Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail is variously described as “more spectacular than the Otter Trail” and “the best two-day trail in the country”. I have always been somewhat sceptical about these claims, but I have to admit that after doing it, there is some substance to them. It is seriously spectacular – but also fairly difficult. Harkerville will give you a full body workout with its chains, ladders and rock scrambling. If you are unused to carrying a full pack and not conditioned to hiking, this may prove to be a trail too far. Also ensure that you are able to pull yourself up a chain ladder while carrying a full pack or the experience may be … trying.
In terms of topography, forest and coast it is similar to the Otter, 40 km further up the coast, but the trail takes you through more climax forest and fewer oscillations between clifftop and beach – and of course, no major river crossings. Most of Day 1′s 14.7 km is a relatively flat walk through the forest to the coast. A steep descent to the rocky shore heralds the strenuous part of the hike. New stainless steel chains allow you to skirt some precipitous sections that could be trickier if a big sea were to be coupled with a spring high tide. An Otter Trail-like switchback path through coastal forest finally leads up to the clifftop. Sinclair hut is beautifully situated in a clearing facing east. A Google Earth track, photos and a video follow … Continue reading Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail
Kevin lead an MCSA hike from Botmaskop along the watershed to Saaltjie, the north-eastern rim of the Jonkershoek valley. It was the reverse of a route previously hiked. A pleasant morning that left me with stiff flanks. It must be because of all the cycling …
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Disclaimer: I am not a cyclist nor MTB rider, so take the following from whence it comes: from a hiker who found himself riding a bicycle for 7 days over 611 kms on dirt roads and tracks.
The first hint that this was not the leisurely bike tour that I had imagined it would be, occurred at Komdomo camp at the eastern entrance to the Baviaanskloof. Gleaming, carbon machines were lovingly extracted from their bike boxes and expertly assembled and tuned in the dusk. By contrast, I inexpertly re-assembled my more prosaic commuter bike in the shadows.
I had only that week succumbed to the pressure to buy cycling shorts, items of clothing that I detest. I think that middle-aged people look faintly ridiculous in them, a bit like the Michelin Man, trembling flesh shoe-horned into body-hugging lycra. On the tour I would also be introduced to the tender mercies of chamois – or bum – cream. Apparently it is a necessity, although on at least two days I did not use it, with no ill effects. Continue reading Karoo MTB Tour
Some of the benefits of being a mountain club member are that you get to go to places that you would not normally be able to explore – and camp out there – and share the mountains with like-minded people who also know what they are doing in these lofty places. Although this hike uses recognised hiking trails, most of which are part of the Boland Trail or Jonkershoek’s various trails, you would not be able to camp near Sterrekykerskop (loosely translated as “stargazers’ peak”) with a panoramic view of the Jonkershoek valley.
A late-afternoon start saw us hurry up the Sphinx route from Nuweberg to Landdroskop where we stayed at Shamrock hut. That evening the black south-easter commenced its assault. Day 2 saw us head out west on the track to Jonkershoek, hoping to summit Somerset-Sneeukop, but misty rain and wind made that option rather unattractive, so we continued north to the Panorama Trail. Our camp in the lee of a rock pile where the wind screams over the watershed was set up in sunny weather, but that night the south-easter raged cold and noisy outside. The next morning we set off in low cloud and at the Kurktrekker junction turned south down Boegoekloof. This was a pleasant, steady downhill walk to Nuweberg under a steadily clearing sky. Boegoekloof harbours a number of rock pools that would make for very pleasant swimming in warmer weather. The weather didn’t deter Santie, however.
The circuit is about 31.3 km in total, and gains and loses 1583m in elevation.
So there I was in bed, sleepily easing into a lazy Saturday morning with no particular plans or obligations when an SMS pinged in on my ‘phone: would I like to join the mountain club party that was heading up that morning to the Dwarsberg plateau to overnight under full moon? Somebody had withdrawn at the last minute and as I live but 5 km from the reserve, I was the most likely last-minute recruit. While I semi-consciously mulled the possibility over, thinking about the complexities of packing an overnight pack with provisions which still had to be bought, a more insistent voice call came in. The party was already ascending the mountain. OK, yes. I would meet them at the top on the plateau near Disa Pools. Committed.
At about 3 pm as I breasted the ridge and the valley on the spongy plateau below Dwarsberg revealed itself, I spotted the row of tents strung out above the stream that drains the catchment which is the headwaters of the Riviersonderend. It had been a hot, dry climb through a 1000 m. Normally the ascent would be untertaken in the morning shadow of the Cathedral, but the late start had meant that I trudged up the trail in the midday sun.
I last hiked the Otter Trail, perhaps South Africa’s most famous hiking trail, circa 1994 with some friends. It was mid-winter, fairly cold and mostly cloudy. Nevertheless, I remember that it was spectacular and never really expected to walk it again. Life is too short for reprises in my view. And then I unexpectedly received an invitation to join a group of fellow Stellenbosch mountain club members after a couple of late withdrawals (remember that one has to apply to enter a draw for reservations at least one year prior to departure, with the trail being limited to 12 trailists per day). Why not? It is summer, I have the leave, the university is still warming up for the academic year …
So off I went on a fantastic experience. We had five days of nigh perfect weather, the water whether salty or fresh was warm, the company was great and I was relishing a good, strenuous hike. On most days I walked alone with my thoughts, the younger crowd having disappeared early down the winding coastal path while others spent leisurely days swimming in every possible swimming hole. We met up again at lunch and river crossings and at the trail’s spectacularly sited overnight huts. Additions at the huts since my last visit were the cooking lapas and the outdoor showers – otherwise they were much the same as I remembered them: basic log cabins containing six bunkbeds each. Continue reading The Otter Trail
It sounded like a good idea: an unsupported bicycle tour through the Swartberge and Anysberg for me and Gaucho Pedro (Peter Groves) who was visiting from the UK. It is a good idea, except when the Karoo decides to visit a heatwave on you. Three successive 40+°C days made for murderous cycling. On day 2, the 100 km day to Anysberg, it felt like cycling into a blowtorch. In all we pedalled about 150 km of the 180 km circuit – for the other 30 km we accepted lifts on days 2 and 3 as heat exhaustion overtook us. We didn’t manage to experience anything of Anysberg, but had a fantastic time in Seweweekspoort, specifically at an oasis named Aristata, staffed by the ever-willing and helpful Hein and his family.
Our route started at Ladismith, headed east past Zoar and into Seweweekspoort to overnight at Aristata. Exiting Seweweekspoort north of the Klein Swartberge, we turned west on the R323, intending to stay at Tapfontein in Anysberg. Day 3 took us south over Witte Poort and then east back to Ladismith. Continue reading Hell on wheels: Seweweekspoort-Anysberg
Square Tower Peak has attained a degree of notoriety in the Stellenbosch Section of the Mountain Club. When a club trail leader from Cape Town called Stellenbosch’s Paul Verhoeven asking for directions down from the peak, the helpful reply went something like this: “What are you doing of up there? Nobody ever goes there!” Well you should go there. It’s a short walk and climb up from the gate via Saaltjie to the peak, which is dwarfed by the Twin Peaks. Minimal investment, high returns. Take the route down the picturesque Nerinakloof – and if you pass that way around March you will be sure to see the Nerinas blooming.
After Torres del Paine the mission was to sea kayak in the Chilean fjords. We (there were now only four) hadn’t done our homework very well, but had a vague plan to hook up with a kayak outfitter in Ushuaia, Argentina’s southernmost city on Tierra del Fuego. Shaun had the great idea to take a Chilean ferry from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams, the southernmost permanent settlement in the world, which is only tens of kilometres across the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia. While online forums and travel websites suggested that there is “no way” to get from Puerto Williams to Ushuaia how hard could it really be ? We would find out…
Katedraal is the Afrikaans name for the Second Ridge Peak, one of the thin, serrated ridges that line the eastern rim of the Jonkershoek valley south of the Pieke(Twin Peaks). The Mountain Club’s Stellenbosch section tackled it as yet another cold front made ready to pounce. We hiked up to Bergriviersnek from the white bridge, and then turned north up the Rifberg, bagged the Third and Second Ridge peaks and then slipped and slid down the slick Slab Route. The approach to Third Reach peak features a slightly exposed ledge (as you will see in the video clip below) and a precarious scramble up a grassy gully, known to the locals as The Green Mamba. As the last of us summited Katedraal the mist enveloped the peak and the temperature started to fall. It was time to leave. The hike is about 17 km’s in total. My GPS failed to get enough fixes down the Slab Route to accurately plot the track, so this section of the Google Earth track below is unreliable and patchy.
When Paul bailed from our planned hike I was so desperate to get into the mountains again that I did something that is not recommended and is potentially stupid: I went hiking alone. It was the first hot day of spring, 34°C or so, and crystal clear. Cape Point was clearly visible at the nexus of sea and sky some 60 km away across False Bay. At least I was prepared, loaded up with at least 3 litres of liquid and lots of sun protection.
Those who have lived, worked or studied in Stellenbosch will know that Stellenbosch Mountain dominates the town. It is visible from almost anywhere there is a view to the south. As a student I often used to stare from an engineering classroom towards its brooding mass, daydreaming about being up there. Yet I will wager that few students and townspeople have actually climbed it, even though it is so accessible and the university owns large swathes of its northern aspect.
Anyway, the heat and my own relative unfitness took its toll. It took me about four hours to reach the summit what with all the sightseeing and resting. But as you can see from the photos it was well worth it. At the summit I ran into a geosciences researcher from Italy, Lorenzo, kitted out in trackshoes and running vest, fresh and sprightly, who was making the most of his short stay in town. While he was impressed with the vistas, he told me that I must walk the Dolomites before I die. So, onto the “to do” list of hikes it goes …
The route that I took up is the most easterly of two leading up from the Coetzenburg grounds and the famous Bergpad. Generally I would not recommend it. The “path” is steep, straight up and badly eroded, although there have been some attempts to rehabilitate it. If you view the mountain from town it is the most visible scar leading up to the first cliffs. From my home the distance to the summit and back is some 11.8 km with an elevation gain and loss of 1073m. The maximum slope is about 45%. There is no water on the way up, so be prepared and be relatively fit. The veld is about 3 years’ old, having burnt in 2009, so the going is relatively easy now, but as the protea grows to shoulder height it will become very hot work indeed.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone does incredible panorama shots. These were taken on the Bobbejaansrivier (Baboon River), a tributary of the Witte River that courses down Bain’s Kloof. It was a beautiful midwinter day, yesterday.:
I could try and describe the extreme beauty of Torres del Paine in words – but that would be futile. I would rather let our photos convey some sense of its wonder and grandeur. We walked the classic ‘W’-trail over 9 days covering some 107 km, starting at the CONAF administration HQ near Rio Serrano and exiting the park at Hosteria Las Torres in the east.
I first read about trekking in Torres del Paine in Outside magazine, an American outdoor adventure publication, some seven years ago. That article remained filed in my subconscious, until Kelson mentioned the magic word “Patagonia” three-years ago under that sodden oak in the Elandskloof. This year’s trek thus represents a dream realised – and we could not have had better weather. “Unprecedented, unheard of” weather according to Kelson. Out of the nine days of the trek we had eight consecutive days of windless, sunny conditions. Luckily for him, the rain and wind on the last day saved him from having to eat his (wife’s) very cute, pink beanie as part of a wager that had him progressively more worried as one perfect day followed the previous one. We would have fed it to him with the herbs and spices that he is so fond of…
Photos and Google Earth track follow. With time I will add some video clips.
There are many easy walking routes around the granite inselbergs of Paarl Mountain, most of them ideally suited to leisurely outings with a young family. Paul and I decided to get into the outdoors again for the first time after our return from trekking in Patagonia. It was one of those fine, sunny winter’s days that the Cape often produces – contrary to what some upcountry folks would have you believe. We walked where our fancy took us and ended up strolling for 14.2 km and climbing Gordon’s Rock, which involved a little rock scrambling.
Originally town commonage, Paarl Mountain is now a municipal nature reserve. The three granite domes that dominate the plateau are estimated to be 500 million years old. Shortly after the Dutch arrived in 1652 the two large domes became known as ‘Diamant’ and ‘Paarlberg’ (Dutch for Diamond and Pearl Mountain), probably because of the way the granite glistens in wet weather.
The form of fynbos that grows on the plateau is rare because it represents a form unique to granitic clay. Over the millennia the inselberg would have experienced periods of isolation as sea levels fluctuated, which has meant that speciation must have contributed to floral diversity. The place is worth visiting and enjoying – often.
The first of our treks in southern Patagonia during April was the classic circuit at the northern end of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park), in Argentina’s Santa Cruz province. The 5-day circuit of 53.5 km takes one to the glaciers, lakes and forbidding mountains of the Andes, through southern beech forests, and to the foot of one of South America’s best-known peaks, Fitzroy. As the websites warn, the weather is ‘unpredictable’ – and so it proved to be.
Some photos, a video clip, a Google Map with photo locations and some brief impressions follow.
Here’s an easy yet spectacular walk for the family. The 7-and-a-bit km hike takes you through a 400 m rise and fall in elevation, from the Palmiet River valley, through an old indigenous forest to glorious views above Betty’s Bay. Photos and a Google Earth track follow…
Slanghoek Pile – the name is evocative. Of what I am not quite sure (slanghoek is Dutch/Afrikaans and translates roughly to “snake corner”). An MCSA outing, the hike there and back is 16.4 km in length and climbs and descends 1272 m. The walk up comprised two sections: the first was long with a gentle slope along the lower Bobbejaansrivier (“baboon river”) and the second a relentless climb to the top of the Pile.
The lower Bobbejaansrivier with its deep, cool potholes is etched in my memory. In 1975 a group of school kids – the school’s “Exploration Society” – spent a wonderful, sun-splashed day at the pools. I never forgot that place, but it took me a good 25 years to figure out where it was and return there. I have been back many times since.
As you know African rhino are under unprecedented, murderous assault. 448 rhino have been lost to poachers in South Africa alone during 2011 and SA National Parks has admitted that it is under siege and overpowered.
I photographed this rhino near Lower Sabie in 2006. The chances are good that it is no more.
Like most of you I am filled with impotent rage. We gnash our teeth virtually on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, we express our outrage in social media threads and around the braai, but all this does little to change the situation. Rather, it almost amplifies our impotence.
Clearly, the longer term project is to diminish demand by changing attitudes and fighting superstition in the East, but the urgent things to do now are to protect the remaining animals, hunt the poachers and hit the syndicate bosses, distributors and their co-conspirators in the bloody chain. This requires money; it’s a funding race.
As few of us are able to do something practical besides sign online petitions, the best practical action that we can take is to DONATE to organisations that are in a position to do something. But when you go into it, you are overwhelmed by the number of NGOs and conservation agencies clamouring for your attention – and of course the inevitable scams.
So I decided to do a little research myself and I share some of it here in the hope that it helps you make an easier decision about where to donate so that your money has the maximum effect.