Chimanimani Mountains & Outward Bound Melsetter 

Senior Men's Course # 143 Outward Bound Melsetter June/July 1975 - Part 2 of 5
July 1 to 3 - initial expedition up to the Wind Tunnels, more basic training

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July 1

Lights came on at 5:30 a.m., and not having to do Circuit Training or visit Tessa, all members of the cast were in the dining hall by 5:50, enjoying a cup of tea and thick slices of homemade brown bread, toasted and liberally spread with butter and marmalade.

Humping well filled rucksacks, weighing anything up to 30 lbs., and more, and garbed in the weirdest imaginable selection of shirts, shorts, and bonnets, the members of the various patrols set out from the School in the early light of dawn, on their different pre-planned routes to the Chimanimani Mountains.

The day dawned somewhat overcast with thick mist hanging in the valleys and the higher peaks, to the East, hidden in sullen, gray, scudding clouds, as the Filthy Five with Peter Cushman, the Instructor Extraordinaire, making the number up to six, and suggesting a name change to the ‘Sexy Six’, set off in Indian file down to the valley below Tessa’s Pool.

Kurt the Count, having been appointed navigator for the expedition, soon had us across the valley and up along a rocky path, winding through mist-shrouded trees, headed for the vicinity of the Northern foot of the imposing feature Nyagoma, at that time completely hidden from view in the clouds.

Gradients seemed very steep to the novices and rucksacks became progressively heavier as we progressed upwards. First beads, and then rivulets, of perspiration proved the wisdom of The Maestro’s advice to go lightly clad despite the apparent morning chill. A short spell of level ground across, or a slight descent into, a vlei, were sheer bliss to those unused to this type of exercise, while a call for a halt and ‘brew-up’ at the ‘Old Age Pensioner’s Camp’ about two hours after leaving the School, was unanimously welcomed. This camp is the site of one of those set up for the Natural History excursions run annually by the OBMS for characters even more decrepit than the Filthy Five.

The Tea Boy soon had a pan of water boiling on his Gaz stove and a welcome brew was enjoyed by all before pressing on and up again towards the objective, a spread of indigenous forest, astride the upper reaches of the Haroni river and behind, or East, of Nyangoma.

Having arrived at the forest at approximately 9:30 a.m., we scouted round for the most suitable campsite, bearing in mind Bill Bailey’s lecture on Mountain Lore, and started to make ourselves comfortable. A cheerful wood fire soon had a ‘billy’ singing for tea. We were soon rewarded by our first glimpse of the sun, albeit somewhat watery, through the dense tree canopy, as the clouds began to break up to reveal the craggy cliffs of Nyangoma, close by, and the grass-domed top of Peza, further upstream.

The Maestro himself, plus Alsation, strode into camp at 10:30 to a rousing welcome of the "Tandaai! Banzai! Kill ! Kill ! Kill !" which appeared to satisfy him that the Old Crocks were still alive and kicking. For the next hour or so we stood round the fire, waiting patiently for the Bailey kettle to boil, and talking about the Chimanimani Mountains with their Bushman paintings, Ancient iron smelting sites, sadly diminishing game population, wide variety of flora and relicts of indigenous forests, innumerable streams and rivers, interrupted at frequent intervals by cataracts and imposing waterfalls, and the fascinating task of opening up paths, frequently using game trails as leads, so that the likes of us could move through those mountains and enjoy their unparalleled beauty. A most rewarding and interesting interlude, indeed.

By an overwhelming majority, Kurt was elected to the key position of patrol cook. His first offering of mealie meal porridge, for midday brunch, was of such excellence that there was no doubt at all that the correct decision had been made. Having thus fortified the inner man, we left the campsite at about 1 p.m. to walk and climb up the Wind Tunnels. The last part of the route proved to be a real scramble in which the ‘four-point contact technique’ was frequently brought into use and we were indeed glad that we had been able to leave our rucksacks back in camp while out on this little sortie.

At the top, the view Eastwards to Mozambique, framed in the sheer rock-faces of the Wind Tunnels (see photo), was nothing less than breath-taking and made the hard graft of getting there seem well worthwhile as Peter pointed out to us the more important features of the rugged terrain, spread out before us. From here too we were able to see the almost ant-like figures of the members of Masapa patrol as they walked along the skyline of the craggy heights of Nyangoma, to the West of us.

It had taken us about 1 hours to get to the Wind Tunnels, but the return journey, some of it sliding on the seats of pants, took just half this time, so that we were back in camp by 3:30 p.m. for a very welcome cuppa. After soaking aching feet in ice-cold water, we wet about collecting firewood for the night and putting the finishing touches on bivvies and the camp in general.

Kurt confirmed his reputation as our Cordon Bleau Chef that evening by producing a three course dinner consisting of soup, followed by Pork, mixed vegetables and rice, with Oatmeal Porridge and rum-flavoured chocolate sauce as a sweet. The piece de resistance, however, was to come later when, just before bedtime, he introduced us to his famous ‘Jaeger Tea’ (Hunter’s tea)- a good strong brew of tea with a liberal tot of rum in each mug. Medicinally essential, of course, to keep the cold out of one’s bones! And so to bed and to test Bill Bailey’s theories on hip holes, grass padding, etc..

Quotable Quote of the Day: "All I can say is, if you had to be kicked out of the Gestapo, then it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy bloke!" The Admiral to B.B.

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July 2

The rest of the patrol was awakened at 5:30 a.m. by the Tea Boy with his first brew of the day. Bivvies were struck, cooking and eating irons scoured with sand and washed in the nearby stream, rucksacks packed, the campsite diligently searched for any elusive rubbish, the fire completely dowsed and away we went, into the welcome sunshine at 7 a.m. on the final leg of our first excursion into the mountains.

Down the valley to the approximate vicinity of the Old Age Pensioner’s Home, where Kurt, the navigator, led us to the right into a somewhat jumbled series of rocky parallel valleys, in the general direction of the North Col.. Suffice it to say that, "The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agley", and after several hours of bundu bashing- sometimes straight uphill, sometimes contouring, sometimes straight downhill, and many times either on all fours or sliding on backsides- we found ourselves crossing the Mangowe River to join the well-worn path leading from the North Col, back to the School. And so, after a six hour stint, with only one major break for a brew-up and late breakfast, we eventually marched singing into the School at 1 p.m., footsore and weary, yet undaunted, and not surprisingly, the last patrol to arrive ‘home’.

The afternoon was described, on the program, as ‘free with optional activities’. Well the Filthy Five opted to do some clothes washing, blanket ironing, and foot massaging with one or two writing letters until tea-time. Then, before showers, we all set off for a run down the road and back, via the Ropes Course, just to prove that we all had some energy left.

Quotable Quote of the Day: "This will definitely be the finest plate of porridge you have ever tasted!" Cordon Bleau Chef.

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July 3

The Filthy Five, detailed as Duty Patrol for the day, added a touch of colour to the Dining Hall by providing the Instructor’s table with a ‘vase’ of flowers and tastefully folded paper serviettes. Charles gave the reading after Les had broken the flag at morning assembly. The announcement that that evening’s RUNABOUT session would be the last of this exercise, was vociferously and joyfully received by the entire class.

The morning was taken up with another session of map reading with the Maestro, followed by Abseiling, together with Masapa patrol. The latter activity proved most enjoyable, since the height involved was not very great.

After lunch, again served most professionally by the Filthy Five, the entire course proceeded to another even higher and more forbidding looking rock face for further practical experience in rock-climbing and abseiling. Once again the alacrity with which members of Tandaai moved to form a queue to go up the ‘easy’ climb ‘Jelly Baby’ was quite astonishing. Judging by the masses of quivering flesh which eventually reached the top, this climb was well named! There was undisguised admiration from the new-boys at the aplomb with which old hands, and quite a number of the more daring new-boys as well, clawed their way to the top of the more difficult climbs in this series.

It is probably true to say that rock-climbing was the leas popular of the School activities and amongst the majority of the course. However, the value of the lessons learned on these climbs, became very apparent when difficult situations were met with on our mountain excursions later on, and certainly lessened the great fear of heights and steep slopes with which many of us arrived at OBMS. The feeling of having accomplished the ‘impossible’ when you eventually reached the top, was also tremendous.

After tea, a game of volleyball followed by the grand finale of the Runabout and then up to the stores to draw rations for our two day trip into the mountains. Dinner and an evening of being briefed and preparing for the mountains, with the meticulous sharing out of victuals between members of the patrol being done by the Mad Austrian Count. Particular attention, of course, was taken of the supplies of medicinal stimulants and their safe stowage!

Quotable Quote of the Day: "Any guy who is not afraid of heights, is a ruddy menace in the mountains." Instructor Extraordinaire, Peter Cushman.

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