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 very dense fynbos, uneven, loose, rocky terrain, and steep ascents and descents.
Duration: 7 Days
Day 1 is an unusual start for the Rim, because it is downhill. We drop below the plateau, from neat rows of orchards into a valley that time has forgotten, but the rivers which pass through it have not. This day of walking is short enough for us to languish in one of the best rock pools and waterfalls the Cape Mountains have to offer, which lies where three streams converge, en route to the Olifants River below.
Day 2 starts short and steep to gain the opposite stone edge of the valley. The edge offers us some surprising glimpses down into the magic of the river’s upper reaches. Lunch is in the next valley beside a cool river, flowing over white, water-worn slabs of sandstone. Here we shelter from the heat, waiting for the shadows to grow across the steep, north-facing slope above. When we are ready, and the late afternoon is cooler, we slog upwards, quickly gaining height and a perspective out over the ranges of mountains that fill the distance to the horizon. We camp amongst scattered boulders beside a small, high stream, from where we can see only stars.
We are traversing the wide crest of the Skurweberge, the Rough Mountains. There are no paths up here, and no signs that anyone has ever ventured here. This is the undiscovered Cederberg, with its own Maltese Cross and impossibly balanced boulders. These are the rough mountains, yet they offer surprisingly easy passage along rock-walled, flat-bottomed corridors, enclosing small streams. At the end of long corridors, we turn south to cross high valleys, until we find one in which to camp. Rock pools and waterfalls are mandatory camp requirements.
We descend steeply from the Skurweberge down to the farmlands below and follow the base of the imposing wall of the Witzenberg southwards along the other side of the wide valley. At lunch we cross the Olifants River, perhaps seeking shade below small cliffs on it southern bank. In the afternoon we pass over wide plains of low fynbos, cut across by small streams. Tonight, we relax amongst tall trees on lush green lawns at the edge of a small lake – a wellspring of luxury between wild mountains.
We are shaded by pines on a slow, meandering climb out of the valley. A jeep track gains the top of the ridge with fresh views to the west of Tulbagh and Table Mountain in the distance. To the east, we look down on the Agter Witzenberg Valley from which we have come. We drop from the ridge, down to a farm dam for a welcome swim if it’s hot. Then we follow the edge of the farmland, until it becomes fynbos again. We are crossing through the foothills of the steep-sided Witzenberg towards where the waters gather below us in the Ceres Dam. But before we reach there, we camp on a small patch of level ground beside one of the streams that tumble from the Witzenberg towards the dam.
Today is a long, hard day with stretches (in different senses of the word), of serious bushwhacking. But first there is a delightful early morning tea break beside a small stream. Then we must get around the Ceres Dam, which fills the bottom of the valley. If the dam level is unusually low, our going is easy along wood strewn beaches on the water’s edge. But if the water is high, we must climb the steep side of the valley. The going is hard. An old track, which was used in the construction of the power line pylons under which we pass, offers disappointing relief from the thick proteas that have overgrown it. But it is marginally better than no track at all. In the late afternoon we are rewarded, after a steep descent, by a flat camp site beside a magical stream and a deep, quiet rock pool.
A short morning walk takes us down the dam access road into Ceres, whose lights the night before had twinkled invitingly in the valley below us. In a small respite, before we must re-enter civilisation, a footpath leads us through an appealing, bouldered, fynbos plateau and down a small stream valley to emerge at the edge of the suburbs of Ceres. A welcome breakfast is had in the Zip line coffee shop as we re-enter society.
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 underestimated. 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.