When I moved my tour operating business to Oudtshoorn recently, I had to find new and exciting tours to add to my offering. Here I was in a small town,with an already established collection of touristy things to do. What was I going to do?
I love the outdoors and spending time in nature so that was my first thought. What can I do in the Klein Karoo that will let me spend more time outside? I know! Hiking! What do I know about hiking? Only that I'm not very good at it. I'm a natural swimmer, not mountain goat, but hey why not try it? What have I got to lose?
So here I was in a new town, where I hardly knew anyone and wanting to trek up a mountain. I couldn't go hiking a mountain alone so I roped in my only friend in town, Rudi to come with me and share some of his vast experience with me. Rudi used to work with Cape Nature and knows the routes on the mountain like the back of his hands, so I knew I was in good hands. Eventually we were able to sync up our diaries and found a morning to go do some exploring.
Full of excitement we left early morning to avoid the heat. If you know anything about Oudtshoorn, you know it gets super hot here. So the earlier the start, the better.
We arrived at the top of the Swartberg Pass at 7am and set off on the 7km trail. According to Rudi it would take us about 3 to 3.5 hours. Piece of cake! Right? Well what they don't show you on the map is the altitude of the climb you are taking on. At one stage we stopped to just take in the view and Rudi points up to the highest peak and say, "We are going over that ridge over there." My first thought was, "How do we climb up that slope without ropes? I thought this was a hike, not mountain climbing." Keeping these thoughts to myself, I put my head down and just kept at it. I was totally convinced that at one point I was going to die. My body is not used to climbing at this angle and certainly not at this altitude. Luckily for me we were on an educational walk, so I would stop every now and then and ask questions about the vegetation. Sneaking in a quick rest at the same time.
After about 3 hours of walking we finally reached the top. If you remember at the beginning I mentioned that the entire hike was only supposed to take 3 hours. We were in for a long walk, but full of smiles as we had made it that far. Almost 1900m above sea-level.
Now for the downhill. As experienced hikers and climbers will tell you, the downhill can be as difficult as the uphill. So fueled with some snacks and water I was ready for the downhill challenge. What added to the adventure, and why I was so grateful to have an experienced hiker with me, was that the trail was often non-existent. If you were not familiar with the trail you could easily end up heading in the wrong direction. What I learnt that day was to look for cairns. These are small man-made piles of rocks that the rangers had constructed to assist the hikers to stay on track. We battled sometimes to spot these as I think the wind had come up at some point and blown them over.
While learning to navigating over a mountain, I also discovered some of the most amazing and beautiful plants species. Hidden under a rock, covered by its own leaves, we found the rare Protea montana.
This Protea species only grows at altitudes of between 1600m - 2000m. What a special find! I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to see this rare flower in its natural environment.
It was time to move along. The time was about 11am and the sun was high. Time to take off the jerseys. While we ventured further, still in search of cairns, I noticed a Jackal Buzzard flying around. The amazing thing about this sighting.... we were above the bird! Another special moment. To see a buzzard in full flight, from above. While I had my camera with me, I didn't capture this moment. It was one of those where you just took it all in. This day was just getting better.
The road down did not take us as long, being downhill and all, but it was just as filled with special moments. We came across a Protea repens, True Sugarbush, that had not been drained of its nectar yet and needing a bit of a sugar rush as this point, we shook out some of the nectar and had a drink. Nature's own glucose boost. Just what was needed for the last portion of the hike.
Towards the bottom of the mountain we climbed, you have a choice: either turn left and head over a smaller mountain back to your car, or turn right and walk back along the road. We opted for the road, for 2 reasons, 1 - my concentration levels were starting to fade. Coming down a mountain is so dangerous. One wrong step and you could get seriously hurt and 2 - I wanted to see what vegetation grows on the sides of the road. We always miss so much while driving, especially along the twisty, turny (I know this is not a real word, but it describes the pass so well) Swartberg Pass. So off we set. And I was so thankful that we chose the road. Along the road we came across bramble with ripe fruit and suurvy or sour fig, which the baboons had not gotten to yet. Although a bit warm from the sun, it was a tasty treat.
With the time moving along to 2pm, I was totally exhausted by this stage and ready for this hike to be done now. All I could think about was having an ice cold drink. It didn't matter what it was, as long as it was cold. But we still had about 800m to go to get back to our vehicle. Digging deep for the last of my energy to finish this hike off, I looked up and there in the Protea bushes was the Cape Sugarbird.
A lifer for me and such a special way to end one of the most challenging days of my life.
Although I battled through the hike and often had the normal thoughts. Why I was doing this to myself? What was I thinking? I will never do this again. I made it! Thanks to the help of my friend Rudi, who never gave up on me, sat down with me every time I felt I needed a rest and imparted some of his knowledge to me, I conquered the Swartberg Mountain.
Looking forward to my next adventure in the Swartberg Mountain.