Two days in the Western Cape Mountains: Boesmanskloof Trail

In South Africa we celebrate a day on the 24th of September called Heritage day, celebrating our diversity and traditions that are so deeply rooted within our country. As with most public holidays, it offers most people time to rest or  get away for the weekend. 

About two weeks before Heritage Day I received a text from my friend, Jaco Boshoff, with one clear intention: to get out of the city. We narrowed down our options and finally decided on the Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail. The trail starts in Greyton – a small town about two hours outside of Cape Town. This one-day hike promised stellar views and according to the article – was only a 5/10 in the fitness category. Little did we know how subjective that review was. 

We brought in another friend, Darryl Pinetown, borrowed some hiking bags and started packing excitedly. The thing we looked forward the most, was reaching the top – the cosy cabin, fireplace and cold pool. With that in mind, we packed for the top – meat, snacks and of course some wine was all thrown into the mix – so much for a lightweight hike. It needs to be said that neither of us three ever hiked with this amount of weight in our bags and we would certainly question some decisions over the next few days as our shoulders cry in pain. 

We arrived in Greyton just before 07:00, expecting warm temperatures and clear skies. To our surprise, the air was crisp and the mountains covered with fog. It did, however, work in our favour as the first 6 kilometres is a brutal and relentless jeep-track climb. 

We started out through the Greyton Nature Reserve on a well-maintained trail. Lush green veldt surrounded us – the mist adding a touch of contrast. Our first hiccup came when the trail suddenly opened up into a riverbank, with no clear trail markings. We gave each other a few nervous glances and made the clear assumption that we’ll have to cross this river and hope the trail continues on the other side. 

Now usually, this would not be an issue, but we were clearly not caffeinated enough on this early morning, and this was not how the article said the trek would start. We left our worries behind with an “Oh well, let’s go”. Luckily there were no serious blunders, besides when I put half my shoe in a puddle of mud, but I won’t elaborate on that here. 

Then the climbing started. It was here that our bags made their presence known all the more. In other words, our shoulders began to feel the pain and so did our legs. For some reason, this was the perfect time for my two compatriots to start asking some deep questions. Luckily, Darryl took the lead on that one – and he can be quite the storyteller, so I could continue to struggle in silence.

We reached the top of the six-kilometre climb, out of breath. We paused for a moment, and then looked up. The mist slowly started to give way, revealing the most beautiful peaks towering above us. The moment lasted for a few seconds as one of the guys blurted out what we’ve all been thinking, “Dammit, I thought we were at the top”. We continued hiking the next bit of rolling hills and then sat down to have some snacks. Here we could see the valley we’d descend into next, and the horrifying climb waiting at the end. 

This adventure again reminded me how valuable nutrition is – with every pitstop we could have a snack or energy bar, I could feel how it almost immediately affected my energy. Eating was not a routine act, but rather a survival necessity. It got us through those dark moments in the pain cave. Of course, the idea of our evening braai waiting, definitely spurred us on as well. 

The descent into the valley was rough, with loose rocks adding to the mix. Different muscles started aching and the trial required a little bit more concentration now. Luckily, we came around a bend and there it was…A waterfall with a serene pool waiting just for us.

The waterfall at the halfway mark.

THE WATER WAS FREEZING. Nonetheless, exactly what we needed. After a few plunges, it was time to take out the Bialetti to make coffee and eat ham & cheese sandwiches. If you would have asked me, I’d say that was the best lunch I’ve ever had. We sat in silence as we devoured the food, besides the occasional grunt of frustration the increasing amount of insects caused us. 

Once we were sufficiently refuelled, we filled up our water bottles, soaked our buffs and set off into the most difficult part of the day. My legs seemed to take forever to warm up again and at the same time the sun brutally emerged – the weatherman was right with his sunny prediction, the valley’s rocks baked us into scorching dehydration. 

This hike was truly resourceful at exactly the right time. Just before our final ascent, a little stream trickled down in a shaded area – giving us one final boost to the top. Nature supplies abundantly. The next part we hit an actual dirt road – some of the locals many years ago tried to connect Greyton and McGregor with a road through the mountain, but they ditched their effort soon after the summit. We enjoyed the easier terrain as we ascended what we thought was the final climb. 

The deserted road towards the summit.

Have you ever felt absolutely dead tired, but because you knew you were so close to the end, you were able to dig extra deep and give it a phenomenal push to finish victoriously? That’s what we did. Never in my life have I ever felt so betrayed when came to the cabin at the top and there’s a sign pointing to the right with our cabin name on, putting to a steep hill that seems never-ending. 

What followed was the most extreme mental battle, heightened by the ultra-steep gradient and loose sand of the final climb. Finally, we could see our cabin, next to a tranquil swimming pool – heaven.  

We reached home for the night, exhausted but extremely grateful for a beautiful day. We celebrated with a beer in the swimming pool, with the views of the mountains surrounding us as our legs recovered in the icy water. Needless to say, after a cup of coffee we fell asleep for a mandatory afternoon nap.

The evening was something out of a storybook – a perfect sunset, meat on the fire, stokbrood and lots of wine that created memories we won’t forget for a very long time – most of which can not be adequately described on this page. 

The next morning started with coffee and rusks, we were quietly mentally preparing for the way back. We packed our bags and set off into the sun around 08:30. A small breeze would join us all the way to the end, making it just a little more bearable. 

The hike down was a lot faster, but do not underestimate the annoying power of a steep downhill. We felt muscles ache we did not know existed, but nothing could hinder our stoke. Being in the mountains is an absolute privilege and the camaraderie, nonsense chats and incredible views could only give us high spirits. 

We made another stop at the waterfall and pushed on to have lunch further down the road – leftover boerewors rolls never seem to disappoint. We met a lot more hikers on the way down, many still in high spirits, yet to face the brutal ascents. 

We reached the bottom around 13:30 and had one final heavenly swim before heading back to the car. And so two glorious days came to an end. The views, the escape, the fellowship and yes even the pain, made it two of the best days of 2020. Get out there, escape the comfort of your home and be intentional to make memories. Boesmanskloof, we thank you.