Spring Day 1 September 2012 brought weather worthy of the name after weeks of grey weather in the Western Cape. We had booked the Mountain Club’s Agtertafelberg Hut for the Saturday night and set off from Cape Town at about 8 in the morning. The area in which the MCSA Agtertafelberg property lies is just on the other side of the Huguenot Tunnel, so it’s an easy weekend trip.
Ginger Rogers with a backpack
On paper the hike to the hut looks easy: 9km along a gravel road with a 250m ascent on a pass about 2km from the hut. But alas! This hike is tough. Especially since we had loaded our packs with little ‘luxuries’ including 4kg of firewood between us. (It may be the first day of spring, but the nights still hover around zero degrees C).
The hike starts with a steep climb from the parking area up the side of a koppie to join onto the gravel road. This first section of the trail is quite overgrown with the type of long grass that I always seem to trip myself up on nicely: I step down on the end of the long blades with one foot and then my other foot gets caught under those blades and I do a shuffle-hop-step that would do Ginger Rogers proud. If Ginger danced with a backpack on her back and had the grace of a grizzly bear.
The only way is up
Soon we reach the gravel road which we are to follow over private land almost to the hut. But as we gasp for air after the short steep climb from the parking we are greeted by yet more uphill – lots of it… Not once is there a bit of reprieve. We console ourselves that at least we are gaining ground nicely, so there shouldn’t be much more climbing to do after this.
I am now convinced that this road was designed by a psychopath. Just when you think there is no way you can continue climbing without popping a vein, he helps you out with a nice downhill – one where you lose exactly all the altitude you just fought so hard for! Once again there is no reprieve over the next three knee-popping, toe-crunching kilometres.
Beauty all around
The mood improves considerably when we halt our downward hurtle long enough to look around: deep valleys and snow dusted peaks are coming into view and there are flowers everywhere. Birds sing, butterflies flit, bees buzz – you get the idea…
You’ve got to be joking
We have a quick lunch of allsorts, trail mix and juice where the river runs across a concrete drift. As its turns out this was a bad idea, because as soon as we start out again we are on the pass and our tired legs have to work like never before. I’m sure to have the glutes of a sprinter after this – or that’s how I justify this suffering to myself. Even Significant Other, who is as strong as an ox, is starting to wilt and I can see him eyeing the scrub next to the road wondering whether he can dump our firewood without anyone noticing.
Then, suddenly, we have made it to the Nek and a vast flatland opens up before us. What a relief! I can walk like a biped! We have to hustle though, because there’s a bit of drizzle in the air.
At last we turn off from the gravel road onto the narrow trail on what is now Mountain Club property. A pleasant saunter (the drizzle has cleared) through tall grass and then we spot it: our destination!
The Mountain Club calls this hut ‘The gem of the Cape Town Section‘ and they have reason to be proud of it. It offers all sorts of home comforts from playing cards to pillows and it gives me faith in humanity that those who use it look after is with such care and pride.
People have donated more than 40 years’ worth of Mountain Club Journals to the hut and we spent a nostalgic hour paging through some of the older issues. Back when a-frame tents were cutting edge and rock climbers lived by the rule that “the leader must not fall”.
The Water Closet
The hut has an open-air (and bitterly cold) shower behind a rock, and a toilet that has possibly the best view in the country.
This marvel has been affectionately named Villa Alpenblick. You can gaze across the peaks as you do the necessary and you will even find bogroll. Not bad for a mountain hut!
As soon as the sun set the temperature dropped and we made a fire in the fireplace with our wood – yes THAT wood that we carried in our backpacks and cursed all the way. All (OK – most) of the pain was forgotten as we cozied up to the golden glow.
As soon as we stepped outside after a good night’s well earned sleep, there was evidence everywhere of how nippy the night had been:
Auf Wiedersehen Agtertafelberg
Sunday was even more pleasant than Saturday and after packing up and cleaning up we retraced our tortuous torturous steps. You’d think it would be easier going back because there would now be two downhills and one uphill – but no! I still can’t get my head around it but it’s every bit as exhausting as going the other way. And yet we’re already saying that we need to come back soon!?
That’s what is so great about hiking. It just wouldn’t be the same if you could just drive there. The journey truly is the destination.