Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

Once upon a time, in a Wilderness area far, far away, Brenden and Hans were about to leave on another exciting adventure. They had with them four visitors, whose industrious souls were subconsciously seeking a meaningful connection with nature.

Day 1. Our point of departure would be deep in the heart of the Mphongolo Wilderness. We were dropped off south of the Phugwane River near Shamangombe water point and immediately headed north to the soft, white sand of the river. We located a suitable camping area near a water source without much difficulty and set out to collect some wood. We just needed a fire and I had previously collected the appropriate material to make fire by friction. The guests were slightly sceptical at first, but their confidence grew as the smoke started rising from the point of friction. From there on it only took a couple of minutes to nurture the hot carbon to flames.

Day 2. Some lions and a single leopard vocalised nearby for the bulk of the early morning. It created a fantastic atmosphere in which to wake up and start the day. We continued south along a dry riverbed towards an area Hans had explored on a previous trail. The game paths grew wider and busier as we approached the large Fig Tree, in the distance we could already see large groups of Zebra and Impala gathering at the water point. We decided to set up camp here for the following two nights.

The mid afternoon heat forced three elephant bulls to the water; they were accompanied by a young cow and her calf. It seemed a rather strange grouping, but then again, do we really know enough about elephants to classify this as normal or not. It didn’t seem important at that point anyway. We were about to explore our surroundings. We had hardly ventured 100 meters before disturbing a lioness and two cubs. We decided to return to camp, as I would rather have them in the area than disturb them any further and have them leave.
The afternoon turned into a game viewing feast as an estimated 1000 buffalo and a single *** bull visited the water point, near our camp before sunset.

Day 3. We were all awake from about 3 a.m. as two male lions roared at regular intervals approximately 200 meters away from our camp. As dawn broke I visited the other tents to inform them of my plan. Get out of the tents, put on some shoes, keep quiet and don’t stand up to create a silhouette in and around the camp. Once the light was good enough we got into single file and started heading in the lions direction. It didn’t take us long to locate these two large males. They had entered a large open area near camp and we were now viewing them as they walked across the plain. They eventually identified us, but we were all sitting down, which created some confusion. We shared a couple of moments with the lions before they turned around and ran away. Another excellent start to the day!

As we arrived at Mooigesig Dam, large crocodile tracks moving away from the water grabbed my attention. The croc would only leave the permanent water body for one reason and we followed the tracks across grassy terrain towards a large stand of trees to try confirm my suspicion. Right ahead of us a large male leopard leaped from the branches of a trees, a beautiful sight that we all managed to see. With a closer investigation we located a young impala carcass wedged in between two large branches. What an inconceivable sense of smell crocodiles must have, the carcass was approximately 300 meters from the dam.

Day 4. It was time to head back to the pickup point. It was a rather quiet walk compared to the rest of the trail, but we nevertheless encountered some Nyala, Impala and fantastic bird activity on the way back. We were collected at 10 and started our journey back to civilisation.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by nattim »

Well, trail has come and gone! :D :(

What an amazing time. We (SO and I) met up with our guides at lunch on Wednesday. The others who joined us on the trail were doing back to back trails, so we just waited for them to get cleaned up and real food. Then it was off into the wilderness.

Julie (guide), suggested we take our watches off and forget about time. This was a real stretch for me, but I thought I'd give it a try. It was so freeing...

Off the tar road, onto a dirt road, down a no entry road, and onto a jeep track, further and further from everything that is known to me...

Eventually we stopped off-loaded and the vehicle left. We were alone in the bush... What a feeling.

After going over the "rules" and checking nothing could fall out of packs etc, we started off into the unknown. A short hike later and we came upon Mooi-gesig dam. Here we set up camp for the evening, and started to learn about camp routine. Went to collect water from the croc-infested dam... :?

That afternoon/evening we had a lone bull elephant and a breeding heard of elephants come right past our camp. Quite a different experience to viewing from a car.

We saw a side-striped jackal that night. Had a leopard grunting not far from camp and heard lions most of the night.

Early next morning packed up camp and set off in search (hopefully) in the direction of the lions. After a decent stretch of walking found a peaceful setting in a riverbed for breakfast. Rob (guide) went of at one point, and heard franklin calling. After breakfast we headed in that direction and found marks of where the lion had lay and listened to us ~60m from where we'd sat blissfully unaware. Unfortunately they had run off...

The afternoon stretch of walking was a tough one, especially for us Joburgers and our soft feet... Eventually we stopped to get some water, digging into a previously dug elephant hole. Filled up the buckets and waterbottles and headed for the promised nearby stop.

The next day we only took day supplies with us and went walking. Had amazing experiences with buffaloes, a big heard of ~200 strong... What a feeling when you hear them thundering over the ground.... Tracked *** too. Never quite caught up.

Our last evening we headed down to the dry riverbed where the guides kindly dug the elephant holes a bit deeper and we got to experience bathing in elephant watering holes! :dance:

That night the camaraderie that had developed could really be sensed as we joked around the camp fire.

With much sadness we packed up the following morning and gingerly hoisted the now much lighter packs. By now we had finally toughened up and felt like we could finally walk for miles, but sadly knowing we weren't going to as we had to head out. :cry:

Heading back was a really tough experience. As we heard the truck approaching that realization that we had to actually leave this place was a tough pill to swallow.

Then the road widens and widens again and eventually we reached tar...

I would just like to thank Rob and Julie for making the experience what it was. We learnt so much and realized just how much we don't know. We look forward to the next one....
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Katamboega »

Wilderness, that is where i just spent another wonderful 4 days, lots of walking no talking just nature at its best.
It is getting more exciting every day as the velt turns to spring and the waterholes become hives of activity. Game is concentrated around the remaining water and there is never a moment where there isn't some big thing in close proximity to the group. The night sound even though it was full moon where constant and i am sure some times scary to the foreign visitors.

There was nothing that they could do to prepare for such an experience, as it is unique, even if you come from the wilderness in Alaska. Africa and especially the Mphongolo area with its unique charm, got them to appreciate wilderness in a different lite.

If i had to give you a blow by blow list of encounters it would become monotonous with the repetition of the names of the big 5. All i can say they had lots to view and incredible displays of behaviour and the most wonderful wilderness experience.

It was very good to walk with people that understand wilderness and appreciate its wanders.
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

Light had started menacing darkness as I lay awake in my tent, backpack as a pillow.
The incessant dispute slowly spilled over to the birds as the deep vibrations of Southern Ground-Hornbill pilfered the silence and encouraged the day.
A discontent Square-tailed Nightjar interrupted their chant as if to gesture his support of the dark.

The last time I had used the shaded Tamboti-leaf carpet near Matiovila as a camp was five months previous.
No group had been to the area since, despite the high trail occupancy this season.
Access to the 150 000 ha Wilderness Area is restricted by the absence of a road network and exploration can only be done on foot over an extended period of time.
This sense of wildness and remoteness unquestionably defines the Mphongolo Backpack Trail in northern Kruger National Park.

Our eight guests lay silent, listening from their tents as the increased radiance restores the confidence that may have evaporated in the darkness.
The principles are contradictory of air conditioned rooms, comfortable beds and the multitude of additional reassurances the conventional safari intends.
Merely fundamentals hold substance at this juncture, all else counts for naught.

Wilderness is the highest category of conservation an area can ever achieve, yet it should not be restricted by a definition or physical boundary. Wilderness is a philosophy and consequently infinite.

We are familiar with the situation where we have forgotten the name of a place and cannot produce it in spite of the utmost concentration.
We have it 'on the tip of our tongue' but it just won’t come out, until we give up and shift our attention to something else when suddenly, in a flash, we remember the forgotten name.
No thinking is involved in this process, it is a sudden insight.
Another well known example of spontaneous intuitive insight is jokes. In the split second where you understand a joke you experience a moment of 'enlightenment'.
It is well known that this moment must come spontaneously.
Only with a sudden intuitive insight into the nature of the joke do we experience the laughter the joke is meant to produce.
It cannot be achieved by 'explaining' the joke using intellectual analysis.

Our guest’s connectedness with nature lies on the periphery of their modern being.
On the ‘tip of their tongue’ so to speak, and it takes moments of spontaneous intuitive insight to generate reconnection.
Creating moments of enlightenment on trail is the challenge of Wilderness guiding.
It is the challenge of not being confronted by the limitation of language.

I am by no means suggesting that Wilderness guides are capable of choreographing life changing metaphoric dances and individual theatrical performances around a small trail fire.
However, Wilderness guides have access to a unique set of tools with which to create moments of spontaneous intuitive insight. These tools can also be defined as the attributes of Wilderness and include remoteness, serenity, peace, wildness, solitude, harmony, inspiration and reflection opportunities.

With packs on our back and the rehabilitated camp a remembrance, we meander along a non perennial stream in search of its confluence with the Phugwane River.
We explore the Mphongolo Wilderness according to our personal requisites.
Apart from water availability and heat from the midday sun, we are laden with no restriction.
Guiding with such independence and space is exhilarating, but the concept should momentarily rouse a sobering intimidation. “To be abandoned is to grow". Clear water filters into our excavated pit in the dry riverbed. In this moment we take nothing for granted.

The realisation, discovery and understanding of Wilderness is a succession of spontaneous intuitive insights for the impending Wilderness guide.
It is not something that can be absorbed from literature, but develops with experience and time in Wilderness Areas.
Each individual may develop a personal definition of Wilderness over an undefined period of time.
This definition may be expandable and will, in all probability, undergo multiple metamorphoses in due course.
Wilderness may eventually become a ‘state of mind’ an understanding that not only the bright stars in the sky are significant.

Wilderness guiding is the ability to provide guests with what they need and not necessarily what they want.
It is far removed from competition, even though the mere realisation could nourish exponential personal development.
As much as Wilderness is our message to share, it is our sustenance as guides. In a private capacity it may be described as a recipe for happiness with all the chemicals gone.

Regrettably we live in an era where southern Africa’s affluent biodiversity and Wilderness have been reduced to five mammals and five stars.
It is therefore fantastic to have a revival in primitive experiences such as the three backpack trails currently hosted by Kruger National Park.
There seems to be an urgent longing by the human psyche, conscious or subconscious as it may be, to experience the Wilderness qualities we have been deprived of since we have become ‘civilised’.

"There is no quiet place in the white man's cities.
No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insect's wings.
The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whip-poor-will (nightjar species) or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?

But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand".

- Chief Seattle (Si'ahl), Native American Indian.

The fire is modest and serves its hypnotic purpose as the darkness consumes our new camp.
Our guests have strayed from their modern being, yet the Wilderness knows exactly where they are, it will find them.
The Square-tailed Nightjar calls with restored confidence, perhaps an appropriate reminder from a savage chief that we are celebrating life in its purest form.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

Mutualism is any relationship between individuals of different species where both individuals derive a benefit. These symbiotic associations generally provide workable solutions to many of the basic problems of survival. Providing adequate nourishment is one of the problem-solving advantages of symbiosis.

I suppose symbiosis, in the natural world, could quite easily be compared to a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ or long term ‘Contract’ between two businesses in the corporate world.

Symbiotic relationships such as mutualism are furthermore recognized as an important selective force behind evolution, with many species having a long history of interdependent co-evolution.
The species Homo sapiens is the highest evolved organism on this planet to date thanks to symbiosis and myriad other forces such as natural selection. We therefore owe our success to strategic ‘Contracts’ and partnerships our ancient relatives negotiated for us with nature.

The Greater Honeyguide Indicator indicator is the only bird in the world known to regularly lead humans to bee hives. They are not physically capable of opening the hives themselves to get to their preferred source of nourishment; bees, larvae and wax. By guiding man to the hive and letting them open it to harvest, they have overcome this problem.

Their guiding habits are inherited and well developed (interesting that this only takes place in sub sahara Africa - evidence of a very long standing ‘Memorandum of Understanding’). The Greater Honeyguide knows the locality of hives and wait for potential symbionts (humans) to pass by. The bird initiates the guiding by calling from a nearby perch. Upon an approach the Honeyguide flies off with its typical, fast undulating flight, their white retrices stand out like a camera flash.
Flight takes them to a nearby tree; constantly chattering to keep the adherents attention. Arrival at a bee hive sees the Honeyguide change its behaviour. It will perch silently, waiting for the honeycomb to be extracted.

Due to the rapid trend of ‘civilisation’ in humans the Greater Honeyguide is losing its symbiotic capacity and is being replaced by the highly abundant coexisting secondary symbiont – the supermarket.

There are now areas where the frequency of guiding has decreased or even ceased. Another one of the many human-nature ‘contracts’, that have brought us so much success as a species, may no longer be renewed. I fear for the day that the Honeyguide swoops past and disappears into the woodland without uttering a call for us to follow. The day our ancient partners no longer see us as a part of nature.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
Matthew Burnett
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Matthew Burnett »

Fallen mud

If the best way to learn is to listen, then why do we speak?

We came across a mud pool after following buffalo spoor from the night before.
Looking down into the mud we see it parted from where a White *** came in to wallow.
The tracks as fresh as drying mud we start to read.
The tracking begins we read it like the *** has written his book and we reading a chapter.
Out of the mud pool it leads, having covered itself with mud, mud clots fall off splattering on the ground.
The leaves on the Mopani tree where he has pushed through are coated with a fine layer of mud turning the bright green to dark grey.
With his trail before us we take an undecided path chosen only to find him and walk in this giant’s footprints for but a moment of its untamed life.
We set off at first following the mud until he reaches past the Mopani belt and into the bush willow flooded veld.
With fewer trees to brush up against and mud drying in the heat of the day, we tilt our heads to the ground deciphering the code he has left in the grass.
The occasional softening of dropped mud under our shoes we are assured that we have chosen the right path.
Criss-crossing already laid game paths not wanting to follow them he sends us searching.
Heftily he flattens grass, carelessly turning settled stone, upsetting monotony he leaves his pattern in the grass.
We lose track only to find where he had laid down for the early morning before setting off from our scent.
We did not seeing him but his hurried scuffled leaves marks readable.
The freshly churned earth gives away his sleeping position and a startled rise scuffed the earth to tell of his flight.
Weaving between bush willow dodging dead Leadwood trees we give up our search knowing that the wind had spoilt it for us favouring the *** for the day.
We move on not in disappointment but rather with insight to the life of a *** as short as it may have been.
We had read its chapter in vivid detail from exiting the mud wallow to where his sleep was startled.
He had written his story with patterns in the grass, a story to be read not on paper but merely by walking behind the author of the book.

-An extract from my diary whilst on trail (21st-24th March 2012).
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

There are two things you should probably know about Mphongolo Backpack Trail guides.
Number one; we are more excited than our guests to be leaving on trail .
Number two; we are not big on paperwork, hence the lack of trail reports posted on the Forum this season.

Nevertheless, trail season is in full swing and I have managed to put together a few memorable moments from completed trails which you may enjoy.

Trail One, 15 – 18 February
There is nothing quite like the first trail of the season.
We are finally set free in the Wilderness after having had to wait for more than two months while the Mphongolo is closed. Apart from being the first month of a new trail season, February is another exceptional month for bird watching.
We were happy to receive a group of ‘citizen scientists’ which participate in the Southern African Bird Atlas Project.

The drop-off point was on the Bububu River near Phonda Hills.
It has been an exceptionally dry summer and water has proved to be a rather restricting factor to date.
We established camp near a rather large pan, which at the time still held some water.
The well developed tree layer surrounding the pan and established aquatic plants created a modest oasis amidst the Mopane scrub.

Climbing Phonda Hills is always a rewarding experience, the panoramic views of undisturbed Bushveld gives a real ‘sense of place’, a true combination of the physical characteristics and the ambience.

A White *** bull had surrendered to the building mid-morning heat.
The thick shade provided by a large Mopane tree beside a small mud-filled pan proved too inviting.
We approached as he snoozed, moving silently to within a comfortable distance and observed.
It was remarkable to find ourselves in that moment with such a colossal beast, completely undisturbed in his natural environment. We retreated and allowed him to slumber further.

We managed to push our bird list to 135 species over the trail.
A fantastic result and valuable contribution to the University of Cape Town’s Animal Demography Unit.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

Trail Two, 22 – 25 February

We got dropped off on the Phugwane River east of Dili Windmill. It was the safest option as Dili is still functional and holds water. As this was only the second trail of the season, we were uncertain of a water source further west.

We set up the first night’s camp under an impressive Nyala Berry Tree, not too far from a small pool of surface water in the Phugwane. I prefer to wake up at the same time as the birds rather than set an alarm; it breaks the routine of being back at home and provides a rewarding sense of freedom. This particular morning a Broad-billed Roller rallied the dawn chorus from a nearby Leadwood Tree. A rather welcome announcement given our location.

Our second night’s camp site was situated in the centre of a large open grassy plane. Scattered Leadwood Trees our only company. It was a new moon and the stars proved spectacular. We all lay on our backs admiring the spectacle through our binoculars. We could see Jupiter’s four moons, the Great Orion Nebula, various open and globular star clusters. The peak of the evening arrived with a great big flash, a meteor lit up the camp as it travelled three quarters the way across the night sky.

"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

Trail Three, 29 Feb – 03 March

We found ourselves on the far western stretch of the Phugwane River.
A steep bend, assisted by a geological hurdle, forces water to the surface of an otherwise sandy river.
Camp was located a comfortable distance from the water point.

We had hardly settled before three White *** made their entrance.
They had no suspicion of our presence and quenched their thirst before disappearing back into the Mopaneveld.

We could hear the snorts and grunts of a large Buffalo herd just beyond the tree line.
If you close your eyes, their movement through the brush resembled a crackling bush fire.
Our decision to approach was supported by a favourable wind direction and the late afternoon sun on our backs.
We hid behind a large termite mound as the Buffalo herd passed on the opposite side.
As I crouched to better my position a familiar pattern in the dirt caught my eye.
I could tell no time difference between my boot track and that of the print which lay to the left of it.
We must have chased the lions off this perfect little vantage point during our approach.
Time to retreat, two hundred buffalo, six humans and five lions in a very small space does not sound like a good idea.
We need to get back to camp.

As the fire burnt out that night, we scanned the river bed with a torch.
There they were, five lions watching us as we were about to end off our evening.
Their confidence amplified by the dark, they approached to a nerve wrecking distance.
It was time to call it a day and hit the tents.
Our imagination played games with us as we lay silently in our flimsy shelters.
No matter your social status or bank balance, in that moment we are all equal.
Sweet dreams.

Although it is not the focus of trails, we always appreciate getting the big hairy and scary on foot. ***, Buffalo, Lion, Elephant and Leopard within twenty four hours.

We spent our last afternoon watching more than two hundred and fifty elephant come past our camp to drink water.
Each breeding herd waiting patiently in line for their turn to quench a thirst .
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

Trail Four, 21 - 24 March

Matiovila, ‘the water that boils’ is one of my favourite camping sites in the Mphongolo Wilderness. The hot sulphur spring is a remnant of ancient volcanic activity and the approach to this little oasis, especially from the north, is breathtaking.

Making fire by friction is a skill nearly lost. Try to think back to a time before matches and lighters, how did humans control this powerful tool? Fire contributed greatly to early culture and humans shaped landscapes ,with fire, according to their prerequisites.
We managed to get fire from rubbing sticks together on the first night, but the group wanted to take it one step further. They wanted to collect their own material and start their own fire without the guides’ assistance. Our only words of advice – Fig Tree. They identified the correct tree, carved their wooden tools and after a few blistering hours produced a brilliant flame. Well Done!

Patience and silence at a water point one late afternoon produced an exceptional sighting of a White *** Bull.

Just before leaving camp on the final day, a breeding herd of Buffalo, approximately two hundred strong, passed our camp as we sat in silence.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

Trail Five, 25 - 28 March

Our bird watching friends were back. To follow the trail in detail, click on this link
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
Matthew Burnett
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Matthew Burnett »

Dragged along

“I found myself with what lay ahead and left what lay behind to find myself in pure wilderness”

…We had walked the entire morning only coming across lone buffalo bulls and impala.
Half expecting a buffalo bull around every mopane bush I found every open sodic site in which to walk.
Approaching zari waterhole I crossed the large sodic site to get to the zari spruit and walk down the spruit to the waterhole. Looking down to catch any fresh signs of buffalo my eye caught sight of a long line that stretched across the sodic site.
It was as if someone had drawn it in as a demarcation boundary.
This was out of place and so seeing in which direction it went we followed.
At first, easy a straight line for the drainage line secondly, challenged as it went into bushes and through grass.
Having found leopard spoor next to the drag mark we had some idea what to lookout for.
The track took us through a mopane bush and through a donga a sharp turn left and then gone at the edge of a second donga leaving two possibilities…
With fresh buffalo tracks and elephants tracks we lost the track assuming its direction we moved along the small donga tributary of the zari 20 meters in.
not finding anything more and the group hot and tired we found a large tree.
Contemplating the tracks and wanting a results it dawned on me that the leopard would not drag its prize in the direction of the herd of elephant and buffalo in fear of being chase off it by them and so leaving the group with my back-up I went in pursuit of the drag mark.
As I thought, the track after the sharp turn left moved through grass and went away to the right over the rise and into a thick capperbush.
Considering the leopard had tried to fool us or the risk of losing it to buffalo and elephants I stood near the caperbush looking through it to see any remains or cat.
Not wanting to follow in I cautiously circled the bush and found the tracks leading out of the bush and into the drainage line below. Reluctant to go ahead without support and a ways away from the group I hurried back to fetch them, leaving our packs behind we took to the track.
I showed them the path I had found and picked up the track where I last found it only to be rewarded 10 meters later by a half eaten African Rock Python.
It lay looking alive, yet with only half a body it wasn’t going anywhere.
The carcass was fresh meaning we had caused the leopard to run-off with its prize until she thought she couldn’t escape with it and dropped it leaving us behind.
We left the half eaten python for her to return and went to fetch our packs and head down to the waterhole.
Only to find, not far off two buffalo bulls starring at us from the opposite bank of the zari spruit.
With this avoidance we dragged our feet on to our siesta spot...

An extract from diary while on trail (18th-21st March 2012)
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by zeedoc »

We are doing the Mphongolo departing on the 4th of July (God willing) and have the following questions -
1 - How cold does it get - should we bring thermal underwear / thermal sleeping bag liners?
2 - What are the chances of rain? (should I pack a pair of waterproof pants/ rain cover etc.)
3 - How much weight are we allowed exactly as my backpack is getting full already without adding food and water (I weigh 65kg). I know that the rangers weigh your backpack before the trail and ask you to remove stuff if you are overweight.
4 - Is a hiking pole recommended?
5 - How do toilet breaks work?
6 - Have their been any good sightings lately to whet my appetite?
Matthew Burnett
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Matthew Burnett »

Hi Zeedoc,

So glad to hear your taking up the challenge to do the Mphongolo Back-pack trail!!

To answere your questions briefly, as your guide will also phone you nearer the time to help with these sort of questions but for the aid of others also intending to do trail I shall answere them here.

1-Evenings and early mornings can get cold so I do suggest an thermal liner for your sleeping bag and lite warm clothes for the evening. The days are very pleasant tho and may not need a jersey at all depending on the positioning of the Cold fronts which do tend to sweep over the lowveld during the winters.

2-Rain is very slight in winter although there seems to be the odd shower in the hieght of the dry season from time to time but it isn't torrential and you'd be unlucky for it to falll on your trail.

3-Weight per packs, try work within 10-16kg the limit is 25kg but that will break your back, carry lite. Very often people pack too many clothes and too much food so try take what you need and can't do without and leave the rest. Also the liter your pack the more enjoyable the trail is.

4-The hiking isn't strenious like the drakensburg or otter trail, very often its the heat and packs that become the annoyance. However if you feel you need it, you may bring one along, it does sometimes just add that extra comfort when one takes strain because of the pack.

5-Toilet- bring toilet paper and matches, will leave the rest of that up to your trails ranger

6-Thought you would never ask... Read our reports, not often an avergae trail but very often close to the norm. It has been a very dry season and so sightings are expected to get better for that area. Advice go expecting nothing and open to learning lots and you'll be surprised by what you see and learn. after all its a wilderness experience...

Hope this has helped you and that you have a really great trail. read our post from experiences on trail by myself and Brenden Pienaar and others that have had the great honour of doing one of these trails.
Matthew Burnett
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Matthew Burnett »

From dusk to dawn

"If time is a moment, an experience is a memory”

… It had been a miserable walk to the campsite, the excitement had worn off as the packs got damper in the soft drizzle we had been walking in for the last two hours.
The group was relieved to have reached the campsite, it was to lay under two large Jackalberry trees providing some form of shelter from the falling droplets.
With the campsite up the group mustered up so motivation at the excitement of seeing the hot water (sulphur) springs for a late afternoon walk.
With the ground tracks covered in droplet spoor I could see there was no fresh animal tracks around, maybe the spring would prove otherwise.
Yet still at the springs the overcast weather and mist rain had cause animals to disperse from the springs.
After a while we decided to head back to camp and start to prepare for the night, find some fire wood and organise camp.
As we arrived in camp the sounds of cracking sticks to make the fire and murmuring of day’s events filled the air until it was silenced by a soft “pre-roar”.
Not far off we could hear a lion calling, not yet its full roar but we were close enough to hear its “pre-roar” call.
With attentive ears we listen to hear its direction and whether it was moving.
Realizing it wasn’t far-off and it was stationary we assessed the daylight left and considered there was enough light to head out and possibly catch a glimpse of this sort after beast.
Stopping in progression to listen as it roared we edged closer and closer to its location, as we got nearer the roar got louder. Reaching the end of a opened stretch we crouched to see if he was lying in the under growth and there he was, lying non-phased looking attentively to our left.
With all eyes fixed on him he eventually gave out a full roar from beginning to end and with it ending, his focus shifted in our direction and he saw us.
Without a hurried scatter he gentle stood up and unhurriedly walked away up towards the spring.
Knowing we were ever so fortunate to have had such a sighting and with light dwindling rapidly we made haste back to camp. While around the lowly fire we chattered about our fortune and wondered if the beast would hang around only to be answered by his serenade until the early hours of the next morning…

Diary extract from the trail 24th-27th of April 2012
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