Back to Biodiversity Explorer main pageGo to Iziko Museums of Cape Town home pageAbout Biodiversity Explorer - history, goals, etc.Send us your questions about southern African biodiversityPeople who have contributed content and images.Search Biodiversity Explorer

Collectors of insects and arachnids in Africa

An account of an expedition in 1926, led by K.H. Barnard, to the Langeberg Mountains in the Riversdale vicinity of the Western Cape, South Africa. A.D. Izard was a mountaineering friend of Barnard's. This essay and the photographs were kindly supplied by Margaret Wells, A.D. Izard's daughter.


A Mountaineer's account of a scientific expedition

by A. D. Izard

'Bug hunting' on the slopes of the Kampscheberg shows (L to R) Cameron, Barnard and Thorne.

Everlasting flowers being examined by (L to R) Barnard, Thorne and Cameron.

It has always been one of my ambitions to go out with a scientific or pioneering expedition, and my delight knew no bounds when I was invited to join an outing organised by the South African Museum and subsidised by the Government. I realised that here was an opportunity of fulfilling in some small measure at least a part of my ambition.

The scientists of the party were Dr. K. H. Barnard, and Mr Thorne, both of the Capetown Museum and the objects of the expedition were to collect specimens of everything of interest, botanical and biological, from the higher altitudes of the Langeberge Mountains in the Riversdale District.

Sunday 17th October 1926

Those, whose imaginations picture scientists to be aged men with bald pates, flowing white beards and large spectacles, would have had their notions completely shattered, had they been watching the travellers embark on one of the trains leaving Capetown on Sunday the 17th of October 1926. For they would never have recognised as such any of the four men upon whom many inquisitive and interested glances were cast - four men clad in khaki shirts and shorts, very old, almost disgracefully old sports coats, and immense boots, curiously shod with metal clips (clinkers) around the welts. The idea that any of these "tramps" were scientists would have been ludicrous to them, for there were no bald pates, no spectacles, and all were clean shaven, sunbronzed and obviously "out of-door" individuals.

The party consisted of Dr. Barnard, biologist, Mr. Thorne, botanist, and Mr. Cameron and myself mountaineers, and, considering that it was a scientific expedition, our luggage was remarkably little. Two wooden cases, one containing botanical papers, and the other spirit bottles, were all that went into the luggage van. Evervthing else was on our backs in the usual "rucks", whilst the most important item of all, the food, was to be picked up at Riversdale, having been ordered by mail.

At 1.35 p.m., in a shower of rain, our train left Capetown, and one passenger, at least, felt a thrill. For was I not setting forth on a new venture, and so fulfilling in a small way a part of my ambition? And was I not embarking on my first journey in a South African train? The South Africans boast so much of their long-distance trains that I was decidedly curious to know what they really were like, and compared to travelling in one of our big expresses in England, this was to prove quite a novel experience.

In England, one can set one’s watch by the departure and arrival of express trains. They tear through the countryside at terrific speed for hours together, come panting into some important station, remain only for sufficient time for passengers to be set down and others to be taken up, and then off once more on another long run.

Not so in South Africa. Dear me, no such thing as haste and still less punctuality. We certainly passed through the suburban stations till we came to Belville, 12 miles out, without a stop, which run took us 30 minutes, and after that we stopped everywhere and anywhere. "Stations" are fairly far apart, 20 or 30 miles or so, but in between there are umpteen "sidings". If any passenger wants to get out at one of these sidings, he tells the guard some time beforehand. The guard scratches his head, thinks a bit, and if he remembers, he tells the engine driver. If any passenger wishes to board the train at any of these sidings, he puts his hand out and the train stops. Just as one would stop a tram or a motor bus. If nobody wants to get on or get off, the train stops all the same, for it must be several minutes since the last stop, and the guard and engine driver both get down and talk things over for a while.

Time is of no object. Speed less. The train puffs itself peacefully along at speeds varying from 5 miles an hour uphill to perhaps 25 or 30 miles an hour at a burst downhill, and splits the difference on the level.

But when the train arrives at one of the towns - Ah! that is a different matter altogether. The platform is thronged. Everybody who is anybody at all has come to the station to see the train come in. Many are the greetings between the engine driver and guard and the crowd. Many are the quips and jests passed, for it is a real social gathering.

Some half an hour or so thus peacefully and pleasurably passes, when suddenly the engine driver remembers something. The engine requires water, and the train is shunted back a bit. We are over an hour late already here, but bless me! the guard had almost forgotten that two coaches are to be detached here. More shunting and the two coaches are removed and the engine attached once more. Further shunting then takes place -practice for the engine driver, we presume, since there is no visible result - and finally, after much waving of handkerchiefs, and shouting of good-byes, the train pulls out and proceeds on her journey.

Scheduled to remain 17 minutes at this station, we have been here 37 minutes, and are a comfortable hour and a half late. But why worry! It is the only train of the day.

Aboard the train we are comfortable enough. Four only in a first class compartment, which on these long journeys, is bedroom and sitting room combined. The Dining Car, or "Eet Saloon" as the Dutch aptly call it, compares well with our own on the English lines, and the food and wines are all that can be desired.

The country we pass through is scenically very fine, and not without interest, for much of it was travelled over by those early pioneers, the Voortrekkers, and occasionally one glimpses traces of those days.

For the first 12 miles we cross the Cape Flats, once but a huge stretch of drift-sand, but now almost entirely reclaimed, planted with Australian wattle and dotted with small farms, market gardens, poultry enthusiasts and budding townships. These twelve miles used to be one of the most trying parts of the Voortrekkers journeys, and it leaves but little to the imagination to picture the hardships they had to bear in hauling their heavy lumbering wagons through these miles of thick soft sand.

Then for the next 30 miles or so, we pass through some of the agricultural districts until we reach Paarl, with its striking outcrop of granite, the Paarl Rock, Huguenot and Wellington, lands of vineyards and mountains, for a host of handsome peaks jumble their rocky summits into the skies.

These mountains are still unknown and unexplored save by South African mountaineers, and, although the highest tops have all been conquered, many of the lesser heights, a multitude of ravines, gorges, and numerous kloofs have yet to feel the foot of Man.

For miles we traverse the southern side of the range, until we reach the huge gap of Tulbagh Kloof. Here road, rail and river pass through from one side of the mountains to the other, the modern road making a striking contrast to the remains, still to be seen, of the old Voortrekkers track.

The Tulbagh Valley, stretching away to the westward, lays between the Winterhoek and the Witzenberg Mountains, and is an important wine centre, whence comes one of the favourite wines of South Africa - "Witzenberg".

110 miles from Capetown we reach Worcester surrounded by mountains of remarkable grandeur and beauty, and one of the finest climbing centres in the Cape Province.

These are the scenes we should have seen, but alas! the Heavens opened and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. All we saw was murk and moisture, and darkness descended without any break showing amongst the masses of leaden grey clouds and teeming rain. It was such a wet aspect altogether that we fell to the lure of an early night-cap, and leaving instructions with the guard to waken us 20 minutes before arriving at our destination, we tumbled into our "flea bags" and were soon adding our snores to the rumble of the wheels.

Monday 18th October 1926

"Riversdale in a quarter of an hour, Gentlemen." We half opened our eyes and bleared at the guard as he closed the door again. 4.45 a.m! What a time to arrive anywhere! To our astonishment, we ran into Riversdale only five minutes late, which can only be accounted for by the fact that nobody wants to get on or get off at sidings during the night, and the guard himself wants a snooze.

Riversdale is 256 miles from Capetown by rail, and the journey took us 15.1/2 hours, that is to say, our average speed was only 16.1/2 miles an hour.

A crazy looking Victoria, heavily overloaded and drawn by two crazier looking horses, carried us down to the Hotel, where, being in a semi somnolent state still, we promptly resumed our slumbers.

For some reason or other, probably because they deserve it, mountaineers have the reputation of being possssed of outrageous appetites. "For" says a writer in the Mountain Club Annual, "unlike ordinary human beings, they always have room for a bit more". It is not surprising, therefore, that our first duty to ourselves was to visit the local emporium, and take delivery of our food supply, ordered in advance by mail, and amplified by one, and only one bottle of "Emergency Ration".

It was whilst carrying out this essential task that we were commandeered by the local practitioner, Dr. Muir, and were piloted round by him to his residence, where we spent a most enjoyable and interesting hour. Dr. Muir is an amateur botanist of no mean order, and his speciality appears to be curious growths from the Karoo. With justifiable pride, he showed us many of his "finds", the most grotesque and quaint plants it is possible to imagine, several of which, he informed us, had only just flowered. We were the first human beings to set eyes on these hitherto undiscovered species. Barnard and Thorne, no doubt, understood something of the descriptions given, but Cameron and I did not. However, we contented ourselves with occasional learned grunts, and by wearing an air of the most profound wisdom, hoping the while that there would be no occasion to display our complete ignorance. The situation was saved for us by Mrs. Muir, who came to our rescue by producing eleven o’clock tea and many cakes, and the conversation returned from the depths of botanical science to more mundane matters, and our subsequent departure saved us from an ignominous confession.

There remained but to hire a domestic, a small boy to run, fetch, and carry for us, and to call on Mr. Versfeld, who had most kindly placed a cottage at our disposal. And in a very short time, ourselves, our domestic, and all our goods and chattels could have been seen piled on an ancient Ford lorry which wended its way noisily and laboriously up the long hill towards Garcia’s Pass.

Situated just off the main road which leads from Riversdale to Ladismith, and about a mile to the southward of the Pass, there is a beautiful plantation of acacia trees, and in amongst them, partly hidden from the road, there is a delightful thatched cottage - "Idlewild". A romantic name in a romantic setting, for the rugged majesty of the Langeberge Range constitutes a fitting background for the more delicate scenery of the woods.

Idlewild with C. Thorne, K. Cameron, Dr. K.H. Barnard and A.D. Izard on the varandah.

"Idlewild" was to be the base camp for the expedition. There had been some idea of camping under canvas, but with the extra impedimenta required by the scientists, a fortnight’s supply of food, etc., we gladly accepted the offer of four walls and a roof, and long before the trip was over, we were to appreciate fully the wisdom of our decision.

We spent the remainder of the day settling in, stowing away the gear, and running outside in order to admire a magnificent atmospheric effect, a rapid change from clearblue skies to the gathering of heavy storm clouds over the mountains.

Early in the afternoon, little whisps of white cloud feathered the topmost heights. They grew visibly and wreathed around the peaks and poured down into the gorges and ravines. Then, as the sky became overcast, the mists lost their snowy whiteness, and increasing in volume, soon hid the mountains under a mantle of grey sullen-looking vapours. Towards evening, the whole aspect changed, and harsh-edged storm clouds hung sulkily over the landscape, with jagged rents and tears, here and there, luridly illuminated by the rays of the setting sun. It was a magnificent spectacle, and one which made an unforgettable impression on our minds, and gave us fair warning of foul weather to come.

"Idlewild" contained two rooms, one of which possessed a fine large chimney-corner. "You must make your fire outside" the native caretaker told us, "for the chimney smokes so that you cannot stay in the room". In some ways, building our fire outside was very attractive, for we had visions of sitting around the blaze at night time, smoking our pipes and listening to the gentle hum of insects, whilst the stars and moon shone serenely down upon us. We imagined ourselves in that contented frame of mind that can only be supplied by a hard day's exercise, followed by a hearty evening meal, a frame of mind that produces that benevolent forgiving spirit that enables one to murmur gently, as somebody steps on one’s toes, "Never mind, Old Man, it didn’t really hurt. Accidents will happen." Normally, one would probably have said "Look out, you clumsy idiot. Can’t you keep your feet to your blankety blank self, you thundering lout? If your blankety feet are so large that you can’t keep ‘em off other people’s, why don’t you blankety well clear off, and tramp about the moon, where there’s nobody to tread on?"

However, our visions never materialised, for even as we were building our fireplace, the first few spots of rain came down, and in spite of the caretaker’s warning, we carried our wood indoors, and in less than no time, volumes of smoke ascended from the fireplace. Rising to the chimney, they promptly changed their direction, came out into the room, and equally promptly chased us out. We tried hard to stick it, but our eyes ran, our noses ran, and eventually we ran.

In due course, we found ways and means to make most of the smoke go up the chimney, and as evening succeeded evening, we could be found, not outside under the peaceful light of the moon and stars, but inside sheltering from fierce gales, thunder, rain, hail and sleet, snugly esconced in our chimney corner, smoking our pipes, going over the events of the day, and building our plans for the morrow.

In the immediate vicinity of "Idlewild" were two fine mountains, guarding like huge sentinels, the beautiful Garcia’s Pass. To the westward of the gorge lay the Sleeping Beauty or Mozambique Kop, to give its charted name, and to the eastward, the Kampscheberg with its two summits. The latter attracted us first being the easier of access, and also because it seemed to us that we should obtain a better view of the surrounding country. And having selected an attractive looking ridge on the western buttress as our means of attack, we turned in for our first night’s sleep at "Idlewild".

Tues 19th October 1926

As one of the mountaineering section of the expedition, it is but natural that I should write from the mountaineering aspect, leaving the scientists to make their own reports, complete with names as long and as Latin as they like to make them - names which, to the credit of the afore-mentioned scientists, they very considerately refrained from loosing off at us.

The country we were about to explore, might, to all intents and purposes, be termed terra incognita. Before leaving Capetown, two reports had been received from people reputed to know something about the district, but these differed so much, and were so contradictory, that it was decided to ignore them altogether. Also the only available maps were definitely known to be inaccurate, and there was no other information to be had. It was, therefore, with no little interest that we set out in the morning, for we knew not what was in store for us. But what a morning! It had been raining hard all night, and although now and then, we had a glimpse of the sun as we left "Idlewild", the wind had settled down to a hard N.W. gale, and it was bitterly cold. Occasional breaks, as the clouds swept hurriedly over the summits of the mountains, showed the peaks to be covered in snow. Scenically it was beautiful, grand, but our plans of last night had become an impossibility, for the ridge we had intended to climb, was exposed to the full force of the gusts which blew with almost hurricane force through the Pass.

Not to be done on our first day’s outing, we decided to traverse round the southern slopes of the Kampacheberg, thus securing a certain amount of shelter from the gale, and attempt to ascend a kloof separating the two peaks of the mountain. We soon picked up a well defined footpath which led in the desired direction, and which, so we presume, is used by flower gatherers, for the Riversdale district is noted for its magnificent wild flowers.

Easy going soon brought us to the kloof, where we left the path and commenced climbing, keeping close to a stream. Not many minutes had elapsed before we had our first minor adventure. We became properly "bushed", and for some moments we were hopelessly entangled in the undergrowth. Three of us extricated ourselves successfully, and we settled down to await Barnard, who seemed to have parked himself up amongst the thorns for the day.

After this, our troubles commenced in earnest. Icy blasts came scurrying down the kloof from the snows above, numbing our fingers and forcing us to don our sweaters, coats and all spare clothing we had, and we were glad enough to make an attempt to ascend the slopes. And what slopes they were too! Interminable slopes! Slopes that were almost perpendicular in places, so that we veritably had to climb them, using the cold, wet grass as hand holds. We struggled onwards and upward until about eleven o’clock, when we all realised the futility of further effort. Impending rain, bitter cold, and the violent gusts of the ever increasing gale, eventually beat us, and, unable to find any possible shelter in the vicinity, we turned and made a hurried retreat to lower altitudes, and the shelter of a huge overhanging boulder.

We had literally fought our way to a height of but 2,800 feet, barely half way to our objective.

Our boulder proved a friend indeed, for it sheltered us from the wind and cold, and from the showers of rain which, at intervals, swept down the kloof, it provided room for us to cook our lunch, and, last but not least, it afforded the scientists considerable scope for commencing their collections. Not a spider, not a woodlouse escaped attention. All went into the spirits or the killing bottles, scorpions, flies, insects of all sorts, and although the day had been a failure for mountaineering, it proved a great success scientifically.

We remained under the boulder for the rest of the day, and, the weather fining up somewhat towards evening, we managed to get back to 'Idlewild" without the anticipated drenching, and in a very short time, we were warming ourselves in front of a cheery blaze, whilst our domestic fetched wood and water for cooking our evening meal.

Later on in the evening, four mountaineers could have been seen comfortably seated round the glowing embers of a wood fire, discussing the events of the day, and the probabilities of the morrow.

"I say," said one, "it’s been wickedly cold all day. What about declaring a state of emergency, and having a hot toddy before we turn in?" The most acute hearing could not have picked up a dissentient voice amongst those assembled, and the bottle was accordingly broached.

"Pity we haven’t any lemons" remarked another,"to do the thing properly." "Well, let’s send down to Riversdale for some" was the reply, carried nem. con.

It may be here mentioned that this was done, but when the lemons arrived, there was no brandy!

Wednesday 20th 0ctober 1926

To take the bad with the good and enjoy it all, is one of the greatest attributes of the true mountaineer, and the ability to enjoy discomfort is given to but few. There was considerable discomfort and no little hardship for us all yesterday. Yet one can never love the mountains as they should be loved, unless one sees them under all conditions, when storm clouds mass over their crests, when rain, wind and snow make them no place for the softy, as well as under the clear blue sky and fragrant atmosphere of a beautiful day.

As a contrast to yesterday, no weather could have been more perfect than that which blessed us for our second attempt to conquer the Kampscheberg peaks. We were away early, and the sun shone brilliantly from a clear sky. All the earth seemed glad, and wild flowers gave forth their delicate perfumes into the fresh morning air. It was good to be alive on such a day, and still better to be far from stuffy offices and the conventions of town life, out in the open, even as God intended us to be. It was with light hearts and springy steps that we left our little homestead, and took to the main road for a mile or so, en route for the buttress on the western side of the Kampscheberg, and fine indeed, to wend our way upwards over the lower slopes, our feet sinking into the soft heath.

Our buttress proved an interesting and delightful route to the summit, and whilst producing no difficulties gave us some very pleasant rock work. In spite of several halts to enable the scientists to collect, and the photographers to commence their pictorial records, the summit of the western peak was reached by 11.30 a.m., where, in sheltered nooks and crannies, there still lay small patches of snow. Official height 4,470 feet.

The views from the top were magnificent, and we were able to obtain a splendid idea of the topography of the district. To the westward, lay the handsome Sleeping Beauty, and beyond the Langeberge Range stretched for miles and miles, peak after peak rearing its crest to the skies - a fine range indeed. At our feet and stretching away to the northward to Ladismith and the Klein Zwartbergs, lay that vast expanse of arid undulating country, the Little Karoo, whilst as a fitting background, Toverkop, the curious split dome of which has only been ascended on three or four occasions, and the Klein Zwartbergs were capped with snow. And to the eastward, the Langebergen continued as far as the eye could see.

The 'summit' shows (L to R) Thorne, Barnard and Izard.

The Langeberg Peak itself, some twenty miles away, particulaly attracted our attention, and the nucleus of a four day trip to conquer it, gave us plenty of scope for conversation. It certainly was the finest peak within reasonable distance. The outing, unfortunately never materialised, owing to bad weather.

A small beacon indicated that others had been here before us, but we increased the size so that it should be more in keeping with our own opinion of ourselves.

We had intended being satisfied with "bagging" the peak we had now reached, but the proximity of the eastern summit, the fascination of the magnificent knife-edge connecting the two, and the fact that we had time in hand, tempted us to further efforts. Descending to the ridge, we commenced the traverse along the knife-edge, halting for lunch on some very steep slabs about half way along. Why we should have chosen this particular spot is hard to explain, for it was a most sensational position, and it required great care on the part of us all, to avoid slipping over the edge into the next world.

Three o’clock found us clambering up the boulders on which is built the Survey Beacon on the Eastern Kampscheberg. Official height 4,518 feet.

But a short stay here was advisable, for there is always a big element of risk when attempting unprospected routes on unknown mountains. Perhaps the most remarkable event of the day was our extraordinarily rapid descent, for we came down over 3,000 feet in 47 minutes. The slopes lay at a very severe angle, probably some 60 degrees, and were covered by long grass, so that, for the most part, we only had to sit down and let go, digging our heels and hands into the grass when it became necessary to slow up. It was a most exhilarating episode.

Such a speedy descent enabled us to spend a somewhat unexpected, but very pleasurable hour alongside a delightful pool in the kloof we had endeavoured to climb the previous day, and to enjoy a welcome mug of tea, whilst we loafed under the rays of the setting sun before returning to "Idlewild".

Thus ended our second day, most enjoyable and satisfactory in every way, and one in which science, photography, and mountaineering, all received their fair share of attention.

Unmistakable signs of bad weather approaching in the near future, decided us to attempt to conquer the Sleeping Beauty on the morrow.

Thursday 21st October 1926

There is an indescribable fascination in setting foot where Man has never trod before, and the greater the difficulty of attainment, the greater the satisfaction when success crowns one's efforts. Although the Mozambique Kop, or to give the mountain its more picturesque and romantic name, the Sleeping Beauty, has been ascended on several previous occasions, it is perfectly safe to assume that the route by which we climbed to the summit is a "first ascent".

Authorities had told us of an easy way up via the northern slopes, but from the views we had obtained from the Kampschebergs yesterday, we had decided that the "easy" way would make a far more suitable descent, and we planned an attack from the southern side.

The whole route proved an intensely interesting and exhilarating one, and provided a number of problems, the first of which was crossing the river, which lay in the gorge some 800 feet or more below "Idlewild".We were extremely fortunate in finding ourselves on a track - a very rough one, but nevertheless a track - leading steeply downwards in the right direction. How much time and labour this saved us, we only realised when we looked back on it from the other side, and saw the krantzes and rough going that it had avoided. Crossing the river proved easier than anticipated, and then our climb commenced.

Very steep slope, with, now and again, short pitches of rock, gave us some real hard work, but also carried us to a considerable height, until, with the aid of the rope, we came out on to the shoulder of the buttress we had been climbing. Keeping to the ridge which connected with the main peak, we successfully negotiated a number of difficulties, and eventually came to the Sleeping Beauty’s nose, some 400 or 500 feet of formidable looking rock. The southern face was practically sheer, and was discarded at the outset as impracticable, and the direct ascent presented an almost equally hopeless appearance, on account of a huge overhang, leaving the eastern and northern sides as the only possibilities.

To reach the northern side, a considerable descent and a long traverse round the base of the precipices, would have been necessary, so that, after due deliberation, we decided to tackle corners slightly to the right. For well over 200 feet, we were climbing under very trying circumstances. Short pitches of almost vertical slope, awkward chimneys and corners chocked with bush, were the order of the moment, all of which gave us a most unpleasant feeling of insecurity, especially as nearly all the available holds were grasses and loose earth. The climax came with a 50 foot chimney, which was, to say the least of it really difficult, but which anyhow, gave solid foot and handhold, and in consequence, a feeling of much greater safety. The negotiation of this presented an interesting climbing problem, and its accomplishment practically completed the ascent, for a few easy pitches of nondescript rock brought us to the Beacon. Official height 4,351 feet.

Something attempted, something done! We stood at the beacon after more than five hours continuous climbing. The mountain had given us real good sport. There was doubt, uncertainty, hope, until the very end, and we felt that wonderful thrill of satisfaction, which is only known to those whose efforts to accomplish some-thing never done before, have met with complete success.

Congratulations to our leader, Cameron. The next hour was spent over a well earned rest and lunch, and then the mountaineers went off exploring - one of them finding some very interesting caves - whilst the scientists turned to their work collecting specimens.

As a general rule, descents are by no means as interesting as ascents. The reasons for this are several, the chief being that, on unknown mountains, it is most inadvisable to attempt anything but the obvious way, if there is one, as a miscalculation, an unexpected precipice, may lead one into serious difficulties, with the prospect of night coming on before being able to extricate oneself.

The descent from the Sleeping Beauty, therefore, was attempted by the "easy" way referred to by the authorities, a route which proved very different from anticipations. Leaving the summits comfortable slope took us down to the saddle which connects the mountain with its neighbouring mass, Oudebosch, and also with

another big, but uninteresting looking ridge. Between the latter and the Sleeping Beauty, a lesser ridge fell gradually down to the valley far beneath, with deep kloofs, thickly matted with bush, on either side.

At first we tried to keep to the broken masses of rock, and most interesting work, too, several places providing quite difficult bits of rock work. Time, however, was getting on, and we found it necessary to take to the slope, and for some way we struggled downwards through the growth, occasionally finding a short distance of easy going along baboon tracks.

A considerable area of white had been puzzling us from above. It proved to be a vast mass of magnificent everlasting flowers. Here, the photographers held up the party for some time in an endeavour to take away a pictorial record of the scene.

We had now reached a level nearly corresponding to the road through Garcia’s Pass, and imagined our difficulties were over. We had only to negotiate some more slope on our left, cross the stream below, and there we were. At least, that is what we thought. However, it turned out to be a very different proposition indeed. The slope itself was covered with waist high heath and other growth, beset with unexpected krantzes and boulders, and the final shoulder, leading down to the stream, was a formidable problem in itself. Densely overgrown with proteas, heath straggling up to a height of ten feet and more, thorn bush and trees, made exceptionally difficult going. In one place, Cameron and I were scarcely six feet apart, yet could not see one another. The crashing of branches, grunts and curses alone indicated position. It was some time before the four of us, scratched all over and with torn garments, sat down for a smoke along-side the stream.

The rest was easy in comparison, and a five mile trek through lovely Garcia’s Pass brought us once more to "Idlewild", and completed one of the most enjoyable

mountaineering days I have ever had, a day, full of interest, thrills and splendid sport, for the mountain kept us guessing to the very end. A fine day, indeed! A Man’s day!

Friday 22nd October 1926

The human frame can stand a very great deal in the way of strenuous exercise, when in good condition, but there does come a time when further exertion becomes a business instead of a pleasure. We had had three days mountaineering, and were well satisfied. We decided that this, the fourth day should be a day of rest. So did the weather, so emphatically in fact, that we were forced to take two days of rest, two days by no means without interest or incident.

We awoke fairly early, but, with the knowledge that there was no particular reason to get up, three of us snuggled down again for a little extra snooze. The

fourth man thought more of a mug of coffee, and went in search of our domestic. He found him, and what actually happened then, is not quite clear, but when the three lazy ones arose there was no "boy". He had vanished. And he only came back some days later, together with the reappearance of the sun. The fourth man asserts that the boy asked leave to return to Riversdale to fetch some more clothes. Either it was a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, and a little language ditto, causing a misunderstanding, for the boy knew no English, or, the result of a wrathful individual seeking vengeance. For our lad had made himself most unpopular yesterday, by carefully throwing away, during our absence, most of our fresh vegetables, peas, cabbages, lettuce, etc. A somewhat protruding tum-tum might have suggested where some of these things had gone.

Owing to the absence of the "boy", we were now confronted with several problems which required elucidating, the first of which was the water supply. Mountaineer-like, we had all avoided going any nearer water than could possibly be helped. One member of the party had actually stated that he had every intention of leaving "Idlewild" without ever seeing where the supply was. However, these things were all changed now, and the four of us went out into the rain in search of the clear running brooklet, that we fondly expected to find, each man imbued with the idea of supporting his companions, should the sight of the liquid prove too much for them. We eventually found the supply. Then we wished we hadn’t. Instead of a clear crystal-like stream of pure mountain water, we found, opposite two pontockies (small native huts of mud reeds), a largish pool of evil looking mess. Soap suds fringed one side, a couple of bunches of dead flowers floated forlornly at the other, and the whole presented a greasy repulsive sight.

It was evidently the washing place of the pontockyites. And there was no other water to be had! We walked quietly back to "Idlewild", each wondering who would be the first to go to hospital.

There is, however, a silver lining to most clouds, and the weather, which by now, could only be labelled as putrid, became our salvation. For the heavy rain soon washed the roof of our cottage, and for the next two days, it was only necessary to place our billies, basins, etc., under the eaves to catch all the water we wanted. And after that time, where once was a filthy pool, there was a raging torrent straight from the Kampschebergs.

Another problem which soon required attention was firewood. Our domestic had been supplying us with some excellent logs, sawn up into suitable lengths, but, with his disappearance, came the necessity of finding out where he got them from. Later in the day, a reconnoitering party discovered stacks of these logs, nicely cut up and ready for the market. From then on, an occasional caped figure might have been seen stealthily wending his way through the forest, and as stealthily creeping back, with the rain streaming off a cape that bulged widely out on on either side. And a few more logs had changed their position of rest in the forest, for one of utility in "Idlewild’s" chimney corner.

In lulls between the heaviest showers, we all donned our capes, and set out with killing bottles, spirit bottles, aluminium boxes, etc., to collect insects in the interests of science. The procedure generally consisted in turning over all the rocks and boulders in the neighbourhood, a work in which the strong man of the party, of necessity, became conspicuous, and capturing all the insects we could find underneath.

The "Home-Wreckers" we called ourselves, for the number of homes we wrecked was beyond computation. No sympathy was shown to the inhabitants, for one and all went into the bottles, worms, lice, cockroaches, snails, scorpions, spiders, everything in fact. Some of them showed fight, especially some of the big scorpions and the tarantulas. One of the latter, a big dark brown, venomous looking fellow, stood up on his hind legs, and hissed ferociously at us.

Our other amusement was eating. Originally we had intended to have three meals, breakfast, a square meal at midday, and another equally square meal in the evening. However, we began to find the gaps between rather long, so we had an occasional snack in the intervals. After a time, the position became reversed, and we found it necessary to put in an occasional interval between the snacks!

At the end of two days’ so-called "rest", we had to send down to Riversdale for more food!

The weather during this, the first days rest, was wicked, bitterly cold, and heavy rain with an occasional lull, and, sitting round our chimney corner in the evening, none of us were surprised when a flash of lightning lit up the room. This was the precursor of a thunder-storm that lasted some sixteen hours. For a long time, the thunder reverberated amongst the hills unceasingly, and rain came down in torrents. We thanked all the gods in turn that we had accepted the offer of "Idlewild", and were not out under canvas.

During a temporary lull in the storm about ten o’clock, we opened the door to let out some of the smoke and to let in some fresh air. To our astonishment, the place was covered in white, inches deep with what, for want of a better word, we called hailstones. Actually they were great chunks of ice. Our thatched roof had

deadened sound, and what we had imagined to be exceptionally heavy rain, had been good solid hail - hail that would have flattened out our light tents, and torn them to ribbons. And we went to bed, glad, indeed, to have a roof over our heads.

Saturday 23rd October 1926

The morning presented anything but a cheerful aspect. Masses of inky black clouds hung low down the mountain sides and stretched, without a break, to the horizon. Streaks of lightning flickered wickedly from the murk overhead, and the booming of thunder gave us to realise that no outing would be possible.

Perhaps it was the depressing effect of the weather or, maybe, it was only to fill in time, that we unanimously decided to break one of the unwritten laws of the Mountain Club - "Thou shalt not shave on Country Trips". Anyway, after breakfast, the four of us sat round the table, and endeavoured to remove such marks from our faces, as would restore us once more to the appearance of human beings, rather than specimens of the missing link.

We were in various stages of soap and discomfort, when suddenly, there was a knock at the door, and in walked two Boer farmers. Perhaps they had come to see the unwonted sight. Who knows? They did not actually say so. They had, they said, outspanned for the night, at the top of the hill from Riversdale, and during the storm, one of their donkeys had strayed. Could they come in for a few minutes shelter?.

Poor chaps. They were soaked to the skin, and shivering with cold. We soon had a roaring blaze going, and a mug of hot coffee for them, for which small comforts they were unproportionately grateful.

Conversation, however, was somewhat difficult, and chiefly carried on by Cameron, and he soon exhausted his vocabulary. Not to be daunted, he used the same words in a different order then shifted them about a bit, turned them round the other way, juggled with them, and finally caved in. The father, for they were father and son, then turned and tried to talk to me, and in the curious manner of most of us, seeing that he was not understood, he raised his voice louder, louder, and still louder, until his shouting struck such terror into my heart, that I fled, and laid hands on the first thing I could find to relieve the strain, a box of cigarettes. And the poor man’s hands were still so cold that he could not light a match.

Cameron gave us, according to him, a translation of the conversation. He said, the farmers, inspite of the discomfort, were delighted to see the rain. Riversdale District had been suffering from a very severe drought, and the farmers had been faced with "Rain or Ruin". "Beautiful rains", this man kept on saying, "Beautiful rains". Our remarks anent the rain might have been beautiful, but they were certainly not printable.

I, myself, have some doubts about Cameron’s translation, however. I cannot but feel that these two men had come from vast distances, camped out overnight, and timed their dramatic entrance to see the astounding sight of four mountaineers shaving

Sunday 24 October 1926

All bad things, like all good things, come to an end sometime and the weather, which had seemed to us to have settled in wet for ever, showed some signs of clearing this morning.

It is extraordinary how time drags when one has nothing particular to do and two days to do it in, and one member of the party felt so relieved to see a patch of sunshine, that he took his camera and the botanist, to act as a foreground, and set off in gay spirits to photograph the Sleeping Beauty from a position which lay downhill from "Idlewild". His return uphill was somewhat less spirited. It is even rumoured that he sat down to rest on more than one occasion, in a distance of but little over a quarter of a mile.

On reaching "Idlewild", his companions were ready, and the party set out to climb Krystal Kop, a small peak beneath, and to the north of the Kampschebergs. To his relief, he found the others suffering from a similar kind of lethargy. One of them soon called a halt because he wanted to take a photograph. A few yards further on, one of the scientists stopped the party that he might examine a shale band. A little later on another wanted to repack his rucksack, a bootlace required adjustment, and so on. Many and ingenious were the excuses made to obtain a few moments rest. To be quite frank, the whole party appeared to be suffering from having eaten much more muchly than wisely.

Krystal Koo, our objective, is the highest point of a long ridge running parallel to the Kampschebergs, and separated by Krystal Kloof. The five mile walk along the road was a very laborious and slow process, but in due course we came to the entrance to the Kloof, where we endeavoured to raise our spirits with a mug of tea. This gave us a good substantial rest before trekking up the valley.

We worked our way diagonally up the slopes of the ridge until about half way along its length, and then we came to the rocks - rocks of almost vertical strata. The first pitch provided a choice of routes, and each individual chose the particular one which looked easiest. Our leader’s "easiest" route landed him in a quaint position on a very smooth sloping rock, from which he sent out S.O.S. signals. He was eventually rescued from above. It has been suggested that a rescue was not necessary, but that the leader thought it less fatiguing to be hauled up on a rope than to use his own energy.

Under normal conditions, the ridge would have provided many pretty climbing problems, but as each section could be avoided we all carefully kept away from anything that required more than the minimum of exertion.

We tottered gently along individually, and somewhere in the region of lunch time, one by one, the party crawled on to the summit, and promptly sat down.

I have often wondered since how the billy ever became boiled. As far as I can remember, no one fetched any wood, no one moved, in fact, for a long time, and one

man actually refused lunch!

The descent down the steep grassy. slopes was easy enough, and led us on to a path which followed the course of the stream to the road, and so back again to


Monday 25th October 1926

Rightly ashamed of ourselves, one and all, we arose long before daylight, determined to retrieve some of our self-respect, and 6.30 a.m. saw us on the road going strongly.

We had been casting longing eyes upon the summit of a fine peak to the eastward of the Kampscheberg, Nieuberg by name, and we were now on our way to attack its massive front. We had not been sufficiently close to prospect a route, so that the element of doubt came in from the start.

Making use of our now well known footpath we skirted the southern slopes of the Kampscheberg, and soon reached the kloof between the the two portions of the mountain. Contrary to anticippation, the path then commenced rising, and traversed diagonally upwards around the Eastern Kampscheberg. In tIme, this track petered out altogether, and we were beginning to realise that we were tackling a bigger proposition than we could manage in one day. Somewhere about ten o’clock, we came out onto a shoulder, and then we saw the futility of proceeding further. A deep gorge lay some 2,000 feet below, through which the Kruis River poured, and the possibility of ever cross ing the swollen rapids, was obviously remote. Nieuberg’s great massive sides rose up some 3,500 feet from the opposite bank of the river, the whole being an impossible task for a "one day" trip from "Idlewild".

We were beaten, and wisely understanding the fact, we turned, with many regrets, and made tracks for a beautiful ravine nearby, thickly wooded with indigenous forest. Here we spent the remainder of the day, disturbing the homes of many insects, collecting mosses, and generally working in the interests of science. Here it was that I distinguished myself by spending two whole hours, chasing a lob-toed frog from the top of the ravine to the bottom, and catching, in the end - the wrong frog!

The surprise of the day was finding our domestic on the doorstep when we got back. He could scarcely have felt himself popular after we had all voiced our opinions to him, and it was unanimously agreed to dispense with his services next day.

This was my last evening with the party, for I had to leave for Capetown on the morrow, and it was with an envious heart, that I listened to the others planning

a four days’ outing to the westward, and assisted them to pack up.

Tues 26th October 1926

With bulging packs, laden with tent, botanical papers, bottles, sleeping bags, provisions etc., for four days, the party left "Idlewild" at an early hour. I accompanied them through Garcia’s Pass, a most enjoy able tramp in the sparkling freshness of the morning. On reaching the open country to the north, they took their way to the left, whilst I watched them go, with deep longing in my heart to be with them.

Trudging through the Pass again, I was able to let my thoughts wander over the events of the past week or so, and to contemplate on my first outing with a scientific expedition. The amount of material collected by us all was extraordinarily large and varied, but the value to science can only be measured later, after many months of work, classifying, comparing, dissecting and so on. Interest was maintained throughout, for there was always the prospect of finding some new insect, some new shell, moss or flower, and indeed, it is fully anticipated that there are several entirely new species amongst the collection, whilst I was successful in capturing a minute female frog, of which one, and only one, male species has ever previously been found.

As a mountaineering expedition; the outing was wholly enjoyable, though not entirely successful as regards the number of peaks ascended. We were beaten yesterday by the Nieuberg, and our first day’s outing provided us with considerable hardship without any real result, whilst our ascent of Krystal Kop was scarcely a creditable effort. But the remaining two days’ climbing, when we conquered the two Kampscheberg summits and the Sleepirg Beauty, will live long in the memory for scenery and whole-hearted enjoyment.

Our experience of a mountain storm, too, was something to remember for its exceptional severity. At a place called Albertina, only ten miles away, no less than 2˝ inches of rain fell in 40 minutes. It would be very interesting to know how much fell at "Idlewild".

Midday found me in our little homestead once more, and for the last time, and at 2 p.m. a rackety old Ford arrived to carry me and my belongings, together with our scapegrace domestic, back to Riversdale, and so back to Capetown.

"Idlewild". A romantic name, in a romantic setting, and a place of memories well in keeping with the name.  

Contact us if you can contribute information or images to improve this page.

Biodiversity Explorer home   Iziko home   Search