13 August 2008

The Otter Trail

Natures Valley (end of the trail)

Day5 views

Top left: Pauline
Bottom left: Susie
Top right: me
Bottom right: Loren

Another pretty view


Bloukranz river at low tide!


This day is only 4.8Km from the rest camp, past the waterfall, to the day 1 hut. As it is a fairly easy day, Loren and I started from the reception at just after 2pm.

We confidently traversed the dangerous boulders and rocks with our heavy packs, which according to the trail guide we read should "feel like an extension of your body". With 5 days worth of food on my back, my 'extended body' felt grossly obese!

As the 1st day was so easy, I decided to drop my camera about 2km into the trail, so that we could walk back to try and find it...no luck with that, some tourists had picked it up, so I called the rangers and got them to accost the tourists as they finished the trail. The rangers dropped in on the morning of day 4 to deliver my camera, so unfortunately all the photos I am posting are from the last 2 days.

When we got to the huts the other group of hikers were already there. We sat with them (a group of business men and a business woman from Jo'burg) and spent the evening chatting around the campfire. This was very pleasant, and the peak of our relationship, as things soon deteriorated!!


We didn't start day 2 until nearly 11am as Susie and Pauline were being hardcore and walked day 1 and 2 together. They were supposed to start with us on the Thursday, but Pauline had flown in on Tuesday and the airline had left her luggage in Frankfurt. After 2 days of promising that her bag was on its way they finally admitted that they had lost it!

Anyways, we headed off on this, the day of death going up hill, then downhill, then uphill, where we saw a southern right whale lob-tailing, then down a steep gorge to the stunning Kleinbos (I think) river. Here we stopped for lunch for an hour and sunned ourselves on the riverbank. Loren and I went exploring up stream, which was absolutely beautiful! I ate Paprika chicken super noodles which were so delicious I thought they were worth a mention!

Stopping for such a long break was a big mistake. Our legs had now completely seised up, making the next steep uphill very nasty indeed!! The sign posts had said that Bloubaai, one of the famous beauty spots on the trail, was only 700m, so once at the top of the hill we started looking for routes down to the bay. We went down one route that took us to a small pebbely bay. This was not the right bay, but was very beautiful especially as the Indian Ocean was incredibly rough! The others sat on the rocks watching the ocean while I set about poking around in rockpools at the colourful cushion starfish when Pauline spotted an otter less than 10m from us in the milky surf. He was a big otter, and didn't seem too bothered that we were there. We were amazed that he seemed quite comfortable in the angry waves, a person would have been dead in no time!

Once the otter had wandered off up the shore, we went back up the hill from the bay, then kept going up and up and up then down and up then down to Bloubaai. At bloubaai we saw 2 illegal fishermen who I reported to the rangers. The Baai was very pretty, but by far the most memorable moment from the baai was Pauline's slow-motion fall onto her head (assisted by the momentum of her pack to unbalance her) and subsequent sideways roll into a rock pool, where she lay stranded on her back like an overturned turtle.

From Bloubaai we went up an even steeper hill, and from then on I can't really remember anything other than the pain of going up-hill, scrambling down-hill, and the immense relief of reaching camp.

Once at camp, Loren and I bathed in a bitterly cold stream. Our hut overlooked a stunning little bay. We lit the braai and sat talking and eating for the evening. We were joined by a small spotted Genet who sat and watched us, waiting for us to vacate so that he could search our braai pit for any scraps of meat. This was one of my favourite huts.


I was dreading day 3 as Susie had said it was the hardest day. We woke up to a warm sunny day, with a strong cooling head-wind. The other group set off first, and we left about 30min later. Today was all about timing as there were 2 big rivers to cross. We had overtaken the group just before the 1st river (the Elandsbos) and I went to investigate the recommended route. This route was underwater so we had to sprint across the beach then traverse a cliff face in order to rejoin the path. We passed this info onto the other group, who then (without thanking us) rushed off ahead. Amusingly for us their rudeness was repaid as halfway across a huge tidal surge came and got their boots wet!!
We crossed the Elandsbos and quickly overtook the other group before the "hill of death" which wasn't actually that bad. I owe this to the excellent stick that I had found. It was a peice of eucalyptus driftwood which was light, sturdy and smooth so I didn't get any splinters. I loved that stick as it took the pressure off of my thighs and bum muscles and made the uphill much easier.

We decided to take a quick lunch at the top of the hill (having learnt from day2) before pushing on to quickly reach our 2nd river the Lottering. We had walked quicker than expected so had about an hour and a half to kill before low tide. Susie decided that the river was crossable, so started to make her way across, only to get stranded on a large rock for about 10min as the tide came in. We found this highly amusing and taunted her while she balanced on the rock. She returned with a bruised ego suggesting that perhaps we should wait for low tide after all.

The other group showed up just before low tide, we had just prepeared ourselves to cross when one of their group members (desperate to get to the huts first so that they got 1st pick again raced across. We had started to pick our way across when we saw a tidal surge coming. I raced to the other side and looked back assuming to see Susie and Pauline close behind, I turned to see Susie practically being swept away and half drowned by her backpack.
As the surge had come up, Susie had been swept from the rock, with the man from the other group less than a foot behind her saying "you're slipping" without even trying to help!! Her flipflop got swept upstream, right past the rest of the group who just stood and watched it, so I had to go paddling back across the river and upstream to get it. on my travels I found a safer place to cross and helped the other group...and do you think they said thank you? no.

Anyway, we got to the hut way ahead of them as there was quite a steep uphill the other side of the river that they struggled with. We took great pleasure in choosing the huts, going into each and deciding on 'hut 1' as the door was broken on 'hut 2'.
The business women was clearly not happy about being not getting to choose her hut. She came storming into our hut and said..."did you leave us with a wet hut" I very untactfully stifled a giggle and answered "yeah" as a dripping wet Susie stood shivering in the corner, she gave me the death stare and told me that it was "not nice, really not nice". Thus the relationship between the two groups was over.

That night my stick disappeared, I think the other group used it for firewood...low blow...not nice!


God repayed me for being not nice today, as I woke up with a sore knee and no stick to help me up the steep uphill from out huts. My knee was really sore and I struggled. After putting on a bandage and finding a replacement stick (not half as good as the first, and it gave me a splinter!) it felt much better.

Today was almost twice as long as the other days, however it was much flatter. The uphills were quite short, however the terrain was quite difficult. Nothing very exciting happened during the day. I walked through lots of sploom (that foamy stuff on the sea when it is rough) at one river crossing. We had a long break by this river and did a bit of sunbathing. We got to the Bloukranz river about 2 and a half hours before low tide. We decided that we would have lunch on the beach at the river. Unfortunately the sea was so rough the beach was underwater, so instead we dosed uncomfortably on the rocks for 2hrs. Half an hour before low tide, the river was just as full. the rough sea was pushing up the river making it impossible to cross. We decided that the best option would be to take the escape route and get the rangers to drop us at the next hut. The other group had been there about 15min when we left. We tried to persuade them to come with us so that the rangers only had to make one trip. They refused, saying there was still 30min til low tide so they would rather wait.
The escape route was horribly steep but the views were amazing. The ranger took us via the Bloukranz forest station, where we dropped in to see Jermaine and steal a couple of bottles of wine.
Just as we were being dropped off the ranger said that he had got a call from the other hikers asking to be picked up. the ranger decided to let them walk to the N2, which would take them an extra couple of hours (hikers are supposed to meet the rangers at the N2, but we got picked up from the top of the escape route, perks of knowing the rangers!!)

Once at the huts we went for a nudist swim in the river at the huts before wrapping up in our thermals around the campfire to enjoy the wine. The other hikers arrived about 2hours later. They came to our braai and boasted about crossing the river. A blatant and unnecessary lie! We congratulated them over-enthusiastically, then bitched about them once they left!!


The final day was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and apart from a killer hill at the beginning, the walking was easy (plus our packs were much lighter having finished our food!)

I was filled with mixed emotions. I had really enjoyed the trail, eating what you carry, cooked over a fire you made yourself. Washing in streams was so refreshing, and it was nice not looking in a mirror for 5 days!! However...we smelt really really bad. We all needed a warm shower and clean clothes, and the trail is pretty intense so it was nice to have finished.

In conclusion...
1. The trail was physically much easier than I expected
2. I love my thermals, and my walking boots
3. The trail was a perfect length
4. The other group were not nice
5. Paprika chicken 2-minute noodles are very tasty!

1 comment:

Secret Keeper said...

Hi Laura, great post. Makes me really keen to get going! We also going with a bigger group, hopefully they arent a bunch of monkeys. Tell me how easy is it to traverse the trail? Do you need maps etc or is it pretty much west to east?