Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Milner Ridge Peak - 28 and 29 October 2006 ...

This post is an illustrated account of a hike up Milner Ridge Peak in the Hex River Mountains near Ceres to collect specimens of a new species of Hyobanche for Andi
research project.

From the peak we climed we could look down into the Hex River Valley.

The hike participants were Andi Wolfe, her field assistent Esprit Heestand, Adam and Leanna Harrower and Dennis and Gigi Laidler.

See also Andi's blog post of the hike.

Adam, a scientist from the SA National Biodiversity Institute, Kirstenbosch, first discovered the Hyobanche up there about two years ago and Andi was keen to collect material, including roots of the host plants, for molecular systematics of the Hyobanche species and to identify the host plants.

Hyobanche is a parasitic plant species.

We left the vehicles parked in the shade of those pine trees

It was about 30 deg C (86 deg F) when we set off

It was going to be a long hot climb

Here is Esprit setting off

Adam Harrower, our intrepid Hyobanche hunter and guide

And up there is where we're heading

We are heading for that peak just left of the bush protruding above the horison

Off we go through a stand of Protea nitida, Waboom or Wagon Tree as it is called locally

There is no trail up those mountains, just lots of rocks and very scratchy fynbos, or as known to many local hikers, "painbos"

That is just the first of a neverending series of ridges ahead

Here is a view northwards from up the first ridge

The Gydo pass is left of the mountain with the sharp drop off

Now is time for the first of many rests

From left to right: Esprit Heestand, Andi Wolfe, Gigi Laidler, Leanna and Adam Harrower

The Skurweberge on the left, Waboomsberg on the right and the Gydopass runs up the lower ridge between the two northwards to Citrusdal

The green areas are decidious fruit orchards, irrigated from the mountain streams. The brown areas are dryland wheat fields

Some real interesting rock formations on the way up

Georgeous - species unknown

Cresting every ridge the main range just seems the same distance away!

Luckily this was a relatively flat if rocky plateau

What we did'nt know is just how much really serious climbing there was after this

Andi with the Waaihoekberge close to her hat and the Skurweberge in the middle ground

Buffelshoek peak 2058 m (6752 ft), right and Milner Ridge peak 1887 m (6190 ft)

A beautiful white Erica

and in close up

A georgeous Serruria.

Probably Serruria dodii, the Hex River Spiderhead

This genus is in the protea family

And here is the Serruria dodii bush growing in its habitat

A panorama of the Waaihoekberge in the background and Skurweberge in the midground

A georgeous yellow shrub - perhaps ann Erica

Need to do some homework to work this one out

A closer view

I was heading for the next ridge before taking a break but this georgeous little orchid halted my progress

And here is another little orchid growing in the rocks just over the ridge

Now we really start climbing

This is a view east along the northern slope of the Hexberge towards Matroosberg

A wonderful panorama looking NW from the same spot

'Shift Click' (Explorer) or 'Ctrl Click' or 'Click the mouse wheel' (Firefox) on the image to open it in full size in a new window or tab respectively

A sighting looking eastwards along the Hex

The steepest bit is over but we still have a way to climb

Beautiful restios against the late afternoon sun

The first mountain pools we came across were very welcome in the heat.

Remember we were climbing at about 30deg C (86deg F)

Sundews growing alongside the stream.

We drank our fill, filled our waterbottles and admired the tiny utricularia (bladderwort) flowers

Click on the link to read about these really interesting little parasitic plants

All bladderworts are carnivorous, and capture small animals by means of bladder-like traps. Terrestrial species tend to have tiny traps, and feed on minute prey such as protozoa and rotifers swimming in water-saturated soil. Despite their small size, the traps are extremely sophisticated. When prey animals brush against trigger hairs connected to the trapdoor, it is released and the bladder sucks in the door and the prey, along with the water surrounding it. Once the bladder is full of water, the door closes again, the whole process taking only ten to fifteen thousandths of a second.

Eventually we reached the pools close to our camping spot late in the afternoon

The area is a small flat plateau at the point where the northern slopes of the Milner Ridge Peak and the Shale Peaks meet

From left to right, Milner Peak, Milner Ridge Peak, Shale Peaks and Buffelshoek Peak

We camped just left of the small ridge in the midground

Before we got there we found this 'magnificent' specimen of Protea magnifica, the Queen protea or sugarbush

which we photographed in the setting sun

with Milner Ridge Peak in the background


Yes Andi - your Hyobanche is waaaay up on the left shoulder near the peak!

But that is tomorrow's joy

The sun setting over the Waaihoekberge in the background and the Skurweberge receeding up to the north


Looking up the Shale Peaks to Buffelshoek Peak as the sun sets

Last pics of the day

A WoodCentral sighting with the sun receeding up Milner Peak with Milner needle on the right

Going ...

Going ...

Gigi and Andi

Gone ...

Esprit, Gigi and Andi

Andi on the phone to Steve back in Columbus, Ohio

Steve is logged in to Google Earth and Andi is guiding him to our position ... sort of

According to GoogleEarth we were camped at 33d27m41.59s South and 19d26m44.47s East

The Milner Ridge Peak is at 33d27m44.37s South and 19d28m14.41s East

We slept till after sunrise in the morning

Esprit, still in her sleeping bag, had decided to join Adam and Leanna sleeping in the open under the stars

Gigi peering at the clouds coming in from the North West

A cold front was expected that evening

Cloud over the Skurweberge with the Waaihoekberge rising above it on the left

I bought that french 'Jamet' tent when I was a first year university student in 1970 and it is still going strong! I just Googled 'Jamet tent' and it seems like the company is still going strong!

Even before breakfast we were photographing flowers

Thet's where we're headed up to the left!

Esprit eventually arises ...

Africa is supposed to be hot and warm ....

Surprise !!!!!!

On goGigi's shoes

The clouds building now ...

After breakfast we started climbing Milner Ridge Peak.

The going was slow due to all the photo opportunities

This is the closed bud of a low blooming protea species that is pollinated by small mice

See also here

A white form of Protea magnifica


and closer

I coudn't help myself

Those georgeous little early morning dew drops

And then just around the corner the normal colour varient of Protea magnifica

the picture says it all

Hey Andi, here is some scat for Steve's blog

My educated guess is that it's probably vlei rat (Otomys irroratus)

Otomus is a gorgeous chocolate brown large rodent with beautiful big eyes

Google only finds one poor pic of this wonderful beastie!

Another wonderful species of Erica

It will take a while to identify this one from our book of 650 odd of them that occur in South Africa!

Here is the shrub in its habitat on the lower north slope of Milner Ridge Peak

And this is a classic pic containing all the key elements of Fynbos

Proteas, ericas and restios with an endemic Brunea or Berzelia of the family Bruniaceae

Just below the saddle where Milner Ridge Peak and the Shale Peaks meet

The clouds are hiding the peaks

You can see the group climbing slowly upward

Adam examining an interesting small protea

Here it is with a couple of small pollinating beetles drinking nektar

Another beautiful Erica

About half way up now

Down there at the base of the slope close to the centre of the picture are our two tents, one much more visible than the other

A 'ballancing' rock

Wonderful texturing caused by weathering on the rock

Think Haley Smith

See here also

Erica again ...

Wow - reached the top left flank of Milner Ridge Peak and peeked over into the Hex River Valley

But we are not going to get higher up today - never mind we were virtually at the peak in any event

We were here to find Hyobanche and not to go peak bagging anyway

Sighted a WoodCentral cap on the eastern flank of the peak with the Hex River Valley below

The N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg passes up this valley, leaving the Boland behind and rising up the Hex River Pass into the dry Great Karoo

And behind me the Hexberge sweeping westwards towards the Waaihoekberge

Looking across to Milner Peak and Milner needle

Life is great!

Andi composing a sighting with Milner Peak in the background

See also Andi's post of this hike on her blog

My Woodcentral sighting with Milner peak in the background

The cloud slowly clearing as the day slowly warms

A panorama matrix of Milner Peak from Milner Ridge Peak

Then, having spent an hour or more searching unsuccessfully for the Hyobanche that Adam had discovered here two years earlier, we turned to decend

Another queen protea (Protea magnifica) in her magnificent realm


and more wow!

Off we went, descending slowly back towards camp

All somewhat dissapointed not to have found Hyobanche

Heeeey yelled Adam

Over here - whew

Still in bud - clearly we were a bit early in the season to find mature flowers

Andi, the world expert on this genus suggests that this is probably a new species! Eish!

I took a couple of quick close-ups before the rest arrived

Andi doing the same

Andi and Esprit

Hyobanche sp. nova habitat

But now we really had to get going

But yet more flora!

And more close to the streams we crossed on the way down

Gorgeous in close up

Down to the plateau with the tents over theeeeere

Through thick stands of restios, probably a species of Chondropetalum, in the seeps

Easier walking now


and more photos

Andi arrives as I start to get the now dry tents down

That's where we were!

On the horison, just left of and below the peak

The rest of the group arrive

Packs up, again, and depart

A quick lunch and a quick swim in the pool before the big decent

Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) spoor in the moss and sundews

Characteristically shaped like two 'beans' rather than the sharp pointed hooves of other small African antelope

and more spoor

The group rest next to the stream

Tired knees by now

Palmiet (Prionium serratum), a locally vulnerable species in the stream

After decending a particularly steep section on very tired knees we reach an easier section and pause for pics in the late afternoon sun

Looking back up whence we came!

Adam and Leanna

We take a break before the final steep rocky decent to the vehicles

And a final group photo

Down there under the pines are our vehicles

This last decent was very slow on seriously painful knees for some

And as the sun set we arrived at the vehicles

I drove off to Beaufort West (see the following post) and the rest headed for Cape Town and bed

Thanks all of you, Adam, Leanna, Andi, Esprit and Gigi for a great weekend

It was definitely time that Gigi and I got back into the mountains

On the way back from Beaufort West I drove down through the Hex River Valley and looked up to where we had been the weekend before

Still cloudy, three days later

Here is a panorama of the area

Our peaks are those set far back about a third of the way from the left of the picture

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