Nov 17th, 2013
85F in the shade … Perfect, my favorite temperature.
A warm breeze with flocks of cotton from the trees lazily floating by me, uniformly heading upstream only to reverse direction in mass confusion, as if the wind cannot decide where best to deposit the fluff. I am in the Cederberg Mountain Range, a three-hour drive from Cape Town.
Above me, a super-saturated cobalt sky with ephemeral, feathery clouds are met by a collection of red, orange and grey streaked mountains, fantastic hoodoos and cool, clear, amber colored streams. Mountain fynbos covers much of the range including protea, wild olive and conebush.
If that isn’t enough, I am surrounded by grapes of the drinking variety. In fact the Cederberg Vineyard has the distinction of being the highest elevation vineyard in South Africa and produces some of the finest award winning wines in the country.
We are here to hike, photograph – with a tripod – and explore all the wonderful rock formations that Cederberg is famous for. Four days of my favorite things.
Our first evening we went for a short hike to scout the deep swimming hole called Maalgat; I never made it. About a ¾ of a mile from the trailhead, I stopped as I heard a child yell “Papa”. This was followed in rapid succession by several more screams each increasing in intensity and decreasing in coherence. I couldn’t see the child but was able to locate him easily by sound. A swimming trunk clad, bare foot, 4-year-old boy with tears streaming down his face, speaking Africaans. The only word I could understand was “Papa”, but he appeared to understand the gist of what I said. The two of us set out to find his lost papa and after 15 minutes or so the two were joyfully reunited on the trail. Evidently, the father had been racing back down the trail to find his son and had told other hikers that his boy was missing. Indeed, when coming up the trail carrying the distraught boy we passed another adult who gave me a suspicious look. Do I really look too old to have a four year old? But, he could have been a grandchild for heaven’s sake! Anyway, feeling a like a trapped kidnapper, I asked the man if the boy was his. Stupid question, the kid was still crying and obviously did not know the man from Adam.
The following morning at 7:00 am found us at the trailhead looking straight up at a 2000+ feet haul up a steep rocky mountain en route an 8 hour round-trip hike to the Wolfberg Cracks and Arch.
It was really more of a scramble than a hike but we made it up through the largest of the cracks and out to the top to enjoy a leisurely level trail most of the way to the Arch.
John decided the view from the plateau was quite good enough for him so it was agreed I would continue to the arch alone and he would enjoy a snooze in the shade. 90 minutes later, back at our parting place, John was nowhere to be seen. I scanned, I shouted … nothing. I hiked another 10 minutes up the trail looking for John … nothing. I hiked back to our parting place … nothing. I repeated this process for another 90 minutes, each time going further afield, every time returning to the parting place to shout and blow the “world’s loudest whistle” numerous times … nothing! I was now getting worried. Had he seized his chance to ditch me, been struck by a Black Mamba or a heart attack, or could he be in the grip of a rock python? Finally, I hiked clear back to the Cracks and all the way back again. There stood John. He had been lost in the shade just off the trail from our parting place. Despite the trail being visible in either direction for ½ mile or more, he had neither seen me nor heard the world’s loudest whistle blown repeatedly within 100 yards of him. Unbelievable!!
At 5:00 pm we were as dry and dusty as the dirt track we drove on – straight to the vineyard where we shared a chilled bottle of Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc and watched a Malachite Sunbird sip his own nectar of the gods.
Other hikes included the Maltese Cross, Lot’s wife, the Stadsaal Caves and Bushman rock art.
Oh, and I did eventually make it back to the swimming hole, also known as the Hippo Pool.
So, the Cederbergs – wilderness, wonders and wines – paradise found. Days filled with exceptional hiking and wonderful photography, followed by a swim in cool waters and a shared bottle of wine.
Next up, the Karoo.