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.
Day 1: Start of trail to The Shed
Time: +/- 3 to 4 hours through beautiful protea and fynbos
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.
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.
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.
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.