Words and Photos by Rex Fey
Sometimes all the time you have available for a Lesotho trip is 3 days. Now if you visit some of the areas accessible by car then that’s all you need. But if you have an adventurous friend who’s fit, then some of the more remote areas are accessible – even if only to explore the area (and hopefully catch dinner). There were originally going to be 5 of us. The week before three people pulled out; two left.
Not deterred the trip went ahead although I’ve always said that 3-4 people is the optimal number in case something goes wrong.
Anyway my friend Bridget Ellender (who’s never held a fly rod before) and I met up in Underberg. She had flown up from Cape Town to join me on a hike and adventure not for the faint hearted!
We met on a Thursday evening and had the long weekend ahead of us. It was a freezing cold and drizzly night and decided that we should put up with the weather for a few hours and get to Pillar Cave that night. It’s only a 1.5-2hr leisurely stroll up the Mlbonja River Valley. We started hiking on a dark and wet night carrying several bottles of whiskey, a few kgs of biltong, a pathetically small coffe pot, a bag of milk powder, a frying pan, lemon/salt/pepper and butter. I might be forgetting something off that but not much else. The weather forecast was good so we took a chance and left the tent at home. Simply a ground sheet, waterproofs and a few warm clothes. Obviously, we got stuck into the whiskey on route and arrived at the cave half-sozzled. Just to make sure that we slept soundly, we polished off the last of the bottle over a few sticks of biltong.
Pillar Cave lies at the base of the Mashai Pass. When you’re not hungover and are fit then it’s only a few hours to the top. Although we are both fit, it was all cancelled out by the bottle of whiskey the previous night. It was a slog!
Day 1 was a 35km walk. We walked up the pass through the mist and then out into the bright sunshine halfway to the top. Once we got to the head of the pass we headed south along the escarpment over another ridge (3300m) and down to the headwaters of the Leqoa River. having fished this river several times I knew that the first trout would be found below a series of small waterfalls that are about 15-20km from the escarpment. We arrived at our planned campsite at around 6pm. We had a stunning hike down the river which is punctuated by amazing bumslides and great swimming holes. I had enough time to catch 6 beautiful trout of 10-12 inches which became our dinner and breakfast. They were fat and the flesh was as pink and fatty as a farmed salmon.
We slept under the stars.
The next day was a rest day and we only walked about 20km. The plan was to stroll down the river catching fish as I went.
Not quite… anyone who has hiked a long way in a new pair of shoes knows that it takes its toll on your feet. So out came the trusty old Crocs (which I should have hiked in all day the previous day). My feet were tender and my shoulders sore from the long day. So we ended up just getting to our destination as quickly as we could; just to rest. Unfortunately due to my sore feet I was in no mood for rock hopping or going very far from our camp. The fish were plentiful but not many fish were much more than about a pound in size. I’m sure if I had seen a few bigger ones I would have forgotten my sore feet and fished on. So we just soaked up the spectacular scenery, I caught dinner but then put my rod away after a few hours. What an amazing place! Sometimes you are in such an incredible place that the fishing becomes secondary. We camped under a huge sandstone boulder in the most spectacular gorge that I think I’ve ever been to in Lesotho.
The following day was a spectacular 30km walk back through The Sehlabathebe National Park. From a scenery point of view, this was the most spectacular day. If you haven’t been to the park I suggest you make the effort. It is a long drive from Matatiele via Ramastelisos gate or a 3-4hr walk from Bushmans Neck Border Post near The Bushmans Neck Hotel, but it well worth the effort!
I had fished this river in 1995, 1998, 2003, 2009, and again this year. The first two times I fished it back during my school days and the average size fish was 1.5lbs. It’s still remains some if the best fishing I’ve ever had. There have been fish in this river for a long time (think it was one of the first stocked after the Mokhotlong) so Im sure I’ve missed the big fish years between the last three visits.
And I’ll be back. Who’s keen to join?