Cape Trip day 7: Sneeukop (Skurweberge)

The Skurweberg is a small mountain range north of Ceres and south of the Koue-Bokkeveld – or, more specifically, in the middle of nowhere. At 2070m, Sneeukop is the highest summit in the range. With the Leeurivier (Lions River) separating the Skurweberge from the Koue-Bokkeveld at an altitude below 1000m, the range is effectively separate from any other range in the area. Incidentally, the parent peak for Sneeukop is Groot Winterhoek Mountain, with a key saddle on the slightly north-east of the town Op Die Berg.

When it comes to South African peaks with 1000m prominence, this is one of the more obscure ones. More commonly known as Bokkeveld-Sneeukop, a name that confused me at first since it isn’t in the Bokkeveld, this peak is rarely climbed. Even finding information about it online proved very tricky.

The Slingsby Touring Map of the Cederberg shows a few jeep tracks in the area, but didn’t have any further information of much use. Google showed a campsite near the mountain called Moon River Bush Camp – who I contacted for more information. They put me in touch with Mount Ceder, who own Kleinveld Farm, which is the farm on which the summit is found. Notably this discovery took months of searching to figure out.

When I contacted Mount Ceder, they informed me that I would not be allowed to climb the peak on my own. Rudi and I were planning to climb Saronsberg together on the Wednesday, and I was going to do this peak solo on the Monday – but when they informed me of this, Rudi agreed to switch plans and he would therefore join me on Sneeukop instead. Mount Ceder didn’t have any campsites available for Tuesday night, so I booked the nearest alternative accommodation – Cederberg Oasis.

Sunset from my room at Cederberg Oasis. Grootrivier Pass is visible on the right.

Seeing as I had just finished climbing Saronsberg when I left for Cederberg Oasis, I was setting off later than I would have liked. It is a 146km drive, but 53km of that is on a corrugated dirt road – and I knew I would have to drive slowly on the dirt section.

The drive from Tulbagh starts by driving into Ceres through Mitchell’s Pass – one of the most spectacular road passes I’ve ever driven. It then goes up Gydo Pass (which isn’t bad either) to reach Die Dorp Op Die Berg, or Op Die Berg as it is more commonly known. The route then turns off to, well, nowhere. After a tar section, it becomes dirt. The road is mostly fine, but is corrugated in a lot of places. Most of the passes on this road are tarred, but not all of them.

I drove nice and slowly on the dirt road – partly because the rocky terrain next to the road was spectacular, and partly because I was driving a Yaris! It was great to finally see the world famous Rocklands – although the rock formations well past there were far more interesting to look at from the road.

I stopped at Mount Ceder on the way past to collect the farm key for the next day. There was some confusion as to who I was and I was informed that I had to book this in advance. I pointed out that I had, and they even noted that my booking said “here to climb at Kleinveld Farm”. They eventually phoned Pieter, who informed them that he was expecting me and would meet me there at 7 the next morning.

I then got back on the road to head to Cederberg Oasis. This 13km section included crossing Grootrivier Pass – a 1:7 gradient dirt road pass. I had to make use of first gear to get up, and had to slow down to 10km/h in places due to how corrugated the road was, but my mighty Yaris managed it really well.

Cederberg Oasis is great – it was also very reasonably priced. My room had a spectacular view, although I only got there just before sunset. I have to say – red sandstone and sunset make a great combination!

My Yaris at the Zonder Water turnoff, with Sneeukop behind it

The next morning I was up early, checked out of my room and drove back to Mount Ceder. Going back over Grootrivier Pass was a bit hectic, but no issues once again. I collected the key from Pieter, who had arrived earlier than agreed – something I really appreciated.

I met Rudi at the Zonder Water turnoff, and then parked my car under a tree about 500m from the turnoff. We drove the rest of the way in Rudi’s 4X4 – the Yaris would never have coped on those farm roads. It took us a while to figure out where to go, but we eventually found the farm shed where Pieter had told us to park, and we were good to go. All these delays added up to us only starting around 9AM on a very hot, dry and still day – not a great start!

The route started with a 4X4 track that crosses over a ridge. About 1km in, a dog popped out of the bushes. I am used to very aggressive dogs in the mountains, so I was a bit startled, but this dog turned out to be friendly. Pieter later told me that this dog belongs to the shepherd on the farm. I still don’t know the dog’s name, so I will refer to her by the name we called her on the day – Trail Dog.

Kliphuis – the lower summit near where the hike starts.

The route passes Kliphuis, a lower mountain next to the road, before dropping to a river. I knew we were close to semi-desert here, and the area is called Zonder Water – so my expectation was that we wouldn’t manage to find any water on the route. We had both started with enough water to get us up and back down for this reason, so it was nice to see water so close to the start – that meant that we could run out half an hour before reaching the car and the refill again.

The jeep track progressively got rougher. An individual who had climbed the peak a few weeks before us, named Binny, had sent me a GPS track for the route. I had been warned that they followed the jeep track for too long, and I had thus modified the track to use their way down. Looking at the terrain, it looked like we could just pick a line and go, but it is always handy to have a second option. Thanks for the track, Binny, it was very helpful, especially for planning beforehand!

We soon started climbing again. Trail Dog was still following us – Rudi said he thinks she will follow for the entire hike, but I doubted this.

We followed the obvious gully that Binny’s group had also used. There was a bit of a trail lower down, but the vegetation wasn’t a problem, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – so navigation was trivial.

The ground wasn’t very steep either – don’t get me wrong, it was far from flat, but we could easily maintain 3-4km/h. The bigger issue was how hot it was and the lack of a breeze. I usually prefer to start a hike as early as possible for exactly this reason – the higher up a mountain you go, the better your odds of some form of wind, so it’s great to be through the hottest section early in the day.

I had noticed a bit of shade under a rock in front of us – and we could hear water. We agreed to take a break when we reached that spot. Trail Dog was still following us, and we were worried she wouldn’t have water, so when we stopped at that spot, we both filled our bottles. Even though she wasn’t our dog and we had not encouraged her to follow us, we already felt a sense of responsibility for her.

Trail Dog at our rest spot

Shortly after we stopped here and filled up our bottles, Trail Dog jumped into the river. It is a common problem with having dogs on trails where you drink the river water – you can’t really stop a dog from jumping in (and contaminating it in other ways).

The top of the gully got steeper – but still noting particularly bad.

The pointy peak to the left of the nearby bump is Sneeuberg an the flat top to the right of it is Tafelberg

We reached the top of the ridge to get a great view of the Cederberg to the north. The ground on top was generally very easy.

Trail Dog continued to run around with all the energy in the world. By this point I knew Rudi was right – she would follow us right to the summit.

We hit a few rocky sections on the summit ridge. We kept an eye on Trail Dog to ensure she was fine, but she generally got up the scrambles faster than we did.

Rudi on one of the scrambles – Trail Dog is already up waiting for us to catch up
Trail Dog generally never stood still for long enough for me to get a photo – so this was one of the rare close-up shots I got of her

The final summit section is long, with a very rocky top. I have often heard of Tafelberg (Cederberg) referred to as a lunar landscape – I assume this is similar to what is found up there.

Much to our surprise – there was actually some stagnant water on top, which Trail Dog duly hydrated with.

To our surprise, there was actually a bit of a marsh near the top. I’m not sure how much water is usually found here, but we were surprised how much there was. I couldn’t see any flow, so it was probably stagnant. Trail Dog took a quick swim in it.

We also found a patch of snow near the top. We had seen snow on the south slopes on the drive in – but it felt a bit odd to be touching a large patch of snow on such a hot day!

The summit cairn

The summit itself is on a large rocky outcrop. The scramble looked intimidating from below, till we found a gully on the west side, which was mostly easy. Unfortunately the top bit was vertical, so Trail Dog didn’t go to the actual summit – but considering she was running around the entire way up and down, she did far more distance and vertical than we did!

Views from the top were great – it was a very clear day once again.

We stopped for a break below the summit. We had made very good time, and we knew the descent would be trivial in terms of difficulty.

We found a usable cave on the way down. I suspect wind is a more common problem here than rain, so the cave likely wouldn’t be much use – but interesting nonetheless.

You can actually see Sebrakop in the distance in this photo – far distance a bit right of the centre.

We took a line to the left to start our descent. The line we had come up was a bit rocky, and we were looking for some different views for the way down. The rock formations on top would be the most interesting part of this hike. Don’t get me wrong – it is a reasonably impressive looking mountain, and is fairly imposing when you are there, but it isn’t in the same league as the others I have done in the Cape.

We decided to make things difficult for ourselves and descend via the steeper gully nearer the summit. We had eyed it out on the way up, so we knew it would go. It would cut about 1km off, but being steeper, would likely take longer. Nonetheless – it was unlikely either of us would ever return to this mountain: we had just summitted it in perfect weather, it was a mission to access and wasn’t nearly the most dramatic peak in the area. Thus we may as well take advantage of the opportunity to explore the area a bit.

Ghaznavid and Trail Dog enjoy the view

The route was definitely harder than the way we went up, but it still wasn’t particularly difficult. There was a bit more scrambling – but nothing Trail Dog couldn’t manage. Rudi did try to help Trail Dog down one section, but she seemed to always be able to find a way down on her own. I stand to be corrected, but to my memory, there was only one scramble on the entire hike where Rudi actually had to pick her up.

The hardest scramble was coming down this section. It looks a lot harder than it is.

Once we had reached the valley below, it was just a case of heading for the old jeep track. As it turned out, that process was slower than anticipated. Our shortcut had put us far from the road, and we didn’t want to cut directly to it.

We eventually hit the track roughly 2km from the end. Trail Dog was off exploring the area, so we didn’t see much of her from that point – but we figured she was back in her home fields and likely knew they way back, so no need to worry. A dog that is as fit as that one has to explore a large amount of land on a daily basis.

Just as we reached the car, Trail Dog popped out of the bushes to say goodbye, and then promptly ran off again. I wish I was fit enough that I could climb a 2070m mountain and then just go off for a run as if I was still fresh!

Our stats for the hike were 17km with 1100m elevation gain and loss in 6h20 (4:50 moving time). Not bad at all, although this hike was generally very easy.

My advice on this route: if you happen to be in the area or are running out of other peaks to do, go for it. But otherwise it isn’t the most dramatic peak around. I would do any number of other hikes in the area before doing this one. That being said – driving to the Cederberg past this area is worth it, it is a spectacular drive.

Rudi dropped me back at my car and headed back for Cape Town. I checked my tyres to make sure the car was fine before jumping in (good practice when you are on bad roads). My front left tyre looked a bit lower than the others, but it generally looked fine, so I didn’t think much of it.

I started the drive out towards Mount Ceder, and soon hit Blinkberg Pass – a 1:8 gradient route that is tarred. I enjoyed these short tar sections as I could go a bit faster. On hitting the top of the pass, the tar ends and there is a badly corrugated section. I was probably going about 30km/h when I hit the corrugated section, but it felt far worse than it should have. I jammed on breaks and jumped out just to make sure everything was fine. Three of the tyres were fine, but the front left was definitely lower than it had been when I left Zonder Water.

My grandfather taught me how to change a tyre when I was about 10 years old, and I had a flat on my old Etios a few years ago, so I knew the process and knew where Toyota hides their jacks. I started the process, but not long after the car had lifted off the ground the jack stopped moving. I couldn’t lower or raise the car at all.

A few minutes later a car stopped to check if I was ok. I asked them to try, and they couldn’t get the jack to move either. They had to unpack their entire car (which was very full) to get their jack out, but once they had that out, we managed to get my rental car lifted up and the tyre changed properly. I don’t know their names – but if they happen to stumble upon this post, they must know how greatly appreciated their assistance was!

With the spare in place I had two thoughts – firstly I no longer have a useful spare and secondly any of the other tyres could be damaged and follow the front left.

Knowing I had all day to get to Mount Ceder, but would have serious problems if I had a flat, I took the rest of the drive very slowly.

The view from the Mount Ceder restaurant

I reached Mount Ceder, where I was given a key for my campsite – which seemed a bit unusual! I also bought a litre of locally produced olives and then sat at their restaurant and ordered some chicken wraps while enjoying the view. I have to admit that this area is really beautiful. It has a different appeal to the ominous towering scale of the Drakensberg, or the jagged crags of the Hex. It has a more peaceful feeling to it. Or maybe I was starting to enjoy the magic of the Cederberg.

I think I was supposed to pitch my tent under this to keep it cool – but I was pitching it late and leaving early, so not really an issue

I drove across to my campsite on the reasonably rough road. Mount Ceder only has three spaces for camping, but each has its own private shower, bathroom and cleaning area. They are also very far apart. It is close to the river with some nice rock pools right there. It would be a great place for a family to go camping.

The dish washing area. The showers and toilet are around the back of this.

After having a shower I went and sat by the river for about an hour. I could see a few people on the other side of the river and at the campsite across from me, but all I could hear was the river. Surrounded by mountains and only limited signs of human existence – it was a great spot!

I got a good night sleep – but as soon as there was light outside, I could only think of one thing: I have to drive 40km on a dirt road without phone signal and without a spare tyre. This was my last rest day for the trip, and part of me wanted to stay and enjoy the view, but I knew the odds of another flat and hours of trying to solve the problem could be immanent, so I decided to get going.

I checked out of Mount Ceder around 7:15 and started the road. I had decided I would intentionally drive too slowly. I didn’t even put my audiobook on to ensure I would concentrate. I was listening to Tommy Caldwell’s autobiography, The Push, at the time. Brilliant book, highly recommended for the climbers out there.

When I was just passed Sneekop, I stopped to get a photo. You can see the snow near the top in this photo, although you do have to look carefully. The tyres all looked fine – which was a good start – but I knew I had roughly 30km left, and I had taken about 30 minutes just to cover this first section.

I continued to drive painfully slowly, occasionally hitting 40km/h, and having to remind myself that I couldn’t do that. It took roughly two hours to get from Mount Ceder to the tar section just before Op Die Berg – it had been painful, but at least if I got a flat now, I would have phone signal.

There were large fields of orange flowers by the side of the roads and fascinating rock formations everywhere. If I had to go slow, this was the place to do it!

I stopped in Ceres to buy some lunch. They have a really good bakery at the Spar there, I got a hybrid of a pineapple cheese burger that appeared to be using crumpets instead of rolls, as well as a few other bakery items. It wasn’t my first time at this Spar, and I don’t think it will be the last! Ceres remains one of my favourite towns, nestled at the base of the Hex Mountains.

The rest of the drive to Worcester proved easy enough, with me checking into my room at Linge Longa – where I had stayed last time I was in the area. It had been a long day and a long drive, and my next hike was the big one – three days in the Hex. I packed my bag and decided to relax for the afternoon. It was day 8 out of 12, I had attempted 5 mountains and got up 4. Things had largely gone better than I could realistically hope for, but the biggest and hardest hike was still in front of me.

5 comments

  1. Roelf van Zyl · · Reply

    Hi. Thanks for the article – very good.
    We are planning to hike this route also. Is it possible you can send me the GPS route ?
    Thanks
    Roelf

    1. Hi Roelf. Glad you enjoyed it. Here’s the Strava track, you can download it from there https://strava.app.link/rTLK0q9f7nb

      1. Just had a look – thanks. I see I need a Strava account for download the GPX file. Any chance you can send the GPX file ?

      2. There’s an add-on called “Strava GPX downloader” that allows you to download it for free.

  2. Roelf van Zyl · · Reply

    Thanks !

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