December 2021 Cape Trip day 7: Seweweekspoort

I checked out of El Yolo fairly early – I wanted to explore the area a bit. Leaving El Yolo was an interesting experience – from one perspective it had been a really great place to stay, but from another, I can’t see why I’d ever go back there. There was one thing I wanted to do near there, and I had now done it.

Getting to drive back through Meiringpoort Pass was always going to be a highlight. It is technically possible to remain on the Karoo side of the mountains, but the drive back to the Klein Karoo is considerable quicker.

I stopped at Meiringpoort Falls on the way through. It was more impressive than I expected – although small compared to the waterfalls I’m used to. Then again – living in KZN for so many years meant I was exposed to so many high waterfalls that most waterfalls seems small!

I briefly stopped in De Rust and bought some more ostrich biltong before heading to Oudtshoorn. I had visited the Cango Caves in 2003, and wanted to visit them again. I had checked up if they were open – seeing as it’s a long drive to get there – but, much to my annoyance, when I arrived I found that they were in fact closed. The sign on the door said someone had just tested positive. While that was annoying, the upside was getting to drive much closer to the Groot Swartberg.

Tierberg – the highest point in the Groot Swaartberg – was mocking me in the distance. I had requested access to hike up it from Cape Nature, who informed me that the trails in the area were closed for maintenance, and also that the only nearby trail requires a team of at least three people and you can only use it if you also books the huts on the route – so even if it was open, they still would have said no. There is an old road up the back which I considered walking up, but they had explicitly said no, so that wasn’t an option. It’s a good excuse to go back and do the Swaartberg Hutted Trail at some point in the future – albeit with the nuisance of having one peak far from the others to go back for.

I stopped for lunch at a restaurant near the Cango Caves – which was incidentally full of other people who wanted to visit the caves and also found them to be closed. Good to know I’m not the only one who was told they are open, only to find that they aren’t – well, not good to know, that’s really bad advertising for the region, but I digress.

I googled places to go in the area and Cango Ostrich Farm came up. Des (my sister-in-law) also suggested this – so I decided to go. The tour was fascinating – well worth doing. It included ostriches eating out of my hand, followed by sitting with a bucket of food while the ostriches ate over my shoulder.

From there I took the long road out to Seweweekspoort Pass. The approach road included another pass, and was actually really spectacular. Seweweekspoort Pass itself was also really beautiful. With Seweweekspoort (an ultra-prominence mountain) on one side and Aristata Peak (a mountain with just short of 1000m prominence) on the other side – it is a dramatic road.

Rain had been forecast for the afternoon, and the pass includes a lot of driving under overhangs or near the bottom of cliffs – not a pass I’d want to drive in the rain!

After the road into El Yolo taking a heavy toll on my car, I was relived when the farm road to Seweweekspoort Accommodation (the campsite nearest the peak) was relatively tame by comparison.

The campsite is in a great spot – between some trees and a dam. Seweweekspoort is clearly visible from the campsite.

I had requested access from the owner of the farm on which the peak is found – and he had advised me to park my car by the gate. I knew it was going to be another hot day, and the forecast suggested rain – which seemed somewhat unlikely. There was no MTN signal at the camp, so I turned on my Vodacom router to check an updated forecast for my specific location.

A few minutes after my phone connected, it started ringing with a whatsapp call from Emma. I was confused – she was busy climbing Kilimanjaro, she shouldn’t have signal. Turns out she had found signal and was at Karanga Camp. The connection wasn’t great, but it was still nice to have a brief talk.

I got to bed early that night – I wanted an early start up the peak in the morning.

I got up and moved my car to the gate of the farm, making sure I didn’t block the entrance.

The peak looked pretty trivial, but mountains have taught me that nothing is ever as easy as it looks. Best way to find out is to set out!

The first 1km was simply a case of walking to the start of the ridge. It was a mixture of small bushes and loose rock – a terrain type I call Karoo Overgrowth.

I had a GPS track and there were cairns, but they didn’t agree on the route. For that matter, the cairns marked various different options. My rule is to always follow the cairns over the GPS, subject to a logical assessment of the route. GPS tracks are subject to all sorts of potential reasons for inaccuracy, cairns could be built in the wrong place, but they are stuck to the ground and generally don’t move – and when they do move, they generally cease to be cairns!

I was in some cloud cover early on, but it was still a very hot morning.

The route follows a ridge initially – with some very impressive rock formations to the side. It has the folded chaos of the Cape Mountains that I have come to enjoy.

The gradient on this early section is very sustained, and there’s no trail. There’s some easy scrambling in places as well.

I was making good progress, but I could see the summit was in the clouds. The weather forecast still had rain forecast for the afternoon, but I was making relatively quick progress – so I decided to keep an eye on it. It was so hot I could have used some rain to cool me down!

The route holds to the same ridge for a long time – but as you get higher, the gradient relents and you finally get a view of the summit. It’s funny that I was expecting it to be easier – its an ultra-prominence mountain and a province high point, the only peak in SA that can boast both of those stats – so I was happy that the “easy” route up the back was still not trivial.

Mist continued to come and go as I climbed. From one perspective – I will likely return and do the full Towerkop/Seweweekspoort Traverse some day, so I knew it was fine if I missed the view this time, but it’s always a shame to climb a mountain when you aren’t likely to get much of a view.

I have to admit that I was happy for the shade, though! I had been warned that people climb this peak in 40C heat sometimes.

And then suddenly the cloud disappeared and I could see the summit again. But this time, unlike the others, it looked like there was no more cloud behind it. Naturally I want the weather to clear, so it is hard to tell if my thoughts are based on hope or reality!

Once you get above the ridge, you have to traverse ankle-killer side-slope. Luckily I am experienced on this type of terrain, and could still make good progress.

The summit is cliffy, and requires careful navigation to get through all the cliff bands without any proper technical climbing. There was some scrambling, but nothing where I was worried that I may fall.

The final summit is a boulder field, which requires careful route selection. Luckily this is my favourite type of terrain, and I could enjoy the final section of the ascent – even if the summit is only halfway. The summit itself appeared to require a proper rock climb, till I walked around it and found an easy way up.

The beacon on the top has fallen over at some point in history – but it is still there. With this summit – I had now stood on top of 5 different ultras – a 5000er, Kili, a 4000er, Kinabalu, a 3000er, Thabana Ntlenayana, a 2000er, Seweweekspoort, and a 1000er, Du Toits. A perfect set of 5 ultras.

The views from the top were great – I was impressed with how pointy Towerkop actually is. Incidentally Towerkop was the first technical rock climbing mountain in South Africa to be climbed.

I sat on the summit for a while enjoying the views. By now I was fairly certain the weather forecast of heavy rain all afternoon was wrong. I also backed myself to get down quickly, so I may as well enjoy my time on top.

I found what looked like a petrified tree on the way down, which was pretty cool.

The main issue I had on descent was the heat. I took a different line through the ridge section, following a different set of cairns to the ones I used on the way up. There was a faint trail this way, which made some of the descent a bit faster. It also lead me to some flowing water, so I could exchange the hot water from my bottles with cool mountain water.

I got back to my car early enough to consider driving some of the way home that afternoon – but the question was where should I go? Beaufort West was too close to be of much use, I couldn’t find any decent accommodation at short notice anywhere useful, so I decided to just enjoy the Karoo for an extra night and stick with my original plan.

I walked around a bit, and spent a lot of the day lying on my air mattress under a tree listening to an audiobook about investing. The book being The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. 99% of the content I have ever encountered on this topic is complete and utter nonsense – and I read up a lot on this topic, this is the first investment book I’ve ever read (well, listened to) that I actually agree with.

The best quote form it was the following joke, used an analogy for how investors think:
Teacher: you have twelve sheep, one jumps over the fence. How many sheep do you have left?
Kid: none.
Teacher: you clearly don’t understand subtraction.
Kid: maybe not, but I understand sheep!

I got up early the next morning, deciding to drive the full 1200km back home in a day. I left before sunrise. I expected a dirt road right through to Laingsburg, where I would join the N1, but it was actually tar after about 60km, which helped a lot. The dirt road was mostly in very good shape and could be driven relatively fast.

The drive included eight different occurrences of narrowly missing head-on collisions as drivers coming the other way overtook trucks on blind rises. After the second near miss, I started dramatically lowering my speed as I approached a blind rise – not efficient for fuel consumption, but it did give me more space to avoid accidents on the various subsequent events. You never know in these situations, but it could well have saved my life considering how many near misses I had.

The only other drama of the day was when I discovered my bank card was missing just after refueling in Bloemfontein. I checked on internet banking and no one had used the card, so I simply blocked the card on the app. The fuel station allowed me to pay via EFT, so no major issue there – just a bit of time wastage and inconvenience. My card likely fell out of my pocket when I had refueled earlier in the day.

I arrived home just after dark to find my house exactly as I had left it. If any non-South Africans are reading this, this comment might sound odd – but leaving your home for 9 days in December is always risky in South Africa! Two colleagues of mine, who live in the same town as me, would have their house broken into during the week following my return.

Overall a really great trip – 9 days in total, and 6 mountains summitted. It is unusual to get up every mountain one sets out to climb, so I was very happy with that. It also meant I am now halfway through the 24 mountains in SA with 1000m prominence. With Compassberg and Seweweekspoort done, I had also done the highest ones on the list. Bring on the next peaks! Or bring on any excuse to be in the mountains for that matter…

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