Seweweekspoort

The ice fields on the upper slopes.

I should have seen it as an omen when on the Friday night I almost got frost bite while digging out a beer in Dirk’s cavernous cooler box packed with ice.

The next time I would see that much ice was the following day at about 2100m asl on the upper slopes of Seweweekspoort (SWP). SWP, at 2325m, is the highest mountain in the Western Cape. Only this time it was the steep slopes that were covered in ice and there were no beers in sight.

The upper slopes are all rock and plants with the ice covering making them both beautiful and treacherous. The sun glinting off the icy plants made the scene surreally dreamlike but with the promise of possible nightmares never far away. The ice was courtesy of the previous night’s rain; but despite conditions being like a high altitude ice skating rink, we decided to press on carefully and try reach the summit.

We had worked hard to reach this point and the thought of turning around without seeing the spectacular views promised from the summit was not a pleasant one. Six hours of tough hiking, including an early morning bundu bash through cold and wet fynbos, a minor cat fight with two of our party and hours of uphill slog, albeit it in stunning surroundings, had got us here.

Seweweekspoort

Seweweekspoort summit: So near - yet so far

We had set a turn around time of 2pm and as the hour neared Jane was in front. She took one look at the precipitous icy scramble near the top and declared it unsuitable. So we turned around, making one of those tough but important decisions hikers and climbers often need to make when near a summit. The good news is it left us some unfinished business on SWP and we will return. We had ascended up the southern route, a longer but more scenic ascent than the northern approach, which we will attempt next time.

Sleep came easy after a 10 hour day washed down with some cold ones but I was up at 3am for a promised meteor shower. Sure I saw a few shooting stars, not difficult in the dark country skies, but certainly not the 80 a minute we were expecting. Worth a shot but I didn’t get much sleep after that.

Towerkop

Towerkop in the distance

A few hours later and five of our original party set out to hike the imposing Towerkop. TK has a cool story attached. Apparently the peak was slashed by a witch who, in a hurry to fly home found a large peak looming before her; she whacked it with her broomstick, splitting it in two. Who were we to argue and it sure was magic up there.

In perfect autumn weather we had made our way up the scenic slopes, quite relieved to find a trail most of the way up. The peak is also one of the highest in the region and we eventually reached our destination, Nel’s Cave, at the base of the famous split peak. Only climbers with equipment can reach the summit so we enjoyed lunch at about 2000m with some of the most spectacular views imaginable before descending via the same route.

This ended a perfect weekend’s hiking in the Klein Swartberg Mountains, which are anything but klein (small). A weekend where we spent almost all of the daylight hours in the mountains. Just the way it should be.

We used Koedoeskloof Country Lodge as our base. The lodge has both camp sites and rooms for those so inclined as well as a cool little restaurant with roaring fire and home cooked meals. Hosts and owners Debra and Eugene made us feel quite at home and the place is perfect to use as a base camp for exploring the magnificent surrounds.

More Pics: SeweweekspoortTowerkop

Towerkop

The magic views from Towerkop

 

Mike Lundy. Best Walks in the Cape PeninsulaMike Lundy has being hiking and indeed writing about hiking for longer than most people have been walking. The fact that he continues to update his books and has maintained a love for the mountains, so evident in his many publications, is testimony to his fitness and dedication to the mountains that he so often frequents.

Mike’s Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula was the book that first got me interested in the mountains and I hiked many of these routes for the very first time using these guides  His hikes are well chosen, well described and  his books contain a wealth of useful information and some great pics.

From the Book:

A bestseller for 21 years, Mike Lundy’s Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula remains one of the most popular books on hiking in Cape Town.

Each of the 30 walks in this guide has been carefully chosen because of a particular point of interest, be it a waterfall, cave, indigenous forest, shipwreck or spectacular viewpoint. This classic selection of routes ranges from challenging climbs to the top of Table Mountain to leisurely strolls among the fynbos (and everything else in-between). Practical advice on mountain safety, local weather conditions and how to deal with snakes ensure that the hiker is given a clear idea of what to expect.

For this eighth edition, all route descriptions and maps have been brought up to date and photographs have been added for lively interest.

Each route  includes:

  • Easy-to-follow direction
  • Accurate route map
  • Average hiking time
  • GPS coordinates for start and finish  points
  • Grading that covers  difficulty and exposure
  • Notes on the availability of water
  • Advice on whether dogs can be taken along
  • Fascinating information on historical sites,  plants, trees and birds  en route

The GPS tracks for each walk can be downloaded from www.gpstravelmaps.com/bestwalks.php

Avid hiker Mike Lundy has written several books and more than 200 magazine and newspaper articles on  walking and has presented weekly radio reports on  hiking. He has  received a merit services  award fromthe Hiking  Federation of Southern Africa for his exceptional contribution to the hiking
community.

Those interested in a bit of adventure, the outdoors and nature will have an opportunity to attend three presentations hosted by Cape Union Mart at their Adventure Centre in Canal Walk, Cape Town, in June and August.

The topics covered will be slackpacking, multi-day hikes and black eagles.

The presentation on slackpacking, held in partnership with Getaway Magazine, looks at this increasingly popular mode of hiking. Slackpackers travel light, carrying only water, lunch and a camera as their gear is shuttled ahead to the overnight stop. They end the day’s hike – often guided – with a hot shower, chilled drinks, a good meal and a warm bed. In this one-hour talk Nick Bennett discusses South African slackpacking trails and guides you through how to prepare and what to pack. He’ll highlight the Donkey Trail, which starts near Calitzdorp and meanders over the Swartberg Mountains.

Multi-day hikes like the Otter Trail and Fish River Canyon are well known and much loved. There are also others, like the Rim of Africa, which will be discussed in this one-hour presentation by Nick Bennett. Developed in the same vein as North America’s Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails, Spain’s Camino de Santiago and South America’s Sendero de Chile, the Rim of Africa is a 650 kilometre length of mountain paths between the Cederberg and the Garden Route’s Outeniqua Mountains. Bennett will discuss how to prepare for multi-day hiking as well as suitable gear for different regions and seasons.

The Black Eagle Project (BEP) was initiated in 2011 and the research is undertaken by post-graduate student Megan Murgatroyd (UCT). Her study focuses on the effects of land use on the diet and hunting habits of the Black Eagle (Aquila verreauxii; formerly known as Verreaux’s Eagle) in the Cederberg Mountains and the Sandveld. The Cederberg is a region that remains relatively pristine while the Sandveld has undergone extensive land conversion for agriculture.

In this fascinating presentation, Murgatroyd will introduce the Black Eagles – their diet, hunting behaviour, breeding cycle and how she monitors nests. She’ll also fill you in on her findings thus far and the breeding status between the start of the project and the current breeding season.

All presentations are free but seating is limited so it is essential to reserve your place. This can be done through the Events page on the Cape Union Mart website – www.capeunionmart.co.za/events. Presentations start at 6.15pm for 6.30pm and will be one hour in duration. Drinks and snacks are served after the presentation and attendees can take advantage of on-the-night discounts in store.

Presentation summary

  • Slackpacking: Thursday, 28 June @ 6.15pm for 6.30pm.
  • Multi-day hikes: Thursday, 2 August @ 6.15pm for 6.30pm.
  • Black Eagle Project:  Wednesday, 22 August @ 6.15pm for 6.30pm.

All presentations take place at Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Canal Walk, Cape Town.

Running up and down Cape Town’s three peaks (Devils Peak, Table Mountain and Lions Head) isn’t most people’s idea of fun – but it is mine. This is kind of strange as I usedto hate running. Well hate is a strong word; I just didn’t like it much. I loved hiking though and found once I got into it that I could hike pretty fast up some fairly steep mountains. Then I saw an article in the paper about the Three Peaks Challenge which caught my interest, but after reading that they start in town near to Greenmarket Square and return to the Square after each peak, I laughed to myself, thought “fucking crazy” and lost interest.

The following year, 2002, the Three Peaks reared its beautiful three heads again and a friend, a Celtics runner at the time, told me to phone fellow Celtics runner Gavin Snell, the organiser of the event. As sceptical as I was I soon found myself chatting to Gavin who told me about the event, showed me some pics and hauled out his shoebox of memorabilia including the hand carved trophies of the Three Peaks that every finisher gets. The trophies are made by Don Hartley, founder and co-organiser of the event. All well and good I said but I don’t run. Don’t worry said Gavin you’ll be fine. Far from convinced I decided to give it a bash and entered.

Three Peaks Challenge 2011I started doing some running, completed my first half marathon in the process, and on the first Saturday in November, 2002 I found myself lined up in Long Street at 5am with a bunch of other nutters. About 8 ½ hours later I completed my first challenge, had the best time and was hooked – not just on the Three Peaks but on trail running in general.

November 2011, nine years later, I have completed my 10th Challenge. Those years have seen me become a seasoned trail runner who now loves running and has his own shoebox of Three Peaks memories. I have watched the local trail running scene explode into a main stream sport with many roadies finally seeing the light and now stretching their legs regularly if not exclusively on the mountains. Where once there were a handful of trail events there is now one almost every week.

While the trail running scene has changed I’m glad to say the Three Peaks Challenge has not. The organisers are the same, the atmosphere is the same, and the entry fee kept affordable, unlike many events which charge almost 3x that amount for far less, and you still receive a hand carved Three Peaks trophy if you finish. More importantly I still love this event. I have roped in many an unsuspecting runner who landed up running next to me at some run or another, burning their ears with tales of this special event – some of them completed their 5th challenge this year. The one difference is that nine years ago you could phone Gavin the night before and get an entry – that is no longer possible.

Thanks Gavin, who has not only organised all 15 events to date –read the history of the event here –  but has run every one as well –  and thanks Don for starting this event in 1997, 100 years after it was first completed. Looking forward to no 11.

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