News from The Leopard Trail
*** A special thanks to Jacques Marais for including the Leopard Trail in your book “More things to do in Moer and Gone Places”. www.jacquesmarais.co.za
Here is a snippet from his book:
Province – Eastern Cape
Closest Town – Willowmore (84km)
Destination – Baviaanskloof
Baviaanskloof – the name is derived from the Dutch for “Valley of Baboons” – is a narrow valley blessed with pristine natural grandeur, and run with narrow gorges, streams, steep mountain passes and vast waving grassland plains.
The valley is just under 200 km in length, and encompassed by the Baviaanskloof Mountains to the north and the Kouga mountains to the south. The Valley itself lies at a lower altitude than the Karoo to the north. Intensified rainfall from the Karoo filters into the Baviaanskloof, making it a lush landscape supporting a wide variety of fauna and flora.
The Leopard Trail Hike is a moderately difficult four-day, three night slackpacking hike and is suitable for people with good hiking fitness. Along the way you will encounter a few steep and rocky ascents and descents, with intermediate daily distances for the duration of the hike.
The hike itself follows a circular route from the Cedar Falls Base Camp. The trail starts Day 1 (9.2 k, 3 – 5hours) with quite a stiff walk up Kick-Start Hill to the plateau. At the half-way mark, you can opt to take a detour to Gabriel’s Pools where you can have a swim in the small pools. This is the only place to get drinking water during the day. The detour is 570m each way, so think of adding an hour to the hike for the day.
Day 2 (18km, 5 – 8 hours) starts with an easy 5.5km walk along Rhebok Valley. At the end of the valley, there is another optional detour (314m each way) to the Cedars viewpoint. On the way, there is a stream with drinking water and a pool in which to cool down. From the detour point, the trail climbs up to the top of the saddle where you will have breathtaking views of the Kouga and Baviaans foothills before dropping down to the Reflection Pools where you can swim and top up your drinking water.
Day 3 (22km, 6-9 hours) is the longest day of the hike. The trail leads you through pristine wilderness deep in the heart of the Baviaans and Kouga mountain landscape towards three major climbs: Honeybush Hill, Inconvenient Truth and Ain’t So Bad. At the half-way point, Draaipunt, there is yet again a 224m detour for drinking water. The remainder of the day is spent walking down the incredibly beautiful Kosey Kloof for 9km to the third overnight spot.
Finally, on Day 4 (12km, 3-5 hours) you’ll set off through the beautiful Birdsong Valley, only to reach Fond Farewell, a steep climb to the plateau after 4km. Once on the plateau, the trail leads through the Cauldron, a series of two small valleys followed by a steep descent into the Cedar Falls alley, which brings you back to base camp.
This is a slackpacking hike, but you have to bring your own tent, mattresses and sleeping bags; these are then transported from campsite to campsite in time for your arrival, so all you have to carry is a daypack with food and drink.
Overnight sites have a catering tent that provides a communal space for protection from sun, wind and rain. Each tent has a table, some benches, a sink and a twin gas cooking plate. Camping sites have been cleared around the catering tents. Overnight camps are equipped with pots, pans, braai grids, crockery and cutlery. Water is piped from the mountain streams into water tanks.
Types of Accommodation: Self-Catering
Camping: Yes – maximum 12 tents
Red Cliffs Farmhouse is an ideal base for hikers. The farmhouse is built around a 150-year-old stone-wall room that has been added on to and expanded over the years and now provides a tranquil refuge in the kloof. The large open-plan lounge has a fireplace for the cold winter nights. Four bedrooms can sleep up to 12 people. Linen and towels are supplied by prior arrangement. Accommodation is in two rooms with a king-sized bed in each, one room with six single beds, and one room with two single beds. There are two bathrooms, one with a shower and one with a bath.
Cedar Farmhouse sleeps eight, with bedding and towels supplied. Sleeping options include one double room with a king-size bed and three twin rooms with two single beds in each. There are two bathrooms and a private outside shower, spacious lounge, well-equipped kitchen and an old-fashioned wraparound veranda. The indigenous garden has a braai area.
Reasons to visit
The Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area is one of the most rugged and beautiful places in the country, with pristine wilderness, spectacular mountain passes and abundant wildlife, including the inevitable troops of baboons after which the area was named.
In addition to the Leopard Trail, The Cedar Falls Day hike should not be missed. The trail meanders alongside clear flowing streams inside beautiful kloofs. Starting and ending at Cedar Falls Base Camp, it will take 4- 6 hours (including lunch and swim stops). At two points along the trail, you will have to swim a few metres to get through a narrow gorge. If hiking in winter, be aware that the water will be very cold.
Go view San Paintings
The guided San Rock Art Walk is only available to guests staying overnight at the Cedar Falls Base Camp. The two-hour trip (45 minutes each way, with half an hour at the caves) takes you through the Leopard Kloof Valley to the San cave where the stunning Running Man painting is found. A 30cm image of a medicine man, wearing a mask and carrying hunting sticks, dominates the paintings.
The Leopard Trail Run is a circular two-day run, using the path of the four-day Leopard Trail Hike. Runners combine days 1 and 2 into a one day and days 3 and 4 into a second day. The trail is along a single track path and is 70% runnable, but care must be taken on the remainder due to steep ascents and descents where there is loose material on the path (more info at www.ecobound.co.za).
The attraction of the Baviaanskloof is best experienced on a multiday cycle ride, with overnight stops at self- catering farm cottages or campsites along the way. Spending time at Geelhoutsbos, Rooihoek and other hideaway spots along the way is a must. You may, however, feel the need for company if you plan on tackling this monster, and the best way of doing this would be to enter the annual Trans-Baviaans 24-hour MTB marathon. This event finishes near Jeffreys Bay and totals 230km – more info on www.transbaviaans.co.za .
Find your way: From Willowmore, take the N9 towards Uniondale. After 3km out of Willowmore take the road on the left signposted “Baviaanskloof”. Keep going straight on this road for 31km, at which point you enter the Nuwe Kloof Pass. Drive a further 7.4 km to a road on the right marked “Cedar Falls”. Drive 7km to Cedar Falls Base Camp.
Access: Gravel Roads
Cell Reception: Intermittent
GPS Coordinates: S33°34’31.28” ; E23 42’57.33”
Tel: +27 (0)74 939 4395
Issuing 10 Limited edition Golden Tickets is an amazing opportunity for ten hiking enthusiasts, families or hiking groups. The ticket holders will have 10 years of free hikes, and VIP access to bookings on the trail before the bookings are even open to the public. These tickets will become a legend in the hiking community – and we are offering the Golden Tickets at a price that works out at a 78% discount!
So why are we doing this?
Well, we received really fantastic news recently – confirmation that the Leopard Trail will receive overnight huts for hikers!
This means we are really close to getting the Leopard Trail, and all the community projects linked to it, completely up and running!
You may not be aware that the Leopard Trail is a project of the Another Way Trust (AWT). The AWT is a charity that does community development work in the Baviaanskloof. The Leopard Trail was the brainchild of the Trust in 2015, looking to drive employment in the area and create a sustainable source of funding for the trust’s community development work going forward. The Eastern Cape Parks And Tourism Agency (ECPTA) was enthusiastic about the idea, and after due process the AWT was given a 10 year concession to run the Leopard Trail in the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site.
Fast forward to now, and the ECPTA has raised the funds we need to build overnight huts on the Leopard Trail. The huts are a game changer for us in terms of making the project work. With huts we can target a much bigger market of hikers – not all hikers wanted to camp in tents, and hiking in winter now is a great option as the days are perfect for hiking and the huts will be warm at night. We reckon our hiking numbers will double once these are built.
We are ecstatic with this funding for the huts, as this makes it R4 million raised so far between the AWT and the ECPTA to launch the trail, and now build the huts.
We are now almost at the project total of R4.5 million– we are just R500 000 short. This last bit though is really vital, as it is for the reception building and restaurant at the start of the trail. This is a key component – the shop will sell community goods, and the restaurant will be licensed to a community team to operate. These bits are where the community really starts to benefit, and where the link between conservation and community opportunities becomes even more real.
So now we are very keen to raise this last R500 000 – thinking about it as only ten contributions of R50 000. If we can get ten people from our network of hikers to contribute, then this project is done. Though obviously we want to add significant value to those who are contributing to the project.
Which brings us to the Golden Tickets.
Good luck to the first ten lucky hikers to claim their ticket, and thanks for supporting the work of the Another Way Trust.
As most of our friends know, a mountain fire swept through our section of the Baviaanskloof in December. As sad as it was to see the land burnt and as wonderful as it is to watch the veld recover, we must accept that fires here are a natural phenomenon, and an important ecological process in the fynbos ecosystem.
It is the magic and beauty of this ecosystem and landscape that makes the Leopard Trail such an iconic trail in South Africa, and we accept that fires of this nature are a part of our operating environment.
For some insight to the recovery of fynbos, here’s a timeline from the desk of the ecologist at The Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency:
“Fire is normal in fynbos systems and many plant species require fire. It is the most important natural disturbance in fynbos biomes. Fire provides an opportunity for seedling establishment – most recruitment of seedlings in fynbos happens in response to a fire. As fynbos vegetation ages, there is a decline in diversity as the vegetation becomes tall and some species are shaded out. Fire is therefore required to maintain diversity.
“The response of fynbos vegetation to fire is complex. Plants have various fire survival strategies, principally divided into two groups: resprouting plants and reseeding plants. Resprouting plants often have insulating mechanisms to allow them to survive fire (for example, Protea nitida has thick bark on its stems that insulates buds from fire damage. Resprouters include plants that resprout from fire-resistant rootstocks, such as the grasses and species such from the Proteaceae (Leucadendron salignum, Protea cynaroides), Restionaceae (reeds) and Cyperaceae (sedge) families.
“After a fire, the vegetation will move through various stages until reaching its climax structure and composition – this is known as post-fire succession.
“Early stages are characterised by a high cover of grasses, the emergence of post-fire ephemerals and also flowering of geophytes. Resprouting of perennial shrubs occurs very quickly after the fire (within two weeks). With all the new growth, the veld looks very green. The rejuvenation of grasses after a fire is very important for the grazing mammals inhabiting mountain fynbos (such as Cape mountain zebra and red hartebeest).
“Fire stimulates flowering in certain species, especially in geophytes (plants with underground bulbs or tubers). This is largely due to the indirect effects of fire, such as changes in soil temperature and nutrient availability. In the Baviaanskloof, species that can be found flowering in response to a fire include Watsonia knysnana, W. schlecteri and W. wilmaniae, Boophane disticha, Brunsvigia josephinae, Cyrtanthus montanus, Haemanthus coccineus, Haemanthus sanguineus, Nerine humilis, Disa pillansii, D. porrecta and D. cornuta, Satyrium acuminatum and S. bicorne.
“Fire ephemerals are short-lived species that complete their life cycles in the period immediately after a fire. Germination is stimulated by fire. Species include Ursinia paleacea, Aspalathus spp., Thesium strictum and T. virgatum.
Some reseeding Erica species appear to have a delayed germination after fire and only appear after more than a year after a fire.
The reseeding Proteaceae are generally the slowest to mature and have long juvenile periods. For example, Protea neriifolia, P. mundii and P. repens take at least four years (often longer) to begin flowering in the Baviaanskloof.”
You can also an idea from this site: http://www.fynboshub.co.za/fynbos-diversity/when-the-smoke-settles-new-life-begins/
ABOVE: A little protea snapped on The Leopard Trail by Kobus Conradie in April 2017
Getaway magazine editor Sonya Schoeman & photographer Teagan Cunniffe walked our four-day hike last year.
“And finally I’m standing on top of the world, incredulous at what I’ve achieved, and marvelling at the exquisite, untouched world around me, while a pair of eagles soars close by, judging life and death below. I think to myself, I’ve walked through a story about the land, the people, the creatures, the heartbreak they’ve all faced, the hope and philosophy and exquisite landscape. And then I turn and take one step, and then another step and then another…”
Read about all the trail and Sonya’s experience in Why You Should Walk the Baviaanskloof’s Leopard Trail.
See how Teagan captured their expedition in In Photos: Baviaanskloof’s Leopard Trail.
Last year passionate trail explorer Andy Wesson did our challenging two-day trail run in one day. Respect!
This year, he and his mates are doing it again, from the other direction. We’ll let you know how he finds it.
Read his review in TRAIL mag here:
Fires bring change to the Leopard Trail
One year into the Leopard Trails life, and the first major upgrade to occur is flush toilets! Each overnight spot now has a flushing toilet – a great luxury in this remote wilderness. Next we may even put in hot showers…. (nah, unlikely. Sorry)
In January the fires destroyed the overnight camp for the end of day 2. The only sign to mark where the toilet used to be was melted glass from the window, and a water tank melted down to the level of the water that was in it. The original toilets were enviroloo’s – great dry composting toilets, and environmentally friendly. However in the heat of the Baviaans, and with twelve hikers every day in summer, the toilets had started to smell….
With Camp 2 having to be rebuilt, we worked with our partners at the Eastern Cape Parks And Tourism Agency to evaluate the environmental impacts of flush toilets and septic tanks. The verdict was that, if done right, there would be no impact at all. And with water at each camp site not a problem, it was an easy decision.
Bucketlist Lab takes a walk on the Leopard Trail
Bucketlist Lab is always on the look out for unique and spectacular experiences. After the fires on the Leopard Trail in December and January, they were the first to call us and ask how soon they could walk the trail.
As Bucket List Lab said after posting this video, “The regrowth after the fires is one of the most exciting times to experience nature. Having walked the Leopard Trail many times before, we were dead keen to walk the landscape. The stark landscape was incredible to walk through. The video was taken shortly after the devastating fires. Nature is already at work to restore our beautiful kloof. Exciting times ahead!”
Wild Mountain Fires burnt 95% of the mountains in and around the Leopard Trail.
Over 3 weeks in December fires blazed through the landscape of the Leopard Trail, and around the Cedar Falls Base Camp. The veld had not burnt in 9 years, and with a huge fire load (the name given to the amount of dead and dry fynbos) and perfect fire conditions, a small fire that started in the south of the Kouga mountains swept all the way up to our area. After 3 weeks, very little vegetation was left.
Over 90% of the landscape through which the Leopard Trail runs was completed burnt, leaving only isolated valleys and narrow kloofs with green vegetation. Camp site 2 was destroyed, and most of the vegetation around the base camp.
At the time of the first fires 2 groups of hikers were at Cedar Falls Base Camp preparing for their Leopard Trail Hike. Both groups were put on ‘wait’ while we waited to see what happened with the trail. On day two of the wait period the fire changed direction, moving onto the Leopard Trail, and surrounding the base camp. A call was made to evacuate all hikers, and cancel over 130 hikers that were due over the next 2 weeks.
By the second week of January the fires had burnt through, leaving the overnight Camp 2 destroyed.
In terms of natural processes, the December fires were a vital part of the ecosystem. Fynbos is well adapted to the dry summer climates in which fires thrive, and the fires will bring a rapid rejuvenation of the vegetation.
Summer’s just around the corner. Here are a few key pointers to walking The Leopard Trail in the heat of the Baviaanskloof summer.