Fifty to 60 hikers were expected to attend, and Balloch camp-site in the Wartrail area of Barkly East was seen as ideal for the camp. Situated in a long pristine valley in the NE Cape Witteberge, it is surrounded by spectacular sandstone formations, with high basalt mountains as a backdrop. It is also close to the premier hiking areas around Wartrail, Dangers Hoek and the Telle Falls. A week in mid-April, starting from Easter Monday, was chosen, as rain is less likely then, the countryside is still green with ample running streams and Barkly’s notorious cold has not yet set in. By the beginning of March, there were already 75 bookings, which would put enormous pressure on Balloch’s limited ablution facilities. It was still a month from our official closing date, and we had to scurry and secure the camp-site at Lion’s Den, a huge overhang cave between Wartrail and Lundean´s Nek overlooking the mountains of both areas. Their maximum number of 15 campers was also soon surpassed and we had to look for a third camp-site. Fortunately, Reedsdell Cottages, situated close to Wartrail, had just opened a new camp-site for large groups and all hikers could be accommodated. In total, 110 hikers from all over South Africa attended the camp. A special mention must be made of Steve Cooke, who kept to his promise made at the previous year’s camp, and brought a strong contingent KZN members. We were well supported by Gauteng, all probably relieved by the camp´s proximity.

To get the hikers from three camps together for hikes all over the area posed some challenges, especially since the five kilometres to the main camp at Balloch was at best only a single-track farm road. Fortunately, everyone co-operated and adhered to strict timelines. Another challenge was that several hiking leaders withdrew just before the camp, but fortunately new leaders stepped in. We also had to re-schedule some leaders’ schedules. Derek Odendaal, the organiser of three previous Free State Section camps, now residing in the Southern Cape, took multi-day hikes to Dangers Hoek, Telle Falls and Balloch Peak. Wium Adendorff, a motivational organiser and Skyrun veteran, took the Balloch Rim hike, the hard day walks to Balloch Peak and the notorious Balloch Wall of Skyrun fame. Anneline Swanepoel took on a multi-day slackpack hike to Ben MacDhui, Telle Falls and Hawkeshead, and day walks to the Glen Gyle Ridge and Glen Lyon Triple Falls. We were grateful to have Paul Martin from the Eastern Cape, a late leader replacement, who took on the Glen Gyle Peaks and helped wherever he could, including a sprained ankle casualty on the Shepherds Cave hike. Sorita Vermeulen, a stalwart leader from the previous camp at QwaQwa, was roped in to do the Vlooikraal Canyon and steep Edgehill Plateau hikes. Nelia Venter took on the challenging Halston Krantz, the bastion close to Wartrail and assisted Lorene Erwee with her Lundean´s Nek waterfalls and Shepherds Cave hikes.

Deon du Plessis undertook educational day hikes with the a wildflower outing to Rhodes and Naudesnek Pass and another at Balloch, a bird atlassing bash down the Telle Valley, and together with farmer Piet Steyn at The Caves, a working sheep farm tour with unique geology and rock art. He also led the hike to the impressive sandstone towers at Dangers Hoek along the Telle River which borders Lesotho and centre of the lesser-known Puthi nation’s area. Nico Combrinck was tasked with the increasingly popular shorter hikes as fatigue set in as the week progressed. He was ably guided by Margy Frost on their farm at Balloch. Previous Free State Section stalwarts, Louis and Pat Fourie, now residing in KZN, competently handled the camp administration and challenges

On Easter Sunday, a day before the camp, the advance party of leaders went to Balloch to get things ready for the camp. They were fortunate to miss an unseasonable, heavy hailstorm that hit an area of more than 100 kms from Aliwal North to Barkly East, with some of the biggest hailstones in our intended hiking area. The landscape looked like a heavy snowfall and some drivers had some difficulty in staying on the gravel road to Balloch. Imagine if it it had been days later and being caught in the exposed mountains whilst hiking and all the cars parked in the open! The gods certainly smiled kindly on us. One cannot but suspect that the volatile weather of global warming is already evident in SA.

In the evenings leaders gave a report of their hikes and the next day’s hikes were introduced. On Wednesday night we were introduced to the recently-declared Grasslands Park, centred in the area around Rhodes and Maclear, by the SANParks/WWF joint venture staff members. On Thursday evening Tony Rebello, head of iNaturalist in SA, introduced us to the value of photos taken of plants and animals. Here amateurs can post photos on iNaturalist, which can then be identified by experts. Viv Connell laid out the significance and message of the San rock art on Friday night and raved about Balloch’s lion and fleeing people painting.

Hikers were most impressed by the Dangers Hoek sandstone towers, while the Telle Falls remain one of the Eastern Cape’s premier sights. The views from Balloch Peak are probably unsurpassed in the north-eastern Cape, while the whole Wartrail area is quite spectacular. The Balloch area was criss-crossed by hikes, as the combination of sandstone and basalt cliffs are uniquely spectacular. The wide variety certainly accommodated all ages, from 8 to 83. We were blessed that no serious injuries occurred, many were just rewarded with sore muscles, not wanting to miss out on anything.

Activities closed on Saturday night with the Annual Dinner at the Wartrail Sports Club. Closing speeches were given by Free State Chairperson, Anneline Swanepoel and MCSA President Paul Carstensen. Despite the camp being held at a remote area with little infrastructure, all agreed that the camp was a resounding success. Everyone involved deserved credit for the success. Special mention of, and thanks to new chairperson, Annelien Swanepoel, Lorene Erwee, Nelia Venter and Morgan Griffiths. The biggest compliment the Free State Section received was to be asked to consider being the host for the next year’s camp, which we politely declined!