Tucked away in the S E part of the Cape is the Amatola range, one of the sprawling magical mountain areas in South Africa. Though exhibiting some similarities to the Drakensberg, to me it has always seemed romantically mysterious. The Hogsback Mountains and its peaks are perhaps the best known areas amongst hikers and offers a little bit of everything. Its diversity was vividly evident with heat hazed horizons, covetous buttresses, twisted mountain ramparts, emerald pastures and waterfalls. Most of the hardwoods of the Amatola forests were particularly interesting.
It was one of those cool April mornings with an invigorating breeze when a bunch of seasoned old timers left the information kiosk not far from Maden Dam. Enthusiasm amongst us was great. After some six kilometres of steady climbing we reached the plateau of the forested mountain. From this stage, traversing the highland covered some interesting sites on the way to our first overnight stop called Valley Hut, an old forester’s residence. All sorts of weird and wonderful insects and airborne goggas were encountered. In places tree top ceilings were so high and dense that very little light reached the floor. One is in total seclusion from the hectic place called the world. On occasion, majestic looking Louries broke cover. Their brilliant displays of crimson and purple wingspans were hovering against sunrays sliding through tree cnopies.
Day two was the longest over the mountainous terrain covering almost 22 km. This was rather exhausting for all of us. I thought that my muscles didn't know what the date on my birth certificate was. They only knew which of my body parts had been exercised. As night fell we were within reach of Dontsa Hut. This was fairly close to the river. Thankfully, we all had torches. The basic hut consisted of a fireplace and wooden walls. While rain clouds rolled ominously overhead, we stoked up a great fire and prepared some hot soup and other nourishment. Salient points on this untrammelled stretch included delicate wildflowers particularly adjacent to waterfalls and streams and a variety of birds. There was little time to observe these feathered friends flying about below the tree tops. Small Bushbuck watched us attentively whilst drinking water before running away in the opposite direction.
Ripped by forked lightning the previous night, clouds emptied themselves on the surrounding mountainsides and valleys. Day three started off on a wet track. Paths were lined with yellow spotted black winged butterflies dancing in amongst the wild flowers. It reminded me of the abundant Cosmos growing wildly in the Gauteng region. Further on we came across a truly magnificent waterfall in full flow with water plummeting down like a silvery white-pillar onto image glistening rock protrusions. These were bedded and surrounded by ferns and posies of flowers in full bloom. It was indeed a glorious extravaganza. Forest fungi came in a great variety of exotic shapes and colour on scattered rotting tree trunks. Works of art can rarely rival the beauty of nature. At Cata forest station we had the option of aborting our hike and taking a bus ride back to our accommodation in Hogsback village. Although most of us were injured in one way or another we all elected to complete the trail and took on additional food which had been arranged for us.
Day four involved a 14 km. path to Mnyameni Hut. This included some heavy climbing and shouldering some rough boulders. Thankfully our backpacks were a little lighter by now. Our trail continued through tall mountain grass and river rapids as the gush of water slipped into a gorge with an everglade. We viewed a number of waterfalls and what surprised us most was to see them this high up in the mountain range. Their gentle soothing sound of water filled the air with a cascade of serenity. Showering beneath a vertical stream meant one could view everything wet and naked. Whilst crossing a river rapid three of us lost our balance and fell into the river. This included yours truly. We took advantage of the crystal clear pools whenever possible. After a long descent we eventually reached our hut accommodation. This was a welcome respite for all of us.
After another night of drizzle on day five, the beauty of the morning scene was softened by a haze that hung over the valley. The day started off with a climbing assault for several kilometres to the upper reaches of the dense forest. This part was host to many bird varieties. The colourful fliers were weaving in and out of bushes, trees and their other habitats, chirping and squawking excitedly in the cool mountain air. The aura around us said it all. Further along the scene changed, paths were flanked by tall Yellowwoods with their fortified trunks seemingly hundreds of years old. At Zingcuka Hut a hot shower facility and solar powered lighting was available. By this time most of us were showing signs of wear, attending to cuts, scratches, bruises and flu, all accumulated since day one. We were now looking forward to completing the last bit of the trail.
On day six we slowed down to capture the essence of this beautiful part of the forest. This included several more waterfalls and the Hogsback peaks before reaching our accommodation in Hogsback village.
The entire trek was perhaps the most arduous amongst hiking routes.
The trail encompassed a full spectrum, from evocative to exciting, through startling and harsh, to the serene and beautiful.
By Selwyn Lager