Camping in South Africa? Its a topic of discussion that many people can relate to. Due to the high crime rate of the country, most people find comfort in sleeping behind locked security gates, alarm systems, large watchdogs, high walls and electric fences. The safest you feel is far from civilisation preferably surrounded by the Big 5 as your security deterrent. Yet a few Mavericks make plans, get together and head into the mountains with nothing more then their sleeping quarters, bare essential clothing and sustenance to survive a weekend in wild spaces.
I got a taste of the Western cape vibe when i asked a buddy of mine Stuart McConnachie what his weekend mission plans were during a work trip to Cape Town. He had been interested in joining a Hike up Slanghoek pile but after Ultra trail Drakensberg has still been nursing his wounds. He suggested i take part, with the added bonus that he would hook me up with the gear to make it happen. It literally took an hour between contacting him and being signed up for the hike, Admin like a boss. Freda Walters was leading the hike, and amazingly offered a spot to sleep on the friday night, the rental Fiesta would have been cool aswell, especially since showering can be frowned upon in those parts, but damn i was looked after even though the guilt levels were high! Food was prepared in an instant.
So a super early 7:30 departure time (early for the western cape, i think the sun rises at the crack of noon there) and we were off to Bainskloof Pass. My dodgy mountain vibe tunes playing through the radio with the peaks towards Wellington increasing in Stature as we reach the foot of the hills. Upon reaching the Trailhead of the bobbejaans river trail it was a meet and greet of the 11 members that would share their passion for adventure for the weekend.
Within 200m, the group came to a standstill. in order to progress we needed to cross the Witte River. Already 200m in and you notice the different personalities on the hike, each being thrown options of how to cross, all heading to the same destination. Being damn impatient, wading straight through with my shoes on seemed responsible enough. This also gave me a fantastic opportunity to grab a few dynamic pics of the others to start off the hike.
Shortly after, we regrouped on the trail, packs clipped in, shoes fastened and journey continued. Within a few 100m i got sidetracked by the vegetation, The small seed heads bursting out into tiny highlights and lowlights. I looked far and wide, and no Lantana was to be found, off trail missioning must be a dream here.
The trail was perfect, clean with loose white rocks that reflect the bright sun into your cap shielded face. Due to the quantity of rainfall 2 days prior, the streams were flowing and the waterfalls were cascading. The trail too at times had water flowing along its course and from time to time the small creatures of the undergrowth made their presence known. Had i kept my head down, i would have been satisfied enough, but lifting my chin revealed the beautiful world of the cape mountains in a panoramic amphitheater. We took a few breaks along the route to allow the back markers to catch up, which to be honest, was mostly me, not due to effort, mainly due to distraction and visual wondering.
The hike to the vlakte was by no means long, nor intense. It was a gradual 5km, and honestly, i would say my oldest son Carsten (6) would gladly go the distance. Once we had arrived at the vlakte, we setup tents just above a cascading waterfall of the Bobbejaans river with a breathtaking view of the valley below in the direction of the Bainskloof pass. With tents up, snacks consumed we continued to the Slanghoek pile summit with our mission to return the summit log that had gotten damaged due to exposure in its new container. The ascent was such good fun. Charles had lead some of us up a scramble (on purpose). The effects being maximum ascent with maximum joy. After the first false summit i once again got sidetracked with my adventure selfies. Fell behind and found myself in conversation between my different mindsets with the low level vegetation standing firm against the breeze and the crackle of rock underfoot. One more false summit and i could see some of the group at the summit. its wasnt until about 50meters from the summit that the intense beauty of the view below revealed itself.
Sheer descents to the wine farm valleys below engulfed by the peaks tower above them. Perhaps i was just a tourist, perhaps im out of my area code, perhaps its the summit energy, but the landscape was breathtaking. A summit selfie by selfiephone later and lazing around being mindless was all i felt like doing. The group decided to head back to camp. I however chose to stay, my valid excuse that i was waiting for the “light to change” although i was more just keen to park off on a rock and reflect. I had been Shooting assignments non stop daily for possibly a month and been on the road for 2 weeks away from family, its been a mad rush of deliveries and deadlines and in that moment i could do absolutely nothing of value to my clients, It was my time for myself, a selfish thought knowing my amazing wife was back at home nursing a 4 week old baby boy and entertaining 2 stubborn boys that have been emotional since my departure. I managed to squeeze my very last bit of my phones battery for a WhatsApp video call to them just before heading back down to Stuarts black diamond Boutique hotel i had set up earlier.
Halfway down, its was golden hour time, you can’t not shoot more adventure selfies during golden hour. Except in the cape its almost golden 2 hours, the evening glow just gets better’er and better’er before i found myself scrambling down a few rock faces with only the bright moon above. I thought about how the group must probably be worried about their tourist and rightfully so, they had been concerned about my wellbeing and where planning a search party that would have begun their search mission the next morning, the Next morning you ask, well Freda has a stash of wicked soup and coffee on the go, chocolates did their rounds and by the time the evening festivities had been completed it would be to dark and cold to search for the tourist, ha ha. That part was just a joke i think…
The evening was cold, i had all my kit on and halfway through the night had been cursing the stubborn river crossing earlier that day, the socks had still been a little damp and didnt think Stuart would appreciate smelly hiking sock stank in his sleeping bag so i chose to keep my feet bare. The tent was cosy and i got some good sleep.
The next morning i heading up to get more landscapes in the bag and said my goodbyes as the rest of the group would tackle Sneeuberg during the time i needed to race down to my rental, head to Stuart to drop off the gear and back to the airport to backtrack home with a stopover job in Johannesburg on the Monday. Immediately after i had taken my seat in the plane i apologised to the poor lady sitting next to me why i smell funky, and that i had been doing my part in saving water in cape town by not shower for 2 days, with the faint smell of damp shoes wafting up from foot to nose during the flight.
So on conclusion, if there is 3 things i will take away from the weekend. its 1: the Cape is amazingly beautiful, The mountains are diverse and spectacular,and although they may not offer 4000m peaks, it shouldn’t be the reason to be out there in the first place. and 2: in order for the outdoor community around the country to improve to the level of the Western cape, you cannot be selfish and go alone. and lastly 3: My Lowepro Photosport 300aw is one sick fast packing bag, I managed to descend the 5km from camp to car in just under an hour carrying a Nikon D850 with 18-35mm lens, 70-200 2.8, a tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress, food, water, and phone.