Day 1: (9,2 km’s)
8 women between the ages of 41 and 65 stayed at Cob Cottage and Hiker’s Hut the night before the hike would start. (Chicken curry)
We got up at 06h00 on day 1 and was on the trail by 07h30. Willem had to show us where to start. The first hill starts only a few hundred meters into the walk and is a very steep jeep track. It plateaus out in the middle, where there is a watering hole with many animal spoor. I suspect that if one had to walk up to here quietly before sunrise, you would have ample game viewing. At this point a few mountain reebok crossed our path and ran away to the ridge on the right. The hill continues up until you reach an almost prairie like plain. From here on there are no more inclines for the day and the walk is very easy and fast. It is approximately 4,5km’s to Gabriel’s Pools which is clearly sign posted. This 500 meter detour takes about 10 minutes to walk, and takes you past the old remains of a building and a commemorative stone to Gabriel van Jaarsveld, after whom the pools are named. You pass a spectacular tree on your left. Gabriel’s pools are situated in a narrow kloof with high side walls. The first pool is small, good enough to soak your feet or wet your gear. An easy scramble takes you up to the second pool, where you can see the place the waterfall will come down when there has been rain – the rock is ancient and worn smooth. The second pool is much bigger and you can swim in it. There are a wide range of frogs here, who are quite shy. We also observed a strange line in the water – as though the water on the right and the water on the left were moving in different directions. There were more ripples (from the wind) on the right, than on the left of the pool. We summised that the line was due to an underground water source like a spring, pumping water into the pool, or simply an effect of the wind cutting in through the right side of the kloof, whereas the left was more wind sheltered. It got quite cold in the kloof, so we left and walked on. The rest of this day’s walk went very quickly. We ended off by walking in and along a riverbed, inside a small kloof, with ample tress and forest vegetation. This would have been a good place to have a much longer stop, as, unbeknownst to us, Camp 1 was literally just around the corner. We had a shortish lunch stop and then walked on, with Camp 1 on our immediate left shortly afterwards – 12h00. Our crates were due at 15h00, but were already there when we arrived.
(Green pepper, lentil, chick pea and tuna hot salad)
Day 2: (15,9 km’s)
Started (07h30) by back-tracking along the same route as the end to Day 1. Again, easy, prairie like walk across open flood plain covered in savannah. At 5,5 km there was a detour to Cedar Views. 3 of us did the detour and the rest took a long break and then started climbing up the steep hill. After climbing up the path, the route swings to the right and you follow the contours of the next valley. The path is narrow and challenging, with spectacular views all round. When you walk down the hills at the end, there are two small pools which are not indicated on the map. We had a discussion about whether this might be Reflection Pools, so some of us stripped down, wet our feet and took a break. Then it was immediately up a long steady and steep climb. When you reach the top, you can clearly see Dragon’s Ridge stretch away in front of you – with the dragon’s spine stretching from bum to head, facing away from you. Once on the saddle it was a meandering and treacherous walk down to the bottom, where you have to take a left to get to Reflection Pools. This was a very worthwhile stop and we spent some time here. There is a small pool at the top, and then a bigger and waist deep pool further down. Half of us swam here and we enjoyed sitting on the ledge on the left, which offered ample shade and a cool breeze. Following this ledge you can view Gabriel’s Pools from the top. There is a sign indicating kloofing is not allowed, as the water in Gabriel’s Pool is too shallow. So unless you are a mountaineer with equipment, you would not be able to take a short cut straight down. Leaving the pools you start another steep ascent, quite tricky underfoot. Here you can’t see the top, as you get to where you think the top is, and there is a bit more to go. Once at the top, the mountain opens up into a saddle. Once down here, you enter a flat walking stretch with small cedar (?) trees on both sides. This section was very hot. It eventually becomes a jeep track, which takes you to the bottom of Labyrinth Hill. Here you can choose to either go over the two hills or follow the jeep track past the cottages and the entrance to Basecamp. Half of us followed each route. Following the jeep track, you pass the path to the waterfall, so walking to the waterfall is also an option, but day 2 had been long, and we headed straight for camp. You encounter the reservoir first and we spent some time here before walking the remaining 100 m’s or so to Camp 2. The hikers who took the hill jumped into the reservoir clothes and all, saying that the hill was very steep and hot. Camp 2 is situated against a slope, with the toilet some distance away up the hill and the shower some distance away down the hill. Needless to say we did more ‘knyp’ at this camp than any of the others as by now we were feeling weary. (Kassler, sweet potato, roasted onion & three bean salad)
Day 3: (17,5 km’s)
Having read the Getaway article and having had our friends complete the trail a few days before us, we were all terrified of the hike, but especially of day 3 – the longest day. We started (07h50) in riverbeds and the going was easy. We knew we had 3 big hills ahead of us, so we got going early and pushed through the first section at speed. The three hills, named Honeybush Hill; Inconvenient Truth and Not so Bad, were very similar. There is a turn in the path, you look up and see the saddle, you wind up a steep incline and then you reach the saddle. The first hill was the worst, as we had to get up out of the riverbed, so that first section was very steep and rocky. The hill walking bits were not as steep and had easy paths. Once you get close to the top of the saddle, the wind comes through and starts blowing around you. This is very welcome as you are very hot by then, but also because you know that you are close to the top. We stopped at the top of Honeybush Hill as there is a lovely flat section and some big rocks to sit on, but quickly moved over the saddle and out of the wind, where we had a longer break. From this flat section you could see Inconvenient Truth in front of you. The hill is very aptly named as you can hardly imagine doing another very steep hill after having just come up Honeybush. The descent down Honeybush Hill was steep and treacherous, but doesn’t take you back down to the same level as Camp 2, so the climb up Inconvenient Truth doesn’t include a very steep and rocky ascent in the first section. I found Ain’t so Bad was very similar to the other two, even though the profile map indicates that it is lower. The reason it isn’t as bad, is because you now know you have the hardest part of the day behind you. The rest of the day is either downhill or fairly flat. Once you come down the 3rd hill, you should reach Draaipunt, at the 10 km mark and the path veers at a 90 degree angle to your left. There should be a short detour to pools here, but it is not indicated. We scouted forwards and backwards for this, but couldn’t find it. We eventually stumbled across a small pool and stopped there for lunch. Now we had 7, 9 km’s left. The next part of the walk is the open section of a kloof or riverbed and there are many trees and a lot of shade, albeit not over the path itself. About 2 km’s down this track, the kloof closes in and you are in a narrow section between steep rock cliffs. This whole section was by far the most beautiful of the walk, with very impressive cliff faces, caves, small pools and a lot of undergrowth. The downside is that the latter part of it has you walking down a riverbed again and by now your feet are shouting at you because of the hard and unsteady rocks that have your feet braking and self-correcting at every step. We had a fairly unplanned and long stop about 3 km’s before the end. When you are in the kloof section you are in full shade. It is also late afternoon by now. There are beautiful trees and none of us felt like getting up and walking the rest of the way. Nearly at the end there is a reservoir and paths indicated with stones on either side, and we are unsure whether this is the camp or not. We decide to walk on and the camp is about 750 m’s further, on our left. This is by far our favourite camp. There are hooks for our bags, and we all hang them up immediately and fall upon our crates for some soap, clean clothes and refreshments. We are very relieved the loo is close by.
(Mexican beans, crème freche and lettuce in wraps)
Day 4: (11,9 km’s)
By now you are either fit or shattered. We start at 07h30 and follow an easy and beautiful flat path through savannah, exiting at the back of the camp site. At 3,5 km’s we start to ascend. Birdsong Valley is absolutely beautiful. There is a narrow kloof, many small ups as you start scrambling up the hill, and plenty of undergrowth. We were told that on Day 4, you go up and think you are at the top, just to realize you have another bit to go, and so on and on, until you have ‘summitted’ about 6 times. I had forgotten about this so tackled the first steep uphill, which zigzagged with loose soil, loose rocks and high steps, up, up and up. When I thought I was at the top (the first time), there was a scary rocky section. By now you are very high, and the drop-offs are sheer. The view across the plateau is breathtaking. The ledge in front of you is narrow and you keep on checking if you are going the right way. Once I had overcome my vertigo and traversed this section, I began to realize that there was quite a bit more to come. I loved the rock scrambling in this section as there is no soil and so your footing is secure. You are climbing more than walking, so you are not really out of breath, there is a stiff breeze, so you are not hot, and all around you the world unfolds. You can’t even see your fellow hikers, as they are hidden by the jutting rock ledges. Once past the rocky section, the path starts to zigzag a bit again and it is a flattish path with a decent ascent and you start to see the top of the hill. Head down and off you go. In the end I was quite disappointed that the path then turned to the left of the very last piece of hill, leaving 20 meters before the actual summit. Other hikers felt this hill was an unnecessary inclusion in the hike, but it was nonetheless probably the most awesome part of my hike. I waited for a long time on the path following the end of the ascent. When the others caught up, we started walking down and into the cauldron. There were some steep downhills here and then we followed the contours again, going down at the mouth of the intersecting valleys, and up the sides of the intersecting hills. At one point you start walking next to a fence with several ladders placed over the wires at points. We stopped for a longer break at the hand-built dry stone wall and took refuge from the wind which was howling on the other side of the hill. After this we knew were getting close to basecamp, so pressed on down the jeep track, then across the valley floor and onto the gravel road for another km or two before we reached basecamp.