Jess Tyrrell, one of the guides on the Rim of Africa hike, gives us a beautiful overview of the first section of South Africa’s longest mountain hike – a fantastic hike for those who have carried a pack before for a number of days and would like to try their hand at a week-long traverse and have a sense of adventure.
Technical rating: Standard trail walking with a fair amount of off-trail sections; short bits of minor scrambling and river crossings.
Duration: 7 Days
The start of the Rim of Africa. For all you may have heard of this challenging and incredible (yet intimidating sounding) 9-week journey along the Cape Fold Mountains, today is an easy beginning. A slow meander to get our legs moving, up to the top of the Pakhuis Pass where we meet up with the old donkey cart route that would take you to Heuningvlei if you followed it. Instead, we head off the path, tuck behind some rocks in the later afternoon, among a grove of beautiful old yellowwood trees and settle into our camp for the night.
In the far distance we catch the occasional glimpse of the tiny settlement of Heuningvlei, then it’s gone and we head deeper into the Cederberg. Passing a grove of Cedars, leopard claw marks along the bark of a number of trees, we drink from small streams, have lunch under the shade of some giant waboom’s and swim in icy but crystal-clear pools. “You never regret a swim” is a line a friend once said to me and I’ve never forgotten it. The day is relatively easy going, only one long up, and the rest is along a wonderful weaving path through a huge variety of fynbos, much of it in flower.
We wind our way between the beautiful shaped red-orange rocks, past cedars and their archway-making branches and into thin valleys with towering rock formations. There is a long uphill towards late morning, and halfway up we stop for a cup of tea next to the stream that’s coming from the place where we’re headed.
The climb is worth it for the views afforded from the top! The Red Cederberg behind us, we start to drop down along a pretty steep, watch-your-footing path that’s quite overgrown as so few people seem to walk in this area. Pockets of arum lilies surprise one around many a corner during the descent. We sleep still high up, with the thin edge of Clanwilliam dam to the west.
Rock formations dwarf us as we pass, a huge cedar that must be many hundreds of years old. Today is not a strenuous walk, it is mildly undulating with only one climb sometime in the afternoon. The scenery is spectacular today, it feels as if we are hidden away from all the things it feels good to be far from, deep in the mountains, and close to all the things we want to be close to. We spend the night around caves and red rocks, traces of other humans who used to call this land home, who hunted in the valleys and painted their knowledge, of a way of living in relation to all of life, on the surrounding rocks.
To the valley below we go. We cross a river, which is great fun as you have to semi-divine your way through thick reed, the water mostly invisible, until you step in it. We spread out and each person calls out when they find a good crossing spot. Arriving at the other side of the valley there’s a great green oak tree to have lunch under, after which we head up towards Sneeuberg, camping at its feet.
We pass the famous Maltese Cross and later weave our way around kloofs whose scale is awe-inspiring. Gigantic amphitheatres below us, hardly anyone walks here which is astounding. We follow the still existing Ou Kaapse Weg (visible in very small portions if you look carefully) – the Old Cape Road that brought those in their ox wagons over the mountains from the Cape settlement. Quite an incredible thought. We have to navigate to get off the contour we’ve been on, and down a short but steep and tricky section, which is off-path and involves a bit of light bundu-bashing. We sleep near a river on the white sandstone sand, the Palmiet bushes tinting the tasty water to that lovely golden colour.
The Middleberg Pass in front of us, we wind our way through some farmlands and then head for our last bit of off-path descent. This is also a tricky climb down, but is great fun and highly satisfying and full of high fives at the bottom. We cross a river where a good solid swim can be had on a hot day, walk through the fruit orchards on another farm and arrive at the base of the Middleberg Pass. The Koue Bokkeveld awaits as Traverse 2 begins where we end.
For more information on the Rim of Africa hike, go to http://rimofafrica.co.za/