On the 20th of December 2017, I led a meet deep into the Hex River Mountains, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Perry Refuge.
When Ezan Wilson approached me at the First Tuesday slideshow to lead a meet to celebrate this amazing structure only two weeks before the looming 60th anniversary of Perry, what could I do but say yes? Perry is very special to me, and I am sure for many people through the mountaineering generations, being what must be (and surely feels like) one of the most remote places in South Africa – deep in a hanging valley high up in the insanely wild Hex. To get there involves no small or easy walk in and once there you can really feel the remoteness all around you: in the super bright stars, in the fact that no civilisation save Hoare Hut can be seen, in the almost perpetual cold of that beautiful place.
But first a little history on this lovely shelter…
In the year prior to the construction of Perry in 1957, a club meet traversing the Hex got caught in a typical Cape storm while camping at the present site of Perry Refuge. They decided to turn back to Thomas Hut, but apparently the party got split up and Ron Orton died of exposure on the screes between the Woolworth Building and Pulpit Neck (with warm gear in his bag, but not on him). He had to be stretchered out, as there were no helicopters in those days. In the wake of this tragedy, the committee resolved to build a refuge using funds left by an earlier club member, Perry. The entire structure was carried up Waaihoek, across the rough traverse, and set up at its current location by a party of 38 people over the weekend of 14 to 16 December 1957. Since that day it has probably saved many lives and has certainly made many much more comfortable.
In December 2005 tragedy struck when a fire ripped through the structure leaving it badly damaged. Greg Wessels, Bruce Spottiswoode, Roy White and Andrew Lewis undertook a rebuild, co-opting an airforce helicopter to fly in the materials, and with help from various members over several weekends. The new refuge was reopened on 31 October 2008.
And so, on the 20th of December 2017, our merry band of 11 proceeded up the hill to Thomas Hut in what could be described as near-death heat. Fortunately for us the lovely little pool at Thomas awaited us with its spectacular views down the Langeberg.
Next morning, we set off along the famous traverse under a stormy sky, and an intrepid few managed to bag the Woolworth Building, which involves some rather loose and exciting scrambling. Having no pen on hand, an entry was written into the summit log – in blood! Not the first time this has been done either, judging by the colour on some of the pages. Remarkable how long this form of ink lasts noting entries from the 1960s.
The party, by some fluke, consisted entirely of highly experienced members, some even quite famous I might add, and so, for the first time in my meet leading career, I became merely the facilitator. What a pleasure. Because the weather was good, we were able to split into ad-hoc sub-groups, and spy on each other from adjacent peaks. Quite fun looking at your friends on Brodie from Horseshoe!
We had two nights at Perry under a spectacular new moon sky of the brightest stars you have seen, so that we could really soak that amazing place up. Some went exploring down the hanging valley, others bagged Sentinel, and others bagged a few peaks including Sentinel and the mighty Buffelshoek Peak. All, I think, dipped in the perpetual ice pool of Perry Refuge. That evening we celebrated the construction of this lovely shelter and honoured its constructors, both of 1957 and 2008, with a bottle of river-chilled Champagne, hauled all the way deep in my bag by yours truly. Certainly worth doing for an occasion as important as this. Incidentally, since the refuge was burnt down on its 50th, this was a combo 50th and 60th celebration.
On the last day, we waved this lovely spot goodbye and walked out via Waaihoek and had a much welcome swim in the pool at Base Hut. En route some even bagged the odd Jan du Toits Pinnacle and an unnamed peak, that could possibly be called Windsor Peak.
Thank you to all the hut builders, both of 1957 and 2008. We owe you all a deep debt of gratitude for providing us with this haven from the storm in the most lovely of wild locations.
On the trip, in no particular order, were: Ezan Wilson, Charles Morrison, Andrew Beetge, Mike Abbott, Fiona McIntosh, Shaen Adey, Morgan Behr, Peter Hagen, Stefan Wahl, Gavin Sandeman and Martin Kleynhans (leader, or more accurately, the facilitator).