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  • Writer's pictureStanford Lake College

Exploring the Soutpansberg

On Tuesday, 24th August, the Grade 9 pupils embarked on their last Trek of their Stanford careers. The grade of 54 pupils was whittled down to a group of only 33 as so many students were in COVID isolation. The intrepid explorers boarded the bus to Louis Trichardt and soon their adventure began at the boom gate to Hanglip Forest Reserve. From there, they followed instructions to self-navigate a 13-kilometre hike to their first sleep out spot; where, under a completely clear night’s sky, the group were treated to the most phenomenal sighting – a large orange ball of light with a long orange tail, passing slowly overhead. Pupils and staff alike stared into the sky with mouths aghast. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? At first the assumption was that it was a meteor shower; however, upon returning to “civilization” a week later, word had spread that the sighting was thought likely to be the upper stage of the Chinese Yuanzheng-1S rocket being deorbited. A once-in-a-lifetime sighting and certainly not something the Grade 9s will be forgetting anytime soon.

The following morning, the pupils packed up their tents to take on another 13-kilometre walk to “base camp” – a fly camp of the Schoemansdal Environmental Education Centre. This was the last time in four nights that the group was all together. On the morning of Thursday 26th, half of the group set off on their three days of self-navigation whilst the other half of the group did activity rotations in the morning, followed by the dreaded “SOLO”! During the activity rotations, the pupils had the opportunity to take on an obstacle course with Mr Hageman, abseil down a 13-metre cliff face with Mr Haarhoff and Mr Fullard and learn more about animal tracks and signs as well as explore a cave with Mrs Coetzee. That afternoon, they plunged into “SOLO” – a 24-hour experience of solitude where the pupils are placed a distance apart from one another with only basic cooking equipment, sleeping bags and a poncho. This time offers the students an opportunity for reflection and introspection. In the fast-paced world we find ourselves in, when else do our youngsters get such an opportunity for a complete digital detox and to be alone with their own thoughts? The experience is always so dreaded, with scare tactic horror stories passed down from the grades before them - every tiny noise exaggerated into a man-eating beast! The first group got through their experience unscathed and largely enjoyed the opportunity to relax, unwind, catch up on some Z’s and be alone with their thoughts.

During this time, the other group (split into two smaller groups) were navigating the Soutpansberg, using the skills they had learned in their dad lessons to read maps, plot points and plan routes. Their routes and decisions were under the watchful spying eyes of the staff – being viewed from high points, koppies and bushes to make sure the groups were safe. At times, staff were covertly less than two metres away, unbeknownst to the pupils. On the Saturday, the two larger groups swapped - the “soloists” were now navigating and the explorers descended into solitude. Only on Monday were the two larger groups reunited and base camp came alive with the roar of stories being shared and tales being told.

The now ‘experienced trekkers’ were treated to boerewors rolls, dessert, cool drink and snack packs that evening – a huge thanks to the Kalan and Schultz families for organsing this and to the Straughan’s for delivering! It was certainly a lovely way for the pupils to spend their last ever evening on Trek. As part of the evening’s celebrations, the group voted for the boy and girl who they believe benefitted most from the Trek experience. Congratulations to Matt Allison and Tanatswa Machaka for receiving the most votes. On the Tuesday morning, the weary travellers descended down the mountain, following a beautiful winding path through indigenous forest to meet the bus at Schoemansdal Environmental Education Centre.

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