The plan was to head down from Jozi to meet friends in the Transkei for New Years. For a while I’d had my eye on a particular set of mountain peaks in the Maloti range, so we opted to add a few more days onto the trip, and travel down through Lesotho to explore them.
The route was in via Sani Pass, an overnight stop at Bob Phillips Camp, up the formidable Matabeng Pass, spend 4 days in the abandoned old section of Sehlabathebe National Park, and finally out via Qachas Nek. We’d drive, hike, camp, and repeat, visiting some places we’d been before…and others that were entirely new.
Out of Office responder on, camera in hand, no fancy bookings, barely any reception, and with just a printed map to guide us, this had all the makings of a trip to remember. There was really only one thing I had on my to do list, and that was to capture a single shot of the Devils Knuckles - an iconic set of peaks that crest the southern section of Sehlabathebe. I wanted to photograph the Devils Knuckles with a dramatic sunrise, or sunset lighting them up; they’re in a unique angle which means they catch great light at both times of day. So in theory, the chances were good…emphasis on ‘in theory’. In hindsight, I guess they’re not called the ‘Devils’ Knuckles for nothing.
Every morning, hours before sunrise, we’d hike up to a little tarn from which the best composition could be seen. And every morning, the sunrise would seem to elude us. Either covered in cloud, or blandly plain with no cloud at all. Back down to camp we went to await sunset, and do all over again. Sunset approached and right on time, the daily thunderstorm would roll in, engulfing the Devils Knuckles, shrouding any visibility and drenching us. While on distant peaks the light popped off perfectly. Day in. Day out. Again, and again, the photo missions were a dud.
Now, it’s not that the days in between - days spent lazing along the creek, cooking up some top notch camp food, or exploring the otherworldly rock formations without a person in sight - were anything short of amazing…it’s just that those damned Devils Knuckles still needed to be shot. After 8 attempts, and plenty of almost-good-enough images to show for it, we left Sehlabathebe with unfinished business. The Devils Knuckles are a work in progress; I think next time I’ll be back in the snow, to properly up the ante.
Project by Matt Bouch
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