Blog by Dalene van Staden
The Klein-Swartberg Traverse follows the ridges and hills of the Klein-Swartberg mountain range between Seweweekspoort Peak and Towerkop in the Western Cape. The total route is approximately 40 km and is normally done over 4 days. It is largely off-trail on technical terrain.
Being rather “stingy” on taking time off from work, Stanley, Caro and I decided to take on the traverse over a period of 3 days. We did the traverse in an Eastwards direction, first going up to Seweweekspoort and then traversing along the mountain rang to Towerkop and down from there.
The objective of the day was to reach Colas Cave where we would spend the night. It sits at an altitude of 2015 m asl. The steep climb to Colas Cave starts with a winding jeep track and we made quick progress on this section. This transitions to somewhat of a single track until the trail completely disappears.
We covered the 10 km and 1500m vert in 4.5 hrs with a quick 20 min stop for lunch. On the way we found some ice that Stanley enthusiastically scooped up for his "brannas" for later. Prior to embarking on our trip, a friend had sent me a weather forecast that indicated that the temperature at Seweweekspoort Peak would be “feels like -8°C” that evening. Thus, as a safety precaution, we carried along a tent and pitched it inside the cave. Luckily, we ended up not being cold at all due to taking all the down-gear that we own.
Day 2 is normally done from Colas Cave to Skull Cave, but as we wanted to do the traverse in 3 days, our objective was to reach Skull Cave by lunch to reach Nel’s Cave that evening. We set off at 7 am and summited Seweweekspoort Peak (the highest peak in the Western Cape) less than an hour later. In addition to navigating scree and boulder fields, there was also some ice that made the terrain trickier to cross. On the way to Seweweekspoort Peak we were treated with spectacular views of the pass below and the mountains in the distance. It took us an hour longer to reach Skull Cave than we had hoped it would to cover the 10 km and 700 m vert. When we reached Skull Cave, we faced the realisation that the "drip" of water was no drip at all which would end up making the rest of our day a little more interesting as we thus had no water on our direct route. We had moved consistently the entire day from 07:00 and only stopped for 20 mins at Skull Cave at approximately 13:00 for a lunch stop before pushing on. We were losing daylight quickly and still wanted to reach Nel's Cave before sunset. The possibility of not reaching Nel’s Cave in daylight was becoming very high. We crested the last climb and looked onto Towerkop as the last rays of sunlight illuminated the majestic feature. Unfortunately, our search for the cave was not very fruitful. We ended up on a ledge (significantly) too high. We were tired, thirsty and it was dark. The big ledge luckily had an abundance of soft grass, and we made the call to bivy right there for the night as trying to find the cave in the technical and unknown terrain posed too many safety risks. We managed to scrape together some bits of ice lying around to melt for drinking water and cooking food. We used a buff to filter out all the grass and twigs from the ice we melted. The night on the ledge ended up being fantastic with clear starry skies up above. I expected day 2 to be long and tough, but a full 12.5 hour day of moving constantly over rough terrain was enough to ensure I would sleep comfortably on any spot. Day 2 ended up being approximately 20 km and 1500m vertical gain.
It took us an hour to reach Nel's Cave from our bivvy spot the night before. On our way to the cave, we went past two hikers that had spent the night at the cave and started making their way down. We had breakfast and coffee at the cave, filled our water bottles and started the big descent towards the car. We moved quickly and it took us only 15 mins to catch up to the other two hikers that had started descending an hour before us. Overall, the descent from the cave was a lot nicer than we had anticipated it would be and we were back at the car in under 3 hours after having left the cave.
Lone Peak 6 trail running shoe versus Lone Peak ALL-WTHR Mid boot
I haven’t owned a pair of hiking boots in about 10 years but decided to give the Lone Peak ALL-WTHR Mid boots a try on this traverse. I reckoned the extra weather proofing of the boot will be fantastic of the conditions do end up being extremely cold and wet. The front of the shoe sits more snugly than the Lone Peak 6 trail shoe. I ended up going a ½ size up in the boot compared to my Lone Peak 6 trail shoe to accommodate my hobbit feet. This did result in the fit around my heel not being as tight as I would have liked. To remedy this – I doubled up on socks and the fit was perfect! The cushioning and grip of the boots is amazing! I did notice the weight difference of the boots vs the trail shoes but adjusted quickly to the change in mass. The terrain of the Klein-Swartberg Traverse is quite rocky, uneven and technical. I found that the slight narrower fit of the boots (compared to the trail shoes) as well as the increased structural rigidity of the boots helped a lot in the technical scrambling sections as well as the tricky descents.