Beyond Gordon’s Bay’s anchor

Gordon’s Bay was our family’s beach during the ’50s and ’60s. We spent many playful hours in its warm waters, holidaying at Thelma’s Guesthouse – now long gone – and watching the fishing boats in the old harbour. The black and white photo below shows the bay and town in 1950. Compare the landscape to the unsightly urban sprawl still spreading like a cancer across the Helderberg bowl in the other photos on this page.Gordons Bay, 1950.

Above the harbour on the mountainside, an anchor frames the letters “GB”. It is laid out in whitewashed stones on a scree slope. The landmark dates from 1949 when cadets at the “General Botha”, the South African Nautical College of the merchant navy, laid it out to identify the location of the General Botha in the old harbour. In my lifetime it has always been there, seemingly as timeless as the mountain itself. But in all these years I have never been on those slopes, so I suggested to Peter that we follow the “path” to the anchor and beyond, and continue over the watershed to Steenbras Dam, and then “see” where we would come down again.

The wind was fresh from the north-west, threatening rain which, given the Cape’s desperate drought, was a welcome prospect (it did eventually rain later that night, but we are still on course for a major water crisis at the end of this summer). We were also curious to see the level of Steenbras Lower Dam, one of the Cape’s “big six” dams that supply most of the water to the City of Cape Town, agriculture and the smaller municipalities of Stellenbosch and Drakenstein. Of the potential storage capacity of 898 Gigalitres (Gl) in these six dams, Steenbras Lower can store 33.5 Gl – but it is currently 50.2% full (the total system storage level is lying at 30.4%, which means our water will run out in April, if not March – well before the winter rains hopefully set in). Continue reading Beyond Gordon’s Bay’s anchor

Groothoekkloof descent

Traversing the Matroosberg from the Ceres side to the Hex River valley

Selfie on the saddle
Paul Verhoeven proposed and led this 3-day kloofing trip as a more “sedate” version of the usual MCSA two-day dash down the kloof. Groothoekkloof descends rapidly from the ski slopes of the Matroosberg, which are reached via hiking path or 4×4 track from the Matroosberg Nature Reserve on the Ceres side. In winter, the saddle above the kloof is treacherously icy for unwary snow-seekers, having sent a few souls over the edge to their deaths, as the plaques attest to. The drops near the top are precipitous (9 abseils), interspersed with thick bush and scree stretches which make for some rugged bundu bashing . Lower down the kloof becomes wet, with ice-cold waterfalls, slippery boulders, fern and moss draped cliffs, clumps of verdant indigenous forest (dubbed Wonderwoud (magic forest) by the kloof’s pioneer, Retief Jordaan), including 3 wet abseils, one of which ends in an icy pool. In the damp shadows arum lilies are still in bloom. Here the kloof often becomes a slot canyon where one can at times almost touch both sides with outstretched arms. The final barrier, known as Die Ertjie (The Pea), is a big boulder from which one has to jump about 3 or 4 m into a deep, black pool. Relatively few will have the chance to experience this beautiful kloof – those who do can count themselves as privileged. Continue reading Groothoekkloof descent

Cederberg the sedate way

December in the Cederberg is hot. So although Peter and I had20171216_104842 all the best intentions of hiking into the wilderness from our camping bases at Sanddrif and Algeria, reality was decidedly less energy-intensive. We took a 9 km round-trip walk to the Maltese Cross and another similar walk up the Rondegat River above Algeria – and I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with the DJI Mavic Pro drone. The clip below is my beginner’s attempt.

Continue reading Cederberg the sedate way

Leopard’s Gorge hike, cycle back

From Kogelberg to Harold Porter Botanical Garden and back

Hardy plants
I fail to understand why I hadn’t thought of it before. The Leopard’s Gorge hike is a perennial favourite: short and scenically spectacular, fynbos and forest. But the logistics of leaving transport at both ends, or walking the gorge in both directions, have never appealed to me. And then on Saturday night I suggested to Marion that we drop the bikes at Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, drive to and hike from Kogelberg, enjoy lunch in the garden, and cycle back to the vehicle. Good exercise, quick and satisfyingly diverse.

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Walks in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Pyrenees

After the Canal du Midi we rented a car at At the viewpoint - proofCarcassonne and drove through the Pyrenees to Torla in Spain, a mediaeval town high up in the mountains near the mouth of the Valle de Ordesa. Peter had argued for the canyon to be on our itinerary as it was the third tick on his list of five lesser known but spectacular hikes in Europe. And spectacular it is. Not to mention extremely popular. Most of the hikers in the valley appeared to be Spaniards, young families, daywalkers like us, interspersed with groups of young, harder core hikers, and many with dogs, which is a strange sight in a national park for South Africans.

The old towns in the Pyrenees are also either way stations or starting points for pilgrims on the longer versions of the Camino de Santiago.

The Valle de Ordesa is a deep canyon cut by the Rio Arazas near the French border. There are many hikes of differing lengths and difficulty. It forms the core of the Ordesa y Monte Perdido national park, which in turn is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the mirror peaks, cirques and canyons in the French Pyrenees. The park is dominated by the 3 555 m Monte Perdido (the lost mountain, or Mont Perdu in French) massif, the largest limestone massif in Western Europe. We walked two popular trails: the valley floor hike from Torla and the Faja de Pelay hike along the canyon rim to the Cascada de la Cola de Caballo (the horsetail falls). The latter is highly recommended, but involves a steep trudge up a switchback path, gaining some 600m in elevation relatively quickly. Continue reading Ordesa

Canal du Midi video clips

Here are five short, amateur video clips from our recent Canal du Midi boat tour. They are probably boring to watch, but they are a good record of our trip – and they may give you a sense of what to expect should you be planning a canal boating trip. For us, it was magnificent.

Continue reading Canal du Midi video clips

Postberg Trail take two

Lunch south of Donkergat

I was privileged to be invited by Sonja to make up the numbers on the Postberg Trail hike almost exactly a year after the previous time. It was a week earlier in the flower season, and although the flower display is not as intense as last time, the peninsula and surrounding waters were spectacular in the late winter light.

More photos follow …

Continue reading Postberg Trail take two

Canal du Midi

Canal boating from Négra Lock to Argens-Minervois

Gey at Les Moulins du Pont
July saw the realisation of a lifelong fascination near the end of my sixtieth year celebrations: a canal boat trip on the canals of old Europe. I had seen a TV documentary about the Canal du Midi some years ago. Its construction was a grand, 17th century engineering project to connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean for trade purposes that obviated the need for the French to sail around the hostile Iberian peninsula and through the pirate-ridden Strait of Gibraltar. So impressed by the remarkable feat of engineering was I that I did no further research on canal holidays in France or anywhere else. The Canal du Midi it would be. Subsequently I discovered that the canal accounts for 20% of French river tourism with 10000 to 11000 boat passages per year, all leisure boats. It is the busiest canal in France.  But as luck would have it I also unknowingly chose to do a section during the first week of July, before the holiday rush really gets underway, that would prove to be quiet and uncrowded. It turned out to be a glorious, relaxed, yet active, seven-day cruise for me, Marion, and old pal Peter, on our plucky little pénichette, Gey. As we neared the Med, near the end of our cruise, the increase in traffic was palpable. Continue reading Canal du Midi

Cederberg MTB Tour 2017

152 km in 3 days

Climbing out of Heuningvlei
Our cycling tour, organised by Magriet, colleague and fellow, serial Baviaanskloofer, followed a very similar format to the previous cycling tour two years ago and was also timed for the same late-autumn weekend in May. There were four stark differences though: this time we had warm, cloudless days instead of rain and wind; the landscape was charred, the drifts were dry and the road conditions especially on the eastern section were difficult despite being dry.

Our route was slightly amended too: Clanwilliam to Heuningvlei, via Wupperthal to Sanddrif, and back to Clanwilliam via Algeria. For those of us who are not fond of technical riding, the stones, steps and sand of the Noodpad (the donkey cart-cart track) were a bit of a trial. And the section after the steep climb out of Wupperthal to Matjiesrivier became a slog in my book. All vegetation has been destroyed by this summer’s fires and my theory is that the wind has blown sand amongst the pebbles of the gravel roads, making them more “sticky” and slippery than muddy roads.

Nevertheless, great weather, the magnificent rocky vistas, some excellent wine and good company made it an extremely enjoyable tour. The trusty Rocky Mountain commuter bike with the hard tail, the pannier carriers and the slick tires came through unscathed and even reached downhill speeds of almost 70 km/h on some steep gravel sections. I suspect that if I had to add rear suspension I will scare the crap out of myself. An interactive map, more photos, profiles and a video follow below … Continue reading Cederberg MTB Tour 2017

Kammanassie-Baviaanskloof MTB Tour 2017

The fourth edition of our private MTB tour which The cyclists at Eagle Fallsalways features the Baviaanskloof, one of those places that can only be of Africa and of the eastern Cape of South Africa, has been refined over time to be a compact and leisurely cycling-camping tour along endless dirt roads, over precipitous passes and through unequalled arid landscapes. The Baviaanskloof, the “valley of baboons”, is located at the nexus of seven biomes and forms the core of the expanding Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve. This year we changed the itinerary so that we cycled eastwards from the Kammanassie valley and “down” the Baviaanskloof, instead of “up” it as we had done all of the previous times. Yes, over the full distance of about 280 km we did lose 419 m in altitude in 6 days of cycling, but in our three days in the kloof we climbed over 3350 m traversing some rather steep passes.

Continue reading Kammanassie-Baviaanskloof MTB Tour 2017

Kammanassie through Baviaans

(All photos by Santie Gouws)

There were 8 of us, 6 cyclists and 2 drivers of the support vehicles, Down Combrinks PassRalph’s old staatmaker Toyota Hilux and Magriet’s VW Tiguan. All of us, except Marion, Ralph’s wife, had done the trip before, so much was the anticipation of another spectacular week of cycling through one of South Africa’s truly remote and wild places.
Our trip started with us camping overnight at the Eagle Falls guest farm in the Kammanassie valley. Tents were pitched and braaing time came and we soon realized that apart from literally going off-grid in terms of not having cellphone signal in the kloof, we would also be off-grid in terms of braaiing, since the essential toeklap rooster had been left at home – guilty parties will not be named for their own protection. Luckily this is South Africa and we could borrow a grid at Eagle Falls.

‘Kammanassie’ is the Khoi San word for ‘mountains of water’ and boy oh boy did we get a first-hand experience of that. I had a small, read minute, orange K-way 1-man hiking tent, but it proved its worth that evening when a thunderstorm of note broke loose overhead. Thunder, lightning, heavy rain thrashing and a wild wind shaking the K-way, but not a drop of water came through as I emerged fresh as a daisy the next morning. This was to be the first day of our cycle tour – Kammanassie through Baviaans.

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Perdeberg Peak

Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve

Perderberg beacon and Palmiet estuary
The hike to Perdeberg Peak (640 m ASL) from near the bridge across the Palmiet River is relatively easy, following a gradual gradient over some 11.8 km there and back. It rewards one with spectacular views: south-west over the Bot River mouth, south down to the Palmiet estuary, north into the farmlands of the Elgin Basin and west over the Palmiet River as it winds through the core Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

As I have mentioned before, I have a special affinity with the Kogelberg: a 5-day forced march through this area during my army conscription thirty-seven years ago is still indelibly etched in my mind. It was hard, the instructors were nasty, but the extreme beauty is what I remember most. Everytime I go back, I retrace familiar paths, remember long-forgotten comrades, one S/Sgt de Montfort, the apples that farmers left for us, the unequalled sea and mountain scapes and always the tapestry of fynbos. The reserve is still recovering from frequent fires in recent years. The veld is young, which makes hiking easier. Continue reading Perdeberg Peak

Visgat reprise

Thirteen years after the last time G0071451down the canyon, I had the privilege of another swim down this almost pristine gorge. The permit was arranged via the Cape Town branch of the MCSA by Paul Verhoeven at late notice. We dropped everything to descend it once more and we were not disappointed. It was a hot weekend with temperatures in the upper thirties and the water was warm rather than icy. A short video of the trip follows:

Wild Coast hike

The 5-day, 61 km (69 km by my GPS) Wild Coast hike down the scenic Pondoland coast One misstep here ...featuring overnight stays at local homesteads, is one of those must-do hikes. Besides moving through the unfolding spectacle of the shoreline you will gain some insight into a fast-disappearing way of life. The trail crosses many river estuaries and at least four of them require a ferry.

Despite its verdant beauty and the absence of overt industrial development, one cannot escape the sense that the name ¨Wild Coast¨ is a bit of a misnomer. The name evokes untrammelled wilderness, but this coast has been home to the Mpondo people, supporting their pastoral and agricultural society, for centuries. There are pockets of indigenous forest, mostly in the valleys, but all the rolling hills are cattle pastures – grasslands – crowned by traditional homesteads and hamlets. What wildlife that is left is restricted to two small nature reserves and one marine protected area (MPA). By contrast dolphins and whales roam freely at sea. Although the locals have always gathered and fished from the shoreline, harbours and fishing boats are largely absent. On other coastal trails in South Africa, the re-emergence of pairs of black oystercatchers every kilometre or so is noticeable and heartening, but on this coast we saw not even one.

GPS track, more reflections and photos follow …

Continue reading Wild Coast hike

Hiking to Cape Point

Table Mountain National Park

This 14.5 km hike from the Cape Point gate to the visitor centre at the point, Cape Point hike: signal cannondown the False Bay coast, has long been one of my favourites. It offers spectacular views of the southern peninsula and False Bay across to the Kogelberg coast in the east. The trail undulates behind Judas Peak, over Die Boer and behind Paulsberg, before descending to Bordjiesrif for a walk along the coast. It then ascends Vasco da Gama Peak to follow the peninsula’s spine to the restaurant. The trail is stony, and with many places to pause and enjoy the beauty, so allow at least six hours.

Peter and I treated it as preparation for our forthcoming Wild Coast hike, while Santie was doing the same in advance of tackling the Amatola.

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Short walks in the Canadian Rockies

Jasper National Park

Dad and daughter
I extended a recent business trip to North America to visit my daughter, Heather, in Edmonton. She and her husband, Dirk, treated me to a fantastic long weekend in the Canadian Rockies, in Jasper National Park. Winter had officially set in and most attractions/activities were closed, but we were able to drive to places like Lake Maligne, Medicine Lake, Pyramid Lake, Maligne Canyon, Athabasca Falls and Athabasca Glacier, and do some short scenic walks in what was a monochromatic, but still breathtaking, landscape. A Google Map of our walks and some photos follow …

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Summiting Sneeuberg

Cederberg Wilderness Area

It took me 32 years since my first hiking experience in the Cederberg Scaling the Crossto summit Sneeuberg – in my 60th year and on the occasion of the Mountain Club of SA’s 125th anniversary camp. Paul Verhoeven organised and led the hike and although it was advertised as part of the anniversary programme, only three of us, all Stellenbosch members, participated.

We hiked up Sederhoutkloof (cedar wood gorge) to Sneeuberg hut on the Saturday, a short walk of about 7 km. The name, Sederhoutkloof, like many others in SA recalls now-absent species, in this case the forests of Clanwilliam Cedars from which the Cederberg takes its name, which were all but logged out over the last century. The remnant huts were originally used for stabling the mules which hauled the timber out.

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The Postberg Trail

West Coast National Park

The Postberg Trail is pretty exclusive, only opening for the spring months of August and SeptemberKraalbaai and accommodating just 12 hikers per day. It is a two-day trail of some 26 kms in length but with negligible elevations. Bring your own tent and overnight at Plankiesbaai on the Postberg peninsula’s west coast. There is no “slackpacking” option.

The spring months are when South Africa’s west coast explodes in a kaleidoscope of colour if the winter rains have been good. The flower display is the trail’s “main event” but the land and seascapes are equally spectacular.

Photos and a Google Earth track follow.

Continue reading The Postberg Trail

A short walk to Noordhoek Peak

Silvermine, Table Mountain National Park

It has been many years since I walked the Silvermine plateau and the spectacular ridges Usand peaks above Noordhoek. On the spur of the moment I decided to exploit Marion’s new-found interest in the outdoors to revisit Noordhoek Peak, and possibly Chapman’s Peak. Despite the bracing conditions, or maybe because of the first sunshine for days, there were crowds in Silvermine. In the years of absence from the Peninsula I had not realised how popular its mountains have become. I feel ambivalent about it: it is great that so many people enjoy nature and are physically active in it; but I prefer the solitude and silence of the Boland mountains.

Continue reading A short walk to Noordhoek Peak

Gentle adventures in the southern Cape

Our mid-winter tour of the Garden Route and Little Karoo ran the gamut of weather from crystal-clear, windless days to fierce storms, from balmy Karoo days to icy nights. We set off to take the roads less travelled and to stay at least two nights in a place to get a sense of it.

Continue reading Gentle adventures in the southern Cape

Tierkloof abseil

Paul Verhoeven arranged this exclusive adventure for a small group of mountain club members. It involved climbing the Peaks (¨Pieke¨), Tierkloof 1st abseil - photo by Peter-Jan Randewijksome of the highest summits in the Jonkershoek area and then 9 abseils down Tierkloof, the cleft that angles down south of the westernmost peak. I was a little nervous the night before and slept fitfully, which is unusual. Discomfort with precipitous heights probably has something to do with it. Some nerves are good though; it gives a little ¨edge¨ and makes one sharp and aware.

The abseils were fun though and with only three of us (Peter Jan Randewijk was the third member) the descent was relatively quick. Tierkloof is not as extreme as Volstruiskloof, but there are some 50 m cliffs to negotiate. It is as spectacular however.

Continue reading Tierkloof abseil

The Swartberg Trail

The Swartberge – the black mountains – are literally black now. Lunch on OliewenbergA recent fire, the second in quick succession, has charred them. The other wildfire a few years ago destroyed the third hiking hut so that the trail has had to be adapted to use only two huts over three nights – the Bothashoek and Out Tol huts. These stark mountains’ jagged lines and ridges are no longer softened by the usual fynbos and protea cover, but the first geophyte shoots after the initial winter rains are in evidence everywhere.

Day 1 features a relatively stiff 900 m climb from De Hoek, but it is easier and more gradual than some – like the Waaihoek ascent. Bothashoek hut was a welcome sight as we breasted Bushman’s Nek and grew on us even more once we figured out how to coax hot water from the solar geyser.


Continue reading The Swartberg Trail

Baviaans2Coast MTB tour

6-day mountain bike tour through the Baviaanskloof, across the back of the Kouga Mountains, across the Langkloof, down Prince Alfred’s Pass to Wittedrif

This time we decided to plan a more compact private tour, which still included the incredible Baviaanskloof but followed an old Thomas Bain-built pass to the coast. Previous tours had been the 400 km trial from Baviaanskloof to Montagu, a repeat of that route in 2014 that skipped the Sanbona section but still averaged 80 km per day, and a selected passes tour last year which featured Swartberg, Rooiberg, Seweweekspoort and Bosluiskloof passes with shorter daily distances.

Lunch on Combrincks Pass

Continue reading Baviaans2Coast MTB tour

The Whale Trail – take three

Almost fourteen years after the first time, we elected to sample the slackpacking option for this trail. Slackpacking involves paying R520 per crate/coolbox for transport from hut to hut. It makes for very good meals, meals that can do the “huts” justice. “Huts” and not huts, because they are actually beautifully sited and built, themed cottages. Unfortunately, the one at Cupidoskraal burned down in September last year, but a functional former mountain biking cottage is a fair replacement. To our shock the reserve is charred from Potberg to the coast, with some unburned strips in the east around Noetsie and in the hills and dunes around Hamerkop and Vaalkrans huts. The Lekkerwater guest house is but a gutted ruin on a bluff now.

Continue reading The Whale Trail – take three

Witels – what else?

Having “done the Witels” back in 2009, I had little intention of doing it again, but then she-who-shall-remain-nameless talked me into another MCSA mission from 25 to 30 December. Anyway, when Christmas Day dawned it had already transpired that she-who-shall-remain-nameless had had to withdraw due to sickness. I was committed, however, having agreed to ferry some fellow hikers from Stellenbosch, one of whom also withdrew at the last moment. At least I knew what lay ahead: a gruelling, relentless climb up Hagga’s Hill (Waaihoek) weighed down with a 5-day pack; fourteen potentially cold swims; intensive use of all four limbs and assorted muscles; heat and hot rocks that can “iron” your fingerprints flat; eels that like to take a nibble (there’s a rather pushy resident at the Leopard Camp pool); a hive of particularly aggressive bees; and the ever-present danger of a slip and fall. I mean, what else is one supposed to do in the days after Christmas?

Continue reading Witels – what else?