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December 2005 Newsletter

Merwyn's Whale Trail
Did you know?
Denise's Grotto Bay Oyster Trail
Peter P's Lost Steenberg Buttress
For Sale
The New Wild Card
Ian's Refections on Simonstown-Smitswinkel Travers
Tony's Musings
Amatola Hiking Trail
How do I get a report into the newsletter?

Hi Guys

First things first, I would like to wish each of you a HAPPY CHRISTMAS; and a PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR. I hope that you all have everything you wish for, health and happiness first, then the wealth. Now that the niceties are over with I would like to tell you about the plans for Easter. Two years ago we discovered SIMONSKLOOF. Those of us who made the trip swore that we would return. So that is what we are doing. SIMONSKLOOF is the down to earth mountain retreat situated on the Nuy River between Laingsberg and Montagu. We will camp under the most monstrous Oak Tree that you have ever seen. Showers and toilets are out doors but private. There is hot water. R40.00 per night. Bookings to PeterP, now if you like.

There are two long reports of long hikes in this letter, enjoy! I really enjoy receiving your reports so PLEASE send them in. A welcome back to Cape Town, I, for one, missed you James. See you on the mountain soon. Listen up guys, subs are due this month, Pay up soon and save on the late fee.

Banking details.

Bank- Standard Bank
Branch- Claremont
Branch no.-025109
a/c No. 072528451.

Please remember to post the deposit slip to our treasurer, and please write what you are paying for on the back of the slip.


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25 to 30 May 2005

After a leisurely drive from Port Elizabeth via George we arrived at Bredasdorp where we provisioned for our trip.

We were first to arrive and went to the Visitor's Info Centre and then to have a look at the chalet which slept 12 people and sported a large kitchen and decent ablutions.

Yvonne and Tommy from Cape Town were the next to arrive. Bagged our bunks in the corner and slowly the rest of the 12 arrived. All settled in after a lot of shuffling around.

We braaied in a howling wind, steaks and mushrooms and rolls but decided that was going to be the only braai for the five days. The wind was so strong it scoured out the braai pit after we'd all gone inside. It died down in the night and peace descended. A collective snore went up from our chalet.

 A tough start up the Potberg to 611 m. All you regular hikers, don't laugh! Rocky and quite steep. Luckily not too hot. Saw a colony of vultures circling in the distance a bit too far off to really see well but a welcome sight nevertheless.

Further along a steep ridge overlooking Malgas on the Breede River we stopped at a viewing point to admire the panorama sweeping off into the distance.

A light drizzle of rain started but didn't last. A Chanting goshawk circled overhead. Protea, fynbos and restios stretched all around us as far as the eye could see. Beautiful!

The longest bit of the hike, 15,4 km and very rocky but worth it for the breathtaking views of flowers and the welcome sight of Cupidoskraal hut at 3 pm with lots of time to make copious cups of tea, shower and relax.

The weather continued to be kind to us, not too hot or cold. Perfect hiking weather. Left Cupidoskraal behind. And we lost Mary!! She by-passed the front walkers who had stopped for tea behind a koppie, she streaked ahead managing not to get lost en route.

The highlight of the day was Yvonne doing a crossing on slippery tree poles half-submerged in gungy-water. Half way across she turned to ask Tommy for her stick!! Didn't see much wildlife apart from birdlife. But most spectacular sight of Noetzie hut at a river mouth down below. Upon enquiring of Mervyn whether it was a sharp decent and being told 'no' we climbed down a fairly sharp decent to the hut. Found Mary had arrived 3 hours before everyone and had surprised a duiker grazing at the hut.

This was probably our least comfortable hut as we slept fairly squashed up. Lovely boma area, Tommy made a bonfire after supper but the rain started and we all scuttled inside. The sea crashed against the rocks all night disturbing sleep. Saw three pairs of oystercatchers along the way and lots of white-breasted cormorants and duikers. Walked the 5 km along the cliff face and stared down in awe at the scoured out bays with angry seas crashing far below. One, Stilgat, had a rope ladder and one could clamber down for a swim which would have been nice on a hot day. Steve. Barbara and Vicky did.

Had lunch just before the next hut, Hamerkop. Got quite chilly. Took our time, had to concentrate so as not to fall off the edge!!

Arrived at 2 pm at absolutely best hut we'd had so far, huge compared to last hut. Some of the party had an afternoon nap.

Yvonne, Tommy and I did a beach sortie and collected driftwood, and what we took to be the femur of a cow, and saw otter tracks up a dried river course. Lots of plastic and glass bottles washed up on the beach. Most things were smashed to smithereens with the velocity of the waves. The only things to survive were anything plastic such as life buoys, slipslops, tackies and bottles. Plenty boat parts lying around too. Amazing rock formations on the way caused by wave action.

Stopped for lunch on a sunny rock in a kloof. Steve went to look at the blowholes, which were spectacular, and the water spewed back out of them with force. A lovely rainbow out to sea on the horizon made our tea break special. All we need now is a whale someone said and as if by magic a whale breached right in front of us a couple of times.

My shell guide wasn't much use as most of the shells on the beach were broken up from the wild seas. Got to our hut to find no portaged bags had arrived so killed time by watching the cormorant colony nesting right opposite the cottage. Spectacular cave underneath our hut with wild crashing waves.

After showers and warm tea and a fire we thawed out and made our usual camp. Getting easier as we go along as food reserves getting depleted. No gas as yet! Lovely fire inside to warm us and we did our washing and hung our clothes inside to dry.

Beautifully sunny day greeted us. I brushed my teeth staring straight out to sea with the waves rolling in. A bathroom with a view!!

Same whale from yesterday wallowed in the shallows lazily spewing forth but no skyhopping or breaching today.

Lovely cliff top (lower gradient) walk admiring coastal fynbos as we went. Lots of flotsam and jetsam awash still. Had a tea stop on an idyllic beach with the sun shining. Spotted lots of oyster catchers. Barbara and Steve took a skinny dip (two actually) and said it was soooo refreshing.

When we got to the end of the trail the 'Ouplaas' school bus was there to greet us and take us on a 40 minute ride back to the Potberg reserve. In one foul swoop we had gone from intrepid explorers to soft bus-viewing tourist. Spotted Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok, ostriches and Eland along the way. Most game we'd seen all five days.

After a spruce up and shower for the trip back to Cape Town we took one last photograph for the album and all went our separate ways after a wonderful, relaxing five days spent with some new friends. Hope we can do it again sometime???

Karen and Peter Duffell-Canham (visitors from PE)

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 Table Mountain is 240 million years old, and is one of the oldest mountains in the world. The Alps are only 40 million years old.

 …Our mountain was originally three times higher than it is now. It has eroded away over the years.

 …There are more fatal mountaineering accidents on Table Mountain every year than on Mount Everest.

 … If it were not for the fresh water from Platteklip stream, Cape Town would probably have been located at the safer natural harbour of Langebaan.

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I am going to sound like PeterP now. Where were you all? Paul and Wendy, Rosemary and Vasco debated whether to cancel due to low turnout. The weather looked promising after the previous day’s rain. We bundled into my Opel and within an hour arrived at Grotto Bay 

to be met by a magnificent floral display. The route to the South turned out to be rather overgrown and wet, so we turned around and repeated last years hike.

We were happy to amble along at an easy pace and Paul and I had a wonderful day with our digital cameras, zooming, magnifying and clicking away. The flowers were better than I had expected and the photographic results so good that one of the pictures is now on my desk top. Tea was taken looking out over a picturesque bay and lunch observing the behaviour of the Oyster Catchers after which the trail is named. At the end of the day we were glad that we had made the effort to do the hike as the fresh air and spectacular scenery had done us all the world of good.


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Eager members met with PeterP on a Saturday afternoon to do battle with Steenberg Buttress. Cars were shuttled and the little group attacked the steep incline to the start of the path under the rock band. On the way up I began to notice that the path was not as clear as it was the last time I had used it. The rock band was reached and the start of the path found. After about ten metres the path disappeared into a carpet of aliens that has sprung up after the fire that had ravaged the area a few months ago. Port Jackson are coming up like a lawn, they are so tightly packed. Any way we could not find the path so we descended and went for a beer.

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Self inflating Insul-A-Mat hiking/camping mat; ¾ length i.e.51x122x3.1 cms. Compact and light (800gm). Used very sparingly. Velcro strap & patch included. R125.00-Contact Paul Taylor 021-7155382 or 084 261 8410

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The NEW WILD CARD, exclusively for Capetonians, allows entry to Cape Point, Boulders, Oudekraal, Silvermine and Tokai. You can use it to allow you 12 entries over one year or you can structure it to allow six entries for two of you. You can also invite up to four adults to go with you for three entries. It is exceptional value @ R45.00. One entry to Cape Point, without a card, will cost you R45.00 as from November 1st. So go and get yourself a card.

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The road up to the start in Watsonia Rd. is a sobering experience- must be the steepest in Cape Town. The experience continues for two hours as one ascends directly for Swartkop. The frequent, and necessary, stops are rewarding-both in catching ones breath and seeing the beauty of False Bay unfold. Higher up the Atlantic coast comes into view, the distant Sentinal and Karbonkelberg reflecting the morning sun. The tea stop on top of Swartkop has a 360ºpanoramic view, breathtaking. The path continues Southward revealing Boulders and Millers Point. Cape Point comes into view with Paulsberg boasting it’s near vertical face running into the sea. The descent is extremely steep but rewarding. A hike which must be added to the “TO-DO” list with the proviso- have an early night before.

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Tony's Musings

These quotations I read in magazines etc. appealed to me and I felt it would be good to share them with you.

 “ I have found that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them”

Mark Twain

Eg. Go on a trail with them

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Amatola Hiking Trail - September 2005

Hikers: Ian (co-leader), Phil, Mary, Paul, Di, Geoff, Karen, Dave, Gesine, Marie-Paule, Anthony and Julie. Mervyn our leader

Report: Julie Ward

Total distance walked in 5 days: about 82kms


This trail, described as “tough” on the map, is semi-circular, following the range of Amatola mountains in the Hogsback, Eastern Cape. It is set in one of the most scenic mountain areas of Southern Africa. “Amatola” means “place of many calves” – and we certainly walked past many cattle and dodged many cow-pats! The full hike is 6 days, but we chose to do only 5 days. This area, apparently, was immortalized as the place that “kindled the imagination of a young Tolkein with visions of hobbits, dwarf lords and elfin kings of the Middle Earth kingdom!”

King William’s Town

After 2 days of travelling from Cape Town we arrived in King William’s Town on the sunny afternoon of Sunday 25th September. Our Guest House, Mandarin & McGregor was comfortable and the hosts, Rob Roy and his Chinese wife, very welcoming and hospitable! They had prepared a dinner feast for us (including some Chinese dishes, of course) – and the next morning sent us on our way with a full breakfast!

Some of us spent our last hours at the Guest House waterproofing boots and finalizing what we wouldn’t take in our back-packs! Fortunately someone spotted that our visitor and relative novice to hiking, Anthony, was carrying FAR TOO MUCH! He was advised on a serious throw-out, for which I am sure, he was later very thankful! Anthony also, unwittingly, set a new hiking fashion on the day we set off, by appearing with knee-high gaiters meeting his knee length blue surfing shorts! Throughout the hike he swore the gaiters were not hot or uncomfortable!


Day One: from Maden Dam to Gwili Gwili Hut

15.3 kms, 8-9 hours: a long, uphill day.

To get to our starting point we were first driven 22kms along a dubious gravel road to the pretty Maden Dam. After a photo session and last minute instructions we set off at last on the trail which we had been dreaming about for so long! Anyway, our group of 13 (no need for superstition) set off in high spirits! We had agreed to split into two: a faster-paced group led by Ian and a moderate-paced group led by Mervyn. I was in the latter!

Most of this day’s walk was uphill through indigenous forest. It took us past the bottom of a sheer, massive rock where some scrambling was required. Looking back through breaks in the trees we often caught sight of the dam, giving us an idea of how far and high we had climbed. Mervyn had only just bought a new gadget that told him how many metres we had climbed and what the weather outlook was! He kept us constantly informed! Yellowwoods abounded as well as some cycads. We passed many small mounds in the ground which apparently were worm-hills. A few days later some of us saw a very long, fat worm, slugging its way down the track. We moved it out of harm’s way!

Before mid-day some of the group noticed that our visitor was struggling. Although a keen, strong swimmer and tennis player, obviously, hiking was a different ball-game! Marie-Paule observed that he kept himself going with the mantra “yellow foot print … yellow foot print …” every time he saw the painted trail indicator we were following! It was getting late as we eventually reached our timber hut, Gwili Gwili, situated on a hillside. Mist obscured any view! We were exhausted and cold. Some of us wondered if Anthony would make it the next day as he staggered in last with the Tail-End-Charlie! Phil was already making use of the out-door braai. His group had already discovered the gas hot shower – which we then also enjoyed. Sadly, this was to be the only hut with a hot shower that worked! The gas geysers were all faulty, despite desperate and determined efforts! We

wished they had not removed the old-fashioned “donkeys”! It was a cold night – with a few snorers! Phil listened to his pocket-sized radio – and the next day announced that snow had fallen in nearby Elliot! Mervyn’s gadget predicted rain!

Day Two: from Gwili Gwili Hut to Dontsa Hut

19,6 kms, 8 hours: mostly a long, undulating day through indigenous forest.

It was agreed that the moderate group would begin walking 45 minutes or so ahead of the faster group. We then would meet for lunch (they had usually passed us mid-morning) – and then again at the huts! This was to be our longest day. We began by putting on our wet weather gear: it was freezing, drizzling and misty. I put plastic bags over my socks as I knew my boots were not very waterproof! (This idea from Geoff proved very effective, except for the little hole in the plastic at the base of my left foot!) The trail took us through more indigenous forest. The drizzle got stronger, and suddenly we discovered that we were being hailed upon! The forest seemed enchanted and magical, with lots of grandfather’s beard hanging from the trees. It must have been a day like this that inspired Tolkein! At times loeries could be heard and some of us sighted them. The trail mostly followed a ridge overlooking the Keiskammahoek valley where, at clearings, we looked down onto local villages. What a setting! Anthony seemed to be coping better this 2nd day: he seemed to have a tenacity to “hang in there” despite the demands! Approaching Dontsa Hut at the end of the day, we crossed a stream – not far above a high waterfall. The hut was basic and a bit cramped, but had a cheerful, if somewhat smoky fireplace. Phil had noticed there was a mattress short – so phoned for another one. We were highly entertained that evening by Dave, who, after borrowing Paul’s “leatherman”, (whatever that is) zealously fixed the squeaking wooden door which was “set too low”. With political correctness he sought Geoffrey’s advice and received many other opinions! The operation was successful.

Day Three: from Dontsa Hut to Cata Hut

18.9 kms, 8-9 hours: uphill to the plateau, around Doorn Kop, descending to the Eseka River.

We began this cold day heading up again through indigenous forest. Some of the terrain was very muddy and slippery: a few of us found ourselves suddenly sprawling! Mid-morning we scrambled around and up the side of a waterfall to the top of the plateau! What an exhilarating moment with wonderful panoramic views of the mountains and valley below. It was now open grassland with cows grazing here and there. We chose to walk around Doornkop and on down to the Eseka River. After a lunch-stop the faster group elected to do the strenuous route down-hill through “Waterfall Forest”. After very quick dips in one of the waterfalls (Karen, Di and Paul), they then had to tackle the very steep ascent to the hut! The moderate (yes, slow group) chose to go up through the forest, past a waterfall and stream to the jeep track and surrounding pine plantations! It was easier to stride out along this track – but we didn’t reckon on just how long and how much up-hill till we would reach Cata Hut! This new wooden hut was beautifully situated in an amphitheatre dominated by Geju and Cata Peaks. Though comfortable enough, it had no internal kitchen so we all cooked in our separate rooms. It was cold showers again! The remains of the burned down hut next to us had been modified to provide some shelter – but it was far too unprotected from the cold wind.

Quote of the hike on Day 3: “What mountains are these?”

Day Four: from Cata Hut to Mnyameni Hut

13.5 kms, 7-8 hours: climb Geju Peak (1880 metres).

This was a stunning day! The weather was warming up and the views magnificent! The grassy gradient of the zig-zag route up Geju was kind! Our path suddenly reached a sheer drop in the mountain-face giving us our first stunning view of the day. We

paused to enjoy the vista. We could see where our trail had started and where we were next headed! Of course, the top was even better - a real high-light! We (the slow group) stayed for a while, soaking it all in. Rameron pigeons were identified flying about and Marie-Paule pointed out for us, map in hand, where we would be walking the next day! It looked hectic from where we were!  Heading down all too soon, our big-boulder-hopping skills were put to the test as we tackled 2 screes. The faster group were waiting for us, soaking up the sun like dassies! It was soon after this that a fish-eagle was heard and sighted. The trail followed high above a river with waterfalls and an unnerving, precipitous drop to the right! After a steep descent we stopped for lunch under trees, dodging some large cow pats! How some of these cattle balanced on the steep slopes without free-falling into the river below amazed us! A few hikers cooled off in the freezing water. The rest of the day was a descent through wonderful indigenous forest, following the river with its many waterfalls. Mnyameni Hut, the remotest of all, was another new wooden hut, also without internal kitchen area. Again, an older, now derelict hut stood behind. Of note was the very hazardous long-drop we had to use. Animated conversations were had about who would be the first to fall in, and what to do if you managed to get out! We were also fascinated by a swarm of grasshoppers intent on heading towards the hut. In spite of it all, most of us slept well that night!

Day Five: from Mnyameni Hut to Zingcuka Hut

18.2 kms, 8-9 hours: lots of pools!

This was to be our hottest day! After a steep climb through indigenous forest, we continued our way around Hog 3 (Mnyameni Peak) on grassy slopes, avoiding more cow pats! Some baboons were heard barking in the distance. After crossing Mnyameni Ridge we descended into the Wolf River catchment area where we soon stopped to dip (with accompanying yells) into the first of many refreshing, beautiful pools and waterfalls! We soon lunched and dipped at another. A stunningly beautiful part of the

hike! Signs of deforestation which we encountered later were from the removal of black wattle! Towards the end of the day the trail followed a cliff edge before descending steeply down the “Razor Edge”. It was here, fortunately not on the cliff edge, that Anthony’s walking stick broke! He was very lucky to land gently. (Geoff’s stick broke too: never quite found out the details!) The final distance to the hut eased off through the dense indigenous “Schwartzwald” forest. Although Zingcuka Hut promised hot showers, we were out of luck again! It was a beautiful evening, however, and we were soon bemused by the arrival of a few hardy athletes who had come to RUN the trail in 2 days! Definitely a different breed! Fortunately there were enough beds and the hut had a spacious area outside with tables and chairs. It was here that we celebrated the end of our hike with a sumptuous feast: roast lamb, rice, brussel sprouts, creamed spinach, etc. It all went down very well with a few bottles of wine! Karen had organized this with a local Hogsback Hotel and Gary, our friendly combi driver brought it in for us. (They had omitted the anticipated pudding, but who cared!) If there was a prize for perseverance, Anthony would have received it with flying colours! Other prizes would have gone to the Tail-End-Charlies and certainly to our leader, Mervyn, for organizing such an adventurous and most enjoyable trip!

Heading Home

Leaving the hut the next day with a short walk to the combi, we drove into the Hogsback. Here we first collected our other gear from King’s Lodge before heading for a final breakfast together at the local Deli. It was festival time that weekend in the Hogsback, but sadly we had to depart for our 2 day trip back to Cape Town!


Some lessons learnt from the Amatola:

Ø       Splitting into 2 groups is a great idea for hikers with a widely different pace.

Ø       Learn to enjoy cold showers!


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Answer: Your editor has an address.

E20 Ambleside, Lwr Hope Rd.
Rosebank, 7700.

He even has an E mail address.


You can even fax your report to 447-4182.
Marked for his attention.
See, it’s easy. You have no excuse. Send your reports and/or articles now.

The only sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree


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