History

MCSA: Paarl-Wellington Section

By Anna Van Zyl

Out of the nebulous past come the glimmerings of the birth of our section. At the first was a pinprick of light, then another, destined to fade into the darkness, then an ember which gradually grew brighter until its fire burned steadfastly and its strength waxed.

It all began in 1895 when the Wellington section was formed. Its first meeting was held in August with a membership which rapidly increased to 34. But, because of hot weather “anything like a full day excursion was prevented” (1). In 1896 no report from the club was forthcoming. “This is to be regretted. It (i.e. the club) had never shown great vitality and the deplorable accident in the Wellington mountains last year, perhaps not unnaturally assisted in its dissolution” (2) What the “deplorable accident” was is not mentioned, but research reveals that it was a time when the Wit river came down in flood. A party of students (probably members of the section) went up Klein Wellington Sneeukop in fine weather. The weather worsened, the Northwest wind became gale force and the rain came down in buckets. The Wit River flooded and although some of the party got across, the rest were swept downstream, singing psalms as they went. A monument, erected in their memory is still to be seen there today. No further communication from the club was received “and the conclusion given expression in the last annual that the section is extinct must be confirmed.” (3)

In 1910 a meeting was held to form a section at Paarl, but nothing further was heard until it was resuscitated in 1913 and affiliated to the MCSA in 1914. Suddenly there was great activity 95 members enrolled. An interesting lecture which enriched the club funds by £ 5116 was given by the Rev H F de Lisle on “Limelight views of Table Mountain”. The Section and the Town Council worked hand in hand. All trees on Paarl Mountain were protected. A firebreak was made near the Millstream where trees were planted to beautify the area and provide shade for picknicks. It is recorded that “Scoutmaster Percy and his troop were of great help”. (4) The mountain was beatified. Silver trees and two hundred crimson flowering gums were given to the council and planted. A “War Bridge” was organised by the committee and some of the proceeds of £ 6150 were used to six seats which were placed at suitable spots on Paarl Mountain. During the next year, Dr Marloth delivered a lecture to the club on “mountain flowers” with the Rev. de Lisle as his “lanternist”. At this point, the fire that began to burn so brightly fades and the club disappears into the darkness.

In 1926 there is a report of a strong section at Paarl but in 1928 we hear that, “as far as information is available, the Paarl, Stellenbosch and Swellendam clubs are still in existence but none of them have applied for official affiliation as sections.” (5)

In 1932 the flame begins to burn more steadily. “The old Paarl section has been resuscitated under the name of Drakenstein section, embracing Paarl, Wellington and Franschhoek, and promises to developed in spite of local drawbacks.” (6) In its annual report the section relates that “the mishap of George Africa on a buttress of the Haelhoek Sneeukop and the subsequent rescue of the unfortunate boy by members of the Cape Town section had its consequences; the forming of a section of the MCSA” (7) The report admits that interest in the club was not as keen as had first been anticipated, but the committee realised that “many difficulties were to be expected in forming a country section which inevitably involves a struggle against some of the deep-rooted conventions not usually met in larger areas.” (8) There were 29 members (3 men) from Paarl Training College, 18 members (1 man) from Huguenot University College and 20 members (12 men) from Paarl. Thus, out of a total of 67, 51 members were ladies!

In 1933 we have the news that the Vice President; P E Kriel and Honorary Secretary C A Pauw had left and the Drakenstein section as a result had not been very active. No further news was forthcoming for the next few years. In a rescue action on Du Toits Peak in 1936, the Cape Town Worcester and Stellenbosch sections took part. No mention is made of Drakenstein.

In 1937 another meeting at Paarl was held, and it was decided to form a club to be known as the Paarl-Wellington section, which was to seek affiliation to the MCSA. Regular reports were received during 1938 – 1940 when J M Marcus became Vice President. The Honorary Secretary and Treasurer was F Brunner and names of members who were to feature prominently in later club activity began to appear on the list of committee members; Piet Conradie and J E Bybee. Membership stood at 20. A spirit of camaraderie was established with the Worcester and Cape Town sections whenever climbs in the areas were undertaken.

In 1940 many of the club’s keenest members “joined up”. “From experience it is known that they can stand plenty of tough slogging and rough camping and there is no doubt that they will give a good account of themselves when the time comes” (9) the annual report states. Juis de Villiers” name appears on the committee. All of the clubs felt the pinch in the war years. The Paarl-Wellington section had to curtail its activities, petrol was rationed so climbing was limited to single day outings. There was much scope for these in exploring kloofs and crags in the vicinity of Paarl and rambling among the rocks, hills and valleys in the Paarl Rock area. News of members on active service included the information that Hudi Hahn had been repatriated and that Fred Brunner (secretary and treasurer) and Alex Fenton (from Worcester) had been taken prisoners of war and Billy Muller, was working on a farm in Italy.

Fred Brunner and Alex Fenton were taken prisoners-of-war at Tobruk and for 15 months were the “unwilling guests of the Italian government”. (10) In 1943 when help was required for the spring harvest and no volunteers were forthcoming, the “biggest and best” were sorted out and put into cattle trucks. “We attributed thus to the fact that we had been foolish enough to climb mountains before the war!” (11) They were taken to a camp a hundred miles from the Swiss border, but to prevent their escape, they were ordered to hand in their pants and boots every night “for safe custody”. When the Germans entered Brescia in 1943, the town gates were opened and everyone, including the prisoners-of-war, poured out. Fred and Alex made thier way to Switzerland where the authorities later stationed ex-prisoners-of-war in disused hotels at Adelboden. Here they took up skiing and some became so proficient that they won the Swiss Gold Medal, the highest qualification in Switzerland. When the snow melted, climbing parties were organised and several peaks were bagged. “The mountaineers were having the time of thier lives and most of us packed more climbing into those weeks of summer than in a year of weekends in South Africa” (12) A climbing school was arranged under the guide Arnold Glatthand, who ran a school for guides at Rosenlaui near Interlaken. The men were taught knot-tying, belays, the use of pitons, abseiling and ice-work on a glacier. Thier climbing culminated in the ascent of Weisshorn (12148 ft.). Fred, Alex and Billy were then repatriated at a later date.

In Joe Marcus’ annual report of 1944, he states “it is now possible to motor into Du Toit’s Kloof via the new partly made national road, as far as the tunnel site. The latter part of the road is dangerous after rain and permission to use the road by car must be obtained from the Engineer in charge of National Roads, Du Toit’s Kloof”. (13) Old members had returned from the war and interest in the club revived. Membership stood at 40. Climbing was still limited to local areas. In 1946 Joe Markus writes about the Klein Drakenstein Mountains, starting from approaches from the new national road and ending at Du Toit’s Kloof neck. He describes in great detail various rocks up Spitskop, Donkerkloof, Haelhoek and Mia’s Poort among others, and it is obvious that the Vice-Chairman had done some extensive climbing and had an intimate knowledge of the mountains in his area.

Reports from 1948 onwards came in regularly. Now the tradition of spending the Easter weekend in the Cederberg was established. During the year 4 members responded to a call for help. Two men had “strolled into the mountains near Donker Kloof and had not returned”. (14) Although they returned without having seen the search party, the latter came home “weary and sleepy but happy in the knowledge that they had upheld the tradition of mountaineering”. (15)

In 1950 Piet Roos became chairman. In the same year an aeroplane was reported missing near Porterville and some of the members were called out. While searching in a kloof they were attacked by a swarm of very angry bees “stinkgaatjies”. Some of the searchers flung themselves into the nearby stream; others sought the safety of a nearby farm where they dived into one of the haystacks. Those that were allergic to bee stings had to be rushed to hospital. On another occasion, when called out to rescue a man injured in Donkerkloof, it was discovered that the section had no stretcher. One had to be brought from Cape Town with the result that it took 12 hours to get the man to hospital. A Thomas stretcher was bought in 1957 and kept at the Paarl Municipal Fire Station.

Great news at the time was the opening of the Kromrivier Hut in 1953. The section had dreamed about a hut for 10 years and in 1952 it was decided that this was to be done and funds became a priority. Mechiel du Toit, chairman at that time, put forward the plan that each member who paid £ 10 towards the building fund, would become a shareholder in the hut. These “shareholder’s” names appear on the copper plate above the fireplace. Building started in earnest in February 1953. Material was transported to the neck of Du Toit’s Kloof, from where is was conveyed to the second neck and further. Donkeys were used for the cement and “man power” for the corrugated iron sheets. It was a 3 1/2 mile long track and the iron sheets were difficult to manage, being carried by four men, sometimes in the teeth of the southeaster. One of the steep slopes was nicknamed “sinkplaathoogte” because it was such a struggle to carry the sheets up it. Stones for the walls were brought from nearby ridges and a coloured man, Mr Sakkie Siebrits, with helpers, “dressed” them and did the plastering. Members worked over weekends while the other men got on with the job during the week. They had to be provided with provisions, so Wednesday afternoons saw some members hiking up from Du Toit’s Kloof with fish, meat etc. and hurrying back to the car before nightfall. Just before the opening of the hut, a few members added the finishing touches, having taken up some straw and sacking to use as mattresses to sleep on. While busy making their mattresses another section (which will remain anonymous) arrived and although the hut was not officially open, they were allowed to sleep inside. Great was the consternation at bedtime, when it was discovered that one of the mattresses was missing. On closer inspection it was found under a lady who was sleeping peacefully near the fire. With a “gelykvat” and an “oeps” the culprit landed on the floor and the mattress was restored to its rightful owner. The official opening on 23 May 1953 was a festive occasion, with 200 visitors and members from other sections, including James Klosser from Cape Town and Leland Bybee from Worcester. Mr C H Clayton, Chief Conservator of Forests in the Cape Province, made the inaugural speech.

From now on the club went from strength to strength, sometimes with fluctuations in membership, particularly with regard to younger members, but with a steady core of “old stalwarts”. In 1958, Piet Roos who had moved to Upington, returned to become Chairman, a post he held for 25 years. In that year the system of collecting hut fees was altered on account of the illegible handwriting of members. Hut fees accounted to £ 14792 in 1959. In 1960 mention is made of the fact that “climbs on Saturdays are not supported and this may be because the All Blacks are touring the country”. (16) Attempts to plant indigenous trees near the hut to provide shade were fruitless and Callie van der Merwe brought the pine seedlings of the magnificent pinus radiata that stand there today. Mice became a nuisance, gnawing the foam matrasses and rubber mats, and notices were put up to keep the hut as clean as possible. 1963 found the section celebrating its 25th anniversary by a well-attended dinner dance. Joe Markus died in 1967 and the following tribute was paid to him. “He revived the section towards the end of World War II and kept it going by his inspiring leadership.” (17) Celebrating family day (15 May) at the hut became an institution, being attended by members of all sections. In 1969 Piet Conradie died of a heart attack en route to Sneeugat in the Winterhoek, his ashes were scattered near the hut. Jim de Villiers received a Gold Badge in 1970.

During the 70’s visits of non-members to the hut and vicinity became a problem. Access had been facilitated by the building of a tarred road up to the microwave tower. The area became polluted; entry into the hut was attempted by bending the burglar bars and kicking in the door. The burglar bars were reinforced, the door protected by an iron gate with padlocks. Later a hut duty roster was drawn up and members were expected to do duty over weekends to check on unauthorised visits to the area. Before the 25th anniversary of the Kromrivier hut it was smartened up. Braaivleis sites were built, sleeping bunks installed, a gas stove, Coleman lamp, first aid kit and tables acquired. The 25th anniversary was celebrated in 1978. The weather was poor, and members who had gone up the previous day, went prepared with ropes to help visitors across the swollen streams. But by the next day the water had subsided and no help was needed. The weather cleared a little, just long enough for the chops and sausages to be grilled. Danie Ackerman, then Secretary of Forestry and MCSA President Doyle Liebenberg were among the 86 members and guests.

In 1982 H B van Zyl took over as chairman. Piet Roos became Honorary Treasurer but died a year later. In 1990 a mountain fire devastated the Du Toit’s Kloof mountains. Miraculously the hut along with the pine trees, escaped being burnt.

At present (1990) membership is constant, with 100 members and a number of aspiring would be members. Newsletters are issued regularly, various meets are organised which are normally attended by 10-15 members. We are a happy club, a bit on the old side (average age about 50) and have attained the reputation of being able to climb as far as we can carry a watermelon and a bottle of wine (“bottle” has subsequently been replaced by “carton”). There is a fine spirit of camaraderie among the members, most of whom have known each other for many years. But even the younger members feel welcome on meets and enjoy visits to the hut and refreshing swims in the lovely pools. It is a far cry from the times when the light flickered and died. The flame burns brightly and, we hope, will continue to do so.

Bibliography

1.         The Mountain Club Annual          no. 2     1895,    p. 10-

2.         The Mountain Club Annual          no. 3     1896,    p. 1–

3.         The Mountain Club Annual          no. 3     1896,    p. 12-

4.         The Mountain Club Annual          no. 18   1915,    p. 122

5.         Annual of the MCSA                  no. 32   1929,    p. 112

6.         Annual of the MCSA                  no. 35   1932,    p. 141

7.         Annual of the MCSA                  no. 35   1932,    p. 147

8.         Annual of the MCSA                  no. 35   1932,    p. 147

9.         Journal of the MCSA                 no. 43  1940,     p. 50

10.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 48  1945,     p. 10

11.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 48  1945,     p. 10

12.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 48  1945,     p. 13

13.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 47   1944,    p. 56

14.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 51   1948,    p. 71

15.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 51   1948,    p. 71

16.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 63   1960,    p. 172

17.        Journal of the MCSA                 no. 66   1963,    p. 156