This favourite traverse is the first taste of what the Cape Fold Mountains offer outside of the Cederberg, and the off-trail nature of the rest of the Rim journey. The terrain is varied from off-path hiking to following short sections of jeep track on day 2. Mostly we are in virgin fynbos and rock-hopping. Incredible views on every day, you might think you are in the Drakensberg one day or looking into the Fish River Canyon the next. From Fynbos to hanging valleys, to rock mazes and amazing rock pools, this is the most unexpected variety of mountain terrain to experience in a short 6 days in the Cape.
Difficulty (fitness): 10+/10 (Extremely tough, both physically and mentally)
Technical rating of trail: Mostly off-trail hiking (i.e. no trail at all), involving sections of dense fynbos, uneven terrain, steep ascents and descents and rock hopping.
Duration: 6 Days
The start of Traverse 2 has an early surprise – a relatively steep ascent of a beautiful mountain saddle above Middelberg Pass, that is crossed and then descends through thickets of fynbos into a grassy campsite, surrounded by old oak trees and next to a gushing mountain stream. While one of the shorter days of the Traverse, Day 1 is not to be underestimated. The immediate 600m ascent followed by the descent will separate experienced hikers from day-trailers, and those who have sailed through Traverse 1 might be surprised by the sudden off-trail nature of Traverse 2.
If you have the time and inclination, the start of day 2 begins with a quick climb to a magnificent cave that overlooks the lush campsite. From then, the second day follows the original pass track between Ceres and Citrusdal, and while relatively flat with very little ascent/descent, it is now fully overgrown and will require some ‘bundu bashing’. Walking alongside a flowing stream for most of the day, we pass an old tree marked with leopard scratchings in the shade of an overhang before plunging into a refreshing rockpool at lunch time. Post-lunch, there is a river crossing before reaching a campsite surrounded by kopjies, and near to some deep pools that offer a lovely afternoon reprieve for those who can brave the cold.
The third day is where the real nature of Traverse 2 reveals itself, as you begin an ascent into the Kouebokkeveld mountains and leave any signs of civilization behind. Lunch-time views offer one a last glimpse of the southern Cederberg to the North, before marching up and across a saddle and (slowly, slowly) down a steep ravine on the other side. Finally, a traverse across a broad, open valley bordered by dramatic mountains, their curved sides shaved away by the weight of time, will lead you to camp for the night.
As we wind our way around, up, down and across the Kouebokkeveld terrain, the sheer magnificence and scale of these mountains leave us more breathless than the off-path contour walking.
A long day, with several challenging sections, hikers will feel the euphoria of a summit climb and end the day in what must surely be one of the most remote, pristine wilderness areas on earth. Look out for a view of Table Mountain far on the horizon at sunset on Day 4 as you walk the high points of the Kouebokkeveld range.
With the setting sun illuminating totem-poles of rocks and the sound of water gently trickling ever downwards on its gravitational journey through open areas of vlei, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you are walking through hallowed ground. A huge pinnacle of rock stands like a beacon over the campsite, and its rocky minions provides a wind-break that will fill your ears with the sound of silence. Truly, four days of walking to see such a place as this is worth every ache, every pain and every blister.
We continue through the untouched areas of the Kouebokkevled with incredible views and fresh streams all the way. Huge grey and orange boulders present us with a tiered maze to navigate as we descend from the highest point on this traverse. A slow day, as we drink in the wild air and let our eyes rest awhile on the vast, open spaces – we know this place will not easily be forgotten and we take our time to savour each footstep.
Our campsite sits on the eastern edge of the mountains we have traversed, framed by giant boulders and offering a peek towards the Skurweberge of Traverse 3 across the apple orchards of the Witzenberg valley. Here, we prepare ourselves to enter back into the ‘real’ world that awaits – sharing snacks, stories and laughs from the past few days, and already feeling the soul tugging to be left behind in the glorious Kouebokkeveld.
A short trek down the slopes lead us to our pick-up point, our feet dragging all the way. Here, we take a moment to form a circle, faces towards the mountains and give thanks for all we have achieved, all we have experienced, before we wind down to the flat-bottomed, manicured valley below.
A note on the difficulty of Rim of Africa
The difficulty rating Hiking South Africa gives to established trails is based on the Amatola Trail being a 10/10. Most of the Rim is much harder and more technical than the Amatola. Rim of Africa is not a “trail” but a mountain traverse, and thus it should not be underrated. The technical ratings of Rim of Africa traverses may also vary from year to year based on weather, the route chosen and the off-trail nature of the hike.
For more information on the Rim of Africa hike, go to rimofafrica.co.za.