Well, it certainly was a Camp with a difference as we knew it would be from the very first moments after the decision was made!

It is unlikely that we have ever had a July Camp so close to a permanent dwelling. True, in 2006, also at Cathedral, we did have the Base Camp in the idyllic Research Catchment 8 between the simple, small buildings that had been built to house the instruments when the earlier research programme was active. They had been left standing (and looked for all the world like very solidly built, brick outhouses) and we sited the 2006 Base Camp close to one of them which made an ideal, icy cold meat store. It was good to see that these little buildings have come back into their own, and that they are being used for research purposes again.

Jump to 2016.

We were so anxious to return to the beautiful Catchment 8 site, but now it is, judging by the number of vehicles going into it every day, in very active use for a multi-disciplinary research programme. As a result, very understandably but very regretfully, we were not allowed to Camp there. So, we decided to break new ground and have the Base Camp with a difference in the grounds of Cambalala, formerly a forest foreman’s home, but now restored. The  KwaZulu-Natal Section of MCSA leases from Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife and which members can hire.

Yet another difference was that while the Base Camp infrastructure, as usual and for safety reasons was sited on a mown grassy knoll, literally in the back yard of Cambalala, the Campers’ tents were nestled in clearings the Advance Party had made in the ‘nchi ‘nchi (spellings vary) bush, also known as ‘ouhout’. I am a ‘nchi ‘nchi bush camp addict, so for me this camp site was highly evocative bliss, while for many others this was a novel experience. However, as the bush wove its magic there seemed to be many new addicts. Birdsong woke me us before the ever welcome call of “Coffee, please”!

Before lightweight tents were so readily available, often an escarpment sub-camp party that was relying on caves, where possible, would find that there was one spot without a suitable shelter, but if there was a copse of ‘nchi ‘nchi bush marked on the map, one considered one’s party very fortunate and hastened towards that special place. Hence my fondness for the bushes, which in fact, given time, can develop into handsome large trees.

Yet another different aspect of this Camp was that within minutes of leaving the cars parked near the bottom of Mike’s Pass, one was walking up to Camp along a beautiful Berg stream and into a pristine valley – one immediately felt the stresses drop away and petrol fumes clear from one’s lungs.  A few hours later, one arrived at Base Camp having already enjoyed the first, and possibly one of the best hikes in the area. July Camp had begun before one even had sight of Base Camp or tasted the first of the ever-present cups of tea or coffee.

Our youngest camper, Roelof Hauman, chose that he and his very obliging father, Carel, should spend all their three days in this enchanted river valley. On the last day he commented to his father, “Pappa, vandag was ons in die hemel.”

But now, the carefully phrased paragraphs give way a racing crowd of memories all rushing and jumbling for preference:

  • The glorious, ever-present uninterrupted panoramic view from Amphlet and Turret to the very end of the Cathedral Ridge,
  • Successful Escarpment trips, happy contour path sub-camps and numerous day walks,
  • We found and happily used Roland’s Cave, but Botha’s Shelter remained elusive
  • Brilliant red Natal Bottlebrushes in full bloom,
  • At night, the beautifully whimsical coloured solar fairy lights draped in the bushes and marking Dave’s tent,
  • Brilliant starry nights and fascinating discussions led by Andy as he took us across the Southern skies,
  • A dramatic full moon on the opening night which also happened to be Tineke’s birthday,
  • Roelof’s accounts of his daily adventures and Carel’s delight in having shared these precious times with his son,
  • Being able to alert the authorities to a dramatic arson fire easily seen from our high vantage point, while still hidden from them at the official buildings
  • Re-greeting friends last seen 10 or 15 years ago and finding that though there were a very few minor visual changes, the real person remained unchanged,
  • The hugs, the embraces and the bubbling joy of greeting old friends and then meeting new ones that had, till then, been only e-mail names and suddenly were real people, and kindred spirits, what is more,
  • The eager delight which greeted the first fragrant appearance of the famous pickled pork,
  • The enthusiasm with which the healthy salad and cold meat–type lunch disappeared,
  • The groans of delight as walk-tired muscles were lowered into the hot water of the old tin baths. All tiredness  and pain forgotten in the healing magic of ‘one bucket of hot water and as much cold water as you like’
  • The fragrant, dancing delight of firelight on those nights we could have campfires
  • The singing and chatter around the fires
  • The joyful, helpful, ever present Scouts who were always in just the right spot to render assistance. What a privilege and a pleasure to have them with us. Please become an entrenched part of July Camp. We welcome you with open arms. Your presence lowered the average age dramatically.
  • The joy of the Scouts even when weather conditions forced then to retreat from their second attempt on the Bell Traverse, and they arrived back in Base Camp in high spirits and wiser for having made the right decision under the circumstances.
  • The generosity of the Duracell bunnies, Hanlie and Peter, who brought two buckets of macadamia nuts for us all to share and enjoy.
  • Delicious sweet, juicy oranges.
  • The wind that came out of nowhere and devastated the Base Camp infrastructure in minutes.
  • The commitment with which the KZ-N Committee, as a man, leapt up to hang onto and hold down the gazebos while others struggled to get the heavy duty covers off and managed to do so without any damage.
  • The sight of the two conical army tents that we use as the swelling and billowing; the one ripped from top to bottome and the other one just gracefully sank down on top of contents. Both, considerately did not damage the solar lighting.
  • Two Scouts holding onto me while I tried to hold onto the equipment tent which was determined to blow away, but was prevented from doing so. While this battle against the billowing once-white canvas was playing out, Jabulani just carried on quietly and methodically hammering in the tent pegs as they were wrenched out.
  • The laughable sight of fully laden lunch tables being blown away side-over-side and scattering their loads in all directions.
  • The delight that not one of the Campers’ tents that had been set up in the gentle sheltering embrace of the ‘nchi ‘nchi bushes, only a few metres away, was damaged.
  • The inevitable cries of the ‘The bathrooms have gone’, followed shortly by ‘The loos have gone’.
  • The miracle that next, day by lunch-, a totally different order was established and the Camp was fully functional again.

And those are just a few of the memories of July Camp 2017.

Do yourself a favour and come to July Camp 2018 and collect your own vivid scrapbook wonderful July Camp memories.  Every July Camp, is a Camp to remember and recall fondly.