We would have chosen the hottest day Cape Town has experienced in years to attempt the legendary kloofing in Suicide Gorge in the Hottentots Holland Mountains near Grabouw. We had only looked forward to the hike for the better part of a week, and had done all the right preparations like getting our permits, setting out early, ensuring we had plenty of water and sunscreen, and travelling light, bearing in mind that this would be a strenuous day of it.
And then the forty odd degree day hit us with a vengeance ….
It used to take settlers in Cape Town two days to reach the gorgeous Hottentots Holland Mountains from the foreshore, which today we can make in a little over an hour, particularly when one heads out early. The Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, with its entrance close to the village of Grabouw, is not only a wonderful place in which to spend a day, it’s also the site of two kloofing trails, or hikes that end in kloofing on most days, ours was to be the exception for some of us.
The Riviersonderend Gorge is 24 kilometres long, and Suicide Gorge is a 17 kilometre circular haul. Some people do both gorges on the same day – it is possible and one can head from the one gorge on to the other – but given that we weren’t kloofing fundis, we had decided to play it calm and safe and enjoy what we could of one of the gorges.
On a good day – balmy weather plus a few clouds to take the edge off the heat – the hike takes one deep into the mountain fynbos with some pretty amazing scenery before reaching the gorge, aptly named perhaps because of the jumps (you have to be a pretty good climber to get back out, and the jumps vary from 3 metres to 16 metres), but really it’s a beautiful space with a fast flowing tanninnnn-coloured river flowing through it, series of waterfalls and ancient rock formations that have taken form over thousands of years of water erosion. But I get ahead of myself, for we were to experience little of this gorge-ousness.
By the time we set off on the hike it was already apparent that the day was a scorcher. The heat was such that most of our walk was completely exposed. Shade wasn’t just a premium, there was no shade to be had AT ALL!! Certain members of our party were seen to dive periodically under shrubs just to take a little of the heat off! (I exaggerate not, since it was I most of the time!).
It probably didn’t help that this part of the Western Cape was experiencing a drought at the time. There were virtually no trees, a few shrubs, it was dry, and the sun beat relentlessly throughout the hike.
Our friends who accompanied us kept saying how beautiful the surrounds were usually, and parties we met along the way reiterated that this was indeed the case and that we’d just picked a particularly bad day. Well, good or bad day, some friendly advice: Do NOT attempt this hike on a scorchingly hot day with the idea that you have only to reach the pools in order to kick back, lie in the shade and cool off! Even the pools were in full sun and there wasn’t even a suggestion of a tree under which to sit and cool off.
Interestingly on our return, I happened upon an account of the hike and the kloofs from a completely different perspective. In this account, probably in the colder months, people had brought along wet suits, as once in the kloof it can become really cold and the chill sets in. That I chuckled is a grave understatement. To crown it all, someone else had described the route as ‘more of a swim than a hike’, and that in extreme weather conditions it could be dangerous. Whilst I think they were referring to swollen rivers making off with you, I can attest to the ‘dangerousness’ of this walk during extreme heat.
Before the hike it was suggested that a good, dry bag was pretty essential to keep everything else dry, once in the kloof, but to be honest, we didn’t do the jumps or swim once in the kloof. We were so pooped from the heat when we finally reached the kloof that it was only three of our party who leapt off, defying death in the process – not so much the jump, although this was hairy enough – but the clamber back out on the slippery rocks, exposed to the heat of the day.
In fairness, and after some time to lose my initial horror at the overdose of sunshine, I can imagine that this walk followed by the kloofing is an incredible experience. The jump looked really hairy, but if I hadn’t been consumed with the incapacity of heat exhaustion I am sure that I would have had a ball.
As to whether or not I’d do it again, well, I’ll have to get back to you about that…
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Contact Cape Nature:
Tourism reservations and bookings
National callers: 0861 CAPENATURE (227 362 8873)
International callers: 0027 861 227 362 8873 / 0027 21 659 3500
The route is open from 1 November to 30 April.
Hikers should be fit.
Light footwear is advisable, as well as a wetsuit.
Use a waterproof bag.