It is always an uplifting experience to walk in this magnificent part of the world. I had not been there for some time, so it was good hike some of the familiar paths and to experience some of the not so familiar routes. The weather for the weekend held to the predicted clear and warm, with some light rain coming in on Sunday evening, prior to our departure on Monday morning.
There was quite a bit of snow at the higher levels and plenty of white frozen sheets, at the lower levels, showing how low down the snow had come. Camping was chilly and getting up in the morning a bit of a challenge.
Having arrived just after midday, we decided to walk to the Maltese Cross before setting up camp for the evening. It is about a four hour round trip, allowing for a bit of time to spend at the ‘Cross’ itself.
I had not been on this route for a very long time and was a bit surprised that it was quite an uphill trek – somehow I was expecting it to be flatter – but that is probably a perception created by the photographs that show it to be surrounded by a fairly level plateau. It is not surprising however, when one realizes that this plateau sits at an elevation higher of 1400m, higher than the entrance to the Wolfberg Cracks. What a brilliant hike, with the reward of the overwhelming splendour of the ‘Cross’ itself, not to mention the formations, rock layers and natural sculptors on the route.
There was a welcome cold beer waiting in the cooler box on our return, while we set up the tents and got the fire going while it was still light. Later that evening we attended an (outdoor) talk at the Cederberg observatory. In spite of warm clothing it was a fairly chilly outing. It is great to be reminded of just how many stars there are in the sky and just how small we are in relation to it all. With no moon on the night there were so many stars that it was even difficult to spot some of the more familiar one – an awesome sight.
It was up at first light the next morning to give ourselves plenty of time to get through the ‘Cracks’ and to the Arch. We were a bit slower getting going than we had planned. The main excuse was that there was no hot water in the men’s showers (pipes frozen?). After a bit of research (as there were no women in the camp) we found the hot water in the ladies ablutions – maybe because it was ‘Women’s Month’.
The walk up to the Wolfberg Cracks is fairly steep, but it is a good path that is well graded. It never really feels as if you are climbing that much. I had done the route several times and it is well cairned, so it is not difficult to follow. For our own interest, we spent a bit of time exploring the ‘easy’ route to the small crack. This route avoids going under the chock stone and across the narrow ledge, but it is not that easy to follow and although we did find it in the end, it was more by luck than good judgement. As we had left our packs at the start of the usual route, we had to go back to fetch then and came through that way.
The small crack has a few challenges, with scrambling over rocks and boulders and squeezing through a few narrow openings. Except for two places, none of these are any real problem, apart from the rocks being a bit rough and likely to give one the odd scrape or scratch. The first of the two challenging obstacles, is a short chimney, where it is necessary to push oneself up using feet and back, until you can get the fingers in to a small crevice to pull and manoeuvre yourself on to the boulder at the top – not easy, but doable. The second obstacle, quite close by, is a boulder that you need to slide under, with only just enough room for a medium sized person to get through. It can be a little claustrophobic, but with the right angles not too difficult. There is a way over this, that I have done in the past, but on the day looked more daunting than going under.
Once through this section there is a narrow crack that leads out on to the ridge above. It is a good place to rest and have a tea break. There is a large flat area of rock above the cracks with magnificent views over the valleys below and surrounding peaks.
There are various cairned routes to the Wolfberg Arch from here, offering the hiker slightly different options for the out and return route. The route is over and flattish plain with a few rocky outcrops in between. On the outward route, the cairns are a little more difficult to follow than on the return, but it in clear conditions, following the general direction is no problem. From the top of the Cracks, the Arch can be seen in the distance, but only becomes visible again on the final plain. It is a walk of approximately one and half hours to reach the outcrop on which the Arch is perched, and another twenty minute to get up to the base. While from a distance, you might think it is just another of the majestic formations of the area, but once there, it is a very special and awesome spectacle.
The walk back to the wider of the two cracks and the route down, is very well cairned and we did this at a faster pace than the outward trek. The wider crack is a beautiful and tranquil place, and reasonably easy until you get close to the end. The climb down to rejoin the path is quite tricky, with some rough downward scrambling and boulder to negotiate over or around. At the end of long days hike it is tiring rather than difficult. As you meet the path you can look down to the valley below and clearly see the route back to the cars, parked in the parking area below.
If the beers at the end of the first day were welcome, at the end of this day they were appreciated even more. With an hour deviation for exploring, the hike had taken us eight hours.
As we prepared dinner the predicted rain threatened, but held off until we had eaten, enjoyed some local red wine (Cederberg Cellars) and got ourselves into our warm tents and sleeping bags. Luck held again the next morning when the rain held off while we packed up and headed for home, after the obligatory visit to the Stadsaal Caves.
A wonderful, although all too short weekend.
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