Its Saturday, well by now it’s Sunday, actually Monday – but we have started school and I need to re-focus my attention elsewhere. I know it is time for a Saturday Spot. And its post 300 – believe it or not, how on earth did that happen. So I am posting something completely different to my normal “family-family” stuff. Simply it is pre-kids… but not pre-husband!
By way of introduction we are not your typical hikers, our house isn’t packed with gear and we don’t dash out for weekends away sweltering through the Bushveld. In fact, as a family I would have to say we are stay at home and collapse in the shade with a book types… I used to take the kids up the mountain behind our house a couple of times a week but this has become well, not really an option from a personal safety point of view… this is South Africa after-all.
So here we go the story of my hiking life…
- The Wolfberg Cracks in the Cedarberg: As a young kid my family used to go on holidays to the Cedarberg, which is a fabulous craggy mountain range up the West Coast from Cape Town.
We would stay on a farm in the middle of nowhere… and I was the very youngest in a family of hikers. My parents were serious Mountain Club Members and my father had a series of hikes to get through over the period of the holiday. We would go on long endless hikes and I would spend my holidays following my brothers and sisters footsteps around the wilderness.
But there was one hike that I loved going on that no-one else liked – I would have to go it alone with my Dad! This hike you have to start before the dawn and walk vertically up a mountain, like vertically!!! Until you get to the top where there are great cracks (hence the name) through the rock formation you can go and explore in the heat of the day… the only shady place for miles and miles… In the middle of the day in the middle of a dessert at the top of a mountain you can find shady grassy patches even a couple of trees – a true oasis… one of my best spots on the planet.
- Kloofing down Suicide Gorge: Now kloofing, for the uninitiated is flinging yourself down a mountain, boulder hopping over massive rocks and no way out of the river bed except to fling yourself off waterfalls and follow the river down. As a student I did a lot of athletics and triathlon and heaps of energetic sporting mad events – that was before I had se7en kids to get me out of mischief. And as a bunch of students we could think of nothing better than spending a day kloofing. To be honest there were times when I was totally terrified but there is no going back and the ego is a great driving force!!! Now you should know this is completely out of character – I am not a natural dare devil – I would never bungee jump or leap from a plane. I think it was just the sporting, outdoor dashing, racing fun that got me.
- The Witels Week of Hell: While I was studying I started a holiday job in a new department and this adventure seeking girl asked me to go on a hike with her and her husband, her father and a couple of old experienced mountaineers. Now the Witels hike is a couple of days worth of kloofing… well mild kloofing, lots of stretches of river where you have to swim beneath awesome cliffs and a couple of days worth of boulder hopping. I was thrilled. I had never hiked overnight and I was looking forward to the physical adventure. Turns out that they were less equipped than I had anticipated! Firstly we left Cape Town late in the day and arrived at the base of the mountain in the dark, with a hike to the top and the first and only hut was at the summit. I should have known when she said she would do the catering and I just had to carry the pack. Well hello, I was carrying potatoes if you don’t mind – who carries potatoes on a five-day hike… like where were the dehydrated supplies from the camp shop. After the blazing dash up the mountain in the pitch dark: forget walking in a group, forget sticking to the path I should have just gone home – but how? At that stage I was still thinking forwards was an option. Turns out the entire event was a mad scramble each to his own, get yourself to the top of the mountain. Followed by five days of scrabbling down the river chasing people that walked anywhere except the designated route. Turns out her father couldn’t swim and we had to blow up an inflatable mattress at every stretch of river. Then he fell and broke his ribs and I looked like the fittest so I had to carry his full pack as well – and it was full, a change of clothes for each day for crying out loud – not to mention the potatoes. I spent the entire time praying for a rescue helicopter. The weather changed and I prayed harder. The river rose and I spent one night in a wet sleeping bag perched on a rock about half a meter from the raging torrent somewhere between the race ahead pack and the laggers. Needless to say I got home – potatoes and all – I survived and vowed never to hike again. I was cured. Totally cured.
- The Otter Trail: So a couple of months later, the father person who was working in the same department and was wooing me with flowers daily and gift wrapped chocolates – those were the days!!! And I still had the vague idea that I was never ever getting married or having kids for that matter – ha!. I was having a career. Anyway he was offered two places on the very coveted Otter Trail – It is the hike of all hikes, the waiting list is over a year and I would be mad to miss this once in a lifetime chance.
He knew I was not keen – slight exaggeration – desperate to find a way out more like it. Anyway he offered to carry everything I needed including our food for the entire hike. Did I ever mention that I am a minimalist and travel terribly light – seriously. Anyway he treated me to three course meals, deserts, snacks and days of wandering alongside the ocean past dolphins leaping, through beautiful forests it was just brilliant.
On one particular day there is a river crossing and from my previous experience I was a little less enthusiastic than the average hiker and got him up and walking (if you knew him you wouldn’t believe it) by four in the morning so as not to miss the low tide. Finally after crossing safely in knee deep water(!!!) we hiked the rest of the day. At the end of the day there was yet another smaller river to cross and the water was slightly higher than the tide line. Needless to say I dug my heals in, I was not crossing. Here it is mild as can be (!) but slightly higher than normal:
No worries, he brings out a blanket to sit on, snacks and some Cape Velvet Cream, a local liqueur! How’s that for preplanning! Eventually, as night fell the river went down and I got across into a long fore-sty archway filled with fireflies – how romantic is that!!! We got to the water tank at our hut and he – that would be the potential father person – says: “You have to marry me” and I said “Ok” – Put up a great resistance didn’t I! That’s it my fate was sealed, in the nicest possible way.
- Langebaan Spring Flower Hike: Now I have blogged about Langebaan before, its on the West Coast North of Cape Town and has the most amazing flower eruption every spring – you actually can not believe it if you haven’t seen it! The nature reserve is only open during the Spring each year, so it stays wild and rugged.
The hike is a really, really easy hike through the nature reserve: down the lagoon the first day and up the coast the next. The walk is flattish through fields and fields of flowers.
Not to mention right past wildlife, there are zebra and ostriches and a couple of buck roaming the plains. The animals are shy and tend to drift away but it is amazing to see. Anyway in remembrance of our romantic hiking engagement, I would carefully book a coveted place on the hike every year on or as to close to the father person’s birthday – only to recently discover that he would much rather have gone hiking at any other time and stayed home for his birthday – I said I was useless at birthdays for the father person!!!
- Samaria Gorge in Crete: The year before the arrival of our first kid we managed to go on a trip to Greece and Italy, I had a Conference close to the capital of Crete at Heraklion, not the best place in the Greek Islands to visit. Trust me on this, but that’s a-whole-nother post! However on the far side of the island is a little town called Chania and close to Chania is the Samaria gorge – this is why you go to Chania and then you are pleasantly surprised by a beautiful seaside town at the same time.
But I digress, whichever hotel you stay in will be fully equipped to wake you at whatever hour you need to be woken to get to the bus on time. You catch a bus to the top of the Gorge and walk all the way down to the sea. just follow the path and and the people and you can’t go wrong.
The walk is posted as 18 km but it is actually closer to 16 km. It is a long walk but really easy and there are craggy cliffs and amazing sites to see all the way down it. At the end of your hike you end up being “spat out” on a typical stoney Greek beach, where you collapse in a heap and wait for the ferry to return you home. Lovely and a must-do if you are ever in Crete.
- Table Mountain Storm: Finally if you live in Cape Town well you must have grown up hiking on Table Mountain. But how may people have slept on Table Mountain. Now a guy I shared an office with managed to book an overnight hut. And I was pregnant with Hood #1 but by now you know I love a challenge and I was so not daunted. We plotted and planned for weeks, what we would feast on and every details was planned for this once in a lifetime oppertunity. Turns out that during one the worst rain storms in living memory we were headed up the mountain. We should have stayed home. But it was that chance in a life time. So up we went in the torrential rain, we could hardly see in front of us. We got to the top and I was quite happy to turn around and go home – I had total and utter sense of humor failure. At which stage the father person told me to buck up, as my attitude was rather affecting the entire party. He also produced a large slab of chocolate and directed me to a far corner of the hut. The chocolate helped to recover my dignity, somewhat. And I can say that I have spent a night on top of Table Mountain. But needless to say it was our last significant hike!
And after all that we have become amblers… we amble places we never hike. We stroll along paths never hike and in fact if we could we would rather lie under a tree with a book than hike. I have to say we are not natural hikers.