Group 1 Hikers: John Hodgson (leader) & Wendy Palm, Beverley Brockman, Cecile Bongibault, Guilia Criscuolo, Susan Delport, Wendy Farrow, Roger Jannaway, Dave Mitton, Padmini Moodley, Estelle Muller, David Ryba, Alan Saffer, Jean Scott, Michelle Simpson & son Kyle, and Michelle Viljoen,.
“Painfully Beautiful!”; “Gorgeous”; “ I’d like to meet the person who designed this trail?”; “I’ve never lost so many people on a hike”; “If you can do this you can do the Comrades marathon” – some of the comments overheard during the six day Amatola hiking trail.
The Amatola hiking trail starts just north of King Williamstown in the Eastern Cape at the Maden Dam and it was with a mix of excitement and apprehension that the Youthful group of hikers set off on what has been described as a tough six day hike. We had met the night before at Hogsback with everyone arriving from almost all corners of the country and with a frenzy of last minute packing and weighing of backpacks we eventually piled into the 4WD and Backpackers taxi which dully transported us to the start. After a quick group shot we set foot into the forest for a challenging hiking experience.
Day one. We were soon on our way up the mountain, one of the many mountains we would consider as strenuous climbs over the next 6 days. The weather clouded over and soon it was raining and out came the ponchos and pack covers. At one stage, a vote was taken whether to take the short or an alternative long route up to the hut. Being in the early stages of the hike and with legs and minds feeling strong, the majority vote was for the long route. However the majority vote was not executed so it was the short route and just as well, as the rain did not let up one bit and by the sighting of the first hut we were a waterlogged bunch of hikers, desperately seeking refuge of a warm cabin and warm shower. Talking of warm showers, our hopes were dashed each night as either there was no gas or the system just didn’t work.
Day two. With the aches and pains from the first day setting in, we set off through more beautiful indigenous forests with the rain threatening to damper our spirits. But it was not for long as the clouds started to make way for sunshine and we were rewarded with some beautiful spots to take in the views from along the escarpment and an ice cold swim in what was the best pool of the hike, for some that dared. But for some the day did not start or end as planned and by the time we had reached Dontsa, the 2nd hut, we were down five hikers due to various misfortunes, the most serious being a broken arm, which meant we had to get Bev off the hike so that she could be attended to. Although sore knees and feet and a broken toe were the cause of the other misfortunes, rumour has it that David Ryba had heard about the New Year’s party at the Backpackers in Hogsback!!! Thanks to the superb first aid treatment administered by Wendy (compliments were given by the hospital staff at Frere), Bev was able to walk the few kms to the forest station road where our contact in Hogsback, John, was most willing and readily available to assist. And such was the beginnings of the “Youthful base camp” back at Hogsback. Added to the casualties was Roger’s backpack which decided that after 20 years of service it was time to literally “pack” it in. That should solve the mystery of the stranded backpack found by the next group.
Day three. After another very cold night in the forests at Dontsa, the day dawned bright and blue and so with renewed spirits, and for some, the need for a new pair of feet and legs, we experienced the forests of the Amatolas, descending steeply and deep into the ravines while passing some outstanding waterfalls and then after lunch we embarked upon an extreme ascent up to the Cato hut. This stretch proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the day and hike thus far and certainly challenged one’s reason for being there. But despite the agony, the waterfalls and pools were most outstanding and simply indescribable. The hut at Cato was newer and much more spacious with a beautiful view and surrounded by rolling green hills. With just over 24 hours to go till the New Year we were drooling over the goodies to look forward to from the food “drop” which had been arranged from the base camp at Hogsback. Unfortunately Roger decided not to continue further with the hike and so once again a “911” call went out to John at base camp. We’re not sure if Roger also wanted to attend the New Year’s party too!!
Day four. Things seemed to be getting slightly easier for some, probably because the pack was slightly lighter, muscles now worn in, but for some the going was getting rougher in places!! No names need to be mentioned! The day was spent swimming at some of the pools and after another long day we reached the Mnyameni hut only to be greeted by a bunch of people occupying “our” hut. Our first plan of action to just ask them to go was scuppered when they produced a rather authentic looking permit for the hut for that night and after what appeared to be phone calls to the right places it seemed that their was a double-booking. As their party was well underway and being the friendly people from the eastern cape, it was agreed that we’d have to share the hut. But we were told quite clearly that while they were hikers themselves, they were there to have a New Year’s bash and that was not going to change, but us Gautengelengs (our new nickname) we were most welcome to join them!! At this point Alan decided not to waste a minute in being sociable so that he could have a much needed smoke or two……. and he also managed to borrow a table for us to use for our New Years bash with all the goodies (non-hiking food) dropped off for the event. Our New Year took place quite early, I think we were celebrating New Year somewhere in Australia and went down very well as it was a break from the hiking food in our packs. We decided we should be a little sociable with our fellow hut dwellers and were drawn into a Shangaan rain dance (as the eastern cape is desperate for rain, so we were told). With rain not being a hikers companion we were rather reluctant to take part but our fears were allayed as they said the rain would not come for a few days………Who were we to argue?!
Day five. Another steep ascent through indigenous forest emerging out onto the fynbos covered slopes of the back of the Hogsback Mountain. The debate was now on as to which day had been the toughest day. I don’t think there was any consensus and little did we know there was more to come…..The trail followed the Zingcuka river which had an abundance of cool pools for swimming, before traversing a plateau and then descending steeply into the Wolf River Forest to the fifth and final night at the Zingcuka hut. It was here that we were given an impromptu display of flame throwing by Alan.
Day six. A last minute decision by Michelle to leave the trail could not be averted by any amount of persuasion, so once again, our “911” John arrived to alleviate another pair of sore feet. The day’s hike took us on another steep ascent through a cool forest out onto a plateau of fynbos and grass vegetation, dominated by the common sugarbush. A very steep zigzag ascent in the baking sun took us all eventually to the edge of Hogsback I, where we were rewarded with the most spectacular view of the whole hike. From way up at an altitude of 1800m it was a time to reflect on the past 6 days and with Hogsback in sight, the start of the home run. After 6 days of pain and joy we arrived at the end with a sense of achievement of having completed another great hike. A BIG thanks to John for leading our group. And also thanks to Roger for the ice cold drinks at the end.
By: Wendy Farrow
Hiking the Amatola trail in perfect weather conditions and carrying 3 day’s of food only was a real pleasure.
Beverley had arranged that someone would bring our ‘happy hour’ on 31 December to the hut, which gave us the opportunity to also have our food for the next 3 days to be brought up. You do not often get a bonus like that!
Our group was a mix of ‘newish’ and ‘established’ hikers, coming from all over the globe. The trail was well marked and soon little groups and a hasty individual tackled the trail on their own pace. All the waterfalls and the little lakes on the trail could be enjoyed to the fullest as the long summer days and the nice weather allowed for many and long stops.
The ‘grapevine’ worked well and throughout the trail we knew where the hikers were.
The evenings at the huts were very relaxing. The warm water donkeys were replaced with geysers, which unfortunately didn’t work. Luckily the water wasn’t too cold for a cold shower.
One of our hikers developed bronchitis and had to discontinue the hike. All the other hikers completed the hike as they started it: quite leisurely, relaxed and in excellent spirit.
The hikers were: Robert Zuzowski, Estee and Rick Shearer, Chris Faraday, Theresa Van Wyk, Slovena Webb, Ursula and Arne Fermum, Ingrid, Tony Burisch , Jim Arnett, Roland Heap, Ines Gontek and Hanneke Robat.