Wet ‘n’ Wild Witteberg Weekend: Cape Mountaineering

 

Stormy sunset in the Witteberg

Stormy sunset in the Witteberg

I could hear the wind gusts roaring down the valley for a few seconds before they grabbed the tent and shook it like a demented Jack Russell. Warm in my sleeping bag, I wondered if the tent would survive. I contemplated the logistics of packing up and walking out in the freezing, howling, soaking white-out. It would not be fun. Welcome to the Witteberg!

 

We had been tent-bound since arriving on the high vlaktes the afternoon before. The walk up from Kromrivier that morning had been pleasantly cool and misty, and the Norwegians (www.yr.no)had promised that it would clear up by mid-afternoon. However as we crested the Dome and headed up to the vlaktes, it seemed that the Witteberg had its own agenda. We packed on layers and quickly scouted for a campsite that was not too soggy. Once ensconced in our tents it was time for tea and sandwiches. “This is not so bad”, we thought, “we can wait it out, it’ll clear any minute now…”

 

Bloody Norwegians got it wrong of course. The wind began to howl, the mist closed in, and it began to rain sideways. The joys of Cape mountaineering! Knot-tying and yatzy helped pass the time until an early supper and bedtime. It was a long, long night…

 

Well the tents survived the storm, but the morning was grey and manky, suitable only for “loitering with intent”. Cabin fever was just setting in when the atmosphere in the tent suddenly brightened (it wasn’t just the potent coffee), and we realized it was starting to clear up. By nine it was a blue-bird day, and we were packing daypacks for an ascent of Witteberg Peak. Gotta love those Norwegians!!

 

High on the Witteberg

High on the Witteberg

The Normal Route up Witteberg takes a rambling line up its south-western flank, following beacons here and there. Amazing rock formations and small hidden vlaktes abound, and the elusive summit draws one ever upward. Some intricate route finding around, over and between boulders brought us to the summit at 1736 metres above sea-level. The views were astounding: deep kloofs drop away towards the valley floor, only to rear up again as the ramparts of Du Toit’s Peak. To the north the mighty Hex looms, and in the south Table Mountain lurks under a smoggy blanket. Aaaah… the glory. Let’s make tea!

 

Plunge Pool

Plunge Pool

During lunch we studied the map and chose a line of descent on the western side of the peak. This turned out to be spectacular scrambling along a knife-edge ridge, before plunging down a bouldery watercourse to the vlaktes far below. Back at camp, refreshed after an icy dip in the stream, we basked in the late afternoon sunshine with wine and hors d’oeuvres. Supper soon followed, and we watched the stars come out with that deep satisfaction that only a big day out in the mountains can bring.

 

Ridge rambling

Ridge rambling

The perfect weather stayed for the rest of the weekend, and the last day was spent rambling along ridges and plunging into pristine pools. The only problem was having to go down after such perfection. The horror of the storm had faded to an exciting memory; we had been tested by the Witteberg, and rewarded with two days of glory. And best of all we had never trusted the Norwegians (or any other weather “predictions”) for a second, and had been prepared for all conditions. We returned home with our souls restored, and a new respect for our little tent!

 

The way home

The way home

For more pictures click here

 

For more info or to book your Cape mountain adventure, please contact Mike on info@guidedbymike.co.za

 

 

 


Slackpacking on Table Mountain

The view across the resevoirs on Table Mountain

The view across the reservoirs on Table Mountain

How about hiking a 5 day guided trail traversing the Table Mountain chain? How about doing it without lugging heavy packs full of food and tents? How about over-nighting in luxury tented camps, in stunning locations, and enjoying hearty meals freshly prepared for you? If this all sounds good, then welcome to the world of slackpacking!

 

The Table Mountain Slackpacking Trail (also known as the Hoerikwaggo Trail), has many options of length: from a short two-day taster, to the full five-day trek from Cape Point to Table Mountain. What follows is a description of a four-day, three-night version which I recently guided on for SlackpackerSA (www.slackpackersa.co.za).

 

Day one starts with a scenic drive from Cape Town down to the tip of the Cape Peninsula at Cape Point. An early start means getting there before the tour buses and their crowds. Of course one can’t go to Cape Point without walking up to the old lighthouse for one of the world’s most spectacular views. Sweeping vistas of False Bay, the Peninsula, and the Atlantic Ocean surround one. Sheer cliffs drop straight into the crystal sea, and with a bit of luck you can spot Southern Right whales cruising far below.

 

The trail up Disa Gorge, Table Mountain

The trail up Disa Gorge, Table Mountain

It is then time to shoulder packs (light daypacks only, its slackpacking remember!), and begin the Trail. The route follows the eastern side of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which is part of the greater Table Mountain National Park. Sightings of baboons, ostriches, eland and bontebok are common, and the coastal scenery is superb. About six hours after starting, hikers reach the entry gate of the reserve, where they are picked up and driven via a scenic route along the western Peninsula coast, to the Slangkop Tented Camp in Kommetjie. Cold drinks, hot showers and a hearty meal revitalize hikers as they watch a glorious sunset over the ocean. Then it’s time to retire to their luxury tents nestled under the Milkwood trees, and be soothed by the sound of the waves.

 

Day 2 starts with a few kilometres along the Kommetjie coastline, and then across the sweeping expanse of Noordhoek beach. All the while Chapman’s Peak rises up ahead, and soon its time to change gear for the steep ascent up to this spectacular summit: a perfect place for a break, and a chance to enjoy the views. The route then descends across slopes thick with pincushion proteas to the saddle, before climbing steeply up again to Noordhoek ridge. From here new views across False Bay and the Southern Suburbs! An easy descent brings hikers to the Silvermine Tented Camp for more luxury camping in a peaceful glade that feels very far from the bustle of Cape Town.

 

Drip disa on Table Mountain

Drip disa on Table Mountain

The third day’s route traverses the Silvermine section of the Table Mountain National Park, before dropping steeply down Blackburn Ravine above Hout Bay. The trail levels off and contours around Constantiaberg, with amazing views and beautiful flowering fynbos. New valleys and peaks appear around each corner, and making one realize just how expansive Table Mountain really is. After traversing Vlakkenberg, the route descends to Constantia Nek, with views of the Cape Town Winelands, and continues on to the Orange Kloof Tented Camp. This camp is many people’s favourite as it is situated in a clearing in the afro-montane forest of Orange Kloof. Good food, comfortable beds, and the sounds of the forest birds await the hikers. Slackpacking at its finest!

 

The Woodhead Dam on Table Mountain

The Woodhead Dam on Table Mountain

The final day is perhaps the most spectacular. The route climbs up through the forests of Orange Kloof, and on up the Disa Gorge to reach the Back Table below the wall of the Woodhead Dam, built as part of Cape Town’s water supply in the early 1900’s. From here hikers traverse Table Mountain, discovering many hidden valleys along the way, and with the ever-present sea views to the west. On arriving at the front (northern) edge of the mountain, the City of Cape Town lies spread out at your feet. From here it is a steep walk down Platteklip Gorge to finish, or weather permitting, a ride down on the Cable Mountain Aerial Cableway. Either way it’s a spectacular end to a great hike. So if the idea of quality guiding, efficient logistics and tasty catering, on one of the world’s best trails appeals to you, then why not try slackpacking on Table Mountain?

 

For more information or bookings for this or other  slackpacking trails in the Cape, please click here

 

 


In search of wilderness; a Cederberg Adventure


Warm sunshine on the summit

Warm sunshine on the summit

The Cederberg Mountains are a hiker’s and climber’s paradise, situated just 3 hours drive north of Cape Town. The range is a proclaimed wilderness area full of trails, peaks and perfect crags just waiting to be explored. I recently led a three day trip up there which included hiking, scrambling, sport- and traditional rock climbing.

We drove up in the dark, which means the first-timers were treated to the magic of a Cederberg dawn as their first impression of the place. The sight of peaks being lit up by the first rays of sun while you sip your first cuppa is a special wilderness experience.

 

After breakfast it was time to go and play! We headed over to Kromrivier farm to get permits for Truitjieskraal. This area consists of a few acres of rock formations offering plenty of options for climbing. There is a range of quality bolted sport routes from grades 15 to 30, some established trad lines, as well as fun trails and endless rock scrambling opportunities. The rock is classic Cederberg sandstone, very featured and colourful. We spent the morning cranking on the sport routes, enjoying the peace and solitude of the place.

 

We had our lunch in an ancient San cave decorated with paintings. When the roar of the stove stopped, the silence set in and we were transported back to the time when herds of eland roamed the Cederberg.

 

After lunch we decided to switch to trad climbing, which involves placing one’s own protection gear during the climb. It is a more technical and involved style which demands concentration and commitment. We chose a 3 pitch route called “Slither me Timbers” on the tallest wall in Truitjieskraal. Half way up the wall we found ourselves crowded on a small ledge, shivering in our t-shirts as the sun sank towards the horizon. It was time to make a plan. We set up a secure anchor and abseiled off, vowing to return to retrieve the gear and complete the route. Back at Sanddrif camp it was time for food and wine under the starry Cederberg sky.

 

The next morning was windy and cold, but we packed warm clothes and tea, and headed up to the Wolfberg Cracks. After a steep approach the Narrow Crack Trail follows an ingenious route through tunnels, over chock-stones, and beneath huge arches in the deep canyon. Eventually we got to the top of Wolfberg and headed across to an area of small peaks and jumbled boulders. We dropped our packs and went scrambling! The freedom of movement on rock was fantastic as we found our way up, through, over and down several small peaks. The rain moved in so we returned to our tea-spot for shelter and refreshments. The way down was through the huge Gaper Crack with towering rock walls each side.

 

The third day was a Cederberg classic: blue skies, sunny and warm. It was time to settle the score with “Slither me Timbers”. Back at Truitjieskraal we were able to link the first two pitches, and the top pitch turned out to be superb: great exposure and good moves on solid orange Cederberg rock. Pulling onto the summit platform in the warm sun under a blue-bird sky was a special moment. A deep sense of satisfaction and oneness with nature was the lasting impression. Of course this doesn’t last forever, and soon it will be time to head out again in search of the wilderness experience of the Cederberg.

 

Contact Mike for a tailor-made Cederberg experience: info@guidedbymike.co.za

 

For pictures of this and other mountain adventures please go to: https://www.facebook.com/guidedbymike

 

 

 

 


Table Mountain reveals a secret.

 

Scrambling on Silverstream Buttress

High up on Silverstream Buttress

Table Mountain never ceases to amaze me. There are always more secluded corners to be found, and more secrets to be revealed. This time it was a perfect tea-spot up in the tablecloth: sheltered from the gale-force South-Easter and commanding a fine view over the Mother City. A place where the satisfaction of completing a challenging route up the mountain could be enjoyed with good company, and tea of course!

Silverstream Buttress is a magnificent rocky ridge that props up the eastern end of Table Mountain’s North Face. The route, opened in 1895 by Messrs Austin and Travers-Jackson, is a C grade scramble (rope may be required), up to the Ledges Traverse level; and a D grade (ropes are required) climb up to the top. (Click here for an explanation of the grading system). The rock pitches have some awkward and exposed moves, and should definitely not be attempted by inexperienced hikers.

 

The approach to the route takes in one of the most scenic parts of the Contour Path: the waterfall and rock overhangs of Silverstream Ravine. Soon after this however, you start up the Buttress, and here’s where the fun begins! Route finding is critical as you wind your way up the mountain, tackling wonderful rock pitches along the way. The fynbos is in its spring bloom, and the sights and scents are exhilarating. After a few hours a great spot on a shoulder of the buttress is reached: time for a break! The views are panoramic, but the wind has picked up and it’s getting chilly. We put on those all-important extra clothing layers, and push on to keep warm.

Scrambling on perfect Table Mountain sandstone

Scrambling on perfect Table Mountain sandstone

A few more fine scrambling pitches brings one to the Silverstream-Ledges Traverse, an ingenious traverse line which leads right around to the Newlands side of the mountain. From here there are various ways to reach the top, and we settle on Saddle Face, an exciting and exposed C grade scramble. As we top out the Tablecloth envelops us: it’s gale-force, freezing cold and visibility is poor. Survival instinct kicks in; we pull up our hoods and head for the nearest rock outcrop to look for a sheltered spot.

Well that was when Table Mountain revealed one of her secrets. As we rounded the corner of the outcrop, the wind dropped away to a whisper, the mist parted, and the late afternoon sun peeped through. In no time the stove was roaring, and tea was served. That’s when it’s time to sit back on a rocky seat, warm your fingers around a hot cuppa, and enjoy that special camaraderie of the mountains.

To book a hike or scramble, please email me on info@guidedbymike.co.za or phone me on +21(0)79 772 9808


Mountaineering in the Cape: Uitkykkop

Eva at the summit beacon

Eva at the summit beacon

Nestled at the foot of the Riviersonderend Mountains, just a few hours drive from Cape Town, is the village of Greyton. One of the peaks which loom over the village is Uitkykkop (Lookout Peak), a free-standing summit of 1465m, and this is what Eva and I set out to climb on a May week-end.

 

 

Cederberg boulders on the grassy vlakte.

Cederberg boulders on the grassy vlakte.

After a pleasant drive on back roads surrounded by colourful mountain and farm scenery, we reached Greyton and checked into the Zebra Moon Hiker’s Hostel. This solid old building once housed school children, but now accommodates hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. It is basic, but comfortable and affordable, and has that real “old school” feel. The upstairs rooms have spectacular mountain views, and for only R150 per person sharing. Greyton has a variety of restaurants if one is feeling too lazy to self cater at Zebra Moon. This also provides opportunities to meet the interesting local characters…

Looking down into Noupoortkloof, Uitkykkop on the left.

Looking down into Noupoortkloof, Uitkykkop on the left.

The next morning we drove to the Greyton Nature Reserve, from where many of the hiking trails begin, including the extremely popular Boesmanskloof Trail to Macgregor. There are trails for all here, from short easy strolls, to adventurous mountaineering and kloofing. We set off up the zigzags to the left of Noupoortkloof, and then branched off straight up the ridge to the first rock band. Here one has the option to go left to avoid the steep bit, or to do some mountaineering! We picked out a line, and scrambled up the buttress to find a perfect ‘second breakfast’ spot on top.  What could be better than kicking back with a coffee in wild mountain surroundings!

Second breakfast spot

Second breakfast spot

Rested and refuelled, we continued up and across a grassy vlakte with interesting Cederberg-style boulders. Far below us we could hear the roar of waterfalls in the deep, dark Noupoortkloof. The peak loomed ahead, but we could see that getting to the summit would involve a long slog up fynbos slopes, followed by more scrambling on the summit ridge. We decided on our turn-around time and then cracked on up the slope.

 

Eva powering up the slog

Eva powering up the slog

Summit fever, and the “mouse-path foot placements”, helped us see off the slog, and soon we were carefully picking our way up the final ridge. This section required some care as it was exposed and had some loose rock. Classic Cape mountaineering! We built a few beacons to be sure of finding the descent line if the clouds pulled in, and soon we were on the summit marvelling at the panoramic view over the mountain ranges all around. It is a special privilege to find, and write one’s name in, the summit book on one of these peaks.

The summit ridges below Uitkykkop.

The summit ridges below Uitkykkop.

Now it was time to get off the peak, and descend the “Hillary Step” before stopping for lunch on a sunny corner of the ridge. The descent went quickly, and soon we were back on the grassy vlakte. We detoured around the lower buttress, and made it down as the sunset bathed the peaks in glorious soft light. A great day out in a spectacular mountain environment! The whole round trip took about 8 hours, and hikers should be properly equipped with all-weather gear, food, water and cell phone programmed with emergency numbers.

 

On the way down in the evening light.

On the way down in the evening light.

For more information please contact Mike on info@guidedbymike.co.za


Hiking in Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve

On a recent ‘Karoo to Coast’ Tour, I visited the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve to do the 15km Leopard Trap Day Hike.

On the escarpment overlooking the Knersvlakte

On the escarpment overlooking the Knersvlakte

Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve is situated in the Bokkeveld Mountains, 16kms from Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape. The reserve offers a variety of hiking trail options: from day-hikes to a full seven day trail. The terrain is extremely varied, and provides wonderful views over the Oorlogskloof River canyon and the Knersvlakte below the escarpment.

The area was once a stronghold for the San Bushmen who hunted and foraged in the fertile valleys. The Khoi people grazed their herds on the plains below. When the Dutch colonists began exploring the Western regions from the late 1600’s, they soon came into conflict with the Khoi and San people, usually over the subject of cattle ownership. The reserve gets its name (“oorlog” means war), from a battle between trekboer commandos and a Khoi group led by Captain Klipheuvel in 1739.

Amaryllis flower

Amaryllis flower

The Reserve was established in 1983, and gradually developed into the hiking paradise that it is today. The area is fascinating from a geological perspective, as the Oorlogskloof River has cut through the top layers of Table Mountain sandstone and quartzite, exposing the softer valley shale and limestone. The trail layouts take hikers past, or through, some spectacular rock formations. The Mediterranean climate (winter rainfall), as well as the fact that Oorlogskloof lies in the transition zone between the Fynbos and Karoo Biomes, have produced the exceptionally high diversity of plant species in the area. The fauna list has 36 mammal species, including leopards, and 94 types of birds.

Exploring the depths of Spelonkkop

Exploring the depths of Spelonkkop

The Leopard Trap Day Hike starts from the camping area at Groot Tuin, with a chance to fill bottles at the Varkfontein spring. After crossing the plateau, the trail drops down into Saaikloof and passes through a tranquil Wild Olive forest grove. This is a good place to pause and enjoy the songs of among others, the Southern Boubou and Cape Robin. A short steep climb brings one up to the fantastic rock headland aptly named Spelonkkop (caving peak). Here the trail takes an intricate route through the canyons, caves and cracks that characterize Cape sandstone. Good fun indeed!

Hiking, or caving? It's a bit of both!

Hiking, or caving? It’s a bit of both!

On the eastern side of Spelonkkop an excellent coffee-break ledge can be found, which has a panoramic view over the Oorlogskloof canyon. We were lucky to be able to observe a troop of baboons foraging peacefully in the valley below. A detour down to the valley floor provides an opportunity for a swim in the river, but be prepared for a steep pull back up to the escarpment!

The trail continues along the rim of the Rietvlei river canyon, passing the stone leopard trap which gives the trail its name. A good lunch spot can be found on a rocky promontory high above the canyon. The next section is relatively level, but the terrain is very rough and rocky. The trail is very well marked, and leading hikers right to the western edge of the Bokkeveld escarpment. The views over the Knersvlakte are breath-taking, but do watch your footing as the trail is very close to the edge here. The return journey winds along the escarpment edge, before turning inland across the plateau, back down through Saaikloof, and eventually re-join the outward route.

Leopard spoor on the Leopard Trap Day Hike

Leopard spoor on the Leopard Trap Day Hike

The Leopard Trap Day Hike is, in the writer’s opinion, an excellent day out, in a spectacular area of pristine nature. The route is rough and demanding, and can take up to 10 hours if including a detour to the canyon floor. Hikers should be reasonably fit, and well equipped with all-weather gear, food and water. For permits and more information, please phone Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve on (027) 218 1159.


Trekking in India with World Challenge

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Misty blue mountains in Kerala, Southern India

I have recently signed up as an Expedition Leader for World Challenge, a UK-based company which sends groups of young people on Expeditions to exciting destinations across the globe.

As a Leader, my role is one of ensuring the safety of the group, while the students, or Challengers, organise all details such as budget, transport, food and accommodation. This provides fantastic experiential learning opportunities in spheres such as teamwork, decision-making and cross-cultural understanding.

 

On the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu

On the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu

The Expeditions consist of various phases such as: Acclimatization, Project, Trekking, and Rest ‘n’ Relaxation. What follows are some highlights of the Trekking phase in the Western Ghat mountains. This spectacular range stretch the length of India, and in the South divides the tropical Kerala state in the West, from the semi-desert of Tamil Nadu in the East.

The terrain consists of high peaks up to 2000m, with dense canopy forest in the valleys. Under the canopy the undergrowth has been replaced by cardamom, pepper and coffee plantations. Kerala is the heart of the Indian Spice-lands.

With our guides, Abid and Ragoo, on the trek

With our guides, Abid and Ragoo, on the trek

The trekking (hiking) is generally not too demanding, but dealing with the blood-sucking leeches takes nerves of steel! The other major challenge is the heat and humidity. The temperature is only in the mid 20’s, but the air is thick and moist, so the sweat rolls freely. Once up on the high peaks however, there are cool breezes and awesome views to restore your energy. the trek was very ably supported by Kalypso Adventures, an outdoor adventure company based in Cochi.

 

Descending rock slabs on day 3 of the trek

Descending rock slabs on day 3 of the trek

This was a training Expedition for me, and I received excellent advice from Phil Kennedy, who is a UK based outdoor instructor and guide, and a veteran of eight World Challenge Expeditions.

In June 2013 I will return to India to lead my own Expedition with Rustenburg Girls High School from Cape Town. This is a great new phase of my career which promises many rewarding experiences!

 

The team from St. Mary's DSG Pretoria showing SA "gees" on the trek

The team from St. Mary’s DSG Pretoria showing SA “gees” on the trek


Slack-packing on Table Mountain

Upper Cable Station, Table MountainThis is an article on multi-day slack-packing trails on Table mountain, written by Alison Stewart of the Sydney Morning Herald. I was the guide on this trail!

Contact me on info@guidedbymike.co.za if this looks like something for you.

Click here to read the full article.