1983 Chimanimani Expeditions – B Block Returns

It was very exciting when we found that we could at last return to the Chimanimani Mountains for our annual B Block expeditions, even though only the Zimbabwe side is open. Thus, many of our old haunts – Martin’s Falls, Kurasika and Poacher’s Cave – are still out of bounds. We ran a preliminary staff expedition in April and six of us spent two nights at our old base camp on the Bundi River under Mitre Buttress. B1 and B2 Mathematics sets went up in May, 83 and 84 in September.

The first expedition had dreadful weather on the first day and several boys took wrong turns. Unfortunately, one of these was separated from the rest when his pack fell asunder and he became lost. The search for him was hampered by the very poor conditions and we did not find him until the next morning. He had put up his bivvy and spent a comfortable night, without much supper but an abundance of water.

Projects involved the peaks leading from the Upper Plateau, Ben Nevis and Dragon’s Tooth. It was the last of these that caused the trouble. The old path leads through Mozambique and so was forbidden. One group did get there in May, accompanied by a member of staff. They had a hair-raising journey and only great determination got them through. Nobody managed it in September; they tried another route but the vegetation proved impassable. We shall have to take pangas next year. Apart from the bad weather on the first day in May, we were very lucky and the sun shone every day. These expeditions are very valuable to the boys who go on them and the contrast between the bedraggled column that ascends Bailey’s Folly on the first day, all hung about with miscellaneous impedimenta, and the organised group that comes down the mountain a week later has to be seen to be believed.


The sun shone, the sky was blue and we were all in high spirits, the initial climb and the training walks were over, and after many years Peterhouse was using the Chimanimani Mountains again for the B block expedition. Our project was to make our way to Dragon’s Tooth and back, and we picked up as much information as we could beforehand. Back at school Ron took a quick look at Tucker’s map and said, “Just stick to the 200-foot contours and it looks easy” we thought about Ron a lot during the next two days. JWG said that it used to be easy in the old days when the Mozambique side of the mountains was open but for us, that side was banned. Rug had done the reverse trip years ago but he’d had an Outward Bound chap with him and they had kept to the very top of the range. Only a few days before we had heard that a group of Arundel GIRLS had got to Dragon’s Tooth –” lt’s easy,” we were told. “A bit of bundu bashing along the way and just keep to the tree line.”

We set off early in the morning with firm instructions to keep high when we reached the slopes of the main range, so the route the Arundel girls had taken was out. The first few hours were uneventful; we made Southern Lakes in good time and two staff Rug and Big Lew, caught up with us. The climb up from the Lakes ruined Big Lew’s knee and poor Burrs was delegated to stay with him, and Pug joined our group.

Beyond Southern Lakes, we branched off the Mozambique route. As instructed, and easily made our way over a long grassy vlei and round onto the slopes of the range. On our left were high rocky cliffs climbing into the sky and on our right masses of trees packing the mountainside and a super view of the Melsetter area of Zimbabwe. In all, we had been going for about seven hours when the first serious hazard confronted us. It looked like a large quarry, opening out and falling away down the mountain. None of us fancied tracking’ round the top of it so the only option was to climb down into the quarry and up the other side. The far side looked easy enough, for we could see a number of game tracks up it, but the near side was horribly steep.

“Looks possible,” said Bet., and set off down a near non-existent trail. Barry fell but a small spindly bush happily stopped his downward roll when it caught his pack. He lay there looking like a frog waiting for a bash from a hockey stick for a long time -before Bet climbed down and brought him back to the fold. We were all glad to get down to the floor of the quarry and thankfully the other side was no problem. Immediately afterwards we met our second obstacle, a huge gorge, sinking deep into the mountainside and falling almost straight down the mountain. We thought of the Arundel girls and wondered. The only option here was to climb up the rock face and try to traverse the neck of the gorge. We looked up and our spirits fell at the prospect of so much climbing, we were all tired — except Bet — and decided to find water and spend the night where we were.

Early the next day we had some tea and Pro-Nutro and set off climbing. We climbed for 2.5 hours with the gorge on our right slowly narrowing in width but its bottomless depth put off any hopes of traversing it. After much sweat, the neck of the gorge was reached and again our spirits fell. Above the neck, the rock was smooth, sheer and vertical. Just below the neck, the drop was frightening and right in the neck there was a large round boulder rather like a huge marble. For some time now we had been able to see Dragon’s Tooth in the distance but it seemed as far away as ever. Pug stared at it bitterly, Barry took out the map and Ko talked of food — he always did, and Bet went missing. There was only one way he could have gone and Pug scrambled up onto the large boulder and we all scrambled after him. At the top, the overhang scraped the back of our packs, and our spirits, already low, now fell even lower. Bet had jumped off the boulder onto the sloping side of the gorge some eight feet below. There was no way back for him now. “What’s below your feet?” asked Pug, “Quite a long drop,” said Bet, “but it’s all right.” Packs were then thrown to Bet and one by one we jumped from the boulder onto the sloping rock. We were all relieved to make it safely but there was no going back for any of us now.

We all took turns in leading but usually Bet ended up in front. The going was almost blind, kicking our way through bushes and vines, and we often had to retrace our steps; Ko once pulled Bez back by the straps of his pack as his legs suddenly dangled over a sheer drop. By midday we were down, looking up at the route we could have used for the descent if only we had known about it! Three hours later, and after a few more minor horrors, we reached Dragon’s Tooth. We were all elated. Bet later received the “Best Boy of the Mountains” Award from the school but nature rewarded him badly when a swarm of bees descended on him while we were at Dragon’s Tooth.For two days we rested, thinking of Ron and Tucker’s map, dreaming up horrible revenge for the whoppers told by a party of girls and wondering how on earth we would get back again – but that is another story!