December 2021 Cape Trip day 3: Mannetjiesberg

Before I get started on this story, I have to backtrack a bit. In October 2021 I realised I would neither be able to travel to Peru nor Nepal this December. I considered my options, and one that came to mind was to go for Mount Meru in Tanzania. I did some research on this, but didn’t take it further. A few weeks later I saw a post on a Facebook hiking group asking for advice about climbing Kilimanjaro – to which I responded something along the lines of “tip 1: skip Kili and hike in SA instead, we have better mountains”. I got a response that she had visited SA a few times before, and had already booked to climb Kili. I then responded that I might climb Mount Meru (the 4566m mountain across the valley from Kili) in January. By the next day we were messaging each other and discussing the possibility of climbing Mount Meru together in early Jan 2022.

The person I was talking to was Emma from Los Angeles. We ended up talking every day, a pattern that is still ongoing at the day of writing this – almost 4 months after we started talking – more will be included on this in an upcoming hike report on my trip to Mount Meru. Soon we had both realised there was a spark there. She arrived in Tanzania the day I climbed Compassberg, and we had been struggling to communicate properly on my trip due to continuous bad phone signal – but nonetheless, we were in a similar time zone finally, which was an improvement on the 10 hour delay between SA and LA.

I had been worried about travel restrictions and had thus not booked my flights yet. I was admittedly also a bit nervous about meeting a stranger from Facebook. On the day of my arrival in the Kammanassie Mountains I had hoped to book the ticket, only to discover there was no signal, or even electricity, at the place I was staying. I would be flying out in less than two weeks and yet I hadn’t booked yet – so going into this hike, I had multiple items on my mind.

Anyway – back to day 3 of my Cape Trip. Mannetjiesberg, at 1955m, is the highest point in the Kammanassie Mountains. It has 1114m prominence, thus making it one of the more prominent peaks in South Africa.

I had never heard of the Kammanassie Mountains before I identified the list, and could find very little information on this peak online. When I found there was a road near the peak, and Landsrivier was at the bottom of the road – I asked the owner for more information on it. They informed me that they would arrange access, and I could just arrive and do the hike.

Landsrivier is a great spot – it is reasonably priced, well situated and would make a great location for a relaxing family holiday away from technology. That being said – if you are on your own, it feels very isolated and might not be a great choice!

Prior to arrival, I had not been able to find as much as a photo of the region. I could find no route information and couldn’t find an account of anyone who actually climbed it. I had created a planned line for my GPS off a combination of Google Earth and the topo maps. Despite the house being at the bottom of the road that goes most of the way up the mountain, the summit had been in the mist when I arrived – and thus I still couldn’t see the top.

I got up early in the morning to climb the mountain – I wanted to give myself as much time as possible to get up. I also wanted to ensure Emma would know I had my tickets bought before she started her hike up Kili, which only left that afternoon to book the flights. No pressure at all! If I had thought it through better, I would have expected signal on the hike and could have booked it on my way up, but with my credit card in my car, that sadly wasn’t an option.

As I set off early in the morning, the top was still in the mist. This mountain that I knew nothing about was adamant that I should not see it just yet!

There was a game fence right at the bottom, which was easy to climb over. It was locked, so no chance of driving through unless you have the key.

The steeper sections were concrete, while the easier sections were dirt. You would definitely need a high clearance vehicle to get up this.

It looked like it was going to rain. As I continued up the never-ending road, I kept thinking about how I was climbing a mountain based off no information, the peak was still in the clouds and it was likely to start raining any minute. Sometimes you know what you are doing is really stupid. But one thing I have learned is this: if you aren’t sure, assess your situation before making a decision.

I thought about bailing, but I realised I was walking on a road. There was no wind either. If a gale force wind suddenly picked up and it started bucketing down, all I would need to do is walk back down the road and have a hot cup of tea and a bath – this situation was unlikely to turn bad.

I knew there would be a lot of distance and a lot of vertical, but the road genuinely felt like it would never end. It was nice from the perspective that I knew the descent would be quick and easy. It also made the ascent a lot easier. One of the hardest aspects of climbing obscure mountains is often that the route is overgrown – this road meant that wasn’t going to be an issue. Well, not yet anyway.

One of my favourite aspects of the Cape Fold Mountains is the rock strata at funny angles. There was plenty of this to look at while I slogged up the road.

As I continued to near the peak, the mist lifted enough for me to see the subsidiary summits to the east of the main peak. My route plan had been to follow the ridge up from the east, but it was starting to look very rocky. As I got closer, I also realised the lower section would also be overgrown.

When I got to my initial planned point of leaving the road, I stopped and sat to eat something. I looked at what was in front of me and decided that my planned route was a bad idea. The top was still in the mist, but the south-west ridge looked far more direct and what I could see of it looked considerably safer and easier. When planning the hike, looking at satellite images I had written it off based on it having rock the entire way around the summit ridge on that side, but the rock bands were narrow, and would likely be easy.

I therefore had to stay on the road longer than planned – which I knew would actually make the ascent easier.

As I left the road, the summit was still in the mist. Here I was less than 1km distance and 500m elevation from the top of this mountain, and yet I had still never even seen it. However I could see enough of the lower slopes to know I could almost certainly find a way through the cliff bands to near the summit.

Leaving the road I found myself in overgrowth and on steep ground. Progress would be slow. Luckily I had started early and had made good pace up the road section.

The first cliff band was a bit more exposed than I’d like, but the rock was solid and the moves were easy. Once above it, I was rewarded with a great view west of Mannetjiesberg.

The next set of cliff bands weren’t as exposed as the first set, and with careful route finding, I managed to get through them. This mist was finally clearing – but I was too close to the summit to be sure if what I could see was the real top or a false top.

As I got higher, I started to see these red flowers. As it turns out, the entire summit was covered with them.

I was soon confronted with a cliff band that was a bit more difficult. However, based on remaining elevation and distance, I realised I would be best traversing right below the cliffs. Some of this section was overgrown, with concealed holes in the ground. Careful route finding was required.

The skies had opened up and the views around me were exceptional. This peak is only about an hours drive from George, I am not sure with the Kammanassie Mountains are so rarely visited.

I soon rounded a corner and saw a bright red patch of flowers. The photo above doesn’t do it any justice at all – the flowers were so dense that you couldn’t avoid them. Absolutely beautiful!

Progress through this flower field was slow. The ground was wet and slippery in places, and wasn’t always as stable as I would have liked.

And to make matters worse – the top was a combination of wet loose rock and overgrowth. I identified what looked like an easy line, but soon found myself on very loose terrain next to a decent drop. Not ideal, especially on a solo hike. I picked my foot placements very carefully, and made slow steady progress, and soon I was able to see the summit beacon. The mirrors on it were rather unusual – but meant I would easily be able to pick out this summit from the Swaartberg a few days later.

I had been messaging Emma on the way up, and sent her a summit panorama video once I was on top. My phone had dropped to 20% battery, but I wasn’t worried – I had my power bank with me.

I walked across the top to look at my original planned line up. A good call to change plans – the way I would have used looked very difficult and possibly technical. I found a spot on the edge of a cliff to sit and eat lunch. I pulled my power bank out of my pack to start charging my phone – but where’s my phone cable? As it turns out, I had brought a power bank for my phone, but left my cable back at the house. So with a low battery, I would need to safely descend down this peak. Not ideal at all!

I put this concern out of my mind and spent some time enjoying the views. I could see the Swaartberg in the distance, as well as the mountains behind George. The day was exceptionally clear, and there was no wind.

I realised I couldn’t use my ascent route to get back down the summit, so I scouted around till I could find a way to break through the cliffs. I found an awkward slab I could descend. Not ideal, and technically harder than what I ascended, but mostly dry and a lot less exposed.

I found a line of vegetation and used that to descend the slab. The above photo makes it look a lot easier than it was.

The lower cliffs were much easier on this line. I stuck to rock to avoid vegetation wherever possible.

I was soon back on my ascent route on the south west ridge.

I managed to find an easier break in each of the cliffs, and once I was below the lowest cliff, I made for the scree field. While most people avoid scree, I would take scree over overgrowth any day.

I used the scree field to drop down to the road, and soon found myself back on easy ground.

Looking back up the peak from below, I have to admit that Mannetjiesberg is a very beautiful mountain. On the list of mountains I would never have climbed without the 1km prominence challenge, it is definitely one of the best finds so far – along with Roodezandberg.

I made it down to Landsrivier and put my phone on to charge. As soon as my battery was back up to 10%, I walked to the nearest signal to message Emma and my mother so they knew I was down safely. I then had a bath and had something to eat.

After my phone was up to a reasonable level, I drove into Uniondale and booked my flights to Tanzania while sitting in the car park of the only shop in town. It had been a great day – I had managed to climb a mountain I knew nothing about, and I was now booked to fly to Tanzania to climb the 10th highest mountain in Africa!

Emma was about to start Kili the next day, so this would be one of our last conversations before she went out of signal. In the two months we had been talking (and since then to the day of writing this), this would be the only period that included days on which we did not communicate at all.

If I was to list my mountain highlights of 2021 – along with a dog following up Bokkeveld-Sneeukop, climbing Fonteinjies 3 times in 3 days and the views from Roodezandberg – the flower covered summit of Mannetjiesberg would definitely be one of the major highlights.

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