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Towerkop with Céline Gimenez

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Towerkop… Pourquoi pas?

Location: Ladismith, Western Cape

It all started in a room with friends at New Year’s Eve, a challenge for 2023: “Céline, I challenge you to climb the highest peak in the Western Cape, Seweweekspoortpiek!”

A little bit of research was needed… The Swartberg mountains (black mountain in Afrikaans) are a mountain range in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It is composed of two main mountain chains running roughly east–west along the northern edge of the semi-arid Little Karoo. The Swartberg consists of two officially named ranges, the Smaller and the Greater Swartberg Mountains.
The Smaller Swartberg are the westernmost of the two, however, this range is the higher one, including the province's highest peak, Seweweekspoortpiek (Seven Weeks Gorge Peak) at 2325 m. The famous Towerkop towers over the Klein Karoo town of Ladismith at a height of 2189 m. The peak is named after its cleft peak and according to legend, was split by a spell and subsequent bolt of lightning.

The possibility of sleeping in a cave at Towerkop peak was the most attractive idea! Seweweekspoortpiek will have to wait!
We chose to do the hike over 2 nights and 3 days.

Day 1: Start of trail to The Shed
Time: +/- 3 to 4 hours through beautiful protea and fynbos
Distance: 6,5km
Ascent: 900m
The first stage is quite a challenge and to do the full hike to the cave in 1 day would be even more so. The Shed is literally that, nothing fancy but a shelter none the less. There is water close to the Shed. A nice stream of fresh mountain water. At night, with the almost full moon, we could see Towerkop and its split in the background under the clouds and the stars…

Day 2: From The Shed to Nel’s Cave
Time: +/- 2 hours through bushes and on scree (a mass of small loose stones that form or cover a slope on a mountain) quite precarious, as well as very steep passages, literally climbing some rocks with 15kg on your back. There is fresh water dripping in the cave in one corner. A basin has been brought up, making it very convenient for filling up your bottle and for cooking. Small luxuries become big ones at this altitude.
Distance: 2,2km
Ascent: 860m

Day 3: From Nel’s Cave back to the Farm
Time: +/- 5hours of down, down and more down. Be sure you will feel your legs the next few days after the hike. All worth it and a reminder of the effort.

Best season to do it
You want to avoid the heat of the summer and find enough water on the mountain. April-May seemed to be a good option. We opted for the beginning of May. In a last minute decision, we moved the trip one day earlier to avoid a cold front announced over the weekend. The possibility of being flexible over 4 days was worth it.

Make sure you are going with someone that knows where to go or that has a good GPS and location pin for The Shed and the cave. The trail is quite well maintained, but the rocks are moving and vegetation is often taking over as it should. The cairns are well positioned and many however are also subject to weather conditions and movements.

Scuttle Tips

GPS: Maps.me is a great app to use to follow the trails. The GPS is accurate, working even with no signal. It has been tested on a few trails and it has never failed. There is signal almost everywhere on this mountain, even in the cave. For emergencies, take a Spot X along. It allows you to send text messages and request emergency evacuation in a life threatening situation.

Backpack: choose a good one that fits properly - we hiked with Osprey packs: every strap is adjustable, multiple pockets adaptable to your needs, breathable back section.

Sleeping: nights can be cold, the Ice Breaker from First Ascent is a very good option to which you can add a light sleeping bag liner to add extra warmth ; we recommend a lightweight mattress like the First Ascent Aero 5.5 mattress (600g for air pockets that will keep you off the ground). Take a thick plastic sheet to protect against thorns and wet ground.

Cooking: plan for easy cooking, as lightweight as possible. With the Fire-Maple Fire Fleet stove, a set of pots and cutlery from Sea to Summit, you are sorted for your coffees and dehydrated food.

With a minimum of preparation, this adventure is highly recommended, for the silence, the challenge, the different terrains, the views… breath-taking views!

Tell us about your experiences by sending us an email to adventures@scuttle.co.za. Alternatively share it with us on Facebook. We would love to hear from you.

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Hiking the Mnweni Circuit with Cobus du Preez

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Mnweni Circuit: A majestic section of The Great Escarpment

Location: Drakensberg, South Africa

The Mnweni Circuit is a mind-blowing, multi-day hike in the dramatic Drakensberg. It will test your grit across approximately 42km, depending on which detours you choose to take. The route is unmarked, the terrain is challenging on many levels, and you need to be completely self-sufficient. Add a cold front and 50cm’s of snow, and it becomes an adventure to remember. It’s the only part of the area that doesn’t fall under the Natal Park Board, making Mnweni one of the most remote hiking areas in the region.

We chose to do the hike over 2 nights and 3 days – but if we had a choice, we would have spent an extra night in the Ledges cave. It is the perfect spot from which to explore the escarpment a bit more and to take in the magnificent views.

Day 1: Mnweni Cultural and Hiking Centre to Shepard's Cave

Total time: +/- 6hours
Total distance: +/- 17km
Total Ascent: +/- 750m

Day 2: Shepard's Cave to Ledges Cave via Mnweni Pass

Total time: +/- 6hours
Total distance: +/- 10km
Total Ascent: +/- 1400m

Day 3: Ledges Cave to Mnweni Cultural Centre via Rockeries Pass

Total time: +/- 7hours
Total distance: +/- 13km
Total Descent: +/- 1400m

Scuttle Tips

Take a Spot satellite messaging device with you. It offers emergency communication in the event of an injury (or extreme weather) as well as live tracking for family and friends back home. (Click text for more info)

Our Vango Mirage Pro 300 Four Season Tent is the perfect companion for the Berg and all the climates it might offer. It only weighs 3.6kg so 1.2kg per person. Read more by following the link.

Tell us about your experiences by sending us an email to adventures@scuttle.co.za. Alternatively share it with us on Facebook. We would love to hear from you.

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Hiking the Otter Trail with Jay Caboz

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Otter’ly worth the effort.

Distance from Cape Town: 7 hours

One cannot even begin to explain how truly magical the Otter Trail really is until you’ve done it yourself. Over the 4 days and 5 nights of the hike, I was filled with a sense of wonder. The Otter Trail has no end to a vivid display of nature: from captivating deep green, wooded forests to waves pounding jagged rocks, to cliffs littered with blooming pincushion proteas.

On day 3, a few meters from Oakhurst Camp huts, set above the Lottering river mouth, I stood watching sea spray dance on beams of light as the sun set. It was full moon and waves smashed against the cliffs like bomb blasts. As the late afternoon light glowed between the sharp rock formations, I reveled in my good fortune at the chance to capture a hidden part of South Africa and tell a story that landscape photographers dream of.

Beyond the jaw dropping vistas right on the doorstep of our camps, it was the little things that also stood out for me. Before the Lottering river crossing, I remember vividly a single valley filled with arum lilies in bloom, the only ones on the 45 kilometer trail. The location really stood out with the scattering of lilies accompanied by a family of dassies sunning themselves on the rocks.
I was completely captivated by the little droplets clinging to their giant white spathes, which were screaming at me to photograph them. Happy to say I can add one more picture to my collection of indigenous plants under one light. This time in a 100% wild environment. I just can't get over the incredible detail I managed to capture in those droplets.

There was one spectacular moment on our very last day of the trail which will forever remain etched into my memory. Standing on the pebble beach, in the shadow of the massive cliffs, kit loaded and backpacks on, we looked back onto the Andre huts one last time. “Otter!” one of my hiking buddies shouted, when he noticed a shape moving on the rocks. To our surprise it was the elusive Cape Clawed Otter heading out for a spot of breakfast. Cameras hurtled out of bags and phones grabbed out of pockets just in time for the otter to make a graceful exit into surf.

On the trail there is always something to capture your attention and a half hour later, as we made our way up the steep cliff face en route to a well-deserved lunch, a pod of dolphin surfed by just offshore. From our vantage point we enjoyed watching as they played in the crashing blue waves. It’s the unexpected moments like these that stay with you long after the sweat, aching muscles and stinky (stinky!) clothes are forgotten on the trail. A hike to otter-ly cherish. I can’t wait to go back again next year.

Scuttle Tip: Book your hike through Afritrails.

Follow Jay on Instagram.

Photos by Jay Caboz

See more photos by Jay Caboz

Tell us about your experiences by sending us an email to adventures@scuttle.co.za. Alternatively share it with us on Facebook. We would love to hear from you.

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