Seweweekspoort. Being a Natal boy who’s understanding of Afrikaans is dismally poor I always thought this was the name of a finely matured port (wine can mature in seven weeks, right?), so when the invitation came to join three good mates, Cobus, Andre, and Stif, to experience this wonder I naturally expected the outing to consist of reclining in a deck chair for the weekend with a pair of braai tongs in one hand and a glass of the fine stuff in the other. I did heed caution when Andre’s emails came in talking of ‘mountain weather forecasts’, and ‘packing the right gear to sleep out on the mountain if we didn’t get back by nightfall’. Now I know that my close friends mostly hover on the brink of madness but how difficult could raising a glass for the entire day be I wondered. And sleeping out if we got lost? Clearly they were planning to go big. Even I can find my way home under desperate and trying circumstances. Who needs a tent.
By Friday evening the bakkie, loaded with hiking gear, bicycles, and a vat of whiskey, with no port to be seen, was trundling its way through an impressive break in the Klein Swartberg mountains. And so the geography and Afrikaans lessons began – a poort is a weakness, apparently, and the road north that passed from the klein karoo to the big karoo through the Seweweekspoort ran along such a geographical feature – no insane zig-zags and man made retaining walls to get over the mountain like its big brother a few miles to the east that runs up the Swartberg pass. This road cuts a natural line through the mountains and is lined on either side by majestic cliff faces that seemed to be twisted and buckling over, laughing at my futile efforts to comprehend the reality around this trip. And then it slowly started sinking in – that tall peak on the left, that’s where we’re headed tomorrow. Not the deck with the braai. In addition to the bilingual geography lesson we all emerged from the poort well educated on the latest Sandra Bullock movie. Stif couldn’t quite recall the title but noted an impressive amount of detail otherwise and highly recommended footing the extra bill for the 3D screening.
Just to set the record straight, most people venture up this peak well prepared and having done plenty of research. We had a flask of whiskey and a laminated A4 map. There is a cave on the south side an hour or two from the summit, where hikers sleep over on the way up, then summit, and return back down. I never quite understood the full implications at the time of announcement but it seemed our plans were to start very early from the south side, bypass the cave, summit, and descend on the northern side. In the same day. Simple in theory, bar from the fact that this was considered by the local farmer, Oom Ben, as quite an ambitious task, bordering on complete lunacy, and if it wasn’t for his bread baking duties that lured him back inside we may have even been convinced over the next hour of pleasant driveway conversation to reconsider our options.
But in true city-slicking style we adopted our hard headed approach and ignored the locals advice, opting to stick to our well researched plan.
5am alarms ring, 6am we are on the road back through the poort and up to the saddle to start the hike. 7am the path fizzles out and I’m seriously wondering if we’re going to be bushwhacking our way for the next 2 days up to the summit.
A path gradually materialises and we ascend past the hut and up to the rain gauge. These might sound like odd things to mention but we were quite relived to find them and know we were on the right path. And the right mountain slope for the matter.
Somewhere along here instinct drove me to suggest a mid-morning coffee stop, my mind was drifting continuously to the cappuccino sachets in my pack but it was around then that I learnt another valuable lesson, this time in the fine art of mountain cuisine. You don’t just make coffee with a side portion of Provita and cheese wedges anymore. Before we could even sit down Cobus was already sharpening his bread knife, had the espresso machine on the boil, and the picnic blanket out with little respect for the fact that we still had a peak to climb after this mountainside feast. Note to self: invite Cobus on the next adventure as the expedition catering manager.
The path then zig-zagged more steeply up onto a ridge that overlooked the poort to our right and an impressive amphitheatre of high peaks to our left. The clouds rolled in and cleared and rolled in and cleared, leaving me hoping quietly that we’d at least time it right and have some views from the top.
The summit plateau is protected by large rock bands that form cliff faces around the mountain, and the next few hours were spent looking for cairns to guide us safely through and up these cliffs, the views getting more and more dramatic and the afternoon gradually ticking slowly by. Eventually at around 4pm the cliffs ran out onto a flat mountain top and in the distance we could see the toppled over beacon. The clouds had cleared and we had the privilege of experiencing views as far as the eye could see, out over the Karoo to the north and the east, and seawards over the klein karoo. A shot of whiskey to celebrate (still no port) before starting the descent down the northern side.
Not much is written about this side of the mountain, other than ‘there is no path’. It was a very deceptive haul, we all estimated it would be a nice gentle downhill back to the cottage arriving easily before nightfall. It was good going down the ridge but then night did fall and the last hour was spent bushwhacking to get straight down the side of the mountain, on very weary legs and running low on water, before finally emerging on the road back to the cottage.
It would be mindless not to mention that the braai didn’t quite happen that evening as we all just sat in a dazed stupor staring at the flames, none of us quite energetic enough to volunteer to flip the boerie so we saved it for the next day and just enjoyed the whiskey (still no port, or Oom Ben’s bread) to celebrate.
The following morning we were back on our bikes to venture through the poort again, with a detour to the brink of the Bosch Luis kloof pass, to get back to the bakkie, before firing up the coals, slapping the wors on, and heading home, all the richer for another great outing with great company.