The best experiences are always born of spur-of-the-moment decisions. Kevin Koorzen and I were both suffering from cabin fever after weeks of winter had gripped the Cape spring but as the first sunny day revealed white peaks, we were “on”. An early setback was being told at the Jonkershoek gate that the road was closed to vehicles. This was going to be a long day, because we were determined to reach Victoria Peak. Luckily a stray Water Affairs bakkie gave us a lift to the Witbrug, saving us at least an hour. In any case, it was a 25km yomp there and back, but worth every drop of sweat and the tired feet.
The final climb in knee-deep, soft snow was a killer. However, the views were staggering, the snow thicker than I have ever seen it – and it was almost deserted up there. In hindsight the road closure was a blessing in disguise as it meant that few were willing- or early enough – to make the pilgrimage to Victoria Peak. We crossed virgin snow and were the first on the peak. We met a handful of hardy souls heading up on our way down, including some trail runners who were poorly clothed for the conditions.
Enjoy the photos. It may be a long time before those peaks are so deeply blanketed again.
There have been a few attempts over the last 150 or so years to build a road through Boesmanskloof between the towns of Greyton and McGregor (formerly Lady Grey). The road would link the Little Karoo with Cape Town via Robertson, McGregor, Houwhoek and Somerset West. All attempts either foundered because of lack of funds or war – in this case World War II – although an attempt was made to complete the pass using Italian prisoners-of-war, but that request was denied.
Remnants of the pass road – “the road to nowhere” – are visible at the top of the kloof near De Galg (“the gallows”) and form part of the hiking trail. The upshot is that, instead of sharing it with cars and trucks, hikers can enjoy at least one of the Cape’s beautiful kloofs in splendid silence. Not even bicycles are allowed here.
Although I have hiked Boesmanskloof in one direction from De Galg to Greyton, generally hikers walk from Greyton on the first day, overnight at De Galg and walk back to Greyton on the next. The hike is relatively easy for experienced hikers, between 12.5 and 14.5 km in length in one direction depending on where you start/end and the route (picturesque or the historical pass road). Although the trail only rises about 500m over this distance, the total accumulated elevation gain is closer to 900m. De Galg has an equipped kitchen, a braai area, a hot shower and the owners will even provide bedding and groceries for a fee, so that your pack could be really light. There are excellent swimming holes at Oakes Falls, about two-thirds of the way up.
This hike will long be remembered for the sweet surprise of a birthday cake at 1105 m ASL. Yolanda and Kevin hatched the plot and Kevin carried it up in his already very full pack. He even played dumb when I happened to mention that it was my birthday as we took photos from the summit of Somerset-Sneeukop.
It was a mountain club weekend outing and I figured that there are few better ways to spend a birthday than up in our beloved Jonkershoek mountains over a warm and sunny weekend in midwinter. We walked up Swartboskloof and set up camp in the high valley beyond the top of the kloof on the way to Sterrekykerskop. The stream that runs through it drains into the First Waterfall. Three of us, Kevin, Philip and myself, then headed for Somerset-Sneeukop. Somerset-Sneeukop, at 1590m the second highest peak in the Hottentots-Holland Reserve, dominates the Helderberg bowl. On this particular day the views were clear and blue in every direction (a week later the peak would be blanketed with snow).
We arrived back at camp shortly before nightfall to find the rest of the party settled in and cooking supper. The next day we decided to follow the valley down to Groenkloof where a very steep descent took us back into Swartboskloof.
NOTE: Our route through the high valley and down Groenkloof is not a recognised trail. Camping is also prohibited. The mountain club obtains special permission to take small parties on these routes and set up wild camps. One more reason to join the MCSA …
Arangieskop Hiking Trail is a very fine trail, well laid out by somebody who was determined to show the diversity of views and flora to be found on a single mountainside. Make sure that your knees are in good nick and that your pack is light, because the climb is unrelenting (8.34 km through 1313m) on day 1 to the hut, and jarringly steep on the way down (10km with a total elevation loss of 1634m) via the summit (1695m ASL) on day 2. We – Kevin, Yolanda and I – reached the hut by 1:30 pm which left us plenty of time to settle in and then climb the remaining 212m to the summit (2.4 km round trip) without packs. Of course we would have to do it all over again the next day – with full packs but with most of the food eaten.
Day 2 was an extraordinarily beautiful day, one of those windless, winter days in the Little Karoo when you can see forever over the endless folds into the heart of the Karoo. It more than made up for the previous attempt some weeks earlier – take one - during the worst storm of the winter when we had to abort the hike halfway up because some members of the party were ill-equipped for the snow and rain that would follow. In hindsight, I was relieved that we did abort, because the steep descent would have been particularly treacherous in the wet and the cold, not to mention plain unpleasant.
The area has a family connection: Marion, my partner, grew up barefoot and carefree in the Koo Valley, the high valley that opens up below you on the far side of the watershed. Her step-dad owned one of the farms on the eastern slope of this section of the Langeberg, while Niel Burger, his cousin and neighbour, built the fine stone hut below Arangieskop on the Vensterbank and conceived and runs the ever-popular tractor trip to it from the Koo side. Arangieskop hut is spectacularly sited and commands views north over the Koo to the Matroosberg, east and south over the Keisie Valley all along the jagged Langeberg chain to Montagu, and east over the Ouberg to Anysberg and Warmwaterberg, landscapes that I had covered by bicycle some months earlier.
Almost 10 years to the day after the last occasion at Sweni with my wife and daughters, and late father-in-law, Marion and I returned to immerse ourselves in wild nature once more, with friends Paul and Debbie. As I have written many times elsewhere on this blog about this unique type of adventure, it is the way to experience Kruger’s bush. The wilderness trail is also the perfect safari product in my book: just long enough for you to adjust to the rhythm and sounds of a wild camp and short enough for a return to be inevitable. In other words, you are just getting into it, when you have to leave. And Kruger does not allow back-to-back trail bookings – I have tried that.
On this occasion we were not as fortunate to walk into lions and hyaenas on a kill, but we were a little encouraged to see plenty of fresh white rhino middens and tracks. The army is active in the area and sometimes the area, which is close to the Mozambique border feels like “the border” that many guys of my vintage remember – and which paradoxically launched our love of the bush.
The route up the jeep track that skirts Orange Kloof and the path up Disa Gorge is probably the easiest route up to the “back table” on Table Mountain, where the reservoirs are located. It passes through a restricted area and you will need a permit from SANParks or walk it in the company of an accredited guide. Orange Kloof – the restricted area – conserves remnant Afromontane forest.
The water tunnels – Woodhead and Apostles – in Disa Gorge, the reservoirs with their dressed stone dam walls and the remains of the train track and cableway at Kasteelspoort represent fragments of Victorian, “can-do” engineering history and the quest to supply drinking water to the city of Cape Town. The story is fascinatingly told in the Waterworks Museum between Hely-Hutchinson and Woodhead reservoirs.
On this hike Kevin, Yolanda and I decided to overnight in the Mountain Club’s hut, which dates from 1905 if I am not mistaken. The hut is redolent with mountaineering history, a museum in its own right, and a very atmospheric place of a cold evening. We were fortunate to be the only three people there. In summer it is rather crowded I believe.
We descended along the popular concrete jeep track that skirts what was once Cecilia “Forest” – or rather a pine plantation.
A Google Earth track, photos and a video clip follow.
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 led 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.: