At the end of May, we spent a couple of days at the delightful Somerset Gift Getaway Farm, tucked away in a narrow little valley at the foothills of the Langeberge, just outside Swellendam. This is Part IV of the story of our stay in that area. Here are the links to the other parts:
- Swellendam, here we come! (Part I)
- A river ramble to Baboon Kloof with a happy dog (Part II)
- Lunch in gaol, a berry liqueur tasting, and yawning horses (Part III)
- A new friend, a short canoe trip, and happy horses (Part V)
- Across Tradouw Pass to Barrydale (Part VI)
- Homeward bound via Cogmans Kloof Pass and Du Toits Kloof Pass (Part VII)
At last, a sunrise!
Like the day before, the almost annoyingly cheerful 7am “ding-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding” cellphone alarm chucked me out of bed. This time, though, I was rewarded for extracting myself from the warm and cosy blankets and sliding into my cold, slightly damp clothes (brrrr….). When I walked down to the little dam, the skies were lit up spectacularly, despite the heavy clouds that completely concealed the sun itself!
Look at that reflection in the tranquil little dam.
I strolled down to the horses to say good morning and to give them a carrot. They came over, snuffling curiously at my hands, and taking the piece of carrot gently from my palms.
Richard came to join me. He’d brought a small apple for each horse, which they accepted delightedly, munching and chomping it with evident pleasure.
“Breakfast is ready,” shouted Tanya from the stoep.
After a couple of tasty heat-and-eat Portuguese rolls from the gas-fired oven, and a shared pot of coffee, we got ready for the day’s hike. I perused Dion’s written instructions one final time, trying to memorise the essentials.
“Head down to the river and cross it as described above. You can see the trail heading up the mountain to the East. The entrance to the trail is just to the right of the little kloof at the point you cross the river. Follow the path up the mountain, after about 1.5 km you will head down into a kloof with rock pools where you can swim (this is the halfway point).
Cross the ravine and head up the other side, and then take the left fork at the top. You are now walking along a valley with the ravine (water) on your left. You will get to one last uphill…. Once up, just follow the path until you come to a huge rock pool and waterfall. Return the same way. The second half of this hike is spectacular, but it is not an easy hike, so must only be attempted by fit and fairly agile people!!”
Well, that sure sounded like an exciting challenge! And did we qualify as “fit and fairly agile people”?
A visiting troop of baboons
As we were about to leave, a commotion behind and next to the cottage announced the presence of a troop of baboons. They were foraging in the trees near the cottage, and some of them were climbing up the trees near the outside shower. A loud squeal, followed by excited chattering, and the noisy rustling of branches, suggested that one of the youngsters had received a reprimanded nip for stepping out of line and ordered down to ground level.
We made our way through the gate and across the field of cows down to the river. Sadly, there was no sign of Toby, sorry, Polo the Dog anywhere. We’d been looking forward to exploring the mountain with him by our side, protecting us against any danger.
I loved the cows with their soft, fluffy ears and their beautiful, gentle eyes, rimmed by long, elegant lashes. I wanted to stroke their thick winter coats, and to snuggle against them for warmth and companionship. But, even though some of them (like this friendly fellow) made eye contact and watched us walking past, they stayed at a safe distance.
Just on the other side of the river, we easily found the start of the trail up the mountain, because a thoughtful trail-blazer had used pieces of logs to create steps up the steep and otherwise slippery slope.
Soon afterwards, the path levelled out, and actually descended, until we were walking alongside the river on our right. We had some difficulty discerning the path, which was overgrown and very faint in places. After walking for about 30 minutes, I called a halt.
“I think we’re on the wrong path,” I announced. “We shouldn’t be so far down near the river. We should be going up, across the foothills of the mountains.”
“OK, so do we go back?”
“Or should we continue for a bit, and see whether the path does actually go up?”
“I think we should phone Dion. We can mention that funny little gate near the water,” I suggested, pointing behind us. “Maybe he’ll know where we are from that.”
“OK, hand me the cellphone.”
While Richard contacted Dion, Tanya, clearly in an exploratory mood, set off up the hill, where she thought she could make out a faint trail.
“Is there no way up, Tanya?” we shouted up the hill.
“Nope,” she called back, scrambling and sliding cautiously down the overgrown slope. “There’s no way we can get through there.”
Meanwhile, Richard was explaining to Dion that we seemed to have gotten ourselves a little lost, and getting directions. Apparently, there had in fact been in fork in the path quite a while back, almost near the start of our hike. So we would have to retrace our steps. Darn.
The correct trail up the mountain
Alas, we had to walk back almost all the way to the start. This time, we were keeping our eyes open for a track up the hill, and we found it, just on the other side of these rocks, covered in lichen that resembled splotches of yellow paint.
The next quarter hour involved a strenuous climb up a steep, slightly overgrown slope; the ground was slippery underfoot, so we repeatedly lost our footing on damp patches of moss. We held onto whatever bushes or branches were available adjacent to the path, and planted our feet as much as possible on exposed stones and rocks, rather than on the damp ground. Richard had thoughtfully collected three hiking sticks for us from loose branches. They proved exceedingly useful!
We were grateful when the path levelled out, so that we could catch our breath.
Gasp… cough… wheeze…
We now found ourselves walking parallel to the river, along a contour path high up the fynbos covered slope. A few times, we had to descend a little into a ravine and climb out again on the other side, but it wasn’t too steep. In the picture, you can see the path on the far side of the ravine.
We crossed one ridge after another. You can see the path continuing into the distance. On the far side of the ridge was another ravine.
From up here, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the little secluded valley. The farm below is Frog Mountain, another getaway, where you can stay in lovely self-catering cottages.
About an hour after starting our ascent up the correct path, we climbed down through head-high fynbos, descending the one side of the kloof with its waterfalls and rock pools that was our halfway mark and resting place. And, man! Did we ever need a rest!
Tanya’s sharp eyes spotted a small frog on the rocks (it’s not called Frog Mountain for nothing!). Can you see it?
Look, I’ll help you by zooming in. Here you go:
I’m not quite sure what kind of frog it is, but I think it might be a Clicking Stream Frog (Strongylopus grayii). If you know for sure, please let me know, okay?
A picnic on the rocks
We made our way down to the rocks, and hopped across to the far side, where the perfect picnic spot was waiting for us.
Aaah, what a peaceful place this was. Just above us was a small, coffee-coloured rockpool, and just below us was a larger, deeper pool. Water was tumbling down gently curving boulders, covered in a thick growth of moss and algae. Over the sound of the water, gurgling, splashing, bubbling, the call of birds could be heard from time to time.
Once we had cooled down from our exertions, the air was cool against our faces. The sky was that blinding grey you get when the clouds are thin and thus do not block out the sun. And although it was fairly cool, we could feel that there was still enough strength in the sun’s rays to burn the skin, so we were glad for our hats.
As we were feeling a little tired, we lingered here for about a long time, drawing the tranquillity of these mountain pools into ourselves.
Mmmm… blissful sigh.
“Right, do we head back now?”
“Actually, we’re only at the halfway mark. The rock pools that Dion told us about are even higher up this kloof. There’s supposed to be an amphitheatre of rocks, with a large waterfall coming down.”
“I saw a path up on the ridge above us, so that’s probably where we have to go then.”
After some debate, we packed our rucksack, and made our way to the start of the track that would take us steeply upwards to the top of the ridge on the eastern-most side of the kloof. It was a serious scramble, and quite slippery. I covered sections of it almost on hands and knees, holding onto bushes, branches and restios for balance, and treading carefully on the loose stones. Thank heavens for the walking stick!
As I had my hands very full, no photos were taken!
Once we had reached the top of the ridge, the path levelled out. Puff! Pant! We came to a T-junction, and turned left, back in the direction of the kloof. We were now striding along on a narrow track, parallel to the kloof. It was lovely scenery.
Just to clarify where we were going, I drew in a path in red on the photo below. And ‘X’ marks our destination. Can you see it?
That red path, incidentally, was very steep. It involved a steady slog up a steep rocky section, where we literally had to watch every step. I was starting to get a bit nervous of encountering snakes, because I thought it was quite possible that they would be trying to get some warmth on the exposed rocks. We didn’t want to dislodge any large stones in case something came slithering out, and it was prudent to check the boulders next to the path before we put your hand there to steady ourselves or to pull ourselves up.
Some pretty, red Erica versicolor were growing among the boulders.
And these white flowering bristle bushes (Metalasia muricata) were growing everywhere.
Once we had reached the top of the rocky bit, we stopped to admire the view. You can clearly see the dark line of the path snaking along the ridge below.
Despite the heavy rucksack she was carrying, our fit Sherpa Tanya was walking about 20 metres ahead of me. Richard was a couple of metres behind me. I was enjoying the view and trying to sneak in some quick photographs without causing too many delays by fiddling with settings, and so I wasn’t concentrating that much on the path.
Suddenly, I heard Richard yelling from the back. I turned around and quickly walked towards him.
“Stop!” he called, gesturing wildly.
“Did you notice that you almost stepped on a snake just now?” he asked.
“Um… no… oh crap.” (Sorry.)
He pointed to a spot about a metre ahead of him. I approached slowly.
“Is it still there?”
“Yes, be careful! Can you see it?”
It took quite an effort to see the snake, because it was almost perfectly camouflaged against the dark-grey mottled ground. It slithered slightly further, off the path, but its tail was still visible.
I quickly took a photo of it, before taking another couple of steps closer to get a better shot from almost directly above it. (Typical idiotic photographer… Use the zoom instead!)
“STOP! Just stay where you are and call Tanya.”
(When we told Dion about our encounter, he said that it might be a rhombic night adder (Causus rhombeatus), but we aren’t sure. Do you know what it is?)
Tanya came over to have a look at the snake.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had almost stepped on a frikkin’ snake! I must have placed one foot on the near side, and the other foot on the far side of that snake. That I hadn’t accidentally poked it with my hiking stick was a miracle. When Richard saw the snake, he had been just a few metres behind me, and it had been lying right across the path.
If any of us had stepped on the snake, and been bitten, it could have been disastrous. We didn’t know what kind of snake it was, and whether it was venomous. Even if it wasn’t highly toxic, there was no way of knowing how we’d react to the poison. We didn’t have any first aid kit with us either.
We hadn’t checked our cellphone reception and thus didn’t know if we’d be able to call for help. At this point, we were the furthest away from ‘home’, about 2 hours away from safety, if we walked quickly, more if we couldn’t walk quickly, and several hours away from the nearest doctor! There was no quicker way off this mountain in an emergency than on foot, and that might not be fast enough.
We had really been incredibly lucky.
Somewhat shook up, we conferred.
How far was it really to our destination, those elusive waterfalls and rock pools in the mountains? Distances in the veld are so misleading. Something that appears to be about 10 minutes away, as the crow flew, could easily be more than half an hour away. I think this might have been the waterfall to which we were heading, but it’s entirely possible that we still had to go beyond that ridge…
Although it would have been great and no doubt very rewarding to go all the way to the end of the trail, we decided to turn around. It seemed the more sensible option in the circumstances. Apart from that, we were feeling rather tired, Tanya’s tackies and socks were wet again, my blisters were on fire, and the prospect of continuing upwards for another 40-60 minutes there and back was just too much right now.
So we headed back along the ridge. From here, we could clearly see the large dam ontop of the hills on the far side of the little valley, where Frog Mountain and Somerset Gift Getaway Farm are located.
Cautiously, we climbed down the steep rocky section, partly on our rear ends to stop ourselves from slipping too much. This is the view from near the top.
Once we’d made it safely down, the path took us gently up onto the ridge again. The path here was nice and level. We walked slowly and carefully, keeping an eye out for snakes on the path. It had become quite warm, which increased our likelihood of encountering them. Fortunately, we didn’t. We turned right at the T-junction, and made our way down the next steep section, until we reached the rock pools in the kloof, where we had had our picnic earlier. You can see Frog Mountain tucked away in the valley below.
Thirsty and more than a little peckish, we had another little picnic on the rocks, munching bananas, crackers and energy bars and drinking some water. Feeling re-energised, we set off for home. The trail led us up and over the ridges, into and out of little kloofs.
At last, we could see our home in the far distance below us.
This is zoomed in as far as my camera allows.
“Look,” said Tanya, beaming cheerfully, “there’s our home! We’re almost there!”
By the time we climbed down the last steep section, our knees were wobbly from the effort of continuously braking against gravity. The ground was mossy and thus very slippery, and we were holding onto bushes and tree trunks and leaning heavily on our hiking sticks to stop ourselves from sliding. In fact, Richard was leaning so forcefully on his stick that it cracked in two! And my feet suddenly slid away underneath me so that I landed on my butt – luckily on a tussock of wet grass… giggle…
Shortly before 14h00, five hours after our departure, we sat down on the deck chairs on the stoep of our cottage. We took off our boots, stretched out our legs, and sighed, contentedly. Ahhh, it sure was good to be home.