News from The Leopard Trail
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.