Climbing the King of Africa; Kilimanjaro

Climbing the King of Africa; Kilimanjaro

  

Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Videos by Tarryn Quinnell, Team Tane

Our hands burn. Our lungs heave. Our heads ache. Our stomachs backflip. We step, one at a time. We don’t walk; we don’t have the strength. “Why are we here? Why are we doing this?!” The answer is simple; we are here to meet the King.

In every land, every realm there is a ruler, a King. In the sea there is the Shark. In the skies, the Eagle and savannah, the Lion. In Africa, there is Kilimanjaro.

At 5,985m Kilimanjaro is almost 700m higher than the next largest African heavyweight; Mt Kenya. As the highest mountain in Africa it is one of the mighty seven summits, a group of the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.  To summarise, it is rather massive.

“Its just a hike,” we said. “We have done harder,” we thought. “She’ll be right,” we felt. The truth is we underestimated Kilimanjaro. While it may be a non-technical hike, it is cold, tough and most of all, it is bloody high!

Physically we were mostly ready. Our bodies were relatively acclimatised thanks to the previous mountains, four of the five highest in Africa. However, the month at low altitude since Mt Kenya had reduced our readiness, our bodies were also tired, our reserves depleted.

Mentally, we left much to be desired. We had been climbing mountains for two months, traveling for four, living in our Suzuki Jimny, continuously camping. It was amazing but truth be told it was also tiring. Long days driving, a lack of home comforts and moving house daily, one campsite to another. First world concerns for sure but tiring none the less. Our minds were already on the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar… until reality quickly pulled them back.

The gates to Kilimanjaro are held by a beautiful tropical rainforest… Not what we expected on Africa’s highest mountain.

After the most comfortable night of our Suzuki Africa Sky High lives, spent in a ‘real,’ bed with a ‘real,’ hot shower and luxurious air-conditioning at Altezza Lodge, we were reintroduced to our camp life. Fortunately for us, it was a slow release. Our army of assistants from ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro,’ made sure we were the most comfortable and well fed climbers on the mountain.

Surrounded by the lowland jungles of Kilimanjaro National park and the sounds of countless birds and even more ‘wageni mzungu,’ (white tourists) we took our first steps along the 6 day Machame route towards the King. Accompanied by our friend Julian, who had travelled from Australia to be there, new friend Guillierme Godoy from Brazil and expert guides Musa and Sanga from Climbing Kilimanjaro, we were on our way.

The truth is we underestimated Kilimanjaro. While it may be a non-technical hike, it is cold, tough and most of all, it is bloody high!

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

After the most comfortable night of our Suzuki Africa Sky High lives, spent in a ‘real,’ bed with a ‘real,’ hot shower and luxurious air-conditioning at Altezza Lodge, we were reintroduced to our camp life. Fortunately for us, it was a slow release. Our army of assistants from ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro,’ made sure we were the most comfortable and well fed climbers on the mountain.

Surrounded by the lowland jungles of Kilimanjaro National park and the sounds of countless birds and even more ‘wageni mzungu,’ (white tourists) we took our first steps along the 6 day Machame route towards the King. Accompanied by our friend Julian, who had travelled from Australia to be there, new friend Guillierme Godoy from Brazil and expert guides Musa and Sanga from Climbing Kilimanjaro, we were on our way.

Our crazy crew, from left to right; me, Musa, Tarryn, Julian, Sanaga, Gui.

Both time and kilometres slipped quickly by. Presently we approached the base of the Lava Tower, 4,642m, having risen from about 1800m within only 2.5 days. The invisible tower eluded us, shrouded in the hazy fog. The fact that we were high, however, was unmistakeable. To be blunt, our team looked terrible. At lunch, Tarryn sat head in hands nursing nausea, Julian grimaced through a headache looking more like an apocalypse survivor than a happy hiker and Gui sat motionless trying not to further unbalance his body. “Welcome to the world of big mountains,” I said, “you’ll probably feel worse than this for the next two days.

Musa, our head guide from Climbing Kilimanjaro, waits for us to shuffle down from the Lava Tower.

Unfortunately for all of us, I was right. Sitting drinking coffee at 11;15PM waiting to commence our summit attempt, we all looked and felt like apocalypse survivors. Our anticipated elation at finally leaving the tent to head for the top was cold to say the least, frosted over by the 15 degree ambient temperature.

Within hours we had deteriorated into the living dead. The unmistakeable sound of high altitude lumbering melded into the cacophony of howling wind. We were no longer walking, we were zombie shuffling. Tarryn fared worst of all. Her tiny frame rocked with her dropping core temperature. Seeing the situation unfolding, Musa jumped in to save the day by removing his own jacket and giving it to Tarryn. ‘This is the Real Africa,’ I thought, ‘where people help each other to survive the harsh world which awaits them. In reality while an exceptional act of kindness, this was common with our team from Climbing Kilimanjaro, they constantly went above and beyond to help us.

Unfortunately, despite the help, Tarryn continued to shiver and then to collapse. It was clear; she was broken. We stopped and waited. I froze. Pain moved through me from my fingers to my hands and up my arms. The higher we got the slower she went. Until she could go no more.

One of our freezing yet comfortable camps high on the King of Africa. The green tent in the foreground was our dining hall; fit for a King.

At 5,650m, only 250 vertical meters short of the summit, Tarryn fell for the last time. She was done. Frozen, exhausted and starting to show signs of pulmonary problems, she could go no longer. It was a tough decision but there was no choice. We embraced. A long deep embrace full of emotion. My eyes watered. We had come so far together; 4 of Africa’s 5 highest mountains complete, but now I was alone.

 

“I’m happy I didn’t make it… I learnt some lessons far more valuable by not reaching the summit.” Tarryn said. I smiled. I finally realised, we were not really seeking an audience with the King of Africa, in reality all we were seeking was ourselves.

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

 

In the light of the rising sun I watched her and Sanga turn back. Dejection was clear but exhaustion was clearer. She looked tiny compared to the looming mountain. I was reminded ‘we do not conquer mountains, they merely allow us to stand on them for a time.’ With that I turned, it was up to me.

An hour later we shuffled around the last bend, there it was, Uhuru Peak. We were finally there, wobbling in the presence of the King of Africa. We had made it, Africa’s 5 highest mountains complete. It was mind-blowing. It was bittersweet. Tarryn was not with me. I was reminded of the words of John Supertramp from ‘Into the Wild,’ infamy: “Happiness is only real when shared.” I shrugged off the feeling. She was with me, I could feel her spirit. With a smile I headed down.

Two days later I sat with Tarryn back in Moshi staring at the peak. She had been quiet since the peak, distant. She turned to look at me the haziness gone from her expression, replaced with a look of contentment. “I’m happy I didn’t make it you know,” she said. “I didn’t deserve it, I didn’t want it badly enough, I was already on holiday in Zanzibar. I may not have gotten to the top but I learnt some lessons far more valuable by not reaching the summit.” I smiled. I finally realised, we were not really seeking an audience with the King of Africa, in reality all we were seeking was ourselves.

You’ve read the account, now see the action!

How to organise an audience with the ‘King of Africa’

Route Options and Locations: There are many routes up to the summit of Africa. Some of the most common options include Machame (our route), Lemosho, Marangu and Rongai. Different routes have their own character and challenges and differ in length and number of days required, with longer trips costing more. We took the Machame as we understood it to be one of the more scenic routes and was achievable in only six days. Most hikes are organised from around Moshi in Northern Tanzania.

Contacts: We organised our trip from South Africa with the renown operator ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro’ (http://www.climbingkilimanjaro.com/, info@climbingkilimanjaro.co.za ). They have numerous options to choose from including; routes, trip durations and quality, all prices are on the website provided. We were really happy with Climbing Kilimajaro’s service and expertise and would highly recommend them for Kilimanjaro expeditions.

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The Mighty Rwenzoris

The Mighty Rwenzoris

 

 

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

This is a brief summary of our epic trip to climb three of Africa’s five highest summits in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Full accounts will be published in the Getaway and Sawubona Magazines in the coming months and posted to our articles page. Don’t miss the summit gallery, trip info and video at the end! Hopefully, this wets your appetite for more ;).

Sitting here, bouncing our way in Badger on yet another potholed dirt road, it is difficult to believe our trip to the Rwenzoris was real. It is similarly difficult to believe that despite the odds; the variability of weather, possibility of sickness or fatigue stopping us, we made it up all three mountains. Mt Stanley (5,109m), Mt Speke (4,890m) and Mt Baker (4,844m), respectively the 3rd, 4th and 5th highest mountains in Africa, are under our belt. It feels like a dream. I suppose in many ways for Tarryn and I, it is the culmination of part of our dream.

The mighty Rwenzori Mountains; the mountains we climbed. From left to right Mt Stanley, Mt Speke and Mt Baker, the 3rd to 5th highest mountains in our continent.

We are under no illusion that we had support in getting to the top. From our friends, family, amazing sponsors, our guides and most importantly the great Rwenzori Mountain God; Kitasamba. Anyone who knows big mountains, knows there is never a guarantee and some level of luck is involved in summiting, thus we thank our lucky stars.

However, in addition to luck, summiting the Rwenzoris took many other things which I am very proud of our team, including Tarryn and adventure buddy Immo, for possessing. They required physical and mental toughness, intense determination and a desire for adventure.

Heading toward the top of Mt Stanley, shown in the background. Once at the summit, the weather closed bringing with it freezing winds.

They also all required high tolerance to ridiculously frigid conditions, something Tarryn seriously lacked but our great Mont Bell clothing helped with, early alpine starts and most importantly an unnaturally high level of tenacity.  This last requirement Tarryn showed in absolute abundance on all three mountains as she pushed through fatigue and constant mild hypothermia to get to the summits. These feats of determination earned her limitless respect from all of us there and the nickname “Suzuki,” for being small and tough as nails.

In spite of, maybe because of, the often harsh conditions; never ending bogs, frequent black ice and rough terrain, the hike was mind-blowingly awesome! The entire range is an other-worldly assortment of strange plants and animals, like the three-horned chameleon and scenes which appear to have stopped evolving somewhere in the Jurassic period.

The being from the other world; one of the strange three horned chameleons we met on our journey in the mystical mountains.

The mountains themselves were incredible and well worth the toil required to get to them. In general what can be said is that all the mountains were more technical than we expected and provided a proper adventure. From crampons and ice axes, to gloves, walking poles, gaiters and harnesses, our Black Diamond gear was put to the test. We are happy to say the gear performed with flying colours.

This said, while the mountains shared similarities, each also had its own character unique challenges. Our routes up Mt Baker (4,844m, Africa #5) and Mt Speke (4,890m, Africa #4) were both free of glaciers but included some technical but really fun sections of scrambling. As we were to find, black ice, and in Speke’s case normal ice and snow, made the climbs interesting, challenging and at times really slippery! Tarryn came back laden with bruises from all the slides she succumbed to.

“in the 9 years I have worked in the Rwenzories I have seen the glaciers melt further every year. Watching them I can even cry…” If you want to experience these mountains in all their glory, get there fast.

 

Enock

Head Guide, Rwenzori Trekking Services

 

The calm before the storm, literally. Sharpening, checking and fitting our crampons. As with anything, in mountaineering “proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.”

This said, while the mountains shared similarities, each also had its own character unique challenges. Our routes up Mt Baker (4,844m,

The start of mighty Margerhita glacier. Now receding further up the mountain each year the start of the glacier is very steep and technical. Notice the specks; they are people.

 

Africa #5) and Mt Speke (4,890m, Africa #4) were both free of glaciers but included some technical but really fun sections of scrambling. As we were to find, black ice, and in Speke’s case normal ice and snow, made the climbs interesting, challenging and at times really slippery! Tarryn came back laden with bruises from all the slides she succumbed to.

In our eyes though, Margherita Peak of Mt Stanley, who at 5,109m (Africa #3) is the undisputed King of the Rainmakers, stole the show and our adventurous desires. With two glaciers enroute to the top, Mt Stanley is a true adventure to climb. Unfortunately due to effects of climate change and environmental degradation, these beautiful ice rivers are predicted to be gone by 2025. Enock, Head Guide for Rwenzori Trekking Services who we walked with said “in the 9 years I have worked in the Rwenzories I have seen the glaciers melt further every year. Watching them I can even cry.”

Our hike to the Mountains of the Moon took ten days and covered about 108km. We went with the local company Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS), based out of Kilembe, Uganda. Both the hike and the company we used were superb. RTS even went as far as offering hot water bottles at the end of each day’s hike! Considering their highest camp, ‘Margherita,’ is approximately 4500m high and bloody freezing, this was a pleasant and in Tarryn’s case, necessary, luxury. The mountains of food provided at each meal time were also awesome and their guides friendly, well trained and super knowledgeable. They even supplied us with high quality Black Diamond crampons and ice axes for the Margherita climb. While we generally like to carry our own packs in this case it was great in this case it was great to only have our lighter Osprey mountaineering packs for the strenuous hiking while porters carried our large packs.

Some mountains are made of food. The massive meal provided to us by RTS on the first night of our hike.

It must be understood that the hike will cost a bit of money. Once you get there is it very clear where it goes. In addition to the above, RTS provides really high quality huts at nearly every camp and well cut and maintained trails. Moreover, from what we understand a lot of money is funnelled into community development and conservation and provides a huge amount of local jobs.

The Rwenzoris is another world. A world of wonder, intrigue and adventure. We would recommend it to anyone, ideally without a fear of heights, who is looking to experience true mountains in the heart of Africa. If it sounds like your thing then get there fast before the magical ice rivers melt.

Don’t miss the EPIC summit gallery, information and video below!

Tips on Getting to the Rwenzoris?

Lets face it, who wouldn’t be interested!! Its the best hike we have done and one of the coolest places we have ever seen.

Important Notes: Unfortunately you can’t hike alone and must use an operator. Having been there we KNOW this is a good idea anyway. Unless you like swimming in mud do your best to go in the dry season (Jan – Feb and June – July), you’ll swim in less mud in season. Get fit, the hike is relatively strenuous.

Contacts: We went with Rwenzori Trekking Services (http://www.rwenzoritrekking.com/, rwenzoritrekking@gmail.com). All prices on their website, our hike was around $1520 per person for ten days. It is a bit more expensive if two people or less. Note that prices exclude Ugandan Wildlife park fees ($35US per person per night in the park) and optional tips (totaling about R1000 per person for a ten day trip if you follow suggestions).

Happy Exploring :)!

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Gliding on Water

Gliding on Water

 

Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

Don’t miss the awesome short video at the end which captures this story. 

It was still early when the giant, extended wheelbase Landcruiser, our ride to the Okavango, rolled off the main road from Maun and onto the dirt road towards the village. Along with Tarryn’s folks, Grant and Debbie, we were the only people filling the twelve seater.

The Okavango Delta is a huge marshland area in Northern Botswana. A very important area naturally, the area hosts a huge variety of wildlife from birds to the giant African mammals like the Hippo, Elephant and Giraffe.

Tarryn and I scoping out the Okavango and looking at the giraffe on the far side of the river. Photo: Grant Stevenson

Within a short distance from the road we came across the first of many water crossings over the veins of the Okavango. From first sight it was clear the Okavango’s reputation for wildlife was well founded. Life was everywhere. In a minute we spotted numerous bird species including Pied Kingfishers, multiple species of Herons and Cranes and Fish Eagles. The lush landscape glinted in the morning light from the moisture in the ground and local people moved on the banks looking for fish. It was beautiful, it even smelled pristine.

 

We drove on and after a few water crossings deep enough to submerge half of the Landcruiser, making its exhaust sound like a submersible, reached the village. We were happy we didn’t bring our Jimny, Badger, on this excursion. He might be tough as nails but we didn’t want to drown him.

The village we were at was one of the local polling stations, a hub for Macora activity in the area and a gateway to the Okavango. Macoras are the local name for the dugout canoes which the locals throughout the Northern Botswanan and Southern Zambian regions use to navigate the waterways. Rivers and swamps. Though traditionally made from trees, in Botswana, they are now commonly fibreglass in an attempt by the Government to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable tourism. From what we saw they were 3-4m long and on average only 50cm wide with a flat bottom to enable them to move in shallow water. Rather than using paddles as you would in a Kayak, they move the boats by using wooden poles to push off the swamp floor as they are much more effective in the shallow water. This has led to the guides being given the name “polers.”

From the first moment we met our polers, Heaven and Leon, we were impressed both with them and the initiatives set up around the Macora tourism. It was clear the guides were exceptionally knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area and cared about their impact and conservation. “This is our home and our lives, we need to protect it,” said Heaven.

 

It was clear the guides were exceptionally knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area and cared about their impact and conservation. “This is our home and our lives, we need to protect it,” said Heaven.

Heaven

Poler, Okavango Poling Trust

Hanging our with our Polers; Heaven left and Leon right.

With guiding principles and introductions aside, we poled off. Once we were out from the reeds and into the open water Heaven found his rhythm. He pushed off the ground with strong but graceful thrusts, smoothly propelling us forward in rhythmic bursts. We were not moving through but gliding on the water.

It wasn’t long till we heard and then saw our first pod of hippo. There were about three to four of them in the water, their eyes and snouts visible above the water line intermittently as they bobbed up to catch a breath. Hippos being her favourite animals, Tarryn was in her element. “They are like oversized cuddly piggies, but demanding the respect of space,” she says.

We moved on, pausing often to view birds, photograph scenery and chat. We soon heard more hippos. Heaven, now understanding Tarryn’s affection for them, paddled in their direction. This time we found far more than previously; probably sixteen in two different pods.

We sat and gawked at the gigantic animals in amazement. Keeping about fifty meters between us and the hippos, our guides kept a close eye. It might sound a long way but when you consider we were in a tiny canoe watching and a bunch of Africa’s most dangerous animals, you realise it’s not that far at all.

Tarryn’s cuddly friends; Africa’s deadliest animal. The dicotomy pretty well sums up my wife ;).

Once we were safely away from the Hippos I asked Heaven for a turn at poling. Miscalculating how tippy the boats were, I nearly capsized the Macora before I even started. Shortly afterwards I managed to accidently smack Heaven on the head with the pole which caused an eruption of laughter. Luckily things improved from there and though I can’t claim I was ever graceful, I got us around for about twenty minutes without giving myself or my passengers unwanted swims.

We stopped at a large island for lunch and an informative walk where the poler’s taught us about local plant, animals and showed us how to track using prints and dung. We found some giraffe and zebra which we watched for a time before moving off.

With that, our day was drawing to a close, it was time to go home. We turned and headed back. We had been privileged to have an amazing day and meet some of the incredible animals who call our continent home. We left happy knowing that Botswana and the polers were doing their part to preserve their precious environment.

The Roof of Oz

The Roof of Oz

Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell

When people think of the Seven Summits they generally think of mighty snow-capped peaks which tower above the continent around them. Mountains of magnitude and legend like Everest or Kilimanjaro which require adventure and risk to get to and climb. As we were to find out, however, like all things, there are exceptions to the rule.

The sun sets on the roof of Australia

In general the seven summits include the highest mountains on each continent. Defining the list on this basis may sound straightforward but as usual debate rages in the details. In this case what is around the definition of a continent and what mountains to consider. The argument has led to discrepancy around the highest mountain in the Australasian region. According to the list created by climbing legend Reinhold Messner, arguably the more accepted list, Pankuk Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid) in the West Papuan Region of Indonesia is the highest at 4,884m. The other list created by American Businessman Richard Bass, claims Mt Kosciuszko in Australia to be the true seventh summit at a height of only 2,228m, almost half the height of Pankuk Jaya.

Whatever the case knowing that Kosci was the highest mountain in the country was good enough reason to round up old mates Paul, Becky and her Brother Jared with the aim of sleeping on the roof of the Australia.

The freeway to Australia’s highest peak was lined with beautiful flowers

I must be honest that I did not expect overly much based both on the mountain’s fairly insignificant height and reputation for being not much more than a hill. Even so, I was surprised when we got to the summit ‘basecamp,’ to find an overflowing car park populated by every kind of person you would find at your local shopping centre; big, small, young, old and dressed in everything from active wear to beach attire.  My dreams of a wilderness adventure vanished.

We donned our Osprey packs and started out on the trail, a fairly wide dirt road, along with my parents who were planning to walk to the top and back along the 18km return path. Despite the height, the notorious Aussie sun beat down and slowly fried us as we walked. Our packs were relatively light, filled with only one night of supplies and very comfortable. My body took a bit of time to readjust to the weight which I had only carried a few times since injuring myself in a paragliding accident the previous year. This once again reiterated the training still required to tackle Africa’s Highest Summits, during our Africa Sky High Expedition this year.

The path was quite uneventful, with a very shallow gradient and even surface. While it was monotonous, it provided a great opportunity to catch up with good friends I had not seen in a long time. My parents aiming to get back before sunset blazed ahead. The rest of us, knowing we had tents in our packs and time in our pockets, continued to cruise at a glacial pace.

We reached the top at mid-afternoon, amid a throng of people having just walked up a garden path on the least adventurous mountain I had ever been up. However, while I was disappointed at Australia’s version of a mountain and more so at Bass’ version of a Seven Summit, the view was breath taking and walk was worth it. Moreover from what I could see the summit was easily accessible via wheelchair, which is not only incredible both for the disabled population and that it is possible at all.

After lunch we headed down the Western side of the mountain and found a serene place for the night with a small burbling stream and spongy grass. However, as is usual in Australia places are never quite as peaceful as they seem.

Tarryn and Jared walking up from our campsite to the trail

Within moments the horde of flies, including giant horse flies who bit like spiders, which had been pestering us all day interrupted our tranquillity. Later, while waiting for the sun to set we found five funnel-webs; one of the world’s most venomous spiders. Strangely, yet somewhat comfortingly as Tarryn and I only had Bivys to sleep in, four of the five were dead. Still the thought of cuddling a deadly arachnid increased my heartbeat as I unrolled my sleeping mat.

A small Kosci fly party on Tarry’s pack

The sunset was absolutely stunning morphing the sky into all the colours of a raging inferno before the day gave way to darkness.

I woke the next morning imagining a funnel web crawling on my face and decided it was time to quickly and carefully emerge from my cocoon. We slowly packed up and hit the trail for the walk home.

The route back was far closer to our version of hiking being a much smaller track with far less people on it. The terrain also increased in complexity as we walked over the rolling hills, each some of Australia’s highest peaks. Between some of mountains were nestled beautiful alpine lakes which glistened in the sunlight. The picturesque environment helped us ignore the omnipresent mass of flies which buzzed around our heads.

Not far from trailhead we found the strikingly beautiful Blue Lake nestled in an Alpine Bowl. We left our packs at the trail junction and headed to the lake. To me this is one of the best things about Australia, you can inherently trust in people’s honesty and integrity. Unfortunately in South Africa this phenomenon is scarce at the best of times.

We decided to take the plunge into the glacial lake, surrounded by an amphitheatre of cliff faces. The freezing water stung and took our breath away as we entered it but in true type 2 fun (the type that is only fun later) fashion, left us feeling invigorated and alive.

One of the beautiful lakes on the walk back from the summit

With that mission accomplished it was time to get back to camp and away from the flies. We trudged on somewhat slowly as my damaged ankles ached in my poor choice of shoes. Note to self, listen to Tarryn when she suggests packing proper hiking boots.

We finished the trail with me still contemplating that lesson and the actions required to make sure my cartilage-less ankles would make it through the rest of my life and the adventures we have planned. Despite the unbelievable idea of Mt Kosciouszko being potentially one of the Seven Summits, it is well worth a look if you are in the area. The trip was great time spent with amazing friends in a beautiful place.

The mighty Snowy River on its way down from Mt Kosciuszko

Keep up with updates on this year’s Africa Sky High Expedition here or on Team Tanes other media including their Facebook Page. Exciting times to come!

The Oldest Form of Redemption

The Oldest Form of Redemption

 

Words and Photos By Shane Quinnell

In recent years there have been countless studies on the positive benefits of being in nature. From stress reduction to health benefits and even the reduction of serious diseases. Scientists are slowly proving what many have long known. Justify the reasoning behind this phenomena whichever way you understand; through science, through energy flows or purely through time to relax. Ultimately today there is little arguing; nature is good for you. Time in nature is redemption for the mind, body and soul.

You may be saying “nice to know but I live in a city.” If so you would be like many people in the world; 54% of the world’s population according to the UN. Many people in cities seem to believe nature is this strange hard to reach thing which only crazy people, people like us, find and post pictures about on Instagram and Facebook.

My friend Allister looks out from an AIRY stance, 80m off the kloof floor

My friend Allister looks out from an AIRY stance, 80m off the kloof floor

I would like to challenge that assumption. My belief, which arises from personal experience not scientific investigation, is that there are gateways to beautiful natural places within 1-2 hours of almost all urban centers in the world. The only challenge is to find the gates. The desire to do so is the key.

Take our current place of residence, the infamous Johannesburg (Joburg), South Africa, for example. According to the stories that are generally told and heard in the world outside of Africa’s borders; Joburg is a warzone, a place where violence is king and life is cheap. It is a concrete jungle of hate where no access to the sea or nature exists and most definitely not a place to find sanctuary or refuge in nature.

While I believe that the accounts of violence are greatly exaggerated, and that one can live perfectly happily here as we do, they are unfortunately not completely false. However, even in Joburg, redemption is not far away.

In fact, within approximately one hour from the metropolis of Joburg, redemption can be found in numerous forms. There are many examples of where; from the Hartebeesport and Vaal Dams to the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens and the Kgaswane, previously Rustenburg, Nature reserve.  My personal favourite, however, is the oldest form of redemption. The Magaliesberg mountain range.

 

The reality is that incredible, healing, natural places exist everywhere and are always near enough to access no matter where in the world you are if you truly want to find them.

 

Shane Quinnell

One of the oldest mountain ranges on Earth, the Magaliesberg, lies just an hour from the bustling metropolis of Sandton, Joburg; the business centre of South Africa and arguably Africa. To me and the others who know it, the Magaliesberg is a semi-secret paradise, a diamond in the rough and Joburg’s redeeming feature.

Awed by sanctuary that awaits inside the Magaliesberg kloofs...

Awed by sanctuary that awaits inside the Magaliesberg kloofs…

From the outside the Magaliesberg may not look like overly much; being relatively small in height and generally dry in and brown in character. However, looks can be deceiving.

A cheeky Vervet Monket, one of the many inhabitants of the Magaliesberg.

A cheeky Vervet Monket, one of the many inhabitants of the Magaliesberg.

For a start the bush is more lush and interesting than expected and the rocks absolutely fascinating. Scattered throughout the range lie many rocks which portray the same wavy pattern as beach sand which has been moulded by the retreating tide. A remnant of a time when the Magaliesberg was actually a seafloor. The most striking example of this I saw eighty meters up the side of a cliff while climbing. There is also the birds and wildlife that can be seen in its folds.

To me, far more incredible than this though are the intermittent kloofs (canyons) which cut the mountain range along its North South axis. From above they look like little more than vegetated depressions but from within are a hidden paradise.

Perennial streams of perfectly clear cool mountain water run in most of the kloofs, at least the ones

Like a colourful, Christmas tree, our trad climbing gear waits for its time to shine.

Like a colourful, Christmas tree, our trad climbing gear waits for its time to shine.

I have experienced. The sweetwater is perfect for drinking and probably cleaner than most you will find unless deep in the wilderness. The water, the giver of life, has over the years nurtured large old trees and bushes and created a micro-climate of temperate forest in the valleys. In turn this forest acts like an insulating blanket and regulates the temperature in the canyons meaning within the trees the air is always a few degrees cooler than the often baking ground above. The sound of running water within the kloofs hypnotises the senses.To me they are places which enforce relaxation.

Moreover, the kloofs are a playground. A place where incredible climbing, mostly of the traditional variety, can be found. Hiking and kloofing (canyoning) opportunities are endless and wanderlust is instinctively invoked. Theyare places close in proximity to the city, which could not be further away. In the year I have been in Joburg, along with good friends, I have enjoyed many incredible adventures in the kloofs of the Magaliesberg and look forward to many more.

The truth is that while incredible, the Magaliesberg is not overly unique. In each and every place I have lived, and I have lived in quite a few, places of natural wonder like the Magaliesberg existed nearby. In Brisbane, Australia the example was Mt Cootha; in Cape Town, Table Mountain; in Middlemount, a mining town in far North Australia, Blackdown Tablelands; Calgary, Kananaskis and Banff and the list continues…

The reality is that incredible, healing, natural places exist everywhere and are always near enough to access no matter where in the world you are if you truly want to find them. With this in mind I challenge you open yourself to the benefits of nature and attempt to find your nearby place of redemption. Wherever it is you are.

Accessing Magaliesberg; the Oldest Form of Redemption; 

The Magaliesberg is quite a big area and as such there are many ways to access its different areas each with their own unique opportunities and experiences. In the case that you are interested you can look through the information below as a start… I hope you love it as much as I do.

Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA): The MCSA is the best way to access the Magaliesberg properly. It offers opportunities to see private areas which are owned by the club and cannot be accessed otherwise and hosts many members who have spent their lifetimes in the Kloofs and love showing new members around. You can even learn to climb with the club on their orientation meets. Details: http://mcsajohannesburg.org/, Email: admin@jhb.mcsa.org.za

Mountain Sanctuary Park: This is another great way to access the mountains. Many of the photos in the blog were taken in Tonquani Kloof, MCSA property which is next door to Mountain Sanctuary. It is a great place with good facilities for overnight or day visitors and lots of great hikes and nature to explore. Details: http://www.mountain-sanctuary.co.za/, Email: owen@mountain-sanctuary.co.za.

Kgaswane Nature Reserve: The Kgaswane Nature reserve lies just South of Rustenburg not far from Joburg. It is a great place to see wildlife and for 1-2 days. Details; http://www.rustenberg-reserve.co.za/ and http://www.tourismnorthwest.co.za/kgaswane-mountain-reserve/#tab=tab-1

Footprints to Devolution

Footprints to Devolution

Words By Shane Quinnell, Photos Shane and Dylan Quinnell 

The sun rose on another day. Yet on this day the sun was different. Well, no, I realised after a while. The sun was no different, it

The importance of fire is found in the wild, tea to keep us warm on watch brews away.

The importance of fire is found in the wild, tea to keep us warm on watch brews away.

was just my perception that had changed. On this day the sun according to my perception was not just the sun, it was an incredible golden orb which I had seen many times but never quite known. It was the bringer of light and life. I was no longer just a person watching the sun rise but a sentinel witnessing a natural wonder and a guardian for my beautiful new wife and our families who were soundly asleep on the rock plateau behind me.

At the time I was standing right on the edge of the White Umfolozi river which runs through the Southern section of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Myself, my wife of three days, Tarryn, and our immediate families were there undertaking the “Primitive Trails,” hike as a pre-lude to Tarryn and my honeymoon. The trail, run by KZN Wildlife and in our case by our excellent guides Sicelo and Mpile, was highly recommended by many friends and a bucket list activity for both Tarryn and I. It was a great chance to spend time with our families who we saw too little of, particularly mine who lived half a world away in Australia. Being in the middle of a game reserve there were wild animals all around us; I could hear them intermittently. I was on duty as the morning watchman to ensure the animals of the park didn’t stray too close.

The tribe gathers as Sicelo tells us the story written in animals footprints.

The tribe gathers as Sicelo tells us the story written in animals footprints.

Only the night before I was woken from a nightmare at 1.30AM to our larger than life ranger, Sicelo, scaring off a rhino which was thirty meters away by making extreme kissing noises and throwing pebbles at him. Siobhan, my brother’s Fiance, who was on watch at the time, had alerted Sicelo to the animal. Upon waking I wasn’t sure whether my nightmare or reality was worse. After a few seconds I hazily resolved in my sleepy state that Sicelo would wake us if there was anything to be worried about, rolled over and dropped back into a deep sleep. I found out the next morning that after returning to sleep a Hippo and Buffalo had also joined the late night party while my Dad was on watch. After being hit with a stone from Sicelo, the Buffalo ran into the Hippo which caused quite a commotion but no harm. I slept happily through all of it. Therefore though I would have preferred to be sleeping, I was content to watch the sun rise knowing my duty was important.

More than anything though I was entranced. It had been a long time since I had really experienced   sunrise for what it is; timeless and incredible. Despite being what friends term “an outdoor animal,” as comfortable in the bush as at home, my life in the modern world has generally kept me as wired as the rest of the world’s population. As a result of this modern lifestyle I realised I often unknowingly experienced the world with a hint of detachment, distanced from reality by the thoughts which constantly whizzed in my head. The difference in my current perception was purely due to the fact that my mind was finally relaxing. I was experiencing the world as it truly was. Our unhurried steps within the primordial realm of Umfolozi where the great animals were still roaming had helped me to “rewild,” to reconnect with nature.

The sentinel and the watchman, Shane and the rising sun.

The sentinel and the watchman, Shane and the rising sun.

To me this explains one of the most incredible parts of the Primitive Trails journey; re-finding ourselves. Our devolutionary (de-evolutionary; opposite of evolution) steps which led us away from our present day society of billboards, technology and detachment toward a more primal way of life made me feel more alive by the minute. Sicelo captured the importance poetically in one of his morning briefs with this quote from an unknown author: “We have become strangers to nature. The best way to live longer healthier lives is to rewild ourselves by returning to nature, to wilderness.”

According to the details provided to us by Sicelo and Mpile, the emotions we were experiencing were the exact intention of one of the masterminds of the trails; South African Conservationist, Ian Player. To this effect he wrote the following on the Wilderness Leadership School website:

 

“The Wilderness walk is an opportunity to slow down, to feel the earth beneath your feet, to connect with an ancient landscape, to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of areas that have remained untouched by human hands. To walk the wild and ancient trails forged by Elephant and Rhino is a privilege and honour. It is an intimate soul journey in an ancient landscape and opportunity to learn and understand the wilderness within our souls.”

Ian Player

South African Conservationist

One of the awe inspiring creatures we met on the trails; the African elephant.

One of the awe inspiring creatures we met on the trails; the African elephant.

However, while the mindfulness inspired by the hike was a significant part of the experience, it far from describes the excursion in its entirety. The animals and the landscape were awe inspiring and raw. We witnessed lion and elephant drinking an bathing in the river, interacted with rhino and marvelled at birds all with no fences or cars between us and the animals. More than once during our night watches we had to wake our guides to scare off Hippo, Buffalo and Rhino which became too curious and strayed too close.

On one particular occasion they got closer than usual. We lay dozing under an acacia tree waiting for the mid-day sun to cool so that we could cross the Umfolozi River and set up on the rocks. Sicelo and Mpile maintained a relaxed watch over us much like a Lion and Lioness would over their cubs. Suddenly a huge commotion erupted as Sicelo exploded off the ground like a charging African buffalo and in a split second Mpile unlocked and readied her rifle. I sat up groggily to see a massive female white rhino and her calf only 20m from us. Sicelo charged her swinging his old fashion water canister like a flail above his head and yelling “get behind a tree,” before throwing the canister at the animal.

Completely disoriented, Tarryn, started running after Sicelo toward the rhinos. My brother Dylan, who was presently hiding behind a tree, yelled at her and she turned around. Her Mom, Debbie, then pulled her behind the tree. Everyone else had scattered. Fortunately the commotion was enough to scare off the beautiful and powerful beasts. Interestingly despite the apparent chaos of the incident I always felt as if our rangers and guardians were completely in control and as such I held little concern over our safety.

Sleeping for three nights on the banks of the Umfolozi River we each spent time on watch under a sky blanketed by the universe. We walked the paths of the Great Zulu King Shaka and learnt the history of the area which was previously the royal hunting ground of the Zulu kingdom. Of particular fascination to me was to learn that the great blacksmith and Sangoma who was said to have forged the original ‘Iklwa,’ (Zulu stabbing spear) for Shaka was said to have lived close to where we walked.

Sicelo deep in discussion about Zulu culture and SA politics, a riveting discussion

Sicelo deep in discussion about Zulu culture and SA politics, a riveting discussion.

There were also moments that were profoundly sad. For example hearing the rangers’ stories of the poaching of the majestic souls which shared roamed this land for nothing more than human gain. The rangers who interacted with the major animals on a regular basis knew each intimately and said “the needless deaths of the animals… was like having friends killed.” We also saw the stark and destructive effects of the severe drought which was presently affecting most of Southern Africa and heard of the impacts of climate change on the animals and nature. Tarryn and I couldn’t help but be affected and resolved to make a difference. Our new initiative and social media presence under the banner “Team Tane,” and website www.teamtane.com are the start at our attempt to bring about awareness and positive change.

More than any one thing though, the hike was an exceptional and rare opportunity for unhindered and undistracted quality time with our

Our footprints to devolution..

Our footprints to devolution..

families and guides. We slept together, ate together, guarded each other and shared the profoundness of the venture. We witnessed sunrises and sunsets, debated politics and learnt the details of each other’s lives which are often overlooked due to time constraints. Tarryn and I enjoyed getting to know our soon to be sister–in-law, Siobhan, who we had never met despite being engaged to my brother for over a year due to the thousands of kilometres which separated us. We engaged with our respective parent-in-laws, my Dad Peter and Tarryn’s folks Grant and Debbie, who we had each known our entire lives but never spent such quality time with.

It was also a privilege to get to know both Sicelo and Mpile and to learn and share in each other’s cultures. The interactions with them really helped me understand viewpoints and behaviours which I had often been exposed to as a white South African but had never fully understood, not due to a lack of trying.

Overall the trip was absolutely incredible and is something that I believe every person should try and experience once in their life. As Sicelo put it on our last morning before re-entering civilisation “what we experienced is so sanitised, so authentic, so genuine and so special.” While I have tried my best to describe our roaming, it cannot be described in mere words. It must be experienced. More than anything I believe it is important for people to witness something like this, whether in Africa or abroad, to rekindle the connection to our ancestors and precious natural world which has largely been severed through our self-inflicted isolation. The African wilderness and wilderness areas in general are very special and should always be protected. 

 


Booking Information – For those interested in devolution…

The Umfolozi trails range for various numbers of days and difficulty and can be selected depending on people’s preferences. All are guided but accommodation varies from tented camps to sleeping in the wilderness. Again one can choose to carry their own gear as we did or get their gear portaged for them. Basic details are as follows:

Company: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Website: http://www.ekznw.co.za/Trails.htm

Phone: 033 845 1067

Email: trails@kznwildlife.co.za