Lady hikers savour the beauty of Qiloane Falls

PALESA MATSASA

Qiloane Falls is located along the Makhaleng River in Setibing area, which is close to the popular Molimo Nthuse Pass, which means “God Help Me Pass” in English (due to the scary nature of the precipice before the road was tarred).

It takes about 2 hours to walk from the Basotho Pony Trekking base to Qiloane Falls.

Recently, 16 lady hikers participated in a pilgrimage to Qiloane Falls. They included 3 representatives from Spiral Travels, the local tour operator responsible for organising this hiking event which was exclusive for ladies only, as a rehearsal for the SheHikes event to be held next month.

The team arrived at Basotho Pony Trekking at around 7.30 a.m, under the capable leadership of the Spiral Travels team.

None of the ladies, except the organisers, had been on this route before though some of the ladies were seasoned hikers who have participated in the famous annual Moshoeshoe Walk, which takes 3 days covering 116km.

Others were even hiking for the first time.

The common factor for both the novice hikers and the avid hikers was a desire to reach the Qiloane Falls.

The trip started with introductions and the organisers emphasised the need for participants to network as it was one of the objectives of the SheHikes.

Around 8.30 a.m. the team paused for ‘breakfast on the go’ for they had left Maseru around 6.20 a.m before any breakfast.

During the hike, one could see isolated cattle posts from afar, with grazing animals here and there. Interestingly, we didn’t meet any of the herders along the way, though we could see some from afar.

There were very few houses in this beautiful valley, though we didn’t come close to the houses. It was relatively a quiet hike, without any interaction with the locals, and the team could admire nature with limited distractions.

In some instances, we had to forge the route through the Cheche trees, where one had to walk leaning forward.

It was a smooth trip until it was time to cross the Makhaleng River. Some team members were not comfortable to cross the river until after coaching and coaxing when all were able to cross.

It was touching to see friends comforting one another, as some were crying and visibly shaken from this experience. One of the leads, Malipolelo Theko, fondly known as ‘Mali showed bravery and leadership, in helping others to cross the river.

When asked where she got the courage to help others to cross, this is what she had to say:  “When I was in high school, we were guided on how to cross a river. After all, the water level was not too high, as it didn’t even reach the knees”.

But for Nthatisi Sello, who was crossing a river for the first time in her life, the river level didn’t seem shallow at all. Later on when she was relaxed, she said she was glad that through this hiking experience she had conquered her fear of crossing rivers.

’Mali said as a regular hiker and as one of the leads, her role is to make sure that everyone gets as comfortable as possible during the hike. She was therefore keen to help fellow hikers by all means and to make it so enjoyable that they would join other hiking activities in future because of the support they got from the team.

She said this was the fourth time she has been to Qiloane Falls, and she is so confident about the route that they didn’t need a local guide.

She says she keeps coming back, and each trips always feels like a new experience.

After crossing the Makhaleng river, the team walked for another long stretch, and some kept asking the leads: Are we there yet?

The simple answer was “not very far now, keep going”. Eventually, we came across one pass (Lekhalong), and ’Mali in her jovial spirits, was taking pictures of each person who came through the pass, and kept saying “This is a wow picture”.

Little did I know that the “wow picture” meant spectacular Qiloane Falls was in view.

Again this was one of the spots where people spent time taking pictures, as the saying goes a picture says a thousand words.

Upon reaching the falls, the ladies rested for a while, enjoying some snacks while some music was playing in the background before they changed into their swim wear and shorts. Music kept playing in the background.

It was another moment of laughter and pictures as people posed for picture in the river, near the fall and basking in the sun on the letlapa. The sound of splashing water and the mist coming from the fall all made it feel like a holiday season.

Matselane Kulehile, said it was a fulfilling trip, when she walked in nature without any distractions of vehicles or anything in a refreshing breeze.

Mojabeng Hlao had this to say: “I liked the walking, socialising and meeting new people. This was also my first time coming to Qiloane and it was amazing to notice the support, care and love shown for each other during the moment of river crossing. This is different from what we witness on social media platforms where women say negative things to other women.”

“This is not your everyday kind of adventure,” said Mpinane Qhobela a regular gym goer.

Seipati Mahao applauded the organisers for understanding that they were first-time hikers so they had to meander up the hill, instead of going straight up, which made it easier to get to the top.

They made it comfortable for all, she added. Her only disappointment was that the water in the river was not very clean so she couldn’t swim.

Matšolo Mathibeli said: “I am happy we came when its end of summer, before it gets cold so we were able to wear swimming suits. What makes it more exciting is that it is women only”.

After about an hour, the team changed into their hiking attire, and re-traced their steps back to the Basotho Pony Tracking base. We crossed the river at a different spot which was relatively easier now to cross for ‘the first timers’ as it was now a repeat.

The trip back was still exhaustive as the sun was up and the energy levels were low. It is worth noting that in this route, there are no natural spring wells, therefore hikers need come prepared with enough water bottles for the trip.

At about 2.30 p.m. we were back at Basotho Pony Tracking where we had late lunch before heading back to Maseru.

It was a blessing that the rain started pouring only after we had reached the bus otherwise, it would have been difficult to cross the river on our way back. The return trip is about 12 km and the walking time was about 1 hour 55 minutes one way, with regular stops in between.

The trip to Qiloane Falls was worth the sweat and the painful muscles.

Some pointers on improving the Qiloane Falls experience:

The resting place for the visitors at the Falls is a bit neglected. The grass thatched shelters could do with a revamp. The responsible authorities could partner with the locals to maintain the place by keeping it clean.

The locals could also serve as sources of information for visitors to learn interesting historic facts about the place, and ideally they could be based at the Basotho Pony Trekking station to welcome visitors.

Paballo Thaole and Khotsofalang Jobo, from Spiral Travels are the brains behind SheHikes which they describe as a female hiking initiative, that takes place in April and October covering the heritage route along Ha Baroana-Thaba Bosiu, Malimong and Kome.

They wanted to start something exclusive for the women as part of empowering them to lead healthy lifestyles mentally and physically.

SheHikes is exclusive for women after they realised that sometimes women are afraid to hike with men since some women think men are faster paced.

SheHikes also aims at creating a supportive environment of women only, to encourage women to engage and network.

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