“ALSO, and I think you will love this. I’ve heard of a route up Matroosberg on the South side (De doorns). Much steeper than the 4×4 track on the reserve side.” Ghaleed.
Correct on both accounts. It was definitely steeper and I did love it.
The Hex River Mountains are some of the most spectacular in the Western Cape. They kind of grab you as you exit the Huguenot Tunnel heading north. You can’t take your eyes off them, which is a bit of problem when driving on the N1.
Luckily Ghaleed was driving. Gave me a chance to stare at the dark silhouettes towering above us.
Ghaleed Nortje organises the Matroosberg Trail Challenge, a 36km trail run in the Matroosberg Reserve (There is also a 24km challenge and a 14km option). The event, now in its second year, starts and ends on the northern side of the peak, in the Matroosberg Private Reserve. This year’s event has been awarded official Skymarathon status and will be the first Skymarathon in South Africa. Today, Ghaleed and I were reccing the southern slopes of the Matroosberg; which at 2249m at the peak is the second highest mountain in the Western Cape.
These imposing mountains look inaccessible from the road but the 50km range offers the adventurous hiker a mountain range of opportunities. “The most adventurous mountains in the Western Cape,” said farmer and seasoned mountaineer, Retief Jordaan, owner of Tweespruit Farm. He knows these mountains well, having grown up in the area and hiked many of the routes on offer.
We started our hike on his farm, which sits at the base of the Mountain just outside the town of De doorns. The ascent from the farm starts at about 500m asl as apposed to the 1150m start on the Ceres (northern) side. Retief, who holds the unofficial record of 1 hr 45 min to the peak, says “this is the real route up.” He also said that AJ Callitz, top local trail runner and confirmed entrant for the MTC, is threatening a training visit to the area and that his record may not last long.
Ghaleed and I were not after any records but hoped to make the summit in about 3 – 3 1/2 hours. I wasn’t really taking into account the snowy and icy upper slopes (luckily more snow than ice) and the poor visibility near the top.
Luckily we had Stoffel and Mika, two border collies from the farm, to accompany us. “They know the route,” said Retief. “Just make sure they don’t go down the other side. It’s a bugger to get them back.” Said Christine, Retief’s wife and founder of Hex Valley Down a down products industry she runs from their farm.
Retief at 60 + is lean and fit. He walked us up for an hour or so without breaking sweat and sent us on our way with some route instructions and two energetic dogs. Now I was greatful for the dogs’ company and not for a second did I doubt the dogs’ navigational skills. What I did doubt was their patience to wait for us. I needn’t have.
Much of the route is marked with cairns and because of the low vegetation it’s ok to veer off the path now and again. We continued upwards, skirting the ominous looking gorge below and eventually losing the comfort of the sun as we entered the cloud we had been watching since early morning. We traversed snow covered slopes, skirted or skated small patches of ice and made our way up following the dogs mostly.
Except in the snow, where you can’t see the path or cairns, we weren’t sure if the dogs were choosing the best route for them or us. On a recent trip a group and I turned back before reaching the summit of Seweweekspoort (the highest mountain in the Western Cape) because of iced up rocks, I wasn’t in the mood for a repeat.
No problem; between the dogs and Ghaleed’s tracker app on his Blackberry we safely reached the summit in about five hours. The top was windy and very cold; perfect weather to share a picnic with our trusty companions who didn’t seem fazed by the weather at all.
The dogs lead us down, out the mist and back to the warmer lower slopes, eventually arriving at the farm before dark. We enjoyed a home cooked meal with the very hospitable Jordaans before heading back to Cape Town, large silhouettes towering above us.