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Anakeestaland January 29, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, nature, Smoky Mountains.
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On the western side of Anakeestaland: Trout Branch Scar

Toward the western side of Anakeestaland: Trout Branch Scar.

Deep in the heart of the Smokies lies a realm called Anakeestaland that for some reason doesn’t show up on the map. Roughly speaking, it extends from the Chimneys to Eagle Rocks—but only at the higher elevations. You have to work upward through the sandstone regions to get there.

In Anakeestaland you find a certain combination of things: tidy cushions of sand myrtle, aromatic Rhodo minus, the green-striped Grass of Parnassus. The peregrine falcon chooses to live here.

The Chimneys are located in Anakeestaland.

The Chimneys are located in Anakeestaland.

Anakeestaland collects violent storms. Catastrophic downpours rearrange things periodically, scouring out the side valleys, shoving piles of fractured rock downstream and snapping off big trees. In the logjams at the bottom, treetrunks have been twisted and the bark stripped off, ragged strips of fibrous wood have been peeled back.

Climbing upward, you pass through the regions of smooth sandstone and cross the boundary line into brittle, angular rock that makes good handholds—if the grain runs horizontally. Where it runs vertically, the going is more difficult.

Anakeesta with vertical grain near Shutts Prong.

Anakeesta with vertical grain near Shutts Prong.

For anyone who spends time scrambling over these rocks, the sandstone and the Anakeesta develop distinctive personalities. In keeping with the typical profile of Smokies slopes, the climbing gets steeper in Anakeestaland. Things mysteriously intensify.

In the upper crags of Anakeestaland.

In the upper crags of Anakeestaland.

So many times I have made that journey and crossed that frontier into the high, challenging, beautiful realms.

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No Name Ridge.

The ridge with the paradoxical name of No Name.

Siege of Mafeking: “A bold and foolhardy man” January 24, 2014

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, history, military history.
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1st Lt. Sarel Eloff of Fortress Artillery Corps (R), unnamed 2nd Lt. of Staatsartillerie (L)

1st Lt. Sarel Eloff of Fortress Artillery Corps (R), unknown 2nd Lt. of Staatsartillerie (L)*

The story of the siege starts here. For background on the causes and major events of the war, go here. To see all the posts in the series, go to the “tag cloud” in the column at right and click on “Siege of Mafeking.”

While the residents of Mafeking adjusted to their diet of horse meat and ground oats, an idealistic young officer of the Johannesburg Fortress Artillery Corps plotted an attack on the town. Sarel Eloff, one of Paul Kruger’s numerous grandsons, planned to lead a force before dawn through the native Stadt, a weak point within Baden-Powell’s line of defense. From there, with reinforcements from General J.P. Snyman pouring in at first daylight, Eloff’s men would take just short steps to reach B-P’s headquarters and capture the town.

Alas! The attack failed, and the stolid General Snyman was largely to blame. He and his listless, undisciplined crew from Rustenburg and Marico did not care to leave the security of their trenches, and Eloff’s party of 240 men (far less than the 700 he’d counted on) was surrounded and eventually captured.

General Snyman.

General Snyman.

Eloff had only recently arrived among the Boers at Mafeking. He brought with him a corps of Uitlanders (foreigners) and surely was regarded as an outsider by Snyman’s commandos. There was a terrific clash in personality between Eloff and Snyman. Their attitudes about Mafeking’s Sunday cricket matches will illustrate the point. Snyman had sent off an outraged complaint that the British would stoop to such ungodly entertainments on the Sabbath. Eloff, on the other hand, made the following communication to B-P:

“I see in The Bulawayo Chronicle that your men in Mafeking play cricket on Sundays and give concerts and balls on Sunday evenings. In case you would allow my men to join in the same it would be very agreeable to me as here outside Mafeking there are seldom any of the fair sex and there can be no merriment without their being present….”**

B-P responded: “My side is in at present and yours is in the field. You must bowl us out before your side can come in.”#

Eloff’s checkered past

B-P knew all about Eloff. The man had a history. Rewarded for early exploits with an appointment as Lieutenant of the Johannesburg Police, he made rude comments about Queen Victoria at a public meeting in Krugersdorp.

I wonder what he said about her?

I wonder what he said about her?

This led to an exchange of blows with British citizens and, before long, his resignation from his position. He went off to Europe for a cooling-off spell, a popular remedy of the period for all sorts of problems—a tour of castles on the Rhine while the head cleared, debts were settled, or the unsuitable love interest was forgotten—that sort of thing.

When Eloff returned, he joined the Fortress Artillery Corps and received schooling from Captain Adolph Schiel, an expert from Germany. “Here he developed an industry and assiduity that did him honor,” gushed a Cologne newspaper in an article published just before the Mafeking attack: Germany, strong ally of the Boers, followed events closely. The paper went on to say that Eloff had also been trained in specialized horsemanship by Count Zeppelin of the Uhlans (marvellous!) and transformed himself from “a young firebrand” into “a slender young man with handsome, open countenance and attractive character.” The article appeared in translation in The Daily Telegraph after the attack failed, as if to mock Eloff’s pretensions.

The Rustenburgers

General Piet Cronje had long since departed with most of the western Transvaal commandos to fight more important battles, leaving behind Snyman with men from the small farming town of Rustenburg and the even smaller town of Marico. Practically nothing has been written from the perspective of those struggling, weatherbeaten men, but an article in the South African Military History Journal by Lionel Wulfson makes use of a Rustenburger’s diary and letters to give a picture of daily life in those trenches and sandbag forts.##

Boer fort at Mafeking.

The diary-keeper, Hermann Schoch, was better educated than his neighbors, who farmed tobacco and wheat in soil that alternated between bricklike consistency in drought and a rubbery, puddinglike concoction in wet seasons. They suffered from malaria and bilharzia in hot weather. They tended to be laconic, independent, and stubborn.

Schoch groused in a January 1900 letter that his campmates refused to move their laager to drier ground when heavy rains turned the site into a morass, “thro’ laziness or thro’ not caring for filth,” and kept “haggling” over the problem rather than exerting themselves. Two months later, he wrote of how Snyman ordered the burgers to sleep in the trenches at night—on the chance the British relief column might turn up unexpectedly—but when he discovered he was nearly the only one to subject himself to this discomfort, he joined the others in disregarding the order.

On May 10, he wrote, “There is… a movement on foot to storm Mafeking one of these days. Volunteers have been called for, but with the exception of the Uitlanders under Commandant Eloff the call has not been responded to at all. It may be that all will be ordered to go, but that is hardly likely as our Burgers are not given to obeying orders when they are in conflict with their own personal views.”

The attack

“We breakfast at Dixon’s Hotel tomorrow morning,” Eloff announced at the laager on the evening of May 11. At 4:00 a.m., as the main Boer force made a diversionary attack on the east side of town, Eloff led his men around to the west and slipped between two British forts. They followed the Molopo River into the Stadt and there set fire to the huts. If Eloff intended the fire as a signal to Snyman, it also signaled instantly to B-P. Alarm bells sounded in town.

Cries of panic rose among the flaming huts, and the Baralong residents ran out of harm’s way. However, once the women and children cleared the scene, the Baralong men gathered up their antique muzzle-loaders and closed in behind the Boers, cutting off any escape.

Eloff’s party advanced unopposed and quickly captured the barracks occupied by Colonel Hore, B-P’s second in command, and made prisoners of Hore and 30 others. Eloff picked up Hore’s phone and called B-P to taunt him with the capture.

That was the high water mark of Eloff’s day. Two squadrons moved efficiently to surround the barracks and two other positions occupied by the Boers. Eloff waited for Snyman’s reinforcements… and waited. As the hours ticked by, his confidence waned, and his prisoners heard him complaining to his associates. The noise of rife-fire and shells crashed around the barracks, and the prisoners feared they might be executed. Toward evening, Eloff came to talk to the colonel. To Hore’s amazement, he said he would surrender if Hore could call for a cease fire. It was all up for Eloff: his men were surrounded, while Snyman had done nothing more than order pointless firing from the trenches.

Boer casualties amounted to 60 killed and wounded, plus 100 taken prisoner. British casualties: 12 dead and eight wounded.

Lady Sarah meets Eloff

Lady Sarah Wilson spent the day at the town hospital, watching as casualties came in—mainly Boers—and attending to a wounded private from the Cape Police. At 8:00 p.m. came the news that the Boers had surrendered. She rushed over to see the prisoners led in, “followed by a large crowd of jeering and delighted natives…. [The Boers] represented many nationalities, the greater part laughing, joking, and even singing… the whole community giving one the idea of a body of men who knew they had got out of a tight place….”###

The next morning Lady Sarah joined town notables in a breakfast with Eloff and a “most polite” officer who’d come from France to help the Boers—who spoke only French. “In strong contrast to this affable and courteous gentleman was Eloff, of whom we had heard so much as a promising Transvaal General. A typical Boer of the modern school, with curiously unkempt hair literally standing on end, and light sandy whiskers, he was wearing a sullen, dejected expression….”

The breakfast proved a peculiar event, as she went on to describe. Eloff complained to the company about having been left in the lurch, while the French officer interjected polite comments about “the African climate, the weather, and the Paris Exhibition.”  They alternated in their separate threads of conversation, the Frenchman concluding “with heartfelt emphasis that he wished himself back once more in ‘La Belle France’.”

The odds are this poor man did not return to France, nor Eloff to Johannesburg, until sometime after the war ended in May 1902. They would have been sent to one of the giant British POW camps in Ceylon or Bermuda—or perhaps, as they were officers, to St. Helena. And so ended Eloff’s dream of glory.

(To be continued)

* Photo from J. Robert Williams, “Adolf Schiel, Commandant of Johannesburg Fort, and the Fortress Artillery Corps.” South African Military History Journal, June 1990. The officer at left wears a uniform in an Austro-Hungarian style, while Eloff wears an undress uniform. As mentioned earlier in this series, artillerymen were the only men among the Boers to wear uniforms.

** Quoted in Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War. New York: Random House, 1979.

# This is how B-P summarized his response in a later collection of inspirational tales.

## Lionel Wulfson, “Hendsuppers of the Rustenburg Commando.” South African Military History Journal, December 1991.

### Lady Sarah Wilson, South African Memories. London: Edward Arnold, 1909.

Dixon's Hotel

In which I invade the mountains of Utah January 19, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking.
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View from the summit of Mt. Agassiz.

View from the summit of Mt. Agassiz.

Last night I sprained my ankle going down the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse on my way to dinner in downtown Sylva—taking the steps too fast, obviously. Therefore I was unable to perform my duty today as co-leader of a scheduled Smoky Mountains Hiking Club outing with Clyde Austin. This afternoon, as the day becomes sunnier and more pleasant by the hour, I fume at being stuck indoors. As I cast about for a way to pass the time, it occurs to me to victimize you, my faithful blog readers, with a second post on the same day. I hope to be back to hiking in the Smokies very soon, doing something worthy of writing about here.

In March one year, maybe a dozen years ago, I traveled to Park City, Utah, for a business conference. Not such a bad place to go! Compared with Salt Lake City, Park City is something of a Sin City, with a history of lively saloons galore. It has morphed into a ski resort town, still bustling with pleasantly sinful activity, of course.

I figured I’d tack on a couple of extra days and do some hiking while I was out there. I’d never done any hiking in Utah. The Wasatch Mountains may be the best-known peaks of the state, but the Uintas are closer to Park City, so they were my pick. I still haven’t made it to the Wasatch, but since then I’ve visited the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah, a beautiful and underrated area.

The Uintas are a long line of mountains running east-west. The state high point, Kings Peak (13,528′), stands in the wildest part of these mountains, involving a trip of two or three days and generally reached from across the Wyoming state line via the Henry’s Fork drainage.  That was not a practical option for me, especially in March, when there’d be plenty of snow to deal with.

The Highline Trail runs 96 miles along the Uintas and can be accessed via the Mirror Lake Highway not far east of Park City. I decided on an acclimatization hike up Bald Mountain (11,943′), a popular trail hike close to the highway, just 2.5 miles to the top with 1100′ elevation gain. The next day I would venture a short distance along the Highline Trail and bushwhack from there to the summit of Mt. Agassiz.

So I headed off for Bald Mountain. I’d brought all my winter gear with me, and it was a good thing I did.  The trailhead was easy to find, but soon I saw that the switchbacking trail was completely lost under the same fresh, deep powder that the Park City skiers were enjoying.

This has happened to me more than once out west. Because the trails usually follow gentle, switchbacking routes that sidehill up the mountain, there is no ridgeline or stream valley to give you an idea of the route, especially above treeline or even in the lower forests with their widely spaced trees. Trying to follow a trail like this in untracked snow has led me to fail on two different mountains, Humphreys Peak in Arizona and Cucamonga Peak in California’s San Gabriels.

Well, the one thing that helped me out here was that Bald Mountain really is bald, and it’s obvious where the summit is. So I decided, “Forget following the trail! I’m just going to head straight up!” Luckily I had my trusty snowshoes with their aggressive crampons. And I went up. And it was extremely steep. But I made it, and I could see my destination of the next day looming up not far away.

I got everything ready and made a very early start. The map showed me that it didn’t really matter exactly where to leave the Highline Trail. When I got to the vicinity of Mt. Agassiz, I should simply head north.

My route from the Highline Trail to Mt. Agassiz's summit.

My route from the Highline Trail to Mt. Agassiz’s summit.

I followed the trail past Scudder Lake and went a little ways past a trail junction before making my bold assault on the mountain. I soon found that the situation here was quite different. I didn’t have deep snow to deal with—it had blown and/or melted off the side of the mountain. I did have to deal with ice, so I used my ice axe and crampons.

Getting up the slope was hard work, but the distance wasn’t that great. I reached the summit with its views of gnarly mountains striped with snow. I was pleased to discover a climber’s register at the summit cairn. The last climb had been recorded the previous September.

It was with great satisfaction that I wrote, “Jenny Bennett of Gloucester, Massachusetts,” and recorded the date. A woman! Doing it solo! From some dumb little town in Massachusetts! Ah, I felt so smug about that.

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You can make out the Wasatch in the distance.

You can make out the Wasatch in the distance.