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Tsitsikamma hiking trail

TSITSIKAMMA HIKE – 26-31st Dec. 2004


All hikes/back packs/base camps/day hikes have much the same common ingredients. You have the terrain (the ups and downs) the scenery, the flora and fauna and the group. What is it then that makes one hike stand out above any other? I firmly believe that the group and the individuals within the group are what makes the difference. The impossible hills, the scenery, the uncomfortable hut beds, the rain that one endured are all quickly forgotten. This was the case for me with the Tsitsikamma hike done by the Youthful Group between Xmas and New Year. The pain and suffering endured on the hills was soon forgotten. The highlight of the hike was walking with the vibrant youthful hiking group.


Janee Levey, Sandra Olivier and David Bristow have described this hike, the terrain, fauna and flora in more detail and far more eloquently than I could ever wish to, and I don’t intend to compete with them, but will rather concentrate on the group.


Before tackling this trail, Este and I joined Jim Hutch, Francis, Andy and Norma walking the last two days of the Amatola Trail. Jim would ask a few guarded questions as to how we felt about the coming Tsitsikamma Trail. I didn’t realize at the time quite how pertinent these question were. This is not a hike for sissies. Some of those hills are pretty daunting. However scenery, forest, fynbos, rivers and views far outstrip the steep hills, heat and bad underfoot conditions. The huts are well equipped and comfortable with the distances between them well planned. Each day offers more than enough pools for swimming or just cooling off.


We met at the De Vasselot Camp site on the 26th and proceeded to move cars to the finish at Storms River. The group then moved slowly to the first hut, Kalander, about a one hour easy walk from the camp. It was very apparent that the majority of this group were extremely comfortable with one another, having recently done the Fish River Canyon together. There was no fuss as to who slept on which bunk, be it top, middle or bottom. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Este and I very comfortably “fell into place” with the rest of them. Kalander hut is situated literally a stone’s throw from the beach. Ideally one should take an evening drink and enjoy watching the waves and the sunset. Unfortunately, in our case, time would not allow this and we had to get back to the hut to make supper. Being so close to the start, it is possible to spoil oneself with a decent meal on the first evening.


On the second day, a mixture of fynbos and indigenous forest begins with a fairly steep climb with magnificent views of Natures Valley and the coast line. The climb was a mute warning of what was to come on further days


Days 3, 4 & 5 seemed to pass in a flash, with day 3 possibly being the toughest. A full day of hiking though fynbos in the blazing sun. The fynbos was so tall that it completely sheltered us from the wind, offer no respite from the sun. Fortunately the map, although questionable on distances, is very good on identifying the recognized water points. Anybody doing the trail in the dry season should bear this in mind, as to get caught without water in that area would not be at pleasant at all. The days flew by with a mixture of walking and swimming. When we left Nature’s Valley the Tsunami disaster had not yet made the news. Days later, when I reached an area with cell phone reception, my cell phone rang with a short SMS regarding this disaster. This seemed very unreal as we were in a world of our own.


Enough of the hike now. Let me introduce the group: Beverly & George, our leaders, Lara, our swimmer, the Greek family Elsa , Alkis, Lauren and Natasha. Then we had Chris and Caroline (Alkis’s mentors), Riaad (the group’s personal trainer), Wendy, Tess and Giulia (dietician and yoga instructor); then the “A” team, Lara, Roger, Rod, Matthew, Robert and Veronique, and finally, Este and myself.


Let me now describe a few of the group. Chris and Caroline: Chris must be an incredibly strong man to have walked as far as he did with a thorn in his foot. He did however indicate that he was in fact a mere mortal, by squealing like a baby when Caroline pulled it out on the evening of the 3rd day.


Veronique – got to be the tiniest hiker I have thus far met. I never imagined that anyone so tiny can in fact carry a full pack for 6 days and still manage to stay in the very front of the group. Her explanation is that if she were to get behind she is so tiny that she cannot see past the person in front and misses out on the scenery.


Robert and Matthew were forced to leave us on the 3rd day. Matthew spent what must have been 3 agonizing days in a hospital with a calf muscle injury. We all wish him a speedy recovery and hope that this will not affect future hiking and cycling.


It would be interesting to know how Robert’s sale of back pack equipment went. I hope that his toilet trowel realized a good price. This essential item hangs prominently from his pack and sees far more of any trail than does the owner. The owner’s perspiration filled eyes are firmly focussed on his feet. The group, I am sure, will hope that the sale was not too successful, as his continual prattle will be missed.


Tess: she was not waiting to get home to sell off the excess weight in her pack, but was prepared to donate it to any willing takers en route. By the 5th day she had achieved her required weight and her pack was almost empty.


On the 3rd evening, Giulia led a yoga class on the grass in front of the hut well attended by the A team, who admitted to having aching backs, shoulders and calves. At the same time Riaad and Michelle were doing a stretching class in the lapa for the remainder of the group, almost in opposition to the yoga group.


After 4 days of being last to the hut Elsa, mama of the Greeks, told herself that “enough is now enough -. I refuse to be last to the hut again” and marched away from Alkis, her husband. She flew past the A team, languishing at a pool. She was next seen at the hut choosing her bed. I trust that the damage to their marriage was not too serious as we later found them happily setting up camp in the De Vasselot camp site.


Our leaders George and Bev complement one another perfectly. George does all the exciting things with Bev quietly supporting him in the background. Many of the established leaders can take a page from his book regarding his leadership style. He maintains a quiet but firm discipline on the group and has established a rapport with Roger and Rod such that he can, if necessary leave them with the front group and go back himself to help any of the stragglers. George, on behalf of the group “thank you for a wonderful hike”


Normally on a hike there is a quandary as whether to spend as much time on the trail as possible or whether to get to the hut to settle for the night. This Youthful group sorts out any indecision. You want to get to the hut with the group so as to take part in the hut activities, be it yoga classes, 30 seconds or just light hearted conversation and banter. A number of evenings were taken up playing the game 30 seconds. A quick word on this game: future groups be warned. Be it at your peril to allow the Greek girls and their mama in the same team. This family must be split up. They are potent, particularly the two girls who read one another’s minds, forming an unbeatable combination and totally decimating the opposition.


One is never too old to learn and the cliché “What was good enough for my father will be good enough for me” was proven yet again to be completely false. A number of these guys wore lightweight quick drying tops. My attitude has always been that a normal Woolworths / Edgars shirt was more than good enough to walk in. I spent 6 days walking in a damp to wet shirt. Even when the sun shined, the humidity was too great to dry anything completely. I noticed that the new generation tops dried within minutess on your body and washing is done in a fraction of the time. There are definitely advantages to the“new generation clothing”. There has even been an improvement to the faithful old Cadac Stove. The new stove is more compact, the top comes off and the cylinder seals perfectly. Gone are the days of the cry “someone’s stove is leaking” and everyone frantically rummaging through their packs to find the errant stove and when found, to discover that all the gas has escaped and possibly having to borrow a stove for the remainder of the hike. New generation rain gear, although prohibitively expensive is worth considering. The more comfortable one can make oneself the more pleasant the experience will be.


Youthful Hiking is more than simply a hike. It is an all round experience, exercise, the environment and jolly good company. Bev, “thank you for what you do in putting all these hikes together” and keep up the good work.


Ps. By the way, the tame one-legged, spotted something-something-something at Keurbos Hut turned out to be an immature chorister robin.


Rick Shearar