Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Out of Ntsikeni in the snow - fun.... for the first minute perhaps!

The virgin snow ahead of me a bejewelled spectacle under the glare of my lights - the blades of grass delicately dusted with millions of tiny diamonds. The wind had them dancing showing off their rich splendour. 

The biggest benefit of the freezing weather is that the wetlands we had to cross near the lodge were frozen. It had also been a dry season so we had little difficulty in getting through without getting our feet wet. The snow, thick in places, had me dabbing with my feet at regular intervals as I navigated through some blanketed rocky sections. A nice surprise lay ahead, the road had seen recent upgrades making it easy to ride in spite of the snow that covered the ground. The previously challenging water crossings had been upgraded with raised pebble beds. This enabled us to keep a good pace which in turn kept the cold at bay. 

The start of the jeep track that would take us over the mountain loomed in the glow of our lights. I knew we would have to walk some of the early sections and I wasn't looking forward to getting my feet wet from walking through the frosted grass. As it turned out it was so cold that the ice crystals didn't melt and were merely swept aside as we walked through the grass. 

At some point I reached for my water bottle and found it frozen solid. We had been outside for less than an hour. It takes longer than that to freeze a bottle in my freezer at home. It was a stark reminder of just how cold it was. 

The predawn sky showing the first signs of the looming day was still peppered with stars - the snow storm had passed. Looking behind I could see Tim and Janine's lights piercing the gloom as they made their way up the ridge behind. The Ntsikeni peak now silhouetted against the eastern sky gave me an idea of how far we had already ridden. I as stood there I became aware that my hands were aching from the cold. I opened my pack to retrieve some glove inners. As I fiddled with my kit Tim and Janine glided past with the hiss and squeak of tyres on fresh snow. In no time at all they looked far ahead. It's difficult to judge distance at night particularly as neither one of them had tail lights. 

We continued climbing up the ridge alternating from one track to the other trying to find the best line through the snow covered jeep tracks. As we climbed higher we encountered older snow that had iced over which meant we had to be particularly careful with our lines. The dainty bejewelled grass ice 'sculptures' had given way to thicker rope like structures resembling Rasta braids. The older snow showed signs of the persistent wind with uniform erosion lines scribed around the shrubs. 

We reached the forest that marked the top of the climb and after riding parallel with the tree line for a kilometre or two we dropped down on a spur toward our exit point from the Ntsikeni Reserve. By the time we had reached the bottom of the valley it was light enough to ride without lights. The wind at the bottom, super cooled by moving over kilometre upon kilometre of snow laden fields, chilled us to the bone. It wasn't fun. 

We picked our way along the cattle tracks, walking occasionally and hopping over a few fences before eventually dribbling down to a stream crossing where we slung our bikes across our shoulders and climbed up the steep cattle track that led to a farm road that would see us clear of this frozen valley. 

Imagine my horror when I found the road freshly ploughed! I dropped into a roadside donga in an attempt to get out of the wind while I waited for the other two to finish scrambling up the ridge. The swirling wind mocked my effort. 

No comments: