Its been on my mind for a few years to do something one could call unusual – although not exactly a ground-breaking feat in any way. The idea was to get into the Hex, alone, for about four days and hike/chill, to see what it was like, and to face the fear of it all – being without help, companionship or any communication. (All pictures in this post are photos I took on my journey).
The Hex River Mountain Range is found about 120km north-east of Cape Town and it’s one of the highest mountain ranges in South Africa. Most peaks reach 2000m in height or more. The highest mountain is Matroosberg at 2249 m, making it the second tallest peak in the Cape province after Seweweekspoort Peak in the Swartberg Mountain Range.
The mountains are generally surrounded by private farms; most of these landowners welcome mountaineers and their farms are often used as starting points for hikes.
This December the opportunity to hike it finally came up, and I chose the route from the Waaihoek/Hoare Hut climb to Point Hi, then traversing across to Perry Refuge, and seeing what happens from there.
I made a late start on the Monday – hiking up around lunchtime and meeting a group on their way to the Witels. I felt a great temptation to join them, but resisted, in spite of the 30-degree weather. The climb up was incredibly hot, and I had to really concentrate on staying cool and drinking regularly. It brought back memories of a previous epic I had on Jonkershoek in mid summer, where I got mild heat-stroke in a waterless and shadeless section of the mountain.
I topped out around 3 hours later, excited at the prospect of still pushing for Perry, and started the cairned-traverse in the late afternoon sun. The route was fairly uneventful, and I reached Perry as the sun was starting to set, and to my dismay, the cloud dribbling over the neck to leave me to a cold swim and supper in the fog.
I slept deeply and woke late the next morning to cloud and low visibility. Guess the plan was sort of to stay at Perry anyway and read and day-hike. So I read, really immersing myself in a book called Colossians Remixed – a really intriguing read about how we should be living and viewing postmodernism, materialism, nihilism, and mainly consumerism. It is theologically / anthropologically written for students, so it was complicated at times, but working through all those difficult words really hit home in the end in a fantastic and highly recommended book. One of the highlights of it is the sense of environmental responsibility it instills in ones mind – and what a better setting to wrestle with all of it than at Perry Refuge.
Okay, so the cloud eventually lifted and I was tired of sitting around, so I headed for an afternoon stroll that turned out longer than I had thought. I had it on my mind to climb an unnamed peak to the west of Sentinel Peak (that towers above Perry Refuge). It was not particularly high, but quite separate from the normal route we had hiked here in the past. It turned out to be a fantastic area, full of boulders and rocky outcrops that required much exploring to get around.
About an hour later I finally reached the summit, and found a stunningly beautiful species
of Erica that I have never seen before – large, airy flowers – the largest I have seen. And a dark red colour too – we later identified it as Erica Camaronii, after a previous Hex explorer Ken Cameron who discovered it in 1918.
I spent much time taking photos, and just gaping down into the depths of the gorges that
surrounded me – this place is infinitely special, and words are difficult to describe it. I would probably have to revert to poetry, and that would be a bad idea.
It was getting late, but I still had it on my mind to summit the Sentinel, so I moved along back to the neck separating the two peaks and climbed up. Again I saw a large Erica bush, this time different, but huge for this area. It’s quite incredible what grows up here when you see it flowering. I summited and then tried to stretch my luck with the light again, by traversing across to the east of the summit to another sub-peak that I had never been to, and quickly moved there.
The rock scramble to the top greeted me with more of the Erica Cameronii, this time in four huge plants, covering the rock like a ground-creeper and glowing red in the late sun – seeming to grow from the rock itself. Incredible!
I then had great views over to Fonteinjiesberg, with the cloud layer below me, moving in again for the night – another night of fog and cloud. I descended rapidly down the scree slope back to Perry, for another cold swim and a rushed supper before the all-encompassing darkness of a foggy night (with no torch – aargh!).
Another deep sleep later, I woke to cloud cover, and read for part of the morning. I then headed for a break in the cloud to climb up to the ridge that overlooks Mt Brody, and explored this whole ridgeline. I ended up in a section that looks deep to the base of Jan du Toits Kloof – a huge vertical drop – close to 500m I’d guess without having a map to check. It’s this sort drop and exposure that I love to just sit on the edge of and stare into, like you are breathing purest life with every breath, and getting perspective of a world which seems so real compared to everything else out there.
It’s as if we humans have created great cities, buildings, amusement parks, shopping malls, and we take a step back and state “look what our great hands have created”. Out here it’s as if God takes me, a mere speck of sand, and says – “Look what my hands have created”. It’s a mystery, unfathomable, and for what cause other than to put awe and joy in our hearts?
The exposure got too much for me, so I headed back. On the way down I got inquisitive about the Perry River, and so I headed down below Perry, and walked upstream and found a beautiful swimming hole and waterfall a mere 5 minutes from the hut, well hidden and worth the trip.
Hoping again for a starry night under the Milky Way, the cloud came in again, this time looking stronger than ever bringing the mid-summer rain. I didn’t sleep well wondering how long it would set in for. I had planned to set out before sunrise to get back to Cape Town by around lunchtime, and this was hindering my plans.
After stress-sleeping till about 8am, I eventually decided in my heart to give the route a go. Those who have been to this area will appreciate that navigating in 50m visibility through this traverse is tricky, to say the least. This was scaring me a lot, even though I have done this route at least five times previously (however, in clear visibility).
I packed quickly, waterproofing the essentials in my pack, and started walking in the thick fog. It turned out it wasn’t raining as hard as it had sounded inside the shelter, but it remained cloudy nevertheless. I walked around the hills, searching for my first cairn (a man-made pile of stones to mark a trail) to give me direction, and eventually found it.
I knew however that cairns were few and far between until Jan du Toits Neck, and I headed into the unknown, guessing my direction, as the rain continued softly around me. Soon things grew unfamiliar, and I started to get worried as I started exploring here and there, looking for paths/cairns to no avail.
So I prayed –“ God, please lead me to a cairn”. I found one about 5 seconds later. Wow – that was needed! Again I set out, not knowing which direction to head for the next one. Things kind of went pear-shaped from here on, as I started wandering in circles, getting confused and disorientated, and thinking of how to retrace my steps back to the hut.
I kept trying to make sense of the landscape, find familiar landmarks, but the place had really warped into a confusing maze. It started to rain again, and I stopped. I didn’t know the way back to Perry. My thoughts about an obvious way out/back if in trouble had led me to a downslope that couldn’t have existed in my mind-map.
Perplexed, I asked again. “God, please show me the way through this”. I started walking – following my nose again. Probably about 5 seconds later, I saw a cairn, my first in a while. I reached it, and found another, then another. I didn’t know which way I was following this trail, but I followed it.
Soon, things started making sense, and although I thought I was heading back in the direction of Perry, I was actually right on track. Within about 10 minutes, I emerged from the thick cloud and onto Jan du Toits neck. I was pretty speechless, but overjoyed.
The rest of the traverse was mostly clear, the cloud coming over now and then, but it remained over Perry for the rest of the day – thick and high. I reached Point Hi again after a brisk walk, and headed down to the car. I know not all who read this appreciate/believe in God, but it is my conviction that God is so real, and reveals himself to those who are open to him. Even in desperate times, sometimes most especially in these times, he opens our eyes to the way we should walk. This was so vividly/ personally revealed to me on this trip that I felt compelled to share it. It certainly inspired me to live more closely to Him in this adventure called life.
(If you’d like your own hiking story published, feel free to send it to me).
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