A Mini Traverse with Mini Humans

Having sailed oceans, cycled continents, and hiked mountain ranges, I’m no stranger to a life of adventure. A little over a year ago adventure in the traditional sense was temporarily put on hold as one of life’s grandest adventures began:  fatherhood. A baby boy named Kei. The term “on hold” is entirely subjective, of course. Given the opportunity, adventure, big or small will find a way.

One of my greatest hopes as a parent is to see my child(ren) grow up with a sense of wonder for the wilderness, a respect for nature, and a love of the outdoors. I want them to get to the top of that mountain pass, lungs burning in their chest as are the blisters on their feet, and say “Wow, how beautiful!”, everything else forgotten in that moment. But how to encourage this sense of exploration without forcing it? How does one gently nudge your child towards a life of adventure? My belief? Exposure. Expose your kids to the wonder of these places at every opportunity and they too will learn to love and adore the wild spaces of our planet. This is the theory, at least. Time will tell. And so with this in mind begins our tale of little feet filling big shoes, in one of South Africa’s most beautiful wild spaces, The Cederberg.

The cast consists of two families. The Liddell’s starring Kei Liddell, aged 13-months, carried by his mother Romy. The mule carrying well, everything else, played by my good self. The gallivanting Grays starring Georgie and Sophie Gray aged 10 and 7 respectively. Parents Scott and Kez working tirelessly backstage making sure the stars of our story were always ready for the next kilometer. It’s truly amazing the distance a promise of sour worms will take you!

This hike, also known as The Cederberg mini-traverse, starts at Pakhys pass in the northern Cederberg and finishes at the farm of Driehoek, for a total distance of 54km over four days. This would be the first multi-day hike for Kei and the girls. The first of many, we hope. After all, the best tales all need a sequel. Four days hiking through the rugged wilderness is no simple feat, even for the accomplished hiker and the fact that Georgie and Sophie would be doing it under their own steam, carrying their own gear, makes it all the more impressive.

The night prior to setting off, we stayed at Alpha Excelsior, a beautiful working farm in the heart of Rocklands, the world famous climbing area. During the winter months the world’s best climbers descend on this generally quiet and tranquil valley to test their worth against the Cederberg sandstone. Becky and James who run the farm are the most wonderful hosts, and James kindly offered to give us a lift to the top of the pass where the hike starts. We had already dropped a car at Driehoek which would be needed to get us back to Rocklands upon completion. Bags packed, meals dehydrated and logistics sorted, we were ready to hit the trail.

Kei weighing in at roughly 13kg’s meant Romy had little to no room for extra weight. The burden would fall to me to carry everything two and a half people would need for four days in the mountains. A burden I was more than willing to bear to expose our son to the beauty of the Cederberg. The fact that he won’t remember this is beside the point. Hopefully some meaningful impressions are forged into that little brain of his. Generally on a hike such as this, your pack gets lighter and lighter as you work your way through your food. The only problem hiking with a baby is that the nappies accumulate at a disproportionate rate, and the pack gets heavier and heavier. Quite the bum ride for dad.

We hopped out James’ kapok trok at the top of the pass and were off on our adventure. Day 1 saw us mostly on jeep track through the climbing areas and beyond. Our goal was to make it to Heuningvlei hut, 12km for the day. It was hot and the ice-cold streams were all welcomed with open arms and bare bums. The huts are rudimentary structures, and we didn’t plan to sleep in them, but they provide some form of shelter from the wind, flat ground, and are all close to water. So going from hut to hut was the game plan.

We reached Heuningvlei hut in good time and setup up camp. The Grays, who had opted for the “no tent” option to save weight, plonked themselves next to the hut on their mats for their first night under the stars. We decided to bring our new 3-man tent, a palace really, but dad was carrying so what the hell. In hindsight a good call, as one of the nights got down to the lower single digits and Kei ended up inside my sleeping with me.

Day 2 took us to the beautiful plains of Boontjieskloof, only 10km’s away. A good place for a short day as the hut is situated on a river and we spent the afternoon picnicking and dipping in the rockpools. Some clouds rolled in in the evening which made for an epic sunset and even better sunrise. One can do this hike in a day less, but with kids and baggage it was nice to keep the daily distances relatively short so we could take it slower, explore more, and ensure smiles on faces.

Leaving Boontjieskloof we set off early, aiming for Crystal Pool 14km away. We knew this would be the toughest day as we had to hike up a steep kloof and over a mountain pass at the top. As always, totally worth it as the Cederberg landscape came into its own. Those that have experienced this unique mountain range will attest to the beauty and scale of the rock formations. Eroded over millennia the rocks take on lifelike shapes, imparting a tangible feeling of something ancient and as we popped our heads over the final crest so that we were overlooking the picturesque valley of Crystal Pool, one almost expected to see dinosaurs roaming below. No extinct creatures fortunately, but the view into that valley is truly something to behold and knowing this was home base for the night gave morale the boost it needed to forget the aches and pains and skip down toward camp, the dip in the crystal pool at the end of the day was the carrot that did the rest.

The final day was a long one, close to 18km and only really possible for us as it was mostly downhill. The morning saw us descending Groot Hartseer, an aptly named, steep descent translated as Big Heartbreak. The mind and body was very grateful that we were hiking north to south so that we were not forced to hike up this thing. The wobbly knees that often accompany a long, steep descent were much preferred to the sweat and tears had we been going the other way. Coming around the final corner we could see the monolith of Tafelberg on our left towering above all else, another adventure for another day. The oak trees where we had parked our car could be seen far in the distance on the valley floor below and marked the end of our journey.

As we drove away, leaving the mountains behind us, one got the sense that although we were leaving the Cederberg, the wilderness wasn’t leaving us… And she never will, my son. With her timeless knowledge she knows you’ll inevitably return.  It’s in your blood now. The call of the mountains runs irresistibly deep, and it would be foolish to fight it. Your next adventure lies waiting.

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