This was reputed to be the longest and toughest days hiking of the trail and although it was not predicted to be the hottest day, the temperatures in the Cederberg can easily get in to the 30’s (°C) – +86 °F. At Riaan’s suggestion, we had breakfast at six and were on the trail by shortly after 6.30. The Mountains glowed a reddish brown colour as the sun reflected off them and we headed up the path to a rocky ridge on our way to Groot Krakadouw Peak, the goal for the day. The path was well defined and the walking fairly easy initially, with a few short climbs, sometimes sandy and sometimes rocky underfoot. We passed a variety of beautiful ericas, restios and proteas, defining the area as firmly fynbos. Riaan stopped from time to time as we passed a bank of Cedar trees, from which the area takes its name, to talk about a plant, tell a story or discuss some point of cultural interest and to give us a chance to take photographs and subtly take a rest. As we walked slowly higher the views over Heuningvlei valley became more magnificent and one could see how this flatish section of the valley, interspersed with rocky outcrops, attracted people to the area, in the early days the San people, probably at some stage the Khoi people and then later the European settlers.
As the path began to climb steeply in to the gorge that leads to the Groot Krakadouw Peak, the temperature was rising at the same time. The walking was becoming more strenuous and the path less distinct. I was pleased that we had a guide with us who knew where he was going.
At the same time, our walking companions who had recently arrived in South Africa from Europe, were struggling to adapt to the heat. Rest stops became a bit longer and breath a bit shorter. Eventually it became apparent that a member of the party was not going get there. We were still approximately two hours from the summit when we decided to turn back. It was a good lesson in Mountain safety and the only practical option at the time.
We were back in Heuningvlei by lunch time, after a pleasant walk back. In the afternoon Riaan took us down to a magnificent swimming hole and waterfall twenty minutes walk away. The silver lining was that we would not have been able to do this, if we had made it to the peak.
Dinner with Izak that evening was beautifully tender lamb chops, served with sweet potatoes, sweet pumpkin and salads. Another excellent meal.
The gathering point for all of the Cederberg Heritage Route Trails is Clanwilliam, an easy three hour drive from Cape Town.
We gathere at the Yellow Aloe – a real oasis in what can be a very hot Clanwilliam – and were treated to an excellent light lunch. This was followed by a trail briefing by Cederberg Travel, the organisers and co-ordinators of the Cederberg Heritage Trails, before being piled in to the transport vehicle for transfer to the start on the Pakhuis Pass. There we met Gert our cart driver and the six donkeys, Trapnet, Satan, President, Tryna, Beaufort and Willem, plus Jonas, the ‘sparewheel’ and back up. They would be transferring our luggage to Heuningvlei, with option for hikers to ride on the cart or walk the trail.
Having been sitting all the way from Cape Town, we all opted to start the trail on foot and the cart went ahead of us with the luggage. This section of the trail follows an old jeep track that is no longer in regular use, but is suitable for the donkey cart to negotiate at a reasonable pace. Within a few hundred metres of the start of the trail it is easy to forget that there is a tar road in the near vicinity. The rocky outcrops, randomly balance boulders, sculptured shapes, deep valleys and high peaks absorb one quickly in to the wilderness environment. There is no formal hiking guide on this section, with Gert stopping his charges from time to time to allow walkers to catch up.
I opted to experience to donkey cart ride on a section of the trail to rest my legs and to enjoy Gert’s dry humour and his interaction with the animals. On a rocky road, a donkey cart is a bumpy, bone jarring experience and not the most comfortable form of transport. Most reasonably fit hikers will probably opt to walk most of the route. It is a bit of fun however and amazing to see how these hardy animals keep their footing, negotiating the rough terrain with some steep slopes, particularly on the downhill sections. The Afrikaans term ‘stadig oor die klippe’ (slowly over the stones) comes to mind. Being a jeep track the walking is reasonably easy and it takes about three hours to cover the 12km distance.
The Cedarberg is always an amazing place to hike, make contact with nature and generally experience the outdoors. I expanded my own experience of this with a hike down the Sevilla Trail, led by Kevin Matheson of Afruka Eco Tours. It is an easy two hour walk that takes you to a series of nine sites of bushman paintings. There is a real feel of what it must have been like in the years before European settlers inhabited the Cape and the indigenous people lived off the land.
This is part of the experience offered by Kevin on the Cedarberg Wilderness overnight trip.