14-Feb-2004 -- Lesotho is a small mountainous country known locally as the Roof of Africa. Four Confluences manage to fit just inside the borders of the country - 29S 28E, 29S 29E, 30S 28E and 30S 29E. When Ferdi and I and our families visited 29S 28E and 30S 29E in 2002, we speculated that it would be nice to visit the other two Confluences as well and so claim a whole country. The other two Confluences lie, however, in rather remote and mountainous areas of Lesotho and would involve careful planning and long hikes.
We eventually got around to 30S 28E in January 2004, but unfortunately Ferdi's vehicle couldn't make it, so only myself and my two daughters, Jana and Heidi was still in the running to complete all four. After postponing an attempt at the last Lesotho Confluence at 29S 29E twice, Ferdi, Dirk and me and our families finally settled on the weekend of 14 February (Valentine's day). Heidi fell ill during the week before with what we at first suspected to be malaria, but what turned out to be tick bite fever, so she and my wife Louise had to stay home. This left just me and Jana with a chance to complete all four.
Based on current DCP data, 29S 29E is at more than 3100 m the highest Confluence in Africa. It lies in the high Drakensberg that forms the border between Lesotho and KwaZulu Natal. Our maps and Ferdi's Garmap software had shown that there was a small track leading off the A1 in the vicinity of the Letseng diamond mine down to the Khubedu River. From there we would have to cross the river and hike about 6 km to the east, climbing about 700 m in the process.
Ferdi and us left Pretoria on Friday, 13 February, following the N3 and then the R26 through Frankfort (where we got lost in the rain) and Bethlehem to Fouriesburg where we spent the night at a guesthouse. The Talmas left the next morning at 2h30 and were due to meet us at the Caledonspoort border post just outside Fouriesburg at six, but they also got lost and we eventually met at the New Oxbow Lodge where we were planning on staying the Saturday night.
From the lodge we proceeded along the A1 towards Mokhotlong, crossing over passes at more than 3200 m and passing the only ski slope in Lesotho. The road was tarred a few years ago, which made this part of the country more accessible. At the Letseng diamond mine a track seemed to go in the direction of the Confluence, but when we enquired at the gate, we were told that a track turned off at a small village a few kilometres further. At the village we picked up two teachers at the turn-off. They made it clear that the track would take us all the way down to a village at the river.
The track was tough going, and at one point Dirk had to come to the rescue when my 4x4 bakkie got stuck on a rock. When we reached the river, we were faced with a massive buttress. We knew the Confluence lay along the ridge running east from the buttress. When we enquired from the locals, they seemed to have a preference for a route leading up to the north of the deep valley north of the buttress. Some, however, indicated a route running up the mountains to the south of the buttress.
We settled for the footpath to the north, leaving Dirk's wife Amanda and the two smaller kids at the vehicles in the company of a gathering crowd. First we had to cross the river, which was in flood from recent rains. The local people told us about a footbridge about a kilometre downstream. Ferdi followed their advice, while the rest of the party decided to ford the river right there. This turned out to be possible, despite the strong current and smooth round rocks that covered the river bed.
The path led up the edge of the valley, but tended northwards. After about 4 km we had to leave the path and cut cross-country up a steep slope. This led to a ridge and an easy walk to the Confluence.
It was now already four o'clock in the afternoon and we were running out of daylight. We decided to take a more direct route back, following contour paths made by sheep as far as possible, and dropping down the hillside whenever the contour paths ran out. We eventually came across a well-used path and started following it. It turned out to be the southern route we had contemplated from the start and took us directly to the footbridge and back to the vehicles, which we reached at about 6h30.
We hurriedly said our goodbyes to the Chief Patrick and the people of the village. Total darkness eventually caught up with us halfway up the track. Just before reaching the village, we were stopped by a very suspicious policeman. He swallowed our story with difficulty and insisted on searching the vehicles for dagga (cannabis) before letting us go with a warning about the dangers of driving around Lesotho at night. We reached the lodge just after eight o'clock, still in time for a well earned supper.