Take a Hike: Marble Baths (Injisuthi)
KZN is a breathtakingly beautiful province that most of us take for granted. Not DJ Fuego Heat. When he’s not managing Khaya Records or laying down the soundtrack to your wedding, he’s gallivanting around the great outdoors. In this new series, the spicy one reviews hikes for all you weirdos who are into that sort of thing. First up, Marble Baths…
I have a philosophy about getting into open spaces and how everyone should do it because the knowledge of your insignificance makes life better…but that is not what this article is about. I mention this feeling though, because the Drakensberg is one of the best places to experience this insignificance and that makes it one of my favourite destinations. And that is what this article is about.
Injisuthi means satisfied dog. I don’t know why they called it that, but that’s its name and that’s where I decided to take my girlfriend for her first overnight stay in a cave. She only found out that this was happening 30 minutes before we left on our three hour trip from Durban, so kudos to her. Our initial POA was to leave Durban at 09:00 on Sunday, spend the night at Injisuthi Camp, hike to Marble Baths Cave via Grindstone Cave the next morning, stay over and then hike back down and head home on the Tuesday. The weather had other plans for us. A predicted Tuesday morning thunderstorm led to us choosing a shorter route and heading out as we arrived at Injisuthi at 13:00 on Sunday.
The trail starts off pretty chilled. The hike begins at a hairpin bend in the tar road just before the campsite. Within the first 10-20 mins the path dips into a river valley and through a brief forested area. A river crossing then follows. Exiting the low lying river bed, the contour path follows the flow of the Injisuthi River for approximately 3.5km, with only a gradual change in elevation and intermittent grassy flats. We were making pretty good time until this point. Then all sense and logic left me. Some words of warning: your gut feeling don’t mean shit if you’ve got a map and there’s a sign. Despite both indicating that we turn, an indescribable urge led me to ignore both and push on as Fuego knows best. Needless to say, after 2 hours of lost time and several deserved “I told you so’s”, my gut feeling could do nothing for the feeling of stupidity that now replaced it. It’s also a good way to create awkward, irritable silence and general grumpiness amongst the hiking party. All your apologies are hollow at this point.
A net gain of 4km in 4 hours is pretty terrible going, but we were back on track and there was some comfort in that. We made a right turn off the contour path at the Marble Baths Cave sign and had another river crossing as we continued along the right branch of the Injisuthi River, also referred to as Buttress Fork Stream. At this point we half unexpectedly came across Colwyn Thomas. Tired and irritable aren’t really good companions of small talk. “Hi. How are you? How far are we? Cheers”. I may be paraphrasing but that was the gist of it. We gathered that we were about 45 minutes out and the trail was pretty flat and followed the contour path until just before the cave. It would then get pretty steep for a bit but then we’d almost be there. “Pretty steep” is a vague term at best. After about 40 mins of constantly wondering why Colwyn had over exaggerated the rises and falls we were skipping over, we reached it. A chilled 140m of vertical gain for what seemed to be 10s of meters of horizontal gain. You’ll get to some big boulders where you might be fooled into thinking you’d find the cave there. This is half way up the steep section and looks like it’s just a baboon nest. You then head further up what is best described as a product of erosion more than a path. It was up this stretch that I also discovered that the phrase “I’m sure the cave is just past here” loses all efficacy after you throw it down for the third time in 30 mins.
We finally stopped climbing and continued along the contour path. We crossed around two ridges and then we were met with the comforting site of Marble Baths and our cave. The baths derive their name from the fact that the river flow has carved out the marble bedrock. This has resulted in several blue pools connected by equally impressive chutes. Some of the side networks of pools were not flowing due to low water input but the main system was dope. As we rounded the second ridge we took the left branch of the path towards the cave (the right leads to the baths). The cave is super comfortable with plenty of place to sleep, surfaces to cook on and ledges to place your butt. The river is about 60m away from the cave so remember to get water before the sun goes down. I usually just roll with headlamps when hiking overnight in the berg. I decided to get a gas hiking lamp for this trip and it made the world of difference. Trading in the directional light of a headlamp for the ambient light of the lamp made the cave a whole lot easier to just hang out in. The light weight tripod stools, on the other hand, were completely unnecessary. After some plastic bottled wine, chakalaka, biltong and smash, a slight gas burn issue and some coffee, it was bed time. Our total for the day was roughly 9.5 km, although it should have only been 6.5km.
One thing you need to remember is that sleeping on a cave floor is never going to compare to a bed or air-mattress. I’ve even bought the thickest high density foam sleeping mattress I could get my hands on but I still woke up several times throughout the night. I’ve heard the self-inflating mattresses are the shizz but, as Bob our dear editor knows too well, working with no budget is like drinking soup with a fork (sidenote: if any outdoor companies want to give us some stuff to try out while we’re on the trail that’d be dope and also is a part of why I’m even writing this). Make use of the hay in the cave as best you can. Either way, we had a pretty uneventful night and woke up somewhat rested so that we could plan for the day ahead.
The previous day had been mostly unpleasant. So after an early morning walk to catch the sunrise, it was time to reassess what went wrong over some Futurelife and chopped up apples, and re-strategize. We’ve already dealt with the whole gut-following ordeal so that was easily remedied: don’t be an idiot and just follow the map and signs. We had also failed to stop for anything other than sips of water the entire previous day. This amplifies the fatigue and throws hungry into the tired-and-lost mix. It’s surprising that the day had gone half as well. So hourly Game and snack stops was where it was going to be at for the way back.
Following a swim (more like a dip) in the icy waters of Marble Bath (there was still snow on the escarpment), we decided to head along the path towards Grindstone Cave for a little exploration. The path leaving the baths is not easily visible and starts several meters upstream from where you enter the river. Further along, the trail was also heavily overgrown and meandered as previous hikers have been forced to make alternate routes through the wooded area due to fallen tree obstructing the path. After about an hour of bundu bashing (why does that phrase make me feel so uncomfortable?) we turned back to the baths for a final snack and pack before we headed down to camp. The path was a lot easier to follow when heading back to Marble Baths and I’d suggest that going to Marble Baths via Grindstone Cave rather than the reverse as a preferred route. The way back was child’s play, and took about 3 hours. This is one advantage to doing a there-and-back hike as opposed to a round route. You know the way already and it’s generally all downhill. Other than some baboons that were checking us out for a while, the walk home was a breeze.
We spent that night at Injisuthi Camp having done a total of 9.5km on the second day too. We were planning to stick about for sunrise but we were woken up by lightning and thunder at 04:30. We decided it best to pack and hit the road before the storm hit. The gates are open 06:00-18:00 so we were ready and waiting at 05:45. As we drove through the gate we could see a dark mass concealing the Injisuthi peaks and the first heavy drops began to fall. It was safe to say we had made the right decision.
Just some extra shizz. It looked like we were going to run out of petrol before we got to the closest town. Luckily we were directed to a trading post that had a pump and we added it to Google Maps. Just search for Emoyeni Petrol Station (African Trading Store) and you’ll find petrol less than 30km from the camp. Please check up on the etiquette and ethics when hiking in the berg. Don’t light a fire. Bury your poop. Don’t litter. Detailed maps that include this information, in addition to facts about the local fauna, flora, geology and cave art, are available at the field office. Please also remember to fill in the Mountain Rescue Register so that if you do get lost then at least someone knows that you are out there and they should actually be looking for you and not just leaving you to die. Lakka lakka.