Clivehaddow's Blog

CLIVE AND DIANE HADDOW ON THE MOVE

THE OTTER TRAIL-PART 2-STUART JONES


Stuart Jones Part 2

Part 2 .(please click slideshow at end of post to view photos – sound on)

 We leave fairly early the next morning for day 3, which covers a distance of 7.7km with an estimated 4 hours of hiking. We have come to realize that the estimate walking time is not accurate, especially if you want to stop and explore or sightsee. The path climbs out of the valley and follows the plateau for a way. The view from up top is awesome. Every now and again, we see the spray from whales far out at see. Sometimes they are reasonably close to the coast for us to see them frolicking on the surface. The walk is pleasant and we make good time over the even ground, thankful that we are not climbing over energy sapping boulders. We eventually descend to the Lottering River valley and head a bit inland to cross the river. It is low tide, so we are able to hop from rock to rock over the river. Unfortunately, the rocks are covered in algae, and are very slippery. We pack up laughing when Rodney falls into the water. I attempt the crossing without taking off my boots. Silly boy. Thank goodness they are reasonable waterproof. Meryl also slips and so to does Andries. We are killing ourselves laughing at the stupidity of it all. If only we had taken off our boots. 

The walk to hut 3 is a short distance away, at the actual river mouth. It is very scenic with a huge boulder in front of the hut on which we soon had lain out our wet footwear. Erryn and Nicole wander in shortly and announce that they have seen footprints of the elusive Cape Otter. This little creature is very shy and hard to spot. He has adapted to the environment by learning to hunt for fish in the sea, but always returning to land to rest and sleep. 

We all take it easy that afternoon, sitting on the boulder, soaking up the sun. The air is still fresh from the last remnants of winter, and the water even colder. Far out to see we watch as a whale catapults into the air and lands with a huge belly flop, sending a spray of water high in the air. This whale continues to give us a show for about 5 minutes, and all of us are in awe of this beautiful creature. He disappears for a while as he dives down into the depths, gaining momentum and then launches his body almost completely out of the water. Wow, this is truly amazing. 

We all relax the rest of the day, knowing that the next day was a long walk of 13.8km with the infamous Bloukrantz River Crossing. We need to get there at low tide which is 1pm in order to cross safely. Even at low tide, one has to wade a fair distance and then swim the last 30 meters with waves pounding on you and sharp rocks full of razor sharp mussels waiting for soft flesh. 

Day 4 hasn’t even broken and the camp is alive with activity. Hut No 2 (the kids) is determined to beat the oldies this morning. The oldies on all the previous mornings had been the first to leave camp. Due to the time constraint, and the group consensus that we should be at the river at least 1 hour earlier in order for us to prepare and plan the crossing; we were all going to leave as the sun was coming up. The kids were dismayed to find our hut already eating breakfast and packing up. Nothing like subtle competition. The 2 youngest couples left just after 5am with there headlights on, climbing out of the valley. Erryn and Nicole left soon after with the balance of us leaving after a further 15 minutes. It was still dark, with the eastern horizon starting to lighten. 

The climb out of the valley is hard going, and Shiksha is already taking strain. I decide to push on by myself, leaving Meryl, Rodney and Andries to coax Shiksha and Rajesh on. Between Rodney and Andries they share Shiksha’s kit bag, forcing her into an army style route march. No time to play, we have a river to cross, and definitely no ferry man to pay. I am on my own, and loving it. The forests are still dark. Ahh, some “Me” time at last. Before long, I pass Nicole and Erryn. I decide to push on further by myself. It gives me time to take the odd break and watch the sun rise and listen to the harsh pounding of the sea. I am in my element. On my own. It gives you time to really cleanse the soul. Such beauty, but also such power. 

With the mind clear, the body gets into a rhythm, and before long I see the “kids” ahead. They are about 500mt further along the path, clambering over the rocks. Tracey sees me, and urges the others on. They want to stop and have tea, but she is adamant not to surrender the lead that they had fought to get. The path climbs up to the plateau again and continues through fynbos, every now and again dipping into the valleys. I have now caught up to them and joined their group, with Tineke leading the way. Unfortunately, the person who leads the way, becomes the spider basher. Surely these stupid spiders must get tired of spinning their web across the path, only for it to be broken everyday, as the group of hikers make their way along the paths. Tinny soon can’t take it anymore, and lets out a little scream, swatting and beating her arms. Bruce comforts her, and forces me to the front. And so I become the Spider Basher. 

The path is relatively gentle, and at about 10.30 we come around a corner and are able to look down to the Bloukrantz River mouth. Oh boy, we all look at each other. Excitement and concern are on everyone’s faces. The tide is still high and we can now see where we need to go. The waves are rolling in. Thank goodness the sea is relatively calm with good weather. I would hate to try and do this crossing in any other conditions or at any other time of the day. We descend to the rocky beach. Bruce immediately places an upright stick where the waves peter out, as a marker. Good thinking buddy. Now we need to wait for the rest of the group, and keep a close eye on the supposedly receding tide. 

By the time that everyone has arrived, the clouds and wind have rolled in. We all have a quick lunch and start to prepare for the crossing. Cameras need to be packed in Ziploc bags, clothes and other goodies sealed in bigger bags. Rodney and I walk to the mouth and survey the scene. The rest of the guys amble up and we agree to the plan of action. The concern is for the girls, as one cannot swim. We therefore decide to try and stretch a 60 meter rope along the swim path for them to hold onto. Rodney and I decide to go first, and test the water. Having packed our backpack in emergency bags and sealed them with cable ties, we set off. Our bags float on top of the water as we wade further into the river mouth. The waves are crashing over us, and our bags now get pulled away form us. We hang on, and push further in. We need to swim the last 30 meters. At the entrance to the cove on the opposite bank, are huge submerged rocks. Cursing, we stub our toes and fall over into the narrow channel. Elated we pull ourselves out of the water onto the narrow sandy beach. We have made it. Our bags are not torn, and our backpacks are dry. 

Now to get the others across. Rodney, who had carried the rope, with the intention of securing it to something, had let it go. It wasn’t long enough. We swim back to the waiting group. Okay, now the other guys must go with their bags. The girls are watching as the guys brave the seas and follow the route that Rodney and I had swum. Erryn manages to get the rope across. Andries takes on the task as anchor, treading water in the channel. I am on the other side, being pounded by the waves. The guys have come back and are now taking the girls across. Rodney takes control of Shiksha, who has stuffed blow up pillows down her top. With a few gentle, but forceful words, she is across. The girls follow the rope and all make it to the other side. I release the rope, thankful to be out of the pounding surf, grab Meryls backpack and swim across. 

We are all over, and in one piece. Well almost. Andries was sustained a scratch to his knee and toe. Shiksha, glad to eventually use her medical bag is quick to the rescue. Before Andries can even protest, he has a clean wound and huge bandage, together with a course of antibiotics. He loves the attention and plays on the girl’s compassion. The guys all look on at the spectacle, and giggle to ourselves. Geez, I would hate to be around when there is something serious. 

Rodney’s kitbag has been plundered by the local monkeys whilst we were doing the crossing. Little buggers must know and watch for their next victims. Thank goodness only food was taken. He was a bit concerned that someone might find one of them wearing a Rolex and sporting a fancy digital camera. 

We are all on a high, with the adrenalin pumping. There were a few casualties with bags having been ripped on the rocks, but nothing serious. The girls all go around an outcrop of rocks to change into dry clothes. Shiksha was busy changing when a helicopter comes whizzing overhead. We are upset with her that she didn’t flash at the pilot and write in the sand “Want Beer” 

The climb out is hectic. The path is along a narrow ledge where they have secured ropes to assist us. “Schoolmaster” Rodney has dictated the order of evacuation, and soon we are all out and on the path again. We know that there is a really tough ascent coming up, with a further 3 km to go to the next overnight hut. The heat of the day has passed, but the sweat is pumping from our bodies as we climb. The clouds have started to roll in and the day cools as we descend to hut 4. 

We are all tired, having been on our feet for most of the day. It is too late and cold for a swim. The temperature has dropped and there is a definite chill in the air. After a break, Andries and I follow the Klip River up the valley to explore. There are Otter tracks, but not fresh. Damn little buggers, where are you? 

As the sun sinks, we are given a show by a shoal of dolphins. The little bay is full of them, playing and surfing the waves. Makes the day all worth while. 

Supper is a little quieter. It is the last night, and the mood is a little subdued. All our liquid rations are also finished with only the odd Jagermeister being shared amongst us. The night has a definite chill to it, as we all curl up to sleep. 

Day 5 dawns to a beautiful day. Everyone is keen and eager to get going, and before long the convoy out of the valley starts off. From the huts, we can see the climb out. The designers of the trail must have been sadists, because they always start the day with a hectic climb. Almost as if to say, “okay, now that you have wiped the sleep form your eyes and are fully awake, look around you and appreciate the beauty.” And what beauty there is. 

The vegetation has started to change and the hills are gentler. The gradient is not as severe, with the path following the plateau. Its 8am and the sun is still low in the sky. The fynbos is thick with flowers starting to bloom. The smell of the plant is strong. Huge bumble bees are looking for nectar and doing their job, sharing the pollen around. Rodney points out two king protea that haven’t opened yet. Another few weeks, and these will be magnificent. A km further on, we are rewarded with a stunning sight. There is a King Protea in bloom. This thing is massive and is barely 2 meters from the path. WOW. This flower is awesome. Although the temptation is there to touch it, no-one does. Reluctantly we leave it alone and carry on our way. 

Day 5 is only 6.8km and is an easy walk. It isn’t long before we see the signs of civilization as we approach Natures valley. The wind is howling and the sea is full of white horses. The last outcrop of rock provides no protection as Rodney searches for a last cache. Reluctantly we descend to the beautiful rock free beach that marks the end of the trail. The kids are already on the beach, waiting for us. We take off our packs and congratulate each other. A damn fine trail. 

The finish is a bit of an anticlimax. There are no signs saying “you have made it” or “the end” You just finish. As a group of “Mad Atter Otters” we trundle over the now windswept beach to the little village 

I suppose that it is back to reality. Having lived in the Garden of Eden for 5 days, and not having seen a snake, makes one reluctant to finish and come back to civilization. 

The camaraderie and friendship, together with the friendly teasing and cajoling made the group special. Combine that with a truly beautiful, yet harsh tough terrain, and you have an experience that is hard to equal. 

Everyone gets something different from this experience. What you seek is what you get. For some, it is a very personal experience and growth, having challenged there bodies and “survived” Some come away with a sense of fulfillment and appreciation for what nature has to offer, and for those things that we all take for granted. At the end of the day, the most important thing of all was that we had FUN.

THANKS STUART FOR A GREAT STORY LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE!!!!

HERE IS A SHORT SLIDE SHOW OF PHOTOS – CLICK LINK BELOW(sound on)

http://www.kizoa.com/slideshow/d1178668k4651622o1/the-otter-trail

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October 26, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks Stuart! Did this 20 years back and keen on doing it again this year with my son. An awesome account which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

    Comment by Kevin | January 6, 2011 | Reply

  2. Hi Stuart! Would it be possible to start the trail at hut number four and complete only the last stretch? I need a few people from time to time to do only a few km’s trail.
    Regards Jaco, E-mail jaconel44@gmail.com

    Comment by Jaco | July 23, 2013 | Reply


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