The Tsitsikama Hike (Western Cape, South Africa)

in blurt •  last year 

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I was spending a lot of time hiking off grid and climbing with my 16 year old son.

The last big multiday hike that I completed was the Tsitsikama Hike. It’s usually a 6 day (5 night hike) but we had decided to do day 1 and 2 in 1 day and then finished with an exit on what would have been day 5, hence completing our hike in 4 days.

I had been invited to do the full 6 day hike back in March but I had already committed to doing the Erdvark Hike in the Karoo desert a week later. And taking on two big hikes back to back was just not the wise thing to do.

So when this opportunity came up to join another group on the Tsitsikama I jumped at it! I had met only 1 couple before when I hike the Wolfberg Arch in the Cederberg a year ago. So it was great to get to know them a better and meet a whole new crew of avid hikers.

All the hikes that I am mentioning are in previous blogs if you would like to browse my blog.

The Tsitsikama Hike

I convinced my friend, Nadine, to come along on the hike. She had been asking about going on an adventure with me so when I told her about this one she quickly agreed.

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We set off from Cape Town the day before the start of the hike. It’s about a 6 hour drive plus time for lunch stops and coffee breaks, so we left early.

Our big stop was in Sedgefield at the local Spar Shopping centre. They have a brilliant restaurant upstairs with the biggest pancakes with various fillings for an extremely reasonable price. Nadine and I shared a Milk Tart filled pancake. Non-saffers should look up milk tart! It’s like a custard filled Pie crust sprinkled with cinnamon. It’s absolutely delicious and very moreish!

Anyway, after our tummies we’re full and we were well caffeinated, we got back on the road for the final stretch to Natures Valley. We passed through Knysna and Plettenberg Bay before arriving at our Backpackers at the top of the crag in Natures Valley. It was aptly named Wild Spirit.

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We quickly booked in, grabbed a shower and a nap and then headed for dinner on the deck with our fellow diners. Turns out Wild Spirit is the epitome of hippy, dream catcher, hand punch tattoo, guitar singing, bonfires and bare feet. We had to tone down our city slicker appearance and lean hard into our hike ahead.

The next morning we were up early ready for the short 10 minute drive down to the field office in the valley which marked the start of our hike. As we were booked to Slackpack (ie. Our big heavy gear is transported to our new hut each day) we had to wait for the office to open so that they could take over our gear. We wait…..

And waited….

Until eventually, an hour and a half later the woman turned up. So much for an early start.

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Day 1 Start to Bloukrans Hut (21 kilometres)

We finally set off after 9am with the sun high and only our daypacks with water and food on our backs.

We started out the gate and down the road until the official start at the big sign.

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Then off we went, already splitting into a faster a slower group. We eventually gathered everyone back together before our first river crossing. Shoes off and across we went only to stop and put damp feet into our boots once again on the other side.

A few hundred meters are the river we saw our first snake. It was a tiny baby Puff-adder. They apparently more deadly because they have not yet learnt to control their bite and tend to inject more venom than is necessary. But this little one quickly slinked off into the long grass on the side of the path once we came upon it. Gives me the heeby jeebies just thinking about it.

Now more alert than before, we headed along the path watching our feet with every step and making sure to use our hiking poles to make more noise than before.

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Soon we were all told to shhhhhh as Mpho saw something ahead. Tuned out to be a deer of some sort. I’ll try find a pic. It was incredible! It pulled into the bushes alongside us, then stopped to watch us for a few seconds before darting off deep into the forest.

Our path changed from forest to low bush and the sky opened up above us and views of the ocean appeared. We knew we were right near the coast but the views took our breath away. Seeing the cool ocean and stretched out white beach was so inviting now that we were hot and sweaty in the humidity, but it was not to be. Our path soon turned up a steep escarpment headed away from the ocean.

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Some of us motored up the hill, hoping to get it over as fast as possible. Others struggled, taking a whole 40 minutes longer to eventually emerge from the bush path into the opening next to the tall cell phone tower where we had decided to rest and wait.

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Rob was new to hiking and was the last to arrive with our trusty sweeper, Calvin. But as Rob arrived he promptly took off his shoes and lay down for a nap on the grass. We had been waiting such a long time that we were ready to go and headed up the last bit of the hill to the flat of the plateau.

The path soon left the track and took a sharp left back onto a single track through the fynbos (fine bush) which is indigenous to the Western Cape Province.

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Our path wound down the side the escarpment once again into thick lush forest. Through a wide valley where we crossed the National highway (N2) and then up onto the contours of the mountain behind.

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By 18 kms our feet were feeling the tiredness of the day and we were hoping to see the hut soon. Unfortunately the distances that we were given were not accurate and it was another 3 kms before we reached our first hut.

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We celebrated as we arrived at such a gorgeous spot. Huts situated on the cliff side looking down on a spectacular river and rock pools below with sweeping mountainsides.

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We chatted, at a late dinner and eventually went off to bed in our little A-frame while the others shared the chalets and bunks.

Day 2 Bloukrans Hut to Keurbos Hut (13.5 kilometres)

The next morning we were up early and off hiking down the steep cliff towards our first river crossing at the bottom of the valley.

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We were all refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Rob was miraculous chirpy and kept pace well between the faster and slower group that naturally formed.

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Once over the river we headed up the other side and through an older forest of a more Jurassic nature.

The weather was humid and drizzly and sweaty. We were wet for most of the day but enjoyed the cool rather than the hot sun.

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Our group stretched out like a concertina along the path and gathered once again at the bottom
Of the Ravine that led us to the edge of the Bloukrans river. The river was wide but as we followed the path up a little way we managed to cross with dry shoes, Boulder hopping and made use of the rope across the river.

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The path immediately led steeply uphill and after and long climb we emerged onto a contour lather through chopped down plantation. We could see across the valleys to the other side and heard the baboons calling each other from a distance.

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More ferns and streams and more drizzle u til eventually the rain lifted and we emerged onto a Jeep track. The track finally showed a sign for our hut which turned out to be about 1 km further.

Walking into camp was a joy after our long day and all we were looking forward to was a hot shower, heated by the donkey fire.

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Our buddy Allen quickly started the fire to heat the water, but we soon discovered that there was no water… the pipe from the tank up the hill had burst and all the water had drained away. Luckily we still had another water tank for food and drinking and made do with a little bath in a bucket of warm water.

The rest of our group seemed to trickle in with Rob soon after us and the rest of the group only about an hour later.

Day 3 Keurbos Hut to Heiningbos Hut (13kms)

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This is the day that hurt the most. We started off early as the forecast had been for hot weather.

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The path lead is down into the valley below, a short easy river crossing on boulders with a rope and the once again the steep uphill began. It seemed like a carbon copy of the day before.

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The uphill was a bit more brutal as we knew that we had 2, possibly 3 saddles to accomplish today.

I marched up, picking myself in front of the pack, feeling strong. The group quickly thinned, more than on other days. The hills are the great definer on these hikes. And this one was a long one. It took us up, up, up until we eventually rested at Rushes Pass.

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It was the first place that we got mobile signal in 3 days. Our phones all pinged to announce their connection to the outside world. So we caught up on any important messages, drank waters. D filled up on snacks and took in the magnificent view.

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Next was a massive descent. This is where the trouble started. As we descended on loose gravelly stone and the steep path me knee decided it had enough. I felt the pain slowly build on the long downhill. And although it was beautiful, it felt like to valley bottom would never arrive.

I felt my heart jump when I finally saw the river and knew that we were at the bottom. My knee needed a break.

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So when we stopped I dived into the large rock pool fully clothed to cool down and take the weight off my leg. I wasn’t in long but it was the most refreshing swim I have ever taken. The other kept worrying about snakes but I didn’t care. I needed to cool down and the cold water soothed my painful knee.

After 5 years of carrying a knee guard in my day pack, this was the first time that I had decided to pull it out and use it. I was so thankful that I had always stashed it in my bag, just in case! My knee felt a bit better with it on.

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We set off for the second half of the hike. Up!
Up felt good, down felt painful. We climbed another mountainside to yet another high contour and headed up a long valley towards yet another saddle.

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This time the saddle led us through a deep forested valley with a less obvious path. It was beautiful and lush and humid amongst the tall trees and damp first floor.

We were all getting tired from heat of the day measure about 35•C and we made sure to drink lots of water. The path led up and out of the trees to our last saddle down.

It was a steep descent once again rocky and narrow and my knee was now in agony. The guard was no longer helping and I just needed to finish the day.

I stayed in front so that the group would keep in my pace because if they went ahead, I would never be able to keep up. They were happy to take it easy.

Another river and then another hill, followed by another river and the final short climb to our huts at Heiningbos.

The huts were lovely! We had WATER! And the views were incredible.

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We dumped our stuff, changed out of the sweaty hiking Clothes and found a spot with a view to rest. I made tea and more tea and ate all the snacks that I hadn’t eaten that day (and the day before).

That evening we were rewarded with an incredible sunset over the mountains that we had just crossed. This was our last full day in the mountains and we were all taking it in.

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Rob had once again arrived shortly after our lead group and blew us all away with the way he had come back after day 1. Some thought he wouldn’t be able to complete the hike, but he is the ultimate “come back kid”.

Day 4 Heuningbos to Exit finish at the Boscor Sawmill (5kms)

Our final morning walking. The full hike continues for another full day and a half, but our timeframes only allowed for 4 days. This meant that we took the emergency short cut on day 4. This was a 5km rout along the Jeep track from the huts straight to the Boskor Sawmill where we had arranged for my husband to collect me and Nadine plus 2 more of the guys with big cars.

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My knee hurt on the downhills, but seemed good on the flats and I finished without too much pain. The terrain was a long sustained downhill before we reached the flat and finally the parking lot of the mill.

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We all had a bit of a sad moment at finishing because the hike had been to diverse and incredible. It felt strange to be back in civilisation.

My husband arrived and the few of us piled in. We then drove back to the start in Natures Valley to drop off the guys to collect their cars and head back to fetch the rest of the group and also to get our bags from the transport guys that had delivered everything back from the hut for us.

The timing was perfect and we were soon on the road heading home. But first a stop for a breakfast pancake at the Spar in Sedgefield.

It’s been a few weeks since the hike and unfortunately the damage to my knee seems more severe than I had hoped. The physio has recommended NO HIKING for the next few months (which is our Southern Summer). I’ve resigned myself to that fact and will now focus on climbing so watch this space!

I do have a couple more hikes to post that I have completed so there is always plenty more action coming to keep the adrenaline running.

There is always more to do and explore and experience and I’m here for all of it!

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