Following the theme of our last post, here’s another photo of the Drakensberg under snow during August 2011.  This is the top of Sani Pass (2850m) in the Southern Drakensberg, at the Lesotho border post.  Normally this makes a nice day trip in a 4×4 from the base of the Drakensberg in South Africa, but on this occasion, the Traverse Line client who took this photograph had to walk up through the snow for an hour and a half to reach this spot!

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Mashai Pass, Southern Drakensberg, in Winter

Mashi Pass below Rhino peak, Southern Drakensberg

So you thought that South Africa was a hot country? Well, this confirms that one needs to kit oneself out for trekking in a high Alpine environment when hiking in the Drakensberg – this photo was taken by one of our Southern Drakensberg Guides on the Mashai Pass in August, 2011.  The Mashai is used by trekkers seeking to ascend Rhino Peak, which is normally a 2 day trek with a night spent in tents at the foot of the Pass (extremely fit hikers can climb it out and back in a single day, but it’s a long one!).  If you are short on time, yet want to ascend to the top of the 3000m escarpment, then this is a good one.

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Giribes Plains, Kaokoveld

The Giribes Plain provided our first wild camping location by chance, rather than by design. Having tracked back south of Epupa to Sesfontein, where we spent a very pleasant evening in the community campsite beneath a sprawling fig tree – hot showers, a visit to the old German fort, and an impromtu concert given by three charming twelve year old girls from the local primary (Ladysmith Black Mambazo eat your heart out!) – we crossed the wide Giribes plain heading north towards the Hoarusib river at Purros. Our progress was unexpectedly thwarted by the Gomatum river, which was running fast and a metre deep (it’s carried off two 4x4s in the last few days we hear from a local living close to the crossing point). Reluctantly, we backtrack again, and cut west across the plain in search of a cross country route to a shallower crossing some 100 km away, but the route is unclear, and there are no marked 4×4 trails out here. Having ventured some 10 or more kilometres into a maze of red schist mountains, we decide not to risk wasting fuel on a potential 200km wild goose chase. Returning to the Giribes plain, we set up camp on a shallow hillock crowned by rust-coloured rocks, with sweeping views across the lush open space (it’s normally burning red sand and fine gravel year round, save in exceptional wet seasons such as the one Namibia is currently experiencing) towards red and grey mountains. Cloud cover parts sufficiently to switch on the colour during the afternoon – there are few permissable spots to camp with such extensive views as these in the conservancy lands of the Kaokoveld. As we settle down to sundowners and braaied steak and butternut, a hyena calls from about a kilometre away, confirming the tracks we found around the camp are recent. Tomorrow we will revisit the river to see whether it has run itself down sufficiently for a safe crossing. If it hasn’t, we’ll turn south and spend the last 4 camping days wild camping across the 5000 sq.km Palmwag concession, seeking rhino and exploring its desert plains in the west, which abutt the skeleton coast. For more info on our trips to Northwest Namibia see mobile camping safaris in Namibia

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Himba Village visit near Epupa

A highlight of our stay in Epupa was a visit to three small Himba villages situated about 10 kilometres out from our camp: these visits were made in the company of a local Himba guide, who sought permission on our behalf to meet the people there. Essential foodstuffs like cooking oil, sugar and flour were brought as gifts, and facilitated our acceptance into the Himba enclosures. These gentle tribespeople were extremely easy-going, pleasant and welcoming, giving us free access to wander round, exchange simple greetings and courtesies in their language (which takes a little practise), learn about their culture and take pictures freely. This experience was a far cry from the commercially operated visits to villages we had been told about close to Opuwo (which can be accessed via a metal road from western Etosha); Epupa villages are fully traditional, and are exposed to few visitors from the outside. Guides who visit them are knowledgeable and sensitive, and each has his own villages he takes outsiders to, those he has close relationships with. My worries about cultural tourism spoiling local tradition and sensibilities, and the detrimental impact that this can have, coupled with unease about appearing to be voyeristic, were quickly dispelled when we started meeting the Himba in this way. They was no corruption of culture, and no evidence at all of these people being influenced by western palliatives. We simply felt very welcome, entirely at ease, and that it was normal for one culture to meet briefly with another, enjoy the experience (this sentiment went both ways we felt), and then continue afterwards without any warping of essential value systems. The important thing was we were given full permission, and had the Himba people not wanted us there (perhaps owing to a marriage, funeral or other private ceremony), we would have been refused. For further details on our guided mobile safaris into the Kaokoveld, see Exploring the Kaokoveld

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The Top End of Namibia

It’s taken two and a half days of hard driving from Swakopmund, via the Skeleton Coast, Palmwag (in a beautiful and surprising coat of green) and Opuwo, and the first Himba settlements, to reach Epupa Falls on the Kunene river. The latter is in full flood, so much so that our campsite beneath tall makalani palms is semi-submerged (two nearby camps are flooded!). It’s a beautiful spot, and well worth the long journey. It’s very hot – we are melting actually – and cold lunch beneath the palms is very welcome. Following sundowners on a hillock with panoramic views of the falls this evening, we intend to make plans for Himba village visits tomorrow followed by a second night in camp. From then on we will seek a route into the remote Marienfluss and Hartmann’s valleys: the van Zyl’s pass, a tough 4×4 route, has been washed away by the exceptionally hard rains of a few weeks ago, so we will be back-tracking several hundred kilometres and seeking a route in to this unspoiled territory across the Hoarusib river. We have plenty of time on this long, highly exciting, and so far very enjoyable mobile safari in Namibia, one that goes far beyond the horizons of even semi-adventurous travellers. And so, as this photo reveals, the hillock above Epupa falls reveals one of the best views of the falls – a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine, with no other people about. For further details on the mobile trips we can offer in north west Namibia, click here: mobile safaris in Namibia

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A postcard from Everest

In October 2010 we escorted ten British Army Cadets from Dorset ACF, two accompanying officers and a nurse to Everest Base Camp. Thanks to a carefully planned and cautious itinerary, the entire group fully acclimatised and made it to Everest Base Camp. This is the view from Kala Patthar, the Everest view point at 5550m.

Posted by Angus Maclaren with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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Brecon Beacons in Winter

Hiking in the UK can of course be extremely challenging. We had to park a long way off because of ice on the road. We reached the top of Pen Y Fan at 4pm and ended up descending by starlight in the last 2 hours!

Posted by Angus Maclaren with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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