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Chanti Niven

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Member Since: Mar, 2003

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Lost in the misted mountains
By Chanti Niven
Saturday, June 26, 2004

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Recent stories by Chanti Niven
· The Tokoloshe
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A hiker's worst nightmare. Lost in the mountains of Mphumulanga with two small boys. A light drama with a touch of humour.

Lost in the misted mountains

by Chanti

A happy group of chattering hikers set off on that somewhat overcast day. The hike, a relatively easy circular trail known as Marco's Mantle set off from a point accessible by road. We were not carrying backpacks because it was to be a short hike and we expected to be back by lunchtime. We also did not take water bottles because if necessary we could drink from the crystal clear mountain streams we were bound to encounter. A motley crew we were. I was usually the one to head the group because I walk fast and because I always want to see what is up ahead but this time I had to be content with being on the heels of my 11 year-old nephew who seemed to be determined to lead the pack. My 8-year-old son was just behind me, followed by my two daughters and a work colleague, Jason. Jason was (and probably sitll is) the archetypical yuppie and it amazed me that he had donned hiking gear for this walk. Actually it was surprising to me that he had agreed to join us at all. I half expected him to wear a Calvin Klein hiking suit with Gucci hiking boots but he wore ordinary jeans and a t-shirt – fairly acceptable hiking gear in my mind.

We set off at a relaxed pace and climbed diagonally up the mountain, following the trail and stopping occasionally to oooohhh and aaaahhhh over the view. The sky was only slightly overcast with the sun poking playful fingers through the gaps, illuminating the landscape with golden pools of light. It was good to inhale the redolence of the pristine mountain air, richly pregnant with ion. We had lapsed into a companionable silence as we trudged along, our hiking boots making crunching noises on the stony ground of the oftentimes narrow path meandering around the summit of the mountain. The path became more treacherous and I heard Jason shout my name. I turned around and had to stifle a giggle as I watched him with arm extended look with panic at his cell phone.
"We can't go further!" he gasped in a panicky voice "I am losing signal!"
I could not help myself but this triggered an outburst of laughter. He looked slightly embarrassed but continued somewhat indignantly,
"Well, you can carry on but I am turning back."
"Suit yourself," I chuckled. "Anyone else want to go back with Jason?" I asked more seriously.
My girls decided to turn back as well because they were both tired and getting hungry. The boys, of course, were not to be deterred and decided to forge onwards with me.

Without warning, as we neared the summit, a mist slid in, soft as smoke, and swirled silently around us like ghostly serpents. At first I was not concerned. As long as I could see the trail beneath my feet, we were ok. 'Stay calm and just follow the trail and we won't get lost,' I told myself and I ordered the boys to stay close. Every now and again Chase, my nephew, would shout out, "Are you scared David?" David would respond, "Noooo, are you?" with a shaky voice and after a denial from Chase they would lapse into nervous silence, punctuated only by my words of encouragement to move forward.

Suddenly the path seemed to drop away and we began to slide down what appeared to be a steep embankment. My son was behind me and Chase in front and I shouted out, "Be careful boys, hold on to whatever you can hold on to."

Before we had started the hike, we had laughed to read a sign that instructed, "Do not pluck, tweak, pinch, tear, shred etc etc. any indigenous plants." I chuckled at the time and said, "They are making sure we get the point. No plucking, tweaking, pinching, tearing, shredding kids!" I remembered this with a grimace as we continued our slide down the mountainside, pulling out plants and creating a path of destruction in our wake. This was where I began to feel real fear because I couldn't see a thing and I seemed unable to stop our downward slide. Thankfully a large rocky outcrop arrested our fall. Just as well because I was able to make out through the swirling mist that it was a sheer drop from that point. We waited upon the rock for what seemed to be an inordinately long time, hoping that the mist would clear but it seemed only to thicken and eventually I could not even make out the hazy outline of the two boys. I gripped their hands and waited, listening to the remote rush of a waterfall in the distance and wondering where on earth we were. After a time we heard a voice.
"Waza lapa" the voice (a man's voice) said in Zulu.
"Where are you?" I responded and pulled the boys closer.
"Hyea!" this time closer.
In a few seconds he had joined us upon the rock. I realised with relief that he was a tracker, famous in these parts for their ability to find people (or animals). He was unable to speak much English and grunted when I asked questions or responded in bush Zulu. My understanding of Zulu was sketchy at best and so I had difficulty understanding him. I did however, glean that he wanted us to move back to where he was and so still holding the boy's hands I edged back on the rock in the direction of his voice.

When we reached him he told us to stay still and we waited in silence. I wondered if a search and rescue party were out looking for us.

We had left on our hike in the early morning expecting to be back by lunchtime but it was now heading for 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I knew that at best, we had another 3 hours before dusk. This thought made me feel uneasy because I did not relish the thought of sleeping on the mountainside with two terrified boys and a strange man. I closed my eyes and prayed. "Please Lord keep us safe. Please let us find our way back."

Like a miracle, sharp blades of sunlight poked eyelets through the mist and in that moment we were finally able to make out the outline of the rocks and even the mountainside. For the first time I could see the tracker squatting on the rock, his face inscrutable and dark as coal. He indicated to me with a hand movement that we should move and follow him and I instructed the boys to go ahead of me and I took up the rear.

I realised with a shock that the mountain was almost sheer cliff face in places. When I looked up I was shocked to see the path we had taken on the way down. It was so steep and treacherous How had we not plunged to our deaths? My legs, smeared with mud were trembling with fatigue and fear but I was more concerned for the two little boys. How would we get them down this mountain? I had no choice but to trust the tracker and followed his movements exactly. We climbed for at least an hour before we reached a gentler slope and were finally able to get to our feet. Another hour and we were wandering through a thick forest of pines. We continued to follow the tracker in spite of our growing fatigue. David and Chase started shouting in the hope that they would be heard but after yet another hour gave up and began to complain about their legs being sore. Finally David sat down upon the ground and refused to move. The tracker continued walking in spite of my pleas for him to stop. I turned to try and convince David to get back to his feet and when I turned back the tracker was gone.
"He has probably gone to get help," I reassured the boys and then sank to the ground rubbing my aching calves. We leant against the trunk of a large tree huddled up and miserable and waited…and waited.

The last vestiges of daylight that filtered through the foliage, was swallowed up by a dense darkness and nocturnal birds began to make their familiar calls.
"Oh Father God, please let someone come soon," I pleaded silently.
I played a game with the boys to keep their spirits up but I could tell that they were terrified as well as hungry and fatigued.
"Monty, are we going to survive?" my son asked at some point. 'Monty' is his own pet name for me. I reassured him that we were not only going to survive, we were going to have quite a story to tell. This seemed to appease him. I told him that there were people who had been lost for days and even weeks that who been rescued.
"Besides, the tracker has gone to get help remember?"

An icy chill set in and the trembling caused by tiredness was replaced by shivering. We huddled closer and I rubbed the boy's skinny arms in an attempt to warm them and cursed that I had not brought any supplies. I was starting to make preparations to dig a hole for us to sleep in when I saw a flickering light. It disappeared momentarily and I sighed with disappointment but then I heard a deep rumble in the distance - the distinct sounds of a 4x4 vehicle. My spirits lifted and I leapt to my feet with renewed vigour and shouted out,
The boys joined me and the sound of our voices rose above all the sounds of the forest. The shrill scream of crickets and warble of tree frogs was swallowed up in the commotion. Minutes later we were enveloped in warm blankets and were being bundled into the Jeep to be taken to the Mt. Sheba hotel.

Twelve hours after our adventure began we were seated in front of a friendly fire, given mugs of steaming hot cocoa and hugged in warmth. Everyone looked relieved to see us safely back albeit mud-smeared and exhausted but through the excited chatter and exclamations of joy, I saw Jason's face grinning at me and he was quite clearly gloating.

       Web Site: Lasting Impressions

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Reviewed by Laura Davis 3/28/2008
I'm going to read something of yours everyday until I've read everything. I loved this story! Your descriptions are so...descriptive! LOL! Love it - I felt like I was there.
Reviewed by Sheila Roy 1/1/2008

You have a gift for descriptions. I especially like your description of the mist as "...ghostly serpents". I felt like I was shaking on the mountain right beside the lot of you. A story with a happy ending!
Reviewed by Charlie 9/23/2007
What a beautiful piece.
Reviewed by Poetess of The Soul Sheila G 5/6/2007
I Loved how you added Jason attire! That was smart! Chanti~
I love hiking, and in the mist sounded even more terrifying but
----> last vestiges of daylight that filtered through the foliage,(nice touch) I love your wording and structure in this TRUE? Story!
YOu have humor I can tell, I loved this read, early this morning!
I was with you all, each step of the way!

Thank you for sharing it Chanti- Miss you!
and your heart and soul!
Write on! and on and on...

WArmly, Warrior Lady PURPLE Sheeeoox
Reviewed by Aberjhani 1/31/2005
What a great read. You had me on that mountainside trying to give Monty and the boys a hand up. Enjoyed this tremendously.
Reviewed by Regis Auffray 1/4/2005
This grasped my attention from start to finish. Great account, Chanti. Love, Regis
Reviewed by Dale Clark 6/26/2004
OH I like this story. I've done a lot of hiking
and it can be harrowing at times at the situations
you get into. The idea of the mist made for an exciting
adventure. Was this true, partially or fully made up?
lol Sorry I had to ask.

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