Hout Bay to Llandudno Traverse. Table Mountain Top Ten Trails #6: the adventure is out there. 

It is not often that I start a trail run at the civilized hour of 8h00 on a Saturday. But we were waiting for the tide to be out.

I was lucky enough to be invited on this route by Mark Preen. This ranks as one of the best adventure trails in Cape Town.

‘But that was easy’

Could quite easily be the response of one of the other runners in our group. Not so fast! The first time I did this trail which is a mere 10km it took us the whole day! Yes as in a 8h whole day! Ask around and you will hear stories of epics, getting lost, scary scrambles, groups being benighted, rescues, and people being washed out to sea – never to be seen again.

I am not kidding. This is serious!

However on Saturday we were lucky with very calm seas and Spring low tide! Richard planned well and we even had an hour to go before the lowest tide – just in case.

Route direction

I have done this route in both directions and I prefer the anti clockwise. Either option is doable. I just prefer it.  Here I will describe the clockwise direction though as this is the way we did it last.

A good start spot is Mariner’s Wharf. Run through the harbour towards the Sentinel. This is along tarmac. You will pass underneath the Hangberg suburb. You will quickly emerge onto some level single track under the cliffs of the Sentinel and towards Seal Island. This section is very reminiscent of the first bit of the Otter trail.

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looking back towards The Sentinel with Chapman’s Peak Drive in the distance

Once you turn the corner things get a bit more serious in that you need to think about route choice. Staying low and close to sea level is best until forced up. It initially seems like you need to traverse over a steep gully with a path visible on the steep far slope. Don’t try this but rather drop into the gully and back down to sea level.

 

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dropping into the initial gully

A few sections of scrambles over damp, slippery rocks follow. Going is slow as one needs to take care.

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looking back at some of the scramble sections close to the water’s edge

This is a great great friction testing lab for shoes as adhesion to a variety of surfaces is tested to the max. Some you walk, others you need a bit more upward momentum…

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There are often several options available and you don’t always need to scramble.

However at some point you will be faced with this sight. Spot the tatty rope. It ascends the black crack onto the platform above the water. The first step is the hardest. I would encourage you to take a rope – in case.

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Mark Preen making it look easy, Richard Sutton in the background

There is a little section of easier going after which you will face another gully.  Once again don’t be tempted to traverse above but rather drop down past the little granite blob onto the floor of the gully and out the other (less steep) side.

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granite blob can be seen between the two girls in blue

Eventually you will do a slow rising traverse on a fair path. This pops you onto the slabs above the Bos 400 which went down in 1994. This is the same bay where the SS Maori is also located. From here it is a fairly straightforward navigational exercise across the burnt sandy slope to the blockhouse at the end of Rocket Road. Find your way to the dunes above Sandy Bay. From here you are pretty much on tarmac back to the start and some welcome fish and chips at Fish on the Rocks.

I can not stress this enough. This is a serious route which requires respect. You will need to go in a group with enough scrambling experience and somebody who knows the route. Also carry a couple of mobile phones in waterproof pouches.

You will struggle to complete this in under two hours. But a fairly competent group should be done in under four. Come prepared for a truly special adventure.

 

Specificity

cape-epic-sprint-stage-3-treadmtb-1536x1024Most of us have seen the photo.
Kulhavy waiting for Sauser to win the sprint.
They knew what was required and they knew what it would take.
They had a plan that matched the desired outcome. They had planned this scenario.
How many of us have the same insight?
Or do we leave it up to the gods on the day and hope for the best?
But where to start?
I was very aware of where I was fitness wise last year. I knew I could only improve at a certain rate – at my gradient. There was no way I could do the volume of past. I had to constantly assess where I was. Running by myself without my ego and those of others as a distraction. Honesty was number one.  That took a very long time to figure out.
So to my training. 
This year is the first time that I have some understanding of what Dr Phil is on about. To be honest it took months until I could even maintain a HR under 140. Probably longer to be honest. But I knew it was the way forward and I persisted. In fact I got injured and it forced me to keep all running easy. Easy and short. And then often.
Slowly building.
And then it suddenly clicked like magic. My body understood.
And now I think I am back to some form of fitness.
Anyway I digress.
I am heading to the Transrockies in August.
When I accepted the entry I knew we were not going to go full blast. The crux would be to run 6 consecutive days at altitude on pretty well maintained trail by our standards.
I look at images of my heroes and what they write and I always try to understand why they are doing what they are doing.
Why, why, why?
The answer is always there if you just look.
When I want to up my insight on finances I seek the council of my financial adviser not my doctor or best friend. I read up what Buffet and the boys are doing and thinking. Specificity. 
I observe and adapt.
So how to prepare?
First of all my partner and I have a pretty good understanding of our strategy. We are there to have fun and not to win. We will have to keep race day egos in check.
The innevitable game of sandbag is being played. I am not sure who is playing a better hand. We will see.
I have no illusion that we are going to be doing a fair amount of walking. Hope Pass etc etc will not be running terrain for us.
So there has been no track for me.
My weeks have consisted of long runs back to back to back, to back. Teaching my body and mind how to recover.
Learning nutrition on and off the trail. Dialling it in so that there are no questions on race day (sorry week).
Altitude is the factor that is most difficult to prepare for. I don’t have enough time pre event to aclimatise properly but I will do what I can.
Most important will be looking after my partner. We can only go as fast as the slowest of us two. Whoever that is. And that role will swap during the week!
Efficiency is key. Not letting any one issue get to the point of becoming a problem.
That is the theory. I am sure we will hit obstacles and make mistakes along the way but at least I have a plan.
The lessons are the same though. Specificity is key to whatever we do.
I can not say it enough.

Hiddingh – Ascension Ravine

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Hiddingh Ravine, The Pulpit, Ascension Ravine as seen from Newlands

My only wish for Christmas was to eat some trifle.

And so my wife went to search the local Woolworths for a) a store with a manageable que and b) one that does in fact have stock of said trifle.

I promptly finished the “serves 4” on my own.

When asked which part of the trifle I like best I had no good answer. I like the different textures and how they feel and taste different. Too much of one thing is not that great in the end but it is the subtle combination that seals the deal. Pretty much like a good trail.

A seemingly endless grassy slope is fun in the same way that caramel is fun – in limited doses. Same with bush bashing through fynbos. Fun for a while. Think the biscuity pieces in above mentioned dessert. The short bit of getting lost: crunchy chocolate bits. Scrambles above a big drop: cream. Too much of a good thing ultimately does make my head spin. The girls in bikinis sunbathing at the top: hmm maybe that was a hallucination.

And so I went. In search of new land, in search of new adventure and in search of a new route.

I wake up every morning looking up at Fernwood Precipice and that impenetrable part of our mountain. The last time that I had this view I was preoccupied with harder objectives.

This is the world between GPS tracks and heatmap lines. Now my mix of motivation and difficulty is just right.

The recce was well on its way.

Finding the quickest way onto the contour path from Newlands Forest parking was easy. A quick navigation to find the right gully and it was upwards all the way. Nice pools in the stream bed. Followed by a steep slope led to the obvious slanting line of weakness. Then another traverse onto the edge of the buttress. The long slope up to the next rockband. I got lost a bit here. Did not trust my instincts but then found the delightful calf burner that would rival Kilian’s best fresh pow. In defence of this comparison fresh pow makes you work way too hard for vertical gain, you end up hot sweaty and out of breath. Fynbos is the same with the added delight of ending up with a whole herb garden in your shoes.

This is old school FKT or TM FKT X

From the Newlands Fire base gate to Maclear’s Beacon.

What time can you post?

Leave your comments below.

 

Leave No Trace

More and more blogs, vlogs, trail running camps and experts are popping up telling “newbies” how to do this trail running thing properly. How to walk uphill, run downhill, be like Killian and what you need to be successful. What are we missing?

A few years ago I came across the Leave No Trace website and I was initially amused that some folks in the US had put the Seven Principles together and bothered to put them up on a website. I was surprised that this was not Standard Operating Procedure among ALL outdoor people. Quite simply I was naive. No longer.

Every time I go onto the trails now I find some rubbish. Discarded. I understand accidents happen and maybe we drop the odd gel wrapper “by mistake”. But then even more so we need to take collective responsibility for all our our actions. Firstly embrace the above principles in all your adventures and secondly take responsibility for other’s actions and clean up as best you can. We have the responsibility to ourselves to leave the trail behind us in a better condition than what we found it in.

We have a choice either we take this approach or we will reap the consequences and they are not pretty.

Leave No Trace should be the first thing that we teach and instill to “newbies” and long time trail partners. Without it there is no future.

Finally I applaud leaders like Lewis Pugh who champion the environmental cause. Go clean up your local beach or trail next time you are out.

Oorlogskloof Rock Pigeon Route 5 day Hiking Trail outside Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape – Quick Guide

Oorlogskloof 030Deserves to be one of the great hiking trails in South Africa! Remote, authentic and adventurous. You are continuously confronted with little rock scramble detours which highlight a kloof, waterfall, rock arch or just spectacular view. There are many, many signs naming local plants throughout. This is a real treat and everybody will get a better sense of our local plant life.

There are shorter trail options available too and a couple of day hikes too.

Pretty but super busy in flower season (Aug and Sept)

Overview stats:

Distance: 52 km

Total Ascent: 1800 m

Total Descent: 1800 m

Style of route: circular

Normal Duration of hike: 4 to 5 days

Landowner: Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve. For permits and further info call (027) 218 1159

Events: Ugene Nell holds the Oorlogskloof Trail Run here in April and this is a fantastic way to experience the terrain for those that like to move fast but don’t necessarily see much of the surroundings.

Description:

We collect our permits in Nieuwoudtville at the Nature Conservation Office. Nicolette is helpful with maps etc. We check into the Wapad Guest House in Nieuwoudtville and sort kit for tomorrow’s early start. It is super basic but a roof over our heads (and a roaring fire) is all we need for the night.

Frost awaits as we drive to Groot Tuin (6 km back towards Vanrhynsdorp you see the turn off to the left, then it is another 10 km on the good dirt road).

Day 1: 12Oorlogskloof map day 1 km Groot Tuin to Kameel se Gat

The last mobile reception is in Nieuwoudtville or close to the escarpment overlooking Vanrhynsdorp. We park our car under the pine trees as instructed and start our walk. There is a perennial stream 87m into the hike. Don’t rely on this in summer though. The 4km to Brakwater takes us 2 h at an easy pace. The hut looks amazing. We decided to do the first two days as one so this ended up in a pretty long and tough day. It was the hardest day of the 4. I would probably do it again in that way though.

Oorlogskloof 009A short while after the Brakwater hut we cross the stream while still on the jeep track. The two logs that symbolise a bridge are not confidence inspiring enough so we slide across like crabs anticipating a cold plunge. A short sharp hill and we turn off onto pleasant single track. Views are great and we see the Kareebos hut below us. The trail descends and then the tough boulder hoping section starts along the base of the river. You wind in and out of boulder fields which makes going slow and tough. Finally the climb up the slope to the Driefontein waterfall. We were told that unfortunately the hut’s roof had a leak (more like it did not have a roof) so we descended to Kameel se Gat back at stream level. Glad we did not have to do that on cold legs, first thing in the morning. Having said that the sun set views from the top must be amazing.

The night proved to be pretty cold and it took us a while to get going in the morning. Glad I had packed porridge for breakfast – quick and easy to make a warming meal on my MSR.

Day 2: 12km Kameel se Gat to Doltuin

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sun touching the rim of the canyon early morning

We cruise a few minutes down to the river and cross the smart bridge to the far bank. The ascent up the far bank take us 45 minutes or so. It finishes with an amazing chimney and rope/ladder combination which spits you out on the escarpment. Staying left we cruise on easier going that the previous day. As we descend down into the valley we pass some graves close to the path under a bunch of trees. I can’t imagine a better place to rest in peace. The path continues a few km to reach the Doltuin hut at what seems to be the head of the valley.

 

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water at Doltuin

Here it is possible to take the escape route which cuts out the last day. We take a stroll around in the evening to loosen the legs. The river is full but the water is cold so we decline a swim in the river.

 

Enjoying the last few rays of light on the stoep we settle in for soup and an early dinner. Tomorrow is a long day.

Day 3: 15km Doltuin to Pramkoppies

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Granaatdraai with the hut in the far distance

The early section meanders up the valley. You can see the path from the hut as it ascends the head of the valley. We fill up water bottles under some trees which is a really pretty spot.

 

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chain securing a rocky descent

The climb up Granaatdraai is not too bad and we quickly find out selves on top. A cool wind is blowing so we walk in long sleeves all day. Today is the day of 10 rock arches and we start counting. We make good time and have lunch at the turn off to Arrie se Punt. We leave our bags here and scamper along the loop to quickly reach the outlook. You get mobile reception here and I respond to some birthday messages. Weird being drawn back into that seemingly foreign world. We take photos and admire the view of Gifberg, Vanrhynsdorp and the VanRhyns Pass (another Thomas Bains masterpiece). The walk back to the junctions takes us through some interesting kloofs and rock formations, well worth the extra little loop.

 

We continue our count of rock arches as you can see here.

A bit of open ground and then we start to descend along the side of Pramkoppie. The path shows signs of erosion and needs a bit of TLC but we manage it quickly in the afternoon sun. A short stroll along the valley floor to the most beautifully located hut below red cliffs and close to some trees and a stream. We soak up the rays. A great way to spend my birthday.

The water spot is among the bushes behind the hut and is marked so are the toilets at the huts. No roof, just au Naturel long drop.

The next day is our last so we plan to leave a little earlier to accommodate the drive home too.

Day 4: 9 km Pramkoppie to Groot Tuin

Oorlogskloof map day 5A short distance from the hut we visit rock art in a cute shelter. The path ascends the valley slope and we hear baboons announcing themselves. Today the path skirts across the top of the fairly flat escarpment and we get great views. The grey skies add to the scene and bring out the colours of the land. When you are almost at the junction to Groot Tuin you are led into the heart of Spelonkop. Narrow Rock passages turn this way and that until you are spat out on the path you came in on. A short up hill and a stroll through the initial grove of Poplars lands you back at the car.

Recommended Tactics:

The Rock Pigeon Route is comfortably completed in either 4 or 5 days. Day 2 (on the 5 days schedule) is the toughest going as you have a long section of navigating through a boulder field which takes its toll. This was the second section of our Day 1.

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huts are comfortable

Huts offer bunk beds and wooden tables and benches to house between 12 to 16 pax. Huts all have solar electricity for lighting and you can charge your electronics. A three prong socket is available. Bring your adapters.

 

I recommend that you drive to Nieuwoudtville on day one and get sorted in accommodation there and then start the hike. This leaves enough time to combine day 1 and 2 of the hike. The quoted times are conservative but not overly so. Going is generally slower than on other trails due to the path weaving in and out of boulders, gullies and interesting features.

There is no reliable mobile phone reception along the trail except at Arrie se Punt and the edge of the escarpment at Pramkoppie.

Water could be a problem in summer and it gets pretty cold in the middle of winter so in between season are probably best for hiking.

Nutrition / Hydration availability:

It is quite a good idea to carry a few extra water containers to fill up at the overnight huts. Generally the water source is about 50 m to 100 m away from the hut.

Other info:

Closest Food Retailer: Clanwilliam has a pretty good Spar, butcheries and bottle stores. Otherwise  sparse resources can be obtained in Van Rhynsdorp.

 

Ringing the Bell:

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approaching Orange Peal Gap, Cathedral Peak left of center, The Bell further left

I leave the Hikers Parking at  6h00 sharp. Scouting the first river crossing last night helps so it goes quickly and I gain altitude. I see two lights below me. They have chosen a different path. We all have.

I am walking out of the darkness into mountains cast in shadows. As in Magic and Loss there is an equal part hope too.

It is what ever it seems.

‘I was thinking of a series of my dreams’

Patter of my feet on the trail.

‘Was not thinking of anything specific’

Lyrics running my head

I shut them out

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looking back up Bugger’s Gully

I am surprised to reach Bugger Gully in 2:40. The other side has snow and I follow imprints in the snow trying to guess how long they have been there. I meet them later. The owners of those feet.

You can’t listen to metal with the volume low. I drop into the wave.

 

The line between shadow and light is distinct. But we all follow our own line. Some have rumble strips to warn us, others come unseen and deadly. Some are crossed and recrossed, skipped over even? Without a care in the world. Others scare us. Right now one side is sun and heat. The other biting cold. I can’t understand why anybody would choose the suffering unless to learn and ultimately emerge. I carve my own way and leave only a faint sign of my passing. My passage however leaves a huge impression. Not the act but the meaning we give.

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looking back towards Cathedral Peak

I come across white tufts, not snow. Flags waving I the breeze. I shat here! I wonder if we will ever learn.

I stumble upon Twins Cave quite unexpectedly.

And suddenly it is done.

I find a spot in the sun and out of the wind and eat my old school sandwich.

The descent down Mlanbonjwa is less fun than I thought. Typical berg pass which is too steep to run but I lose height quickly. The obligatory bush whack does not last long.

I am unkind. I enjoy running the flatter sections and catch up to the footprints of three days earlier.

I have to commit to running where I can. Walking always seems so much easier. But then I don’t want easy. There is nothing of interest there. There is interest (and learning) I suffering perhaps?

‘I walk by tranquil lakes and streams’

I don’t have the commitment to break 8h (or 7 for that matter) I arrive at my lone tent in the camp site and think back on one of the best days in the mountains I have ever had.

The lone dear makes its rounds later. I say ‘Hi’ and observe for a very long time.

‘The hard thing is to hold on to what I learn there in those high and wild places – those fleeting glimpses of the truth of reality – and to live it when I am back in my everyday. That is the real challenge.’

Lizzy Hawker

 

Several lines above are quoted (and misquoted) from the below. Thanks for the inspiration.

 

Soundtrack:

Moxica and the horse – Vangelis

Series of dreams – Bob Dylan

Link 2-3-4 – Rammstein

Tell ol Bill – Bob Dylan

Mothers of the disappeared – U2

The medallion calls – Klaus Bandelt

Someday baby – Bob Dylan

Track 5 More Melon – U2

Things have changed – Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler I believe in you – U2

99 red balloons – Nena

Here comes the pain – Farmer Boys

Pa Pa Pa Palavas – Triplets of Bellville soundtrack