As I walk out of the midday sunshine, I am swallowed up in the dim green shadow of the indigenous forest. I am confused by the darkness and I stand still, unsure of where the path is. The closeness of the trees deadens all sound. It is as though I have stumbled into another world. That momentary pause gives my overworked muscles a chance to be felt and I become aware of the excruciating agony in my legs. I remove my hat and blink as perspiration pours down my face, through my eyebrows and lashes over throbbing cheeks and into my dry mouth. I have followed the others up the sunny mountain trail carried along by momentum rather than will and now I stand, aware of the tearing in my lungs as my breathing slowly returns to normal. The blood is drumming in my ears, my face, my whole body pulses with the surging of it. My eyes adjust and I see to my dismay the path to Gudu Falls turns into a natural stair of large black rocks, leading upwards at a sharp angle. I can go no further.
Then I see another path, level, leading off to my left. I furl my red umbrella as the chill of the deep humid shade envelops me, clings to my moist skin and I shiver. I can hear the muted voices of the others and I am not sure where they are, but at least they are not on the black rock stair. Gratefully and slowly I walk step by painful step towards the sound. This is a well-trodden path, but still, large tree roots snake along as if intentionally to trip my faltering steps. My laboured breathing has slowed and I am able to look about me at gnarled and ancient trees of the indigenous bush which arch over me and I marvel at the casual beds of wild pelargoniums in the undergrowth. In the peaceful twilight, I vaguely hear a pair of Crested Barbets strike up their mechanical warble and I think of Keats’s Nightingale ‘In some melodious plot of beechen green, and shadows numberless, singest of summer in full-throated ease’.
I become aware of another sound; a rushing torrential roar ahead. As I come around a bend in the path, I am dazzled by the spectacle of the narrow cataract, cascading, thundering into a sunlit pool. The air is sodden and the trees drip with the mist that is generated by the waterfall. All the others are on a rock on the far side of the pool and the children have already stripped down the swimming gear and are wading into the water. There is nothing for it but to remove my boots and wade across too, as there is no way around. It’s through the pool or nothing.
I sit down gingerly on a wet rock and remove my steaming, aching feet from my boots and plunge them into the icy water, cringing with shock. The bottom of the pool is lined with beautiful coloured pebbles and the children are in thigh-deep in order to scoop up handfuls of agates, the bounty of the Drakensberg. All I can do is concentrate on getting to the other side without falling in, my tender feet tortured by the sharp stones. Finally I am able to sit on a broad rock in the sunlight and enjoy the splendid sight, fortified by tea and sandwiches from Paul’s pack. How delicious the simplest food tastes after a long arduous trek. I could lie here at ease, for hours. All the effort has been worth it after all and my eyelids droop involuntarily. I daydream of climbing on the wings of a friendly eagle and being wafted effortlessly down to the campsite.
Suddenly thunder growls quite close. It can be deadly on the mountain in a thunderstorm, and we are galvanised into action. Hastily pull half-dry socks onto damp feet; fumble with recalcitrant laces, pack up the remains of the picnic and rush headlong down the mountain again as the storm begins.
Copyright Elaine Young 2012