Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Funny hiking & climbing signs...

Training is a family affair...

This past weekend was hectic to say the between school functions, parties and domestic chores we had to get some training done of course...
My girls had to be at school for their 'big walk' early on Saturday morning, so off we went, each with our own agenda - selling coffee, tea and hot chocolate as well as manning the water table on the route was Joe and my job!

The girls were so proud of themselves, they each did their mandatory 10 laps and got their medals!  By now it was lunch time, time for domestic shopping and to the Westcliff Steps yet again...
Reagan, my 7 year old, accompanied me (and she did pack some goodies to keep her busy in case she got too tired) and she ended up walking up and down those stairs with mom for about 40minutes! I was absolutely impressed to say the least, and I just had to do the last 20min on my own! Now that's teamwork!

I must just also add this little story to the training....on about the second last 'lap' of the stairs, I literally nearly dropped my load (in more ways than one...) - there right in front of me on the step is this HUGE gigantic hairy beast of a spider, and circling it is the BIGGEST mutated wasp like creature I have EVER seen!!! What the hell those two were doing I do not know, all I do know is that I found this surge of energy and literally took 4 steps at once with my 15kg backpack and hightailed it out of there....needless to say I was crapping myself on the way down as I knew they would still be there...and oh yes, they were indeed.  I gave that area a wide berth but felt ill, the steps were deserted, it was just little old me and I kept praying some other pedestrian would come along and either step on it, or shoo it away (sorry Peta and all..).  No such luck, but at least it was the end of the training for that legs were jelly when I eventually got into my car!

Nothing like a surge of adrenalin when you least expect it!  Perhaps a can of doom will be in order on my next trip to the steps!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Drakensberg Amphitheatre Ascent

To spend the day on the summit of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre, in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg of South Africa, must surely be one of the highlights of visiting South Africa.  Even if one is not so fit, the first km of the walk provides the most breathtaking views in South Africa – it is a fantastic reward for very little effort.
For a person of average fitness this must be the easiest way to access the top of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre – other than a helicopter. It takes just 3 hours to reach the summit along well maintained paths – and there is even an alternative route if one is afraid of heights and does not intend to tackle the chain ladders.
Walking up the path and from the summit: This must be one of the greatest views in the world. The breathtaking views and grandeur of the scenery of the Amphitheatre, with the Tugela River plummeting 850m to the gorge below, creates an unforgettable experience. To the north stand the Beacon Buttress and Sentinel peaks. This outpouring of lava dates back to the time when all the southern continents were joined to form the enormous mass known as Gondwana, around 140 million years ago.
From the car park a broad path leads up the looming northern flank of the Amphitheatre called the Sentinel (3165m). At this altitude only the grasses, wild flowers and the Bearded Vulture flourish. As the path leads to the base of the Sentinel, peer over the edge to the left and see the Tugela Gorge in the Royal Natal National Park far below. Due east lies the Devil's Tooth, a completely isolated pinnacle of rock, between the Eastern Buttress (3047m) and the Inner Tower (3044m). The distance as the crow flies between the Inner Tower and Beacon Buttress is 4km. Enjoy this spectacular view before the path follows a contour to the right around the back of the Sentinel and Beacon Buttress (3121m) to the famous ‘Chain Ladders’. This mildly intimidating structure, two ladders of 40 metres and 20 metres each, allows easy access to the Amphitheatre plateau above. Those with faint hearts can ascend/descend via a steep gully between the Sentinel and Beacon Buttress.
From the top of the Chain Ladder the edge of the Escarpment lies 2km to the East. The source of the mighty Tugela River slips over the Escarpment to plummet, in 5 massive leaps, over 850 metres to the valley gorge below – this is the second highest waterfall in the world. The best position from which to appreciate the magnificent views is some way to the south of the waterfall itself at the Window Crevice. From the top of the Chain Ladder follow the path along the stream for 500m then turn to the southeast and follow the rising slope to the top of Crows Nest ridge and to the edge of the Escarpment and the Window Crevice.
 Do not stay too long at the Window Crevice. Head north down the ridge to the top of the Tugela Falls for lunch. It’s difficult to convey the fear of being so close to the edge with such a huge drop below. Try not to worry, as the rocks have not moved yet, so sit back and admire the view. The views in the distance are of the dams and rolling grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal. The source of the Tugela and Orange River lie behind on the Mont Aux Sources.
The term Mont-Aux-Sources refers to the hills lying behind the Amphitheatre wall. The Mont-Aux-Sources peak seems to be insignificant as it lies some 3 km back against the Maluti Mountains. This area marks the watershed between Lesotho and South Africa, East and West coast. In total five rivers have their source here. They are the Tugela, which plunges over the Amphitheatre wall; the Bilanjill which flows into the Tugela just below the escarpment; the Khubedu which joins the Orange River some sixty kilometres south; the Khubela joining the Khubedu some 11 km from its source and the Eland's River which flows into the Free State.
Have some of your packed lunch and refreshments and then start the walk back to the car park by 15h00. One has the choice of descending either by the Chain Ladder or the gully between Beacon Buttress and the Sentinel. The gully is steep and full of small loose rocks and should not be attempted in wet conditions. The path leads to the Contour Path and then retrace one's steps to the car park and The Cavern.
Before you Go!!
Hiking in the Amphitheatre area demands some preparation. Always wear sound shoes or boots. Be aware that this area is subject to rapid changes of weather in all seasons. Always take waterproof clothing and something warm even if you are roasting in the car park below. It has been known to hail and snow in summer at the high altitude. At this height pay heed to the fact that exercise is more tiring – the air is much thinner – and that one dehydrates much quicker.
The Drakensberg Amphitheatre is located at the Northern end of the Drakensberg escarpment.  About 30km from the Oliviershoek Pass the R74 meets the R712. Turn left towards the town of Phuthaditjhaba. The Amphitheatre/Sentinel and Witsieshoek Resort are clearly marked. Passing through the town one is led onto a dirt road and into the National Park. The only way forward is up, past all signs of habitation, towards the Sentinel car park. After 13km the dirt road ends in a secured car park with 24-hour guard presence.
Park Fees and Charges
There is a small toll road fee and the park entrance fee per person.

Drakensberg training hikes

I'm very excited as we have booked and confirmed for our weekend of hiking in the famous Drakensberg.  We will be leaving Johannesburg around 4am on Saturday morning and driving straight to the Sentinel car parking lot where we will start our first hike!  We intend on hiking this beautiful trail all day (around 10 hours) and then driving to Thendele where we will be staying (in the Royal Natal National Park).

On Sunday we will do another hike from our chalet in the park - around 4-5 hours (there are many levels to choose from) before driving back to Johannesburg.  It's about a 4 hour drive to get there, but well worth it!  We generally stay 2 nights, but work, dogs and kids dictate otherwise for this weekend :-)

The main hike for Saturday is known as the Drakensberg Ampitheatre Ascent, and you also get to see the mighty Tugela falls - in total 5 rivers have their source here!! It's also famous for the chain ladders we have to ascend/descend to get to the top - quite open and scary, but lots of fun!
I will be posting the 2 hikes under their own headings as there is quite a lot of information on each - and it also makes it easier for reference.

We are staying in one of the self catering chalet's in the Thendele Hutted Camp - we've stayed there before (when we were training for Mount Kilimanjaro) and it really is lovely! Think rustic, warm fires and lots of red wine...unless you have serious hiking ahead :-)

I will report back on the hikes and up to date information over the weekend...images below are of the chain ladders, the falls and Thendele Hutted Camp.

Elbrus weather not playing nice...

I've been scouring the net for any more updates on summit attempts over the last few weeks, and sadly it seems that most people are being turned around...the team I've been following for a while tried to summit 3 times, but they were turned back by complete whiteout conditions and winds in excess of 80km/h!!

I'm praying that the weather just improves as we get closer to their summer season...luckily we do have some time built in for weather problems, but as they say - anything can happen!

The weather on the lower slopes has been 'lovely' - although I'm not sure what 'lovely' means to people who are used to polar could be like minus 10 degrees with continues snow falling for all I know...but here's to being positive!

Adventure Dynamics - Jenny - has just let us know that our Russian Visa's are all ready and that we can collect our passports! That was super quick - just another awesome perk about going with a reputable company!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Russian Language

I absolutely love languages and couldn't wait to get my hands on a Russian phrase book...that was until I got it and saw how hectic the language is!
Firstly - it's not even about the pronounciation - just try the spelling!! Everything looks like it's written upside down and/or the wrong way around!!
Secondly - just when you think you are pronouncing sounds right, wham - curveball and there goes the theory! There are just too many for me to cram into the little time I have left before I leave...but that's not going to stop me, I will continue each day, even if I arrive and can only say 'Da' and "Nyet".

And yes, I am going to go there....EVERYONE...always wants to know a swear/bad word or two....don't they? Just in case someone really makes you mad...I'm sorry if I offend anyone here, I found this 'dictionary' online as well....
englishrussianpronouncedhear it!
win mediaquicktime
get out / f- offotva`lilistenlisten
shut upzatk`nislistenlisten
f-k! (rude!)b`lyad'!listenlisten
what the f-k?`tchyo za ga`lima?listenlisten
f-k off / f-k you (rude!)
po'shyol 'na huilistenlisten

f-g crazy?охуел?okhu`el?
this is f-d upэто пиздецeto piz`dets

Funny stories

I'm following quite a few blogs and websites for any and all information on Mount Elbrus at the moment (remember I mentioned how I plan things to death?) and I have read some of the funniest and weird things from people who have done or are doing this trip!

I thought I'd share a few of the funnies here as and when I read about them, but check back again as I will most certainly update or post some new ones as time goes on!

Flight from Moscow to Mineralnye Vody:

The climbers boarded the 'ancient' looking Russian plane and immediately realised that no one on board spoke any English.  Also the absence of the safety demos hinted at an interesting flight ahead...fellow passengers were making and taking cellphone calls the whole way during the flight when they had reception and upon landing no one really bothered with seat fact passengers were walking around the aisles even upon landing!! And when the climbers peered and looked for the air hostess - there she was at the front, sitting on a box! No chair for her!

I will definitely report back on our flight - I'm sure I will have a few tales to tell!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Training Hike @ Hennops River

Johannesburg 'summery wintery' days are just out of this was very cool early this morning, but really warmed up nicely as the day progressed!
I booked our hike for today through Jacana Collection online - what an efficient service! Go check them out at - I paid online, they mailed me a permit and Bob's your uncle!

The drive to the Hennops River Hiking Trails only took us about 30-40minutes, way closer than I thought it would be! We stopped at a new filling station about 14km from the gate - we had to get something for brekkie and a snack or two for the hike...found the most amazing soft fresh cheese rolls - yum we enjoyed a few of those on the last km's to the gate!

It really is amazing how close to home we were, but how different everything is - you have to appreciate the quiet, the sound of a calling eagle and rushing fresh water...amazing!
With loaded packs - mine was stuffed with books again at the bottom, cameras, binocs, snacks, water, juice and a first aid kit - it was bulging at the seams :-) - we got the map from a staff member and proceeded through the gate...

The first sight you see is the amazing Hennops River - a mini waterfall and some rapids - and then you can either turn left for the Krokedilberg trail or straight on for the shorter Zebra route.  We hooked it left and we were off - it was chilly!
The hike is beautiful and it was also quite busy this morning - many hiking clubs have braais/days out there, as well as many church/youth groups-we overtook quite a few groups! The climbs are steep, rocky and dusty, but the views really just take your breath away (and not the steep hill yay).

The terrain varies from rocky climbing patches to flat dry riverbeds - we also passed through what I called "the valley of the giant aloes" - the track is really well thought out and very clearly marked.  There were only one or two occasions where we had to look properly as some people had clearly gone off the marked trail (only to rejoin it after a few meters anyway).

The hardest part of the hike today were the very steep downhill climbs - we were very high up on the koppies and had to descend into the valley below...major concentration was needed and it was strange moving through 'hot pockets' where the sun really baked!  The descent is quite long and windy, followed by some zig zagging through cow pastures and then all of a sudden you head right back up and wind up towards the koppies again...just when your thighs really start feeling the burn, it evens out and so it goes...

There is a long and windy patch of hiking through the dry river feels like it goes on for miles and miles and the dry dust can cause havoc with your sinus issues, but nothing better than clearing the mind of all our city issues for a couple of hours!

The end of this hike is the really fun part! You get to strap into a metal basket and literally swing across the river to the end! We even had a little dog to greet us - it said "James" on his collar - he didn't look like a James to me though - he seemed quite at home on the wrong side of the river!  Another hiker helped to pull us up the final stretch at the end and told us that the dog was actually on the right side, but as they got off to send the basket to their friends, he just hopped on board and rode across the river!! Shame I hope James got home ok...although I'm sure he lives there!

The hike took us just over 3hours, absolutely awesome and I would do it again and again! It's also a great family day out...

We spoilt ourselves with a lovely pub lunch down the road at 'The old Rose' and thereafter a lovely nap!  Tomorrow it's the Westcliff steps again!! Yay can't wait...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Inspiration for the mountain lover




Our daily Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive in Moscow, transfer to hotel. 
  • 23 June 2012 - sightseeing: Red Square, The Kremlin, Gorky Park etc

Day 2 - Flight to Mineralnye Vody. 3 hour transfer to 3 star hotel New Azau Hotel at base of Elbrus cableway. Overnight. 
  • 24 June 2012 - small russian plane...excess baggage vehicles....scary 'path' not road to Elbrus

Day 3 - Acclimatisation day and climbing of Mt Cheget (3410m). 
  • 25 June 2012 - apparently a gorgeous hike with beautiful views...

Day 4 - Ascend cableway on Elbrus to Garabashi, acclimatise with walk to Priyut 
ruins (4000m), night in barrels. 
  • 26 June 2012 - this is where the fun starts...

Day 5 - Climb from barrels at 3800m to 4700m, Pastukhov Rocks, return and sleep at barrels. 
  • 27 June 2012 - packing scrabble, iPad with movies & cards...

Day 6 - Rest day at barrels. 
  • 28 June 2012 - could be a loooong day...more movies & games

Day 7 - Take snow-cat from barrels to rocks at midnight - ascend western summit of Elbrus (5642m). 
  • 29 June 2012 - if all goes well YAY! Luckily we have a contingency day for bad weather...

Day 8 - Contingency day for bad weather. 
  • 30 June 2012 - hopefully we don't need it, but good to have either way!

Day 9 - Return to New Azau Hotel. 
  • 1 July 2012 - LOTS of Vodka to be had!!

Day 10 - Fly from Mineralnye Vody to Moscow. Night in hotel. 
  • 2 July 2012 - CIVILISATION!! 

Day 11 - Transfer to airport - Depart from Moscow. 
  • 3 July 2012 - hopefully we all leave with HUGE smiles on our faces!

It's Open Season on Elbrus!!

I got some wonderful news last night from the folk at Elbrus...the season has officially kicked off and things are looking good so far...let's pray it all stays that way and that everyone is safe and sound!

Herewith the information:

We consider the SUMMER season has been started. Everything is ok and stable in the area and South side is open for tourists.
- The weather is rather warm in common. Every night there are small snowfalls and at the moment Elbrus became covered with snow. Big icy areas are absent. Sounds like the snow cover now is permanent for the summer. People with skis can rely on skiing the summit up and down.
- There is no electricity at the Barrels huts now. That lasts for some months. Permanent electricity, outlets and electric heaters was one of the main advantages of the Barrels huts, other huts never had this. Only some small nearby huts had electric power from the Barrels huts but now they obviously also have no electricity. We were promised the electricity will be turned on in mid May but at the moment it is still absent. We will inform everybody when it is fixed. There are gas heaters in huts so it is warm enough inside, however the possibility to recharge cameras and other devices is absent.

I will keep checking for any more updates and post them here as they arrive!

5 weeks to go!!!!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Backpack training at gym

I officially started my backpack sessions this morning....I actually felt quite good, but did lose about 5l worth of sweat!  And the temperatures outside are just getting lower and lower each morning...really took loads of mental strength to get my butt there!

I googled and did a bit of research on 'backpack' training and as per usual loads of conflicting advice!  Anyway, I feel that I know my body and am comfortable with how my training is going so I take a bit of advice from here and a bit from there...

So for the first day, I loaded my pack with a whole lot of books off my bookshelf..admittedly I did leave 2 books behind in the car at was feeling a tad too heavy!

I started off on 12.5% incline, speed at 4.5km/h.  I walked this way for about 25min, then upped the incline to 14% for another 20min.  I then dropped my incline to 13.5% and at 4.3km/h for around 15min, followed by 13% at 4.5km/h to finish off for about 20min!  A total of 80min - 1 hour 20 minutes.

I could definitely feel the weight of the pack in my thigh and butt muscles, but I am confident that I can load my pack a bit more for next time!
I am also adding wrist weights/dumbbells from tomorrow.

I'm planning a day hike on Saturday at the Hennops River Trail, I think it's about 12km or so, a really nice hike close to Joburg!

Watch this space...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Wearing in my hiking boots...

So this morning, I realize with dread, is exactly 6 weeks to departure for Russia...and I've only worn my new hiking boots once on a hike and twice around town...not good at all Candy!!

So we have planned a few hikes in the coming weekends, but until then - the next best thing is to wear them when and where ever I can!
And this brings me to I am at work today in my 'gorgeous' hiking boots, now the few people who know me quite well are all informed and understand was only when I walked up to other colleagues that I suddenly realized why they were checking my feet out....wahahaha, they must think what a dodge chick this is!!!

Anyway it's for the greater good, so I'm not stressing, I'll just keep reminding myself why I'm getting strange looks all day!

Maybe later I will take them 'off-road' - there are a couple of bushes out here in the parking lot!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Flight & Layover logistics...

Oh yes, I'm one of know those people who plan everything and do the trip in their heads before they've even left? Well I seriously get ripped all the time for it, but I'm yet to hear a complaint when I whip out the Niknaks or nougat when all hope is lost!!

I've been doing some research (big surprise there) on our actual 'trek' just to get to Russia...

We are flying on Qatar Airways (I believe very nice) via Doha (ha huh??) en route to Moscow...unfortunately we have an 8 hour layover there (which is fine as we saved about 3k)...but here's the thing:  I contacted the airport via email (don't you just love the interweb??) and have found out that for as little as $30-40 we can check into the business class lounge and have a shower and veg!  How awesome is that...if I must say so myself!  Most people have said they just made beds in corners etc, but hell no, why forego the lounge if it's so cheap?? Who's with me??

So we leave Joburg around lunch time on the Friday, get to Doha late evening and then leave for Moscow early am!  We can arrive as fresh as can be...thanks to those showers in the lounge (nudge nudge wink wink)

We will be staying in a hotel in Moscow for the night, so it will be sightseeing until we fly to Mineralnye Vody the next day...

Photo's of my gear

These are some pics of the gear I will be using in June...