Landroskop Hike, 29th October
Two non-cycling related posts in a row – this is getting to be a habit. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of meaty ride related posts just around the corner.
Few things are more enjoyable for me than an outdoor event with both a significant physical element, and a load of logistics which also need to be planned. In this case though, the much anticipated and discussed event was not a cycling one – but a family hiking trip. Over the past couple of months we’ve been gradually inducting our son Ben into the love of a good ramble. He’s surprised us both to be honest, both in his zeal and his lack of complaining. So much so, that neither of us were remotely daunted by the task ahead – a strenuous, largely uphill 12km hike to a hut in the mountains for the night. Even the low grey clouds scudding through the mountains around us, and the light drizzle that was falling couldn’t dampen our spirits. We’d been excited about this trip for months and now with backpacks loaded (perhaps a little too heavily) we were about to set off into the hills.
We’d hardly got started before we took a wrong turn. At a fork in the road, the GPS map showed two seemingly parallel paths, with the route taking the lower one. At walking speed, it wasn’t immediately apparent that one was a ghost of the other. Fortunately both we, and one of the groups hiking near us realised farily quickly the route was heading the wrong direction and backtracked to see the sign we had missed at the fork. The correct route splitting right, and upward into the forest. Yoli and I debated whether this was the same wrong turn one of her friends had mentioned taking which cost them a significant detour. It was an easy mistake to make.
The terrain on the rest of our route, called The Sphinx, did not disappoint either. After correcting the mistake, the trail headed up through a short section surrounded by the fresh smell of pine forests. As the trees feel away behind us, the path pitched sharply upwards and out onto the exposed mountain side. The path wound up the hillside, occasionally sandy but mostly strewn with anything from small rocks to full-sized boulders which we needed to clamber around. One constant though was the wonderful aroma of damp fynbos surrounding us – fresh and earthy, rich with the scent of herbs. We passed a few groups of hikers stopped for snacks, some had even packed out kettles and pans to make hot food and drink. Not a bad idea given the cold. Throughout the rest of the hike we inevitably passed and re-passed each other, all of us making for the same ultimate destination. Each time, Ben got an extra greeting. I’m not sure if they were surprised to see a seven year old out on such a hike, or just felt sorry for him having parents mad enough to think it was a good idea. Needless to say, whatever the reason he loved the attention.
The air was wonderful chilly, bordering on properly cold when the wind blew across, which it did for most of the first half of the hike. For the most part, Ben jaunted happily along between us, albeit managing a couple of faceplants along the way caused by not paying attention on the frequent rock and boulder strewn sections. Finally, after a bit of pleading from Ben, we pulled off the trail for some lunch. It was impossible not to smile at the text on Garmin screen as we offloaded our packs. We’d randomly chosen a nice looking spot, which just happened to be the neck of the climb, and was marked on the GPS map as “lunch stop”. So we did – and out came a selection of sandwiches and snacks. At least these we could now carry in our tummies rather than on our backs for the rest of the way.
The afternoon stretch was every bit as idyllic as the morning – but having crossed the neck, we were now sheltered from the wind on the leeward side of the mountain. Patches of blue sky began to appear between the clouds, sunlight picking out a line of glistening white rocks ahead as the trail rolled along the hillside – now mostly flat, with the climbing largely behind us on the first part of the hike. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect family day out. Ben even had his little “hero moment” as he carefully explained to Mummy how she needed to get across a stream which the path dog-legged around and over. And he also had the honour of being the first to spot the two huts which were our destination. Although they seemed to come up so soon, that we had to check the GPS to be sure of what he had seen. But he was right, just a kilometre or so further and the path looped around and gave way to a short section of board-walk over a small marshy patch in front of Landroskop hut – a simple structure of stone walls, green corrugated roof, and a collection of bunk bed rooms off a central indoor fireplace. It was basic but a welcome relief to our backs which were definitely now feeling the weight of our packs. It was also a heck of a lot nicer than a thin, flapping tent, especially given the force of the wind, which was picking up nicely.
Over the course of the next few hours we unpacked and used a pleasing amount of the gear we’d accumulated for the hike. The diminutive gas stove and kettle worked flawlessly, delivering up very welcome tea and hot chocolate. Best of all was a point Yoli and I had disagreed on a fair few times over the preceding weeks. I’d insisted that a proper braai with some juicy steaks and fire potatoes would be a great reward and well worth carrying. Finally, once she was assured the hut had firewood, she had agreed – albeit with a concession that the steak idea became traded for lamb. A few of the hikers we shared the hut with had done the same, but as we sat devouring juicy chops, potatoes slathered in butter, and asparagus it was hard not to feel a little sad for the stoves behind us boiling up two minute noodles.
At some point in the afternoon, Ben adopted one of the groups of hikers playing cards, giving Yoli and I a chance to sneak outside and enjoy the G&Ts we’d lugged up the hillside. Sat enjoying the warmth of the sunlight, watching the clouds pouring across the mountain tops ahead, they were the perfect accompaniment. And, once again, one less thing to carry home now that they had fulfilled their purpose. There is a somewhat tenuous cycling connection here too – one of the miniature bottles of Gin we drank actually came from William’s Bike Shop, although the exact circumstances which caused William to donate it to me now escape me.
No camping trip can be complete without a few raids on the enemy camp – which for Ben was Shamrock hut, a hundred meters or so below our location. In the late afternoon light, we undertook a few reccies, armed with some seriously lethal sticks held like rifles. The nearby rocks did not escape our expeditions either – for at least an hour more we scrambled around, up, and over them as the evening light slowly faded. Eventually, it was time to retire inside for hot chocolates, a few games of Exploding Kittens until the camp lights weren’t bright enough to see our cards, and finally retiring to the bunk beds. By now it was surprisingly cold – and our ultra thin, super light sleeping bags were beginning to seem less like a good idea. Fortunately, combined with a liner, they also proved super warm – so much so, the thermals I’d also packed proved completely unnecessary. The rest of the hikers partied a bit around the fire, but not excessively late. At some stage of the night there was a drunken incursion from the neighbouring hut. They’d run out of wood apparently, although their way of asking it sounded more like a scene from Nightmare on Elm Street. Yoli even asked me to lock the room door – but before I could even give it a thought, the commotion had died down. Perhaps by coincidence, but soon after the rest of the hut went to bed and we all eventually drifted off to sleep.
I can’t say I slept well – but I did at least sleep. Predictably though, the first rays of sun saw Ben away – his bunk being on top, and right beside the tiny window of our little cell. The beds were not nearly comfortable enough for a lie in, especially with pillows made out of backpacks and rolled up clothes. So we decamped outside to put the kettle on and greet the dawn. Ben did so in especially photogenic style -standing atop a pile of rocks, silhouetted against the rising sun, brandishing his stick. Our very own little stick warrior.
Once again our inability to pack light when it comes to food proved a bonus – bacon was soon sizzling in the tiniest of frying pans. There we sat, drinking instant cappuccinos and eating bacon and cheese rolls watching the sunlight slowly spread across the mountains as Ben played and ran around. Sadly, the walk down the jeep track and back to the car was all too quick – although we did find a lovely little spot beside some rock pools to finish off the last of our supplies. Our legs and backs may have been glad to see the car, but our hearts could happily have stayed in all that wonderful nature for much much longer. The hike really had been every bit the family adventure we had hoped for.