The Complete Guide To The Leopard Trail – Baviaanskloof
The Complete Guide to the Leopard Trail – Baviaanskloof
WARNING: This is a long post. It will take a while to read. We promise, however, that by the time you are done, you will be well prepared to take on this challenging hike. Just remember that this is also based on our own experience and opinion. There are many many different experiences and opinions on the Leopard Trail hike. This is meant to give you another perspective on what to expect when you tackle the daunting Baviaanskloof.
Here is a list of the topics this post covers:
- The Speedy Review
- Interesting Facts About Cedar Falls Farm
- The Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve
- Physical Preparedness – Training Hikes
- What is Slack Packing?
- What Items Are Provided for You
- What you need to bring (Including a Packing List)
- First Aid Kit Essentials
- A Satellite Phone – Do I Really Need One?
- How to Book the Hike – What Does it Cost?
- How to Get There
- Where to Stay Before & After the Hike
- When is the Best Time to do the Hike?
- The Hiking Trifecta (Stay Hydrated, Stay Cool & Keep Your Feet Dry)
- The Nitty Gritty
- Final Thoughts
1. The Speedy Review
The Leopard Trail is one of the newest multi-day hiking trails in South Africa and one that has been on our radar since it opened in 2016. We had been waiting patiently since the end of 2017 when our hiking club, SAPSTAP, announced they had put it on the calendar for 2018. It was ABSOLUTELY worth the wait. This is a great trail to ease you into multi-day hiking, because it has the element of slack-packing combined with the ‘roughing it’ style of sleeping in tents, outdoor (cold!) showers and navigating by head-lamp when the sun goes down. There is no cell-phone signal once you enter the kloof on your way to the starting point, so consider this trip a time to get a way from the busy, stress-fueled life that so many of us lead.
Each day of the trail has its own unique terrain, views and challenges. Depending on the time of year you visit this trail, you may need to contend with high temperatures, so you will need to plan your starting times accordingly each day. Don’t rush this trail. There is SO much to see along the way. You will need time for resting on the uphills (they are long and tough in the heat), taking in the views of the huge expanse of mountains, the beautiful flowers and enjoying the river along much of the route.
This trail is a great training hike if you are planning on doing the Fish River Canyon. Although much more green, the Leopard Trail boasts a very similar terrain to the Fish, and the long, hot days will be excellent preparation. You will also (quickly) learn the art of picking the perfect camping spot, setting up a tent on uneven ground in the fading light, and facing the dilemma of smelling clean and fresh vs putting your tired body into icy cold water just to get clean.
The trail itself is well marked, and the facilities at each campsite are more than adequate. Although initially a little skeptical, this method of slack-packing certainly has its perks. It was VERY nice having vegetables with dinner every night, instead of having to whip out the little gas stove and cook our dry, light-weight food that we usually pack for other multi-day hikes.
It is great to know that there is a local hike that includes so many varied aspects of multi-day hiking. It is definitely worth booking this route. We wouldn’t recommend it for children, but teenagers who are regular multi-day hikers would enjoy it. Whoever you are, you need to be fit and able to handle the heat. Don’t go if you can’t be without your cell phone or electricity to charge your devices. We recommend that you take all the available detours on this hike. They don’t add much in terms of distance, but a HUGE amount to the overall enjoyment factor.
Lastly – you ABSOLUTELY MUST do the day hike to Cedar Falls. We recommend doing it as a ‘Day 5’ of the Leopard Trail. Book the Hiker’s Hut for the night you return to base camp and then head off on this spectacular day hike adventure on your last day. It is phenomenal.
2. Interesting Facts About The Leopard Trail
I, like many other people, just assumed that the Leopard Trail was simply a commercial venture where you pay your hike fees and in turn the trail is maintained for hikers. These days this would need to be done in partnership with either SANParks or the local Parks Board in the area. However with the Leopard Trail there is a significant difference. I only learned of this difference after reading an article written by Sonya Schoeman for Getaway magazine and posted on 1 June 2017. Here are a few of the more interesting excepts from that article relating to the purpose behind the creation of the Leopard Trail in 2016.
“It’s into this environment that the Leopard Trail was born, a joint project by the Another Way Trust and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency. The former has the concession to run the trail for 10 years, renewable for another 10. The Another Way Trust is an NGO and a heritage project of Linden *(Booth) and his wife, Jeanne; the beneficiaries are the previously disadvantaged people of the Baviaanskloof.
Although the trail is still in its infancy… there are big hopes that it will be a game-changer in the area. This is how it works: ‘We pay a concession fee for every hiker over to the Parks Board,’ explains Booth. ‘The rest is money that is earned by the Another Way Trust.’ The income primarily goes to job creation. ‘If there’s money left over, then that money has to be used for social and economic development projects in the Baviaanskloof. So that’s why for us the Leopard Trail is so exciting, because it has the potential to employ a great number of people, to create a number of businesses that run independently, but also to generate the kind of money that the Another Way Trust will use to … employ people permanently to do community development work.’” *My insertion.
According to a conversation I had with Linden after completing the Leopard Trail, there have been around 2000 hikers that have done the trail so far and long may that continue. Linden also hinted at the fact that there are plans under way to have overnight huts built at each camp site. He spoke of there being 3 huts at each camp site that can sleep 4 hikers with a fourth hut as a catering space. These huts will be built with funds made available by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency as the majority of the Leopard Trail is located on their land. According to Linden, these huts are to be built in the next 2 to 3 months (by Jan or Feb 2019) which is exciting news for those who haven’t done the trail yet.
3. The Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve
After arriving at the Cedar Falls Base Camp and whilst loading my black plastic box with all my overnight equipment and supplies, I noticed several printed banners hanging up the near the freezer. The posters were printed by Davidson Design Solutions. I have condensed what I believe to be the most relevant information contained in the 4 posters into a few paragraphs below:
Geology of the Area
“The Baviaanskloof – ‘Valley of Baboons’ – lies between the parallel east-west running Baviaanskloof and Kouga mountain ranges in the western region of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province and is South Africa’s third largest inland protected area, covering 185 00 ha. The Baviaanskloof Mega-reserve falls entirely within the Cape Folded Belt, a geological region characterised by the Cape Folded Mountains. It is also included entirely within the Cape Floral Region, an area of exceptionally high plant and animal richness and endemism.”
World Heritage Site
“This rich biodiversity which was internationally recognised by the awarding of World Heritage Site status to the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve in 2004, along with seven other reserves in the Cape Floristic Region, provides a number of opportunities for local and regional economic development through activities such as nature-based tourism and game ranching.
Nowhere else is it possible to find such an extraordinary diverse array of functionally different vegetation types and associated ecosystems. No fewer than seven of the country’s eight biomes are represented in the broader Baviaansklloof area. These are the Fynbos, Subtropical Thicket, Namakarroo, Succulent Karoo, Grassland, Savanna and Forest biomes.
The Mega-reserve area falls within the smallest and most most distinctive of the world’s six plant kingdoms with includes 9 000 plant species (69% of which are endemic). Plants of particular interest that occur in the area are the prehistoric cycads and the highly localised and threatened Willowmore cedar.”
“The oldest evidence of early inhabitants are large stone tools made of river cobbles, called handaxes and cleavers, which can be found throughout the region, usually near water sources such as rivers, springs, or wetlands. These early stone tools are believed to belong to the early ancestors of the KhoiSan people of Southern Africa. The San hunter-gatherers lived in the caves and rock shelters of the region, many of which still display paintings along the walls. These paintings do not usually represent a single activity, but each painting is thought to have had a particular symbolic meaning for the painters. Excellent preservation of organic material in some caves and shelters has yielded remarkable botanical artefacts, such as digging sticks, fire sticks, decorated wooden sticks and almost complete mummified human remains some 2 000 years old.”
Fauna and Flora
“The Baviaanskloof area has an exceptionally rich and interesting fauna as a result of the diversity of its habitats. Current records indicate that 58 mammal, 15 fish and 17 amphibian species occur in the area. Ten mammal species, 13 bird species, three fish species and three reptile species are categorised as Red Data Book animals.
The Baviaanskloof area is recognised as a Globally Important Bird Area with 310 recorded species, which is more than a third of the total bird fauna in South Africa. Numerous threatened species occur in the Mega-reserve, including the blue crane, lesser kestrel, black harrier, ground woodpecker, Cape rock-jumper, Cape siskin, protea seedeater, African marsh-harrier, striped flufftail, Denham’s bustard, black stork, peregrine falcon and lanner falcon.
Almost half (23 species) of the 56 reptile species recorded in the Baviaanskloof are endemic to South Africa. With 15 recorded species, the indigenous fresh-water fish diversity of the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve is exceptionally high by South African standards. Three species are Cape Floristic Region endemics. The Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve’s amphibian (frog) community includes 17 species, including 11 endemics. This is high by global standards and reflects the fact that South Africa has a particularly rich frog life.
Apart from the leopard, which is still present, all the carnivores – lion, cheetah, spotted hyaena, brown hyaena, African wild dog – have become extinct in the area.”
4. Physical Preparedness – Training Hikes
Do you need to be experienced or in peak physical condition to hike the Leopard Trail? Quite simply, no. But there seems to be, in our experience, a correlation between fitness levels and the overall enjoyment factor when doing this hike. The inevitable consequence of struggling on a hike is that you hardly take in any of the scenery and your memory of the whole experience will be significantly limited. That is not what you want for such a picturesque hike that you may never do again in your lifetime.
Disclaimer: The training hikes listed below are only recommendations, based on our personal experience. Before attempting any of the training hikes, or any exercise preparation, we suggest you consult with a medical practitioner. It is important that you are properly checked out by a doctor before embarking on any exercise programme. We do not want any harm to come to you as a result of following our training hike recommendations in this blog.
Putting in Some Prep Work
There are many similarities between the Leopard Trail and the Fish River Canyon Trail. Therefore a lot of what we are suggesting for the Leopard Trail is what we have suggested for the Fish River Canyon Trail.
What we are suggesting is that you properly prepare for this hike so that you will be able to look around and take in the scenery, including all the little creatures that call the Baviaanskloof home. Being prepared also means you won’t be too exhausted by the end of each day, and that you will wake up reasonably refreshed for the next day’s hiking.
Our first recommendation is that the Leopard Trail should not be your first multi-day hike. You should have at least done a one or two overnight or multi-day hikes before the Leopard Trail so that you will have learned what essential equipment you will need to take with you.
Our second recommendation is that you do one or two training hikes in the run up to the Leopard Trail. If you have never done a multi-day hike before, we suggest that you start training at least 3 months before doing the Leopard Trail. That will get your body used to hiking at least 10-15 kilometres a day. If you are a regular hiker, but have not done the Leopard Trail before, we recommend starting your training programme at least a month before doing the Leopard Trail. You should be doing a reasonably long hike, in the region of 10 – 20 kilometres, at least once a week.
It is important to realise that your preparations are not only about being able to walk at least 15 kilometers a day. It is also about conditioning your body to the hot and dry conditions in the Baviaanskloof. Just because you will be hiking with only a day pack doesn’t mean that you will not have a difficult hike in the tough conditions. Many an experienced hiker has been undone by heat exhaustion only after a day or two on the trail. Simply keeping hydrated is not always enough to prevent heat exhaustion. Instead of planning your training hikes in the early morning to avoid the heat of the day, we suggest that you plan your hikes around midday to simulate the conditions in the Baviaanskloof and to practice good habits like drinking lots of water at regular intervals, applying sunscreen and wearing a decent hat. Acclimatising to the hot conditions is an important element of your preparations. This all might sound like overkill, but it will all contribute to a more enjoyable hiking experience.
As we are based in Cape Town, the training hikes we suggest you do before tackling the Leopard Trail are all based here. That is not to say that you cannot find hikes in your corner of the world that closely resemble the conditions you will find in the Baviaanskloof. Each of these hikes have an element of the Leopard Trail in them and will prepare you for the day when you will enter the Baviaanskloof.
The Dikkop Trail – Koeberg Nature Reserve
This trail has the most similar hiking conditions to the Fish River Canyon and the Leopard Trail. It includes a 20 kilometre route through the Koeberg Nature Reserve that consists of large sections of loose beach sand as well as sections of hard gravel jeep tracks. What this hike doesn’t have are small and large boulders which are another consistent terrain feature of the Fish and the Leopard Trail. It will give you a chance if the gaiters you have will prevent sand from getting into your footwear. It takes between 5-6 hours to complete this hike so is comparable to a day’s hiking on the Leopard Trail. Try and do this hike at least twice and preferably in the heat of the day to get your body used to hiking in hot and dry conditions.
Platteklip Gorge – Table Mountain
This is a very popular hike in Cape Town. It is basically a glorified stone staircase to the top of Table Mountain and down again. It will give your the opportunity to improve the strength in your legs and get your body used to climbing and descending the hills and saddles on the Leopard Trail.
We suggest using a trekking pole for the Leopard Trail, and doing your training hikes with the same pole, so you can get used to hiking with it. They work really well for stabilizing you on a steep descent, especially when the rocks and boulders are unsteady and your legs become tired.
Skeleton Gorge / Nursery Ravine – Table Mountain
This hiking route begins in the Kirstenbosch Gardens. It is most easily accessible through the top gate. Again, this route will get your legs used to a steep ascents and descents. The descents of the hikes in Cape Town do not really last more than about an hour, with Platteklip perhaps taking you just over an hour. This is comparable to what you will find on the Leopard Trail so will be ideal for training purposes.
Arangieskop – Robertson
This hike manages to tick quite a few of the boxes in preparing you for the Leopard Trail. It is firstly an overnight hike that will help you to sort out what equipment you will need to take with you to the Baviaanskloof, although it does have a very comfortable overnight hut, which the Leopard Trail does not. It will give you a good indication of your fitness levels and the second day provides a long and challenging descent. It is particularly slippery, especially after some rain and it will teach you a few lessons on how to make certain that your footing is secure before taking your next step. We have written a separate blog on the Arangieskop hike and we encourage you to read it before doing that hike.
Kasteelspoort Hike – Table Mountain
This is also a good hike to do to prepare your legs for the hill climbing on the Leopard Trail. There are many routes up Table Mountain so you can either use Kasteelspoort to ascend or descend Table Mountain. Our recommendation is that you descend through Kasteelspoort and also that you do it during the heat of the day to prepare yourself for the hot conditions in the Baviaanskloof. Even the hottest day in Cape Town will not ordinarily be as hot as hiking through the Baviaanskloof, but it will help you to prepare for it. Take your trekking pole with you for this one.
For other day hikes in Cape Town, please have a look at our blog page for ideas on where to hike.
5. What is Slack Packing?
In the traditional sense, if you said that you were going on a multi-day hike, you would need to pack and carry with you, everything you would need to survive for the 4/5/6 days that you would be on the trail. In extreme cases, like the Fish River Canyon, you have to carry everything you need with you, as well as all the rubbish you accumulate during the hike – unless you burn it. In the Canyon there are no overnight huts, no access to electricity, no toilets and no rubbish bins.
In most other overnight or multi-day hikes, you will have the convenience of a hut and a roof over your head and it, at the very least, will have the basics, including a bed, mattress and a place to prepare your food. Ordinarily that would mean that you would not need to carry a tent with you in your backpack. Everything else would need to be carried by you from the beginning to the end of the hike.
With the slack packing option, you will still need to have all the usual hiking equipment and supplies, but the main difference is that you don’t have to carry it all in your backpack. The Leopard Trail staff will provide each hiker with a black plastic box that you can put your tent, sleeping bag, mattress, pillow, towel, clothing, toiletries, food, luxuries and any other odds and ends into that you might need at each overnight camp site. You will only need to take the bare essentials with you in a day pack on the trail, including water, food for lunch, snacks, a First Aid kit, toilet paper, a warm top (just in case), a camera, suntan lotion, a trekking pole and a hat. Make no mistake, even with only a day pack, the Leopard Trail is still a challenging hike in anyone’s language. But it allows people, who find it difficult to hike long distances with a heavy backpack, the opportunity to enjoy this hike where it would not have been possible without the slack packing option. And that is a good thing!
Depending on which day you are on, your black plastic boxes, containing your goodies will be dropped off at the overnight camps sites at different times. It is advisable that you plan your day’s hike so that you arrive at the overnight camping spot after your boxes have been dropped off. We arrived at the first camping spot on Day 1 ahead of our boxes and even the 5-10 minute wait for our boxes felt like an eternity. We decided then and there that we would make sure that we finished each day’s hike after our boxes were delivered.
The box dimensions according to the Go Baviaans website are: 46.5 cm x 73.6 cm and 35 cm deep. Each hiker gets one box. We actually felt that the boxes we were given were slightly bigger than the aforementioned dimensions, but we did not have a tape measure to confirm this.
Choosing your box
Although the staff at the farm do check the boxes regularly, make sure you pick one that has working clips on the lid and base, as it keeps the dust out. Also make sure both the wheels work properly, as it makes it much easier to move the box around on the sand at each campsite.
We have our own ‘hiking box’ at home, similar to the ones provided by the trail, except it is a little longer. We were allowed to use that box as well as a single box for each of us. We used our own box to put in the tents, sleeping bags and other camping essentials for 3 of us, and used the two provided boxes for food and our clothing. Most of us just put our entire bag of clothing into the box provided instead of unpacking the bag.
Box Drop Off Times at the Overnight Camping Sites
Camp 1 – 3 pm Camp 2 – 4 pm Camp 3 – 11 am Base Camp (Day 4) – noon (12 pm)
6. What Items Are Provided For You?
Each camp site along the trail (camp 1 -3) is equipped with a catering tent and several demarcated areas where you can pitch your tent. The tent areas are demarcated by a rock border and the ground is bare sand, no grass. If there is one thing that you will need to make peace with if you are going to enjoy the Leopard Trail, it is the dust. You, your backpack and everything you own will be covered in it for the duration of the hike. Having a large ground sheet with you to place your tent on will help you to minimise the amount of dust that you will walk into your tent. We have a 4 x 3m groundsheet that we place our tent onto when we camp. It provides a large area at the entrance of the tent for bags, shoes, etc.
Each catering tent is equipped with a two plate gas stove and gas bottle. It has a picnic table that can seat 12 people and a double sink with running, cold water that is drinkable. Each catering tent also has a standard set of of cutlery and crockery for 12 people. I have made a list of all the items that you will find in each of these catering tents which you can read here.
All the campsites also have a flush toilet, cold outdoor shower, water tanks (drinking quality) and fire wood. No indoor or outdoor lamps or light sources are provided. You are expected to clean the dishes and any equipment used each day for the next group that will use the camp site after you.
7. What You Need To Bring With You
- A tent
- Satellite phone
- A sleeping bag
- Food for 4 x days [5 if you are also doing the Day Hike]
- Clothes for 4 days (5 if you are also doing the Day Hike]
- A camping mattress
- Trekking pole
- A day backpack
- Hydration bladder / water bottles [3 lt minimum…believe us, you will need it]
- A head lamp / light
- A digital camera
- First Aid Kit
- Sun screen
- A hat
- A GPS Device [optional]
- Camping towel
8. First Aid Kit Essentials
This is one of those items that can lie at the bottom of your hiking backpack and remain unopened for an entire 4/5/6 day hike. It needs to be said that the chances of you using your First Aid kit is greater on the Leopard Trail than most other hikes. I have done a separate blog on Hiking First Aid Essentials for the Fish River Canyon and I would encourage you to read it here. The conditions of the Fish River Canyon are similar in many ways to the Baviaanskloof area, although it must be said that you are not as isolated from medical help as you are in the Canyon.
One thing that you don’t need to be worried about is malaria. The Baviaanskloof is not a malaria area.
What we did to prepare for the Leopard Trail was to make two people responsible for identifying and procuring the First Aid equipment that we would need on the hike. Belinda and I ended up carrying all the first aid equipment for the hike. Each person was still responsible for bringing along any personal/chronic medication as well as other general medication that may be needed on the hike (e.g painkillers, anti-inflammatory tablets, anti-nausea/vomiting etc). The First Aid Kit list that we prepared for the Fish River Canyon hike is available here for download. I actually took more First Aid supplies and equipment with me on the Leopard Trail than I did for the Fish, because I included extras for the treatment of snake bites.
The purpose of the above strategy was to prevent a general duplication of First Aid supplies among the group and that essential equipment was not left behind. Remember, you will only have access to the First Aid equipment that you bring with you and secondly, you will need to stay with the sick or injured person for a potentially extended period of time, depending on when help arrives, so it is essential to have the right amount of First Aid equipment packed for if and when you need it.
It would also be preferable for one of your hiking party to have received First Aid training. If you group is going to be more than 10 people, we recommend that you have at least two First Aiders. In our group, at least 3 of the 8 hikers had received First Aid training and 1 was registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa as a Basic Life Support medic.
9. A Satellite Phone – Do I Really Need One?
Cellular Telephone Reception
With the exception of two locations along the trail, there is no cellular telephone signal at all along the Leopard Trail. Ask yourself, what would happen if you had a medical emergency in one of the more locations on the farm, far from help? Most parts of the Leopard Trail are inaccessible even by a 4 x 4 vehicle.
Everyone I have spoken to, without exception really, has answered the above question in the same way. They would identify the two strongest hikers and send them back to base camp to summon help. Have you actually considered how long it would take someone to hike in the region of 10 kilometres (worst case scenario) and get to someone who can contact help? How long after you get hold of someone will help actually arrive at the person who desperately needs it? Do you know the answer to these questions?
If you drop your backpack and just take water and the bare essentials, you will be lucky to cover a distance of 4 km an hour. That means it would take you between 3 – 4 hours to reach the Cedar Falls base camp with a minimum of a half hour’s rest along the way. You still haven’t contacted anyone and help is not yet on the way. Remember it is going to take the Cedar Falls Farm camp staff the same amount of time to hike back with you to reach the injured person. I spoke to one of the staff members, Lourens or Jakobus and he told me of a youngster who injured himself at one of the pools along the trail. They could not get access to the injured boy by vehicle and had to carry him out using a blanket as a stretcher. This exercise took a long time and a huge human effort to achieve. This information is not meant to frighten or or dissuade you from doing this trail. Not at all. You just need to be aware of it and take the necessary precautions and, most importantly, have a plan if something had to go wrong.
It is true that hundreds of people hike the Leopard Trail each year without incident. For them, and maybe for you, a satellite phone would have been a waste of time, money and precious space in the backpack. The pertinent question to ask though, is what if something like this did happen to you or someone in your hiking party? What would you do and would it be enough to save yourself, your spouse, your family member or your companion when time was of the essence? Can you really afford to be without a satellite phone in a rugged and unforgiving place like the Baviaanskloof? Only you can answer that question for yourself.
The Baviaanskloof shares many terrain and climatic features with the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. I have written a comprehensive blog on the need for a satellite phone when doing the Fish River Canyon which you can read here.
Catherine 074 939 4395
Willowmore SAPS (044) 923 8100/2/3
Ambulance (044) 923 1127
Clinic [Willowmore] (044) 923 1127
Gov Hospital (George) (044) 874 5017
Pvt Hospital (George) (044) 803 2000
Emergency Cell Phone Reception Areas on the Trail
There are two places on the Leopard Trail where we found limited cell phone reception. The first was on Day 2, after hiking a distance of just under 8 km (GPS). It was located on the slopes of the saddle with a GPS position of S 33° 34.519′ E 023° 38.425′ (elevation 1112 m). The signal at that spot only allowed us to make phone calls. There was no 3G signal for any instant messaging. And secondly on Day, 3 after hiking a distance of 5.88 km (GPS). It was located just before the summit of the Inconvenient Truth hill with a GPS position of S 33° 35.623′ E 023° 46.811′ (elevation 1169 m). There, we had full signal to make telephone calls and send and receive WhatsApp and Telegram messages. Make a note of these two locations. If you are not going to carry a satellite phone with you, you may need to get to these locations in case of an emergency. We did not find any other locations along the trail where we had any cell phone reception.
10. How to Book the Hike and What Does it Cost?
BOOKING THE HIKE
To book the Leopard Trail, visit the Trail Reservations page at http://gobaviaans.co.za/project/leopard-trail-reservations/ and click on ‘Book Now’. You will be redirected to a booking portal, with calendar indicating which days are available for booking and which days are full. A maximum of 12 hikers is permitted on the trail at any time. The minimum number is 4.
The rate for this 4-day, 3-night hike is R1180 per person and there is no additional portage fee for your bags and food.
For more information, you can contact Catherine at the Go Baviaans information and reservation office on:
Tel: 074 939 4395
Bank details for EFT payments are:
Standard Bank Knysna
Branch code: 05031442
Current account number: 070084009
11. How to get there
The Go Baviaans website has a comprehensive explanation of how to get to the Cedar Falls Base Camp by road which you can read here.
We travelled from George to the Cedar Falls Base Camp via Uniondale. It took us just under an hour and a half to travel the 108 km from the Engen garage at the start of the N9 highway in George to Uniondale. It took us a further 45 minutes to travel the 59 km to the second turnoff to the Baviaanskloof (R332). The R332 is a gravel road in fairly good condition and it only took us about 40 minutes to travel the 44 km to the Cedar Falls sign telling us to turn right and take the farm road 7 km to the Cedar Falls Base Camp. The farm road included 3 shallow river crossings and took us about 30 minutes to complete.
Your last stop for supplies is the KwikSpar in Uniondale. It has the basics, but not a huge amount of variety. It also only opens when the staff arrive (which is not at 0730 as indicated on the sign at the door). If you are looking for a greater shopping experience, we would suggest doing it in George or Oudtshoorn, depending on the direction you are coming from. There is a petrol station in Uniondale where you can fill up and deflate your tyres for the dirt road, should you feel it necessary.
Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because no dogs are allowed due to it being in a nature reserve.
12. Where to Stay Before & After the Hike
ACCOMMODATION ON THE FARM
Depending on your travel arrangements, you might want to stay on the farm before and/or after starting The Leopard Trail, especially if you decide to do the optional Cedar Falls day-hike (in our opinion, this should not even be debated – you MUST do this day hike, it is spectacular).
There are a variety of self-catering cottages on the farm:
Just For Two and Cob Cottage: both single bedroom, self catering cottages. R980 per night for the unit, bedding and towels provided. Sleeps 2
Cedar Farmhouse: Sleeps 8 (minimum of 4 people) with bedding and towels provided. R320 pp, with a minimum of 4 people.
Red Cliffs Farmhouse: This is a great option for a hiking group as it sleeps 12. R200 pp (no bedding/towels provided) or R280 pp (with bedding/towels provided). Minimum of 4 people.
Hikers Hut: This is the house we stayed in. It’s the most cost-effective accommodation available, but the facilities are more than adequate. It sleeps 12 (minimum of 4 people) at a rate of R170 pp (no bedding/towels provided) or R250 pp (with bedding/towels provided). There are 2 double bunk beds in each of the 3 bedrooms.
A few notes on the accommodation:
- All accommodation is self catering. No smoking is allowed in any of the accommodation.
- Check in is anytime from 14h00 onwards, and check out by 10h00. Guests may arrive on the farm earlier and leave later, but are required to vacate the accommodation so the team can clean the houses for the next guests.
- All bedding is provided at Cedar Farmhouse, Just for Two Cottage and Cob Cottage – This includes down duvets. If you or any one of your group is allergic to feathers, you will need to bring your own bedding.
- Red Cliffs Farmhouse sleeps 12, one room with king size bed, one room with a queen size bed and two rooms sleeping 6 and 2. Bedding and towels are not provided.
- There is no cell phone reception or card facilites at the farm. If payments need to be made on the farm, these must be made in cash.
- There is no electricity on the farm (unless the generator is powered up). All facilities are supplied with paraffin lamps and gas appliances.
In total, the hiking fee and accommodation will be approximately R1350 pp. You need to still factor in costs for food and petrol.
For more detail on these accommodation options, visit the Go Baviaans website here.
We travelled from Cape Town to do this hike and chose to overnight in George with friends and family. That allowed us to save a bit of money on accommodation, but it did mean that we still had to travel the 220 km to the Cedar Falls Base Camp which took us about 4 hours. That meant that after packing our overnight boxes we could only start with Day 1 at about 11h30.
After completing the last day of the Leopard Trail (Day 4), we opted to stay in the Hikers House so that we could do the Cedar Falls Day Hike the following day. The accommodation had everything we needed to rest and recuperate from the 4 days on the trail and prepare ourselves for the following day’s hike.
There is a generator on the farm that was kindly put on just after we arrived at the Hiker’s House. This not only allowed us to recharge our devices, but it also powers the WiFi network on the farm and we were able to communicate with the outside world for a few minutes before the connection was severed again. Which is not necessarily a bad thing if you want to take a break from your normal life. The generator was put on again from 18h30 – 21h00 in the evening so that we could read the replies to the messages we had sent earlier.
13. When is the Best Time to do the Hike?
It is recommended, at the moment, to try and do this trail between October and December. While this period can see temperatures in the high thirties, it is just too hot to hike through the Baviaanskloof at the height of Summer. Alternatively the Winter days are mild and pleasant, but after the sun goes down and during the night the temperature plummet and you could end up with snow or frost occurring. It is not a pleasant experience to face cold conditions from inside your little two person tent. The advantage of doing the hike in late October is that you will be treated to a captivating display of a range wild flowers that we found difficult to put into words. The mixture of smells coming from the wild geraniums, fynbos and other vegetation is something we have not experienced on any other hike. It’s like a permanent supply of natural air freshener and really adds to the experience.
However, once the overnight huts are built, each equipped with a fire place, it might be a better option to do this hike in Winter and when the daily temperatures are a lot milder and the cold overnight conditions will not be as unpleasant while sitting in front of a fire place inside a wooden hut.
The Go Baviaans website has the following information on the best times of the year to do this hike.
“The Leopard Trail is a great hike at any time of year.
Summer is hot with the daily average in December, January and February at 26 degrees Celsius. Days can get up to the high 30s, so be prepared to walk in the early mornings and late afternoons, spending your midday hours at the lunchtime mountain pools. Autumn and Spring (March, April, May, September, October and November) can provide great fair weather hiking, with average temperatures in the early 20s. As winter approaches, an occasional cold front will blow through, dropping temperatures considerably.
Winter days in June, July and August are often perfect for a long days hiking if you don’t like the heat, with temperatures averaging around 16 degrees Celsius. Nights drop to zero though, so make sure you have a warm sleeping bag, hot water bottle and camping mattress. Rain in the Baviaanskloof is an unpredictable affair. All months of the year have only around 4 days of rain so, statistically, your chances of dry weather are pretty good.
Like all mountain areas, the Baviaanskloof can experience a range of weather conditions over any 4-day period. You are advised to prepare for rain, wind, cold and heat.”
You can read more about it here.
14. The Hiking Trifecta (Stay Hydrated, Stay Cool & Keep Your Feet Dry)
Dehydration and heat exhaustion can end your hike just as quickly as a sudden fall from a height. Your body is able to compensate for a lack of liquids and electrolytes for a time, until it decides it cannot anymore. Whilst severe blistering does not usually stop a hiker in his or her tracks, it can suck all the joy out of your hike if it happens to you.
It is important that, as a group, you remind each other to drink plenty of water regularly throughout the day. It is not advisable to wait until you feel thirsty before having a drink of water. Once you have completed each day’s hiking, you need to put back the electrolytes you have lost during the course of the day. It is recommended that use something like Rehidrat Sport to restore your electrolyte levels before setting out the next day. Replacing salt lost during the day’s exercise will also help to revive the body. We use the small salt sachets that you get with your take away meals.
It is not enough just to drink lots of water. The conditions in the Baviaanskloof can be extreme as far as the temperature is concerned. Your body is an amazing machine that is able to regulate its temperature depending on both internal and external factors. However incredible the body may be, it too can be overwhelmed by the elements and lose its ability to regulate its own temperature. Along with drinking lots of water, keep your head and body cool by taking breaks in available shade, pour water over your head and have a swim to bring down your core temperature, especially if you are struggling with the heat. Many of us found it useful to place a wet buff under our hats to keep us cool. You can keep wetting the buff in the river to keep it cool. A hydration pack helps to have a readily available supply of water, which you can access without having to ask your hiking buddy to pass you a water bottle from an inaccessible pocket of your backpack.
Be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and treat them aggressively when they are present.
Some signs and symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
- Cool, moist skin
- Heavy sweating
- Low blood pressure
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Feeling faint
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
(We got this from here)
Some signs and symptoms of Heat Stroke
- High body temperature (>40°C)
- Hot, flushed and dry skin
- Lack of sweating despite the heat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
- Rapid, shallow breathing
(We got this from here)
Keeping you feet dry includes keeping them free of loose sand that can lead to the formation of blisters. To prevent sand entering your shoes, we recommend using gaiters. You get the heavy duty ones, but they can make your feet very warm. A really good option, and a staple in our hiking attire are the lycra gaiters from AR Gaiters. You can read our review on them here.
If you accidentally misstep during a river crossings and your socks get soaked, it is recommended that you stop immediately and change your socks. Some of the modern hiking boots have material that makes them waterproof. If water gets in through the ankle area, these materials will actually prevent the water from escaping again. You would actually need to tip your boots over to let the water run out, depending on how much gets in.
Blister prevention and management is actually an interesting topic that will be covered in a separate blog.
Remember to drink enough water regularly, keep your head and body cool and keep those feet dry and free of sand and you should have an enjoyable hike.
15. The Nitty Gritty
On Tuesday 23 October 2018 at about 06h15, we all met at the Engen garage in George located near the start of the Outeniqua Pass (N9). I filled up my vehicle, a 7 seater VW Caddy, with diesel and at about 06h25, we headed off on the N9 highway to Uniondale. We arrived in Uniondale at about 07h40 and stopped outside the Spar, but there were no signs of life despite the opening time advertised as 07h30. We drove on through the BP garage and stopped at the corner shop for a couple of ice cold Cokes. We then headed back to the BP garage and let some air of of our tyres in preparation for the long stretch of gravel road just outside Willowmore. I reduced the front tyre pressure of the VW Caddy to 1 bar and the rear tyres to 1.5 bar. The back of the Caddy was piled high with backpacks and hiking related paraphernalia.
The Spar had still not opened so I took the opportunity to make contact with Catherine of Go Baviaans. I wanted to know which of the two gravel roads were in the better condition and which was the shortest road. I am not a fan of driving on gravel roads and if it was possible to reduce the distance I would need to cover on a gravel road by even a kilometre I would take it. Catherine advised than I not take the first Baviaanskloof turnoff, but the second one situated less than 5 km outside Willowmore. The gravel road was in a slightly better condition and the journey by gravel road was about 15 – 20 minutes shorter than the first turnoff. The Spar eventually opened at about 08h10 and we bought some unhealthy pies and sausage rolls (there wasn’t much else) before getting back on the road. Some of the group grabbed the opportunity to get a cup of coffee from the machine inside the Spar that seemed to work when it wanted to. I forced a pepper steak pie and a sausage roll down my throat and washed it down with a Coke. My body did not thank me for doing that, but the grumbling in my stomach stopped for a while. Next time we will pack a proper breakfast.
Just after 09h00, at a distance of about 150 km from George, we crossed the provincial border from the Western Cape into the Eastern Cape. Barely 10 minutes later, we turned right at the Baviaanskloof sign and immediately on to a gravel road (R332). The road distance from George at that point was 167.7 km. We lost cell phone signal pretty soon after turning on to the R332 which for a gravel road was in a surprisingly good condition. The VW Caddy and the Daihatsu Terios travelling behind us had no trouble travelling on this road. At about 09h45, we turned right off the R332 on to a farm road marked by a sign ‘Cedar Falls 7km’. It took us about 30 minutes to negotiate our way along this farm road that included 3 shallow river crossings. Again the Caddy and the Terios had no problems covering the terrain at a slow speed. The Caddy has quite a low ground clearance and there were a few spots were the undercarriage scraped across a rock or two, but nothing significant. We reached a gate that announced that we were close. Just inside the gate on the right was what looked like a ‘plaster of paris’ leopard. My inside voice joked that hopefully that was not the last leopard that we were going to see while we were there.
We met up with the manager, Willem, along this farm road. He was on his way to fill some of the gas bottles from the overnight rest camps. We continued on and were joined by Johannes and Lourens in a Toyota Landcruiser who told us where to stop with our vehicles to be able to transfer our belongings to the black plastic containers provided for each hiker. We stopped the vehicles on top of a slightly raised cemented area. We then quickly set about transferring our overnight stuff to the black plastic containers and stocking our day packs for the first day’s hike. Our meat was quickly labelled with our names and the day of the week and placed in the communal freezer. This helps the staff who drop off the boxes to know who needs what on any given day of the hike. One person even requested that their beer be brought on Day 2, to ensure it was nice and cold on arrival at camp.
After a few trips to the toilet, the vehicles were moved to the nearby parking area and we walked across the farm road and toward the start of the trail. At that point, the mercury was simmering at about 32 °C according the Caddy’s temperature gauge. Little did we know that we were experiencing the mildest maximum temperature for the remainder of the hike. After making sure that we had everything that we needed, which never really works out anyway, Johannes led us the the start.
We started hiking at about 11h32, which was much later than any of the other hikes we had done with the exception of the Fish River Canyon. After 5 minutes and barely enough time to acclimatize to the heat, we began to climb ‘Kick Start’ hill. However soon thereafter, as if an answer to prayer, we were rewarded with a stiff breeze blowing from the front which made things a lot more manageable. To our surprise and amusement, we came across a few motivational messages along the trail. These signs appear throughout the hike and pose some intriguing questions about the planet and our purpose on it. Good fun, really. Before we knew it, we were at the top. It was much less traumatic than other bloggers would have you believe. It’s the heat, more than the ascent, that makes it a tough section (especially since we had been sitting in the car for a few hours and our legs hadn’t quite warmed up yet).
After reaching the top of ‘Kick Start’ hill, the trail levelled out on to a plain with a small dam quite a ways off to our right. There were four wild horses grazing near the dam.
At about 12h55, we reached the optional detour on the left to Gabriel’s Pools after hiking a distance of 4.89 km GPS (Strava 4.9 km). We had decided before starting the hike that we were going to explore each and every optional detour to maximise the enjoyment factor. Immediately on the left of the detour sign is the tombstone of Gabriel Jakobus Petrus van Jaarsveld, born 02-12-1845 died 16-10-1916 (if I read it correctly). Apparently Gabriel was a local farmer who used to farm in that area. Whether Gabriel is actually buried under that tombstone is anyone’s guess.
We followed the path passed a derelict structure and arrived at Gabriel’s Pools about 15 minutes later, after a distance of about 750 m. We took the opportunity to have a snack break in the shade of the kloof. I filled up my water bottle and placed it in the cold water to stay chilled. The brave amongst us chose to wade or swim through the first pool and around the corner to the waterfall. You can access the first pool by climbing up the rocks on the right hand side of the path and then wading or swimming through the second pool and then on to the third pool and the waterfall. It’s definitely worth the view and the experience.
We returned to the main path at about 14h15 and continued on toward camp site 1. At 14h22, not far from Gabriel’s Pools, we crossed a narrow stream. If you did not take the detour, then that would be a convenient place to fill up your water bottles. We ended up crossing the river a couple of more times and then headed toward a kloof to our right. At 14h45, we walked through the kloof and into the first bit of welcome shade we had found the whole day [8.6 km Strava], except for the optional detour to Gabriel’s Pools. The shaded patch didn’t last long though and we were out in the blazing sun again quite soon.
At 14h50, we reached a split in the trail. The left fork formed part of the trail for Day 2. We continued to the right and on to the overnight camp for Day 1. The distance at that point was 8.91 km GPS [9,0 km Strava]. Less than 15 minutes later we arrived at Campsite 1. So from the split in the trail it is approximately 1.5 km to the overnight camp site for Day 1. Fortunately, less than 10 minutes after arriving at the camp site, our black plastic boxes arrived with our food and supplies. We had arrived at the campsite a little after 16h00 and it was still very hot. There is not much shelter at this campsite, except for the catering tent which can get quite hot in the absence of a decent breeze. Fortunately at around 17h15, the camp site was covered in shade as the sun slipped behind the high walls of the kloof. The moon rose at 19h10 and bathed the camp site in bright light.
Most of us had meat to braai (barbecue) for supper. Belinda had bought us each a steak and had brought along an impressive selection of vegetables to round off a balanced meal. This slack packing thing was starting to look better and better.
The outdoor shower was situated behind a sparse tree which provided minimal cover to those brave enough to use it. The window on the toilet cubicle is also on the same side of the structure as the basin (which is outside the structure). So be careful – you might be sitting on the bog whilst your hiking buddy is brushing their teeth. It’s a way to get to know each other very well, very quickly.
Although Camp Site 1 had all the basics, it was our least favourite of all the campsites.
The Stats – Day 1
Day 1 included taking an optional detour to Gabriel’s Pools. The detour added about 1.5 km [750 m x 2] to Day 1’s total hiking distance. The hiking distance for Day 1, without this detour, is about 9 km. The total hiking stats for Day 1, according to the Garmin eTrex 20x GPS device, were as follows:
|Trip Odometer||10.48 km [incl detour]|
|Moving Average||5.3 km/h|
|Overall Average||2.9 km/h|
|Max Speed||7.7 km/h|
|Elevation Gain||337 m [Strava]|
I created a route and elevation profile for Day 1 using my Garmin eTrex 20x, which you can find here.
Watch the Relive video below to get a good idea of the route and the elevation profile of this hike.
After a breakfast of Oatees floating on a cushion of long life milk and a cup of tea, we headed off again at about 06h20. We made sure that all the dishes were washed, the catering tent was tidy and that our boxes were repacked and ready to be transported to Campsite 2 during the course of the day. We left our boxes inside the catering tent in the hopes that they would not be subjected to the heat of blazing sun as we continued with Day 2 of the Leopard Trial. What we didn’t really appreciate was that it was going to be a very long day out on the trail for us before we reached our next campsite.
The trail started out with a flat section. At about 06h40, we reached the split in the trail (1.5 km GPS / 1.6 km Strava) and turned right along the Day 2 route. We had already heard the sounds of baboons barking in the distance and we were keen to make the most of the cool morning weather and get some distance under our belt before the sun made its brutal presence felt.
At about 07h00, after enjoying the protection of the shaded kloof, we eventually emerged into the sunlight and almost immediately the conditions began to warm up rapidly [2.5 km GPS]. About 2 minutes later, we came across a sign that proclaimed that we were entering Rhebok Valley and almost straight away we started noticing buck spoor crisscrossing the trail [2.7 km GPS / 2.6 km Strava].
At about 07h50, the trail began to steepen noticeably after hiking a distance of 5.2 km (GPS) on a relatively flat track. We crossed a dry river bed and carefully manoeuvred our way through a prickly silver forest and headed straight for a kloof. That took us to the optional detour to Cedar Views which, of course, we took [5.8 km GPS / 5.7 km Strava]. It was just after 08h00 and it had taken us 01h45m to get to that point. The elevation at that point was 1038 m.
At about 08h35, we reached a pool where we decided to have Second Breakfast. The route to get to this pool is quite treacherous, with large sections that are completely overgrown. It adds a significant amount of time trying to safely navigate without being hit in the face by an overhanging branch. There appears to have been a recent flood in the area as well, so much of the vegetation has been uprooted. We will be contacting the trail management to let them know this area needs some maintenance. We sat on the cool rocks and fired up our little gas stove for some tea, coffee and oats. At that stage, I hadn’t realised that we were within sight of the Cedar trees. We spent about 45 minutes there before heading back to the main trail. Looking back on where we had taken our break, Belinda pointed out the Cedar Trees further up the Kloof, behind us. The detour to Cedar Views is only about 1.3 km GPS (650 m x 2) and is well worth the effort. The high cliffs that surround the dark pools of water make for an extremely tranquil setting.
We were back at the main trail at about 09h45, and immediately started climbing again [7.1 km GPS / 7.4 km Strava]. At about 10h25, we reached the top of the saddle and enjoyed a well deserved snack break [8.1 km GPS / 8.4 km Strava] at an elevation of 1167 m. Before descending the other side, we all had a collective giggle about the sign that marked the beginning of the steep descent.
About 25 minutes later we reached a sign which indicated that we were about 1.5 km from Reflection Pools [9.0 km GPS / 9.3 km Strava]. Interestingly, Reflection Pools is directly opposite Gabriel’s Pools, just on the other side of the kloof. Gabriel’s Pools is at the bottom of the high waterfall and Reflection Pools at the top. We reached the detour to Reflection Pools at about 11h25. Fortunately, the detour to the pools was only about 170 m each way. It was nearing the hottest time of the day and we chose to spend some time in the shade of the kloof. There is a large shaded section of grass and flat rocks which is perfect for a long rest. One of our more adventurous hikers chose to try out the natural ‘slip ‘n slide’ in one of the uppermost pools and escaped unscathed. Most of us managed to get in a decent nap while the sun continued focusing all of its energy on trying to break apart the earth’s crust.
Just after 13h45, we all reluctantly packed up and put our hiking boots and socks back on and left Reflection Pools. At about 14h55, we reached the sign board for Dragons Ridge after hiking a total distance of 14.15 km GPS (14.2 km Strava]. At 15h10, we had our first sighting of a buck running through the thick bush next to the trail and over the closest ridge. Too quick for any of us to take a photo or to even guess the species. Two minutes after that, we found ourselves walking on an overgrown gravel jeep track. That allowed us to pick up a little speed as we headed toward Labyrinth Hill. At about 15h30, we reached a sign that told us that if we continued straight on with the jeep track we would be on a short cut to Camp 2 [15.75 km GPS / 15.8 km Strava]. Despite being tempted, we chose to turn right and stay on the main path.
At 15h45, we summitted Labyrinth Hill [945 m elevation]. It was hot and the path winds back and forth for what seems like hours (it was really only 15 minutes!). At 15h57, we reached a t-junction where turning right would take us to a waterfall (we surmised, by the small blue signs with a waterfall on them, dotted along the path), and turning left would take us back to the base camp where we started the hike [16.93 km GPS / 17.0 km Strava]. The trail markers indicated we should turn left and then immediately right and over another saddle. The elevation profile we were using did not indicate another climb so we had to choose to follow the path to the right toward the waterfall (a flat route) and ignore the trail markings, or follow the trail markings over a hill that did not appear on the elevation profile we were working from. Both the elevation profile and the trail markings had been accurate so far, but now they were given us two different options. What made it difficult to know which route to take was that the biggest landmark in the area, the Labyrinth, did not appear anywhere on the Leopard Trail map supplied to us by the Cedar Falls base camp staff the previous day. We ended up turning right and walking about 900 m before realising that we were on the Cedar Falls Day Hike route and had to turn around again. That miscalculation added 1,8 km to an already long day and our heads were hanging lower than usual. We came back to the split and then, just past it, turned right and up the saddle which we named ‘Sly Dog Hill’ (and a few other choice adjectives which are not suitable for family viewing) because we weren’t expecting to have to climb again on Day 2, especially as we had already walked about 20km in the heat.
At 17h05, we reached a jeep track after climbing up and down ‘Sly Dog Hill’ and walked past a cement dam full of water [19.36 km GPS / 19.4 km Strava]. We all sensed we were close to camp 2 so didn’t stop to have a dip. I think we all just wanted the day to be over and to be able to take our boots off and relax. We followed the jeep track around to the right and spotted Camp 2 up on our right hand side. Another short hill to climb to the camp site, but worth it to be able to rest our weary legs. We walked into Camp 2 at about 17h15 and made the most of the fading light to set up camp and prepare our dinner. The sunset against the high mountains, and later the moonrise, is particularly beautiful at this camp site.
What we soon realised, after getting supper on the go in the catering tent, was that the gas bottle was nearly empty. We managed to boil a few eggs before it ran out, leaving the majority of us with the choice of making food on the fire or going without. I managed to get hold of Catherine by making a call on the satellite phone, but the difficulty was for her to make contact with the staff at the Cedar Falls base camp to tell them to bring through another gas cylinder, without them have any cell phone signal and no landline. Eventually Catherine got hold of Linden and Jeanne Booth (who live in Knysna) and they kindly brought through a full gas cylinder the following morning at 04h30. We made do with what we could cook on the fire and we used the camping kettle on the fire to boil water, but that took ages. We couldn’t prepare food for the following day on the trail, and also by only having the gas bottle in camp at 04h30, our departure on the longest day of the Leopard Trail was delayed by nearly an hour. These things do happen from time to time, but I think that Catherine and the Booth family did the best that they could under those circumstances and we all appreciated their efforts.
While sitting round the fire and braaing our streaks, we noticed that a scorpion was hiding in the rocks immediately around the fire place. I got to use the scorpion touch that Belinda had bought for me as a birthday present from the African Snakebite Institute. You can order your own one here.
The Stats – Day 2
Day 2 included taking an optional detour to Cedar Views was about 1.3 km GPS (650 m x 2). The detour to Reflection Pools added a further 340 m [170 m x 2] to Day 2’s total hiking distance. We also took a wrong turn after the reaching the labyrinth which added a further 1.8 km [900 m x 2]. The hiking distance for Day 2, without these 3 detours, was about 16 km. The total hiking stats for Day 2, according to the Garmin eTrex 20x GPS device, were as follows:
|Trip Odometer||19.70 km [incl 3 detours]|
|Moving Average||5.1 km/h|
|Overall Average||1.8 km/h|
|Max Speed||7.7 km/h|
|Elevation Gain||871 m [Strava]|
I created a route and elevation profile for Day 2 using my Garmin eTrex 20x, which you can find here.
Watch the Relive video below to get a good idea of the route and the elevation profile of this hike.
As promised, Linden and Jeanne dropped off the full gas canister at about 04h30. We were all up and packing for an early start as Day 3 was advertised as the longest day with a hiking distance of about 20 km. We managed to complete our food preparation for the day, pack up our tents and stow away the equipment in the catering tent and get on the trail by 06h00. We were hoping to be able to summit the three hills for the day before midday. The start is located just to the right of the toilet. The trail begins on a jeep track and crossing over several dry river beds, heading toward the rising sun. Quite soon after setting off, Belinda got a really bad cramp in her calf. Our friend, Janine, came to the rescue with a good (but painful) massage, and within minutes, she was ready to tackle the hills.
At 06h50, we began climbing the first of three hills [2.75 km GPS / 2.6 km Strava] – Honey Bush Hill – reaching the summit [1161 m] shortly after 07h15. The GPS distance was 3.84 km [3.6 km Strava]. We took a short break and then set off again at 07h48 to tackle the second hill of the morning [4.99 km GPS / 4.8 Strava]. We reached the summit of the Inconvenient Truth [1178 m] at 08h35 [5.91 km GPS / 5.7 km Strava]. Just before the summit, there is a tiny 1×1 square metre area of signal, if you need to make any emergency telephone calls. It’s not enough for WhatsApp, but some of our party managed to call home and just say a quick hello. Just after we began to descend on the other side of the hill, I nearly stepped on a small snake, about 15 cm in length. We later identified it as a Rhombic Skaapsteker. It disappeared into the long grass and we decided that to look for it would cause it further distress and we might get bitten in the process. We began climbing the third and final uphill of the morning at 09h35. This hill is known as Ain’t So Bad [6.88 km GPS / 6.6 km Strava]. It lived up to its name and 20 minutes later we were at the summit [1129 m] with a GPS distance of 7.44 km [7.1 Strava]. That being said, these hills are nothing to laugh at. Start them early so that you can get them out of the way. Make sure you have tied your boot/shoelaces correctly for the downhills so you don’t lose any toenails. A trekking pole really came in handy on this part of Day 3.
At about an later we reached Draaipunt, which is more the half way mark on Day 3 [9.26 km GPS / 8.9 km Strava]. At the Draaipunt sign post, we turned right and took the detour toward the kloof. 15 minutes and 500 m later, we reached the overhang on the left hand side of the river. There we excitedly scrutinised the walls of the overhang for rock paintings. Once you see one painting the rest seem to jump out at you wanting to tell you their story. Some were remarkably clear while others struggled to stand out from the rock they were painted on. It’s rare that you will be able to get so close to so many paintings and we were drawn back to them again before leaving the overhang. It would have been incredible to have someone there to isolate all of the paintings for us and explain the cultural significance of each one so that we could understand what life there was like so many hundreds of years ago.
We spent about three hours cooling off under the shade of the trees with our feet soaking in the cold stream. It was just too hot get back out on the trail. We also enjoyed some lunch there and the inevitable post lunch nap. We packed up later and returned to the Draaipunt sign, at 14h20, after another quick visit to the rock paintings. The terrain from Draaipunt was flat and east to navigate. We managed to make good time over that section of the trail.
At 15h10, we reached the sign for Kasey Kloof [14.10 km GPS / 13.1 km Strava], and within 10 minutes we were extremely grateful to be walking in the shadow of the kloof and all the way along the river course. At about 16h10, we spotted a sign reading ‘5km to Camp’ [16.77 km GPS / 15.8 km Strava]. It was there that we spotted what could be leopard spoor along the river course. A few minutes later, we heard a large troop of baboons running along the cliff face on our left hand side including a few baby baboons. We stood and watched as they run scrambled effortlessly up the side of the kloof and over the top. They were barking loudly and, although far away, their presence was a little unnerving.
We arrived at Camp 3 at about 17h05 after covering a GPS distance of 20.11 km [19.1 km Strava]. We were thrilled to see a farm swimming pool at the camp site even though we had been walking in the shade for the last hour and a half of the trail. Most of us took the opportunity to submerge ourselves in the cool water and allow the aches and pains of the trail to float away.
So let me tell you a little story about a snake called Bob… (this part written by Belinda)
After a quick dip, we set about selecting our camping spots which was becoming routine once the sites were in shade. A good tip is to select your campsite as soon as you get into camp and spread out your ground sheet on the site and claim it as yours without having to pitch your tent straight after a long day’s hike. However on this evening, the camp preparations were thrown into chaos, by a 1.5 m Cape Cobra that wanted to cross the path in front of Roderick. The snake changed direction and went back into a bushy area in the middle of the camp site and could come out again in any direction. After hovering around that area for about 30 minutes and not seeing the snake again, we all thought that it had disappeared through the grass and was long gone. Roderick gave a warning to the group that once our tents were set up, we had to keep them closed at all times (this becomes important later).
We set up our tents, started the fire and watched as the light faded quickly into darkness. Whilst sitting around the fire, swapping snake stories, Ken asked me if I had remembered to close our tent (I had been there more than an hour prior) as the last thing he wanted was to retire for the evening and find a Cape Cobra in his sleeping bag. If there is one thing you need to know about me, it’s that I have the memory of a gnat. So I took my torch and made my way to our campsite (which was a fair distance away from the original Snake Spotting incident). Lo and behold, what would I see slithering RIGHT PAST OUR TENT (which was open after all)… Bob the Cobra. If I had gone to check 30 seconds later, I would not have seen it. The adrenaline kicked in and I ran back to the braai area, screaming like a banshee “Oh my WOOOOOOOORD there’s a SNAAAAAAAAKE”! (If you haven’t already deduced, I’m a *little* bit scared of them… I blame that on a boomslang incident I had when I was 10… that’s a story for another day). Most of the group didn’t believe me, some were disappointed that they had not seen it with their own eyes. Needless to say, snake or no snake, I will ALWAYS keep my tent closed from now on.
The Stats – Day 3
Day 3 included taking an optional detour at Draaipunt to an overhang with San paintings. The detour added 1.3 km [400 m x 2 plus a further 500 m of exploring the overhang] to Day 3’s total hiking distance. We also spent about 3 hours resting at the overhang, over the hottest time of the day. The hiking distance for Day 3, without the Draaipunt detour, is about 18.8 km. The total hiking stats for Day 3, according to the Garmin eTrex 20x GPS device, were as follows:
|Trip Odometer||20.14 km [incl detour]|
|Total Time||11h12 [incl 3 hr break]|
|Moving Average||4.6 km/h|
|Overall Average||1.8 km/h|
|Max Speed||8.5 km/h|
|Elevation Gain||853 m [Strava]|
I created a route and elevation profile for Day 3 using my Garmin eTrex 20x, which you can find here.
Watch the Relive video below to get a good idea of the route and the elevation profile of this hike.
We started the last day on the trail comparatively later than the other morning at about 06h50. Before leaving the camp, I took a photo of the tracks left behind by the Cape Cobra the previous evening (centre of the photo). I am not gonna lie. Seeing these tracks less than a metre from our tent was a little creepy.
Twenty minutes into the day we came across the daily motivational phrases and even before we could really get to grips with the philosophical permutations of what we had just read, we reached the sign for Birdsong Valley [1.7 km GPS / 1.6 km Strava]. We had been hearing the odd bird call since we had left the camp site so we were very aware of the avian creatures in our immediate surroundings. I have expected that after reaching the Birdsong Valley sign, a curtain would open up amongst the eye level shrubbery and we would have a chorus line of birds performing on queue. If anything it became slightly quieter after the sign board. Perhaps because it was a Friday, there was only an evening performance.
After coming back to reality, I saw the group going left and right and I realised that for the first time on the entire hike, we had lost the trail [1.8 GPS]. We searched around a bit and picked it up again on the right hand side of the dry river bed. The trail marking was at ground level and completely obscured by long grass. If this happens to your group, there are a number of cairns that have been placed there by hiking groups before us. We added another two or three cairns ourselves at the point where we got lost so hopefully that won’t happen to you.
Just after 08h00, we spotted two klipspringers scampering up the side of the kloof on our right hand side [4.38 GPS]. Less than 10 minutes later the trail took us through a narrow kloof with a river running through the middle of it [842 m elevation]. We all whipped out our phones and cameras and tried to capture who beautiful it all was, but it was an impossible task. Such natural beauty, towering walls of solid rock, the gurgling sounds of a cool mountain stream coupled with a gently cool breeze can only be truly experienced in person. Apologies to the techies at GoPro, nothing personal.
At about 08h30, we began bouldering along the river course. It felt like we were gaining altitude, but instead the Garmin GPS showed that we were actually dropping in altitude. We turned the corner to the right and had a short break in the shade. The sign for Fond Farewell was less than 50 metres ahead of us so we soaked our buffs in the river in preparation for what appeared, on the elevation profile I had, to be the steepest climb of the entire trail, followed by two more climbs in rapid succession thereafter. The name Fond Farewell conjured up pleasant feelings and happy thoughts of the good times and an amicable parting of ways, perhaps a few kisses blown in each direction and a hug. Yes, definitely a hug. This was not the case for the Baviaanskloof version of a fond farewell. I would describe what happened next as more along the lines of an acrimonious divorce of the worst kind, involving mental and emotional scarring for life, than a fond farewell. What the sign actually meant to say was “Say goodbye to the beautiful river, the cool mountain water, the gentle breeze and ALL the joy in your life as your head up the hill that never ends!”. Perhaps they don’t make signs that big, but in this case, they should make an exception. The first hill that I was anticipating was a collection of hills all rolled into one with certain flat sections that made false promises of an end to the suffering, but which produced another steeper hill in its place. Thank heavens we filled up with water when we did and that we were battling up this cruel son-of-a-you-know-what hill during the mid morning and not over the hottest time of the day. Fond Farewell my backside!
After a relatively flat section we climbed again and eventually reached the highest point in that climb, at the top of the second hill, at about 10h20 with a total GPS distance of 7.76 km and an elevation of 1105 m. It felt like we had been walking for days. There was not a single area of shade. After a short break to have some water and to make sure that we were actually heading downhill at that point, we headed off again. I was at the back of the bunch, contemplating a better life on the surface of the sun when I heard a shriek from the front of the line. Zheniya, a strong hiker and our only Russian hiking friend, had come across a snake, the third one for the hike. I rushed to the front with my camera and, between Belinda and me, we managed to get a couple of good pics of the little guy who was now hiding under a rock. It was another Rhombic Skaapsteker. I must say that although we encountered a rare number of snakes on this hike, we were never threatened by the snake. In each case, it was the snake that made a quick escape on each occasion and never looked like it wanted to harm us in any way.
At about 10h42, we passed through a gap in the fence and about 15 minutes later we climbed our third hill for the morning ending at a rock wall at about 11h10. The GPS distance covered to that point was 9.8 km [8.9 km Strava]. The trail from the start of Fond Farewell to that point was completely exposed to the elements and we were well and truely suffering in the heat. We took small comfort in the fact that the elevation profile that I had been using throughout the hike showed that to be the last climb of the day. No sooner had we gobbled down our snacks and enjoyed a sip of our “just boiled” water in our water bottles than, we headed off with a spring in our step that we were coasting to the finish. Well, that’s what we thought…
What didn’t compute at first was that there appeared to be a faint trail leading up the steep saddle in the distance. That must be an animal track I said to myself, as we should be turning away from that at any minute. There were no turns and no reprieves as it sunk in that we were about to climb our fourth hill for the day and there was nothing anybody could do about it. While I sorted through the options of what kind of domicile I would be happy with on the surface of the closest star to earth, I trudged up what could only be the last hill of the day. It had to be! We reached the top of hill 4 [1035 m] at about 11h45 [11.0 km GPS / 10.0 km Strava].
We descended the other side, through a farm gate, and after walking for what felt like days, we eventually ended up on a gravel road that took us to Cedar Falls base camp and the end of the hike. We arrived at the gate to Cedar Falls base camp at about 12h40. Tired, weary, boiling hot, but so incredibly grateful to have been fortunate enough to experience this adventure.
Most of the group made their way to the pool to cool off while others we quite happy to lie down under the closest tree and contemplate the many blessings in their lives, of which shade was certainly in the top 3!
Zheniya, Janine and Jessica’s husbands arrived at around 17h30, bringing with them a royal feast of braai meat, beers, ciders, Coke, salad… You guys are welcome to hike with us anytime! We enjoyed spending our last evening together, as an extended group this time, in preparation for the Cedar Falls Day Hike we added as a ‘Day 5’ to our Leopard Trail experience.
The Stats – Day 4
There were no optional detours on Day 4. The hiking distance for Day 4 was 14 km. The total hiking stats for Day 4, according to the Garmin eTrex 20x GPS device, were as follows:
|Trip Odometer||14.15 km|
|Moving Average||4.2 km/h|
|Overall Average||2.4 km/h|
|Max Speed||7.7 km/h|
|Elevation Gain||696 m [Strava]|
I created a route and elevation profile for Day 4 using my Garmin eTrex 20x, which you can find here.
Watch the Relive video below to get a good idea of the route and the elevation profile of this hike.
16. Final Thoughts
It is difficult to rate all the hikes we have been done because some of them of very different and each has its own unique memories and experiences. That being said, you are going to find it difficult to top this hike. It has everything you could possibly want in a hike and more. It’s a perfect starting hike for those wanting to ease from slackpacking into full-blown multi-day hiking. The rugged beauty of this part of the country is unsurpassed, and it certainly is both a challenge and an adventure.
We have now published a blog on the Cedar Falls Day hike which is a MUST when doing the Leopard Trail.