Lynnette and I left home with Snorre, our cat, in the Vito on the 7th hoping to get in a day’s rest at NightSky after the hectic 9-day marathon of National Science Week that ended on the 4th of August. It was cold and rainy all the way and we were both holding thumbs that the weather people were right and that it would clear up by the Friday. We stopped off at the Pitkos Padstal on the R60 where Francis had delicious freshly brewed coffee and hot roosterkoek with melted cheese and biltong. Snorre gave his purring stamp of approval to the food and we bought several bottles of the Nuy Red Muscadel to ward of the cold we knew would be waiting at NightSky.
- NightSky Caravan Park is a scenic venue even if it is cloudy or if it rains and it has this stunningly photogenic willow tree.
- Fairly heavy snow on the higher peaks of the Riviersonderend Mountains
- Snow on the distant peaks of the Langeberg Mountains reflecting the afternoon sunlight
At NightSky everything was very thoroughly wet and we wondered if there was anywhere dry enough for Iain to pitch a tent. I was still wearing the brace after my lumber fusion in May, so unloading was slower than usual, but as soon as it was done we got the fireplace going and before long the house had warmed up nicely. Then Alan and Rose arrived and eventually found a spot to park their caravan. There were intermittent showers all afternoon and well into the night, but by morning only the clouds along the Riviersonderend and Langeberg mountains remained. As they cleared away we could see that the higher peaks were all covered in snow, which explained the sharp nip in the air.
The important thing though was that we had almost clear skies and it looked as if they would clear completely by evening. During the course of the day Auke, Wim, Malcolm & Elize, John, Brett, Leslie and Kechil and her group trickled in, as well as Ludwig Churr and Sandy Struckmeyer. Wim as well as Malcolm & Elize unpacked and then headed off to McGregor to see if they could get any closer to the snow, but to no avail. Anyway, by sunset everyone was back and set up to start observing. Alan was determined to push up his tally of Deep Sky objects, Leslie and Brett had all their astrophotography paraphernalia set up and the rest of us each had our own little niche from which we could contemplate the near perfect dark skies above us. In between we wondered around exchanging views and opinions with whoever you stumbled across in the dark. The only people that were not difficult to find were Brett and Leslie, because their outfits were lit up like Christmas trees.
- Brett in the centre of the photo and Leslie on the right were easy to find in the dark. Alan’s telescope on the far left, and his caravan are reflecting the light form the other two
- Leslie headed East leaving a fiery trail
Saturday was a beautiful day and Wim went off in his pickup to explore farther afield. Leslie and Brett went to Bonnievale to find hot water bottles which they intended using to ward of the cold during their nocturnal activities. They both claimed that this worked well except for the slight scorching they experienced after filling them with boiling water as the bottles had no covers. Saturday night was not quite as clear as Friday night and on both nights dew was a problem, especially in the areas closer to the dam. Alan, I know, had two very successful nights of observing and has increased his tally of Deep Sky objects considerably. I spent quite a lot of time getting used to my new Nikon D5100 and got some fairly good shots of the area around Crux and the Scorpio/Sagittarius section of the Milky Way while Lynnette spent time hunting globulars. In general we all had two quite cold, definitely sleepless, but astronomically speaking quite productive nights.
- Auke explaining to Lynnette and pointing out things with a laser. All the action is reflected on the back of the Vito on the left of the photograph
On Sunday everyone packed up, goodbyes were said and another successful DarkSky gathering came to an end. As we were packing up I noticed that Snorre was limping and inspection of the left front leg turned up a puncture mark high on the leg. I thought this was a bite from one of the feral cats that prowled the area and we decided to head for Bergwater and spend the night with Christine so that we could take him to Marina, the vet in Montagu, early on Monday morning. From past experience I knew just how septic these bites could become and I did not want that to happen to Snorre.
- Snorre the MCWC (Main Cat What Counts)
At Bergwater Christine was her normal cheerful self and the three of us, plus a rather subdued Snorre, spent the evening around a large fire talking and enjoying Lynnette’s excellent curry and rice until the wood ran out. On Monday morning Marina confirmed that Snorre was running a fever and prescribed antibiotics. On the way back to Brackenfell we stopped off at Pitkos for more of the usual before tackling the last lap. The stops at Pitkos on both legs of the journey were actually not just for the coffee and roosterkoek, although that would have been a sufficient reason, but also because my back could not yet handle long periods of sitting in the vehicle. Suitably fortified we set off home and, instead of using the Huguenot Tunnel, we went over Du Toitskloof Pass, but the normally fantastic view from the summit was unfortunately spoiled by low clouds. Once home there was all the usual unpacking before we could settle in and get a good night’s rest.