Cederberg Wilderness Hiking Trail

Cederberg Wilderness Hiking trail

Western Cape

The Cederberg Wilderness Area forms part of the rugged Cederberg Mountain range, situated near Clan William in the northern part of the Western Cape.

There are different trails that varies in distance and difficulty in this scenic area, that range from short day walks to very strenuous multi day hikes. The trail that we did, starts at Pakhuis pass at the north western part of the reserve, (Kliphuispas Camp site of the Cape Nature reserves), and ends at Sandrif private holiday resort in the north eastern part. It stretched over 6 days, and a total distance of 95 km. The trail forms part of the Rim of Africa trail too. (We hiked only 63.5 km, and you will see why as the story unfolds.)

We arrived at Sandrif on a Saturday in September. We have booked our overnight accommodation there for two nights before the starting of the hike on the Monday morning.

On the Sunday, we did the challenging day hike to the Maltese cross.6.3km in and out for a warm up. Be sure to check out the trip report on it too.

Day 1 Kliphuispas campsite to Heuningsvlei hut 15.4 km

We had a very early start to travel with some of the vehicles from Sandrif to Kliphuispas Camp site and leave them there, as there is no shuttle available, and some of the vehicles were left at Sandrif resort. Geared with full kit and tens, maps and warm clothes we were ready to start our hike.

The trail starts on a jeep track gradually trekking uphill. The rugged terrain is breathtakingly beautiful in its own way. For Fanie and I, it felt as if God created this beautiful “Lego blocks” out of rock, and just tossed them all over. (This is said with total admiration and utter respect for the Lord’s creation.) With a few up and down hills, the trail here was relatively easy. Then the jeep track changed into the real hiking trail, and as the day progressed, up hills became steeper, temperatures have risen and water sources were few.

We arrived at Heuningsvlei hut on the plateau at about 4pm. The hut is no more than a shelter, a structure with walls, a roof and straw on the floor. We all opted to pitch our tents instead. There was a lovely stream nearby where we could collect fresh drinking water, and have a nice refreshing bath. Since it is a wilderness trail, there is no ablution facilities on the trail either.

Day 2: Heuningsvlei hut to Boontjieskloof hut 9.6 km

The trail started with a gentle walk through the fynbos on the plateau, and wild flowers were still visible at some spots. The trail winds through large rock formations, with the most fascinating shapes. Since most of the famous Ceder trees were almost extinct through veld fires, they are not many trees left to provide shade. Rock formations fortunately did the trick when we had to stop for a lunch break. 

Because this is truly a path less travelled on, there are not many clear markings to indicate the route. Little staples of rocks might give an indication. Fortunately, we were properly prepared, and Fanie had plotted the trail with coordinates on the hand-held GPS before the hike. With that, and the Slingsby map, we had a clear indication of the trail. (One can easily get lost on the mountain with different animal trails that can be confusing). The last stretch of the trail was again another steep uphill, and we reached the hut at about 3pm.Here we had a spectacular view from the plateau, and took beautiful pictures at night of the stars and the sky.

Day 3. Boontjieskloof hut to Crystal Pools (Anvil Swem gat )10.5km

Day 3 was the most difficult and longest day of the hike. As the saying goes:” What goes up, must go down”. And down we went indeed!!We bid Boontjieskloof hut farewell, very early that morning, and hit the trail before dawn. We all knew this will be a tough long day to Crystal Pools.

We walked through the plateau and on rugged tough rockery terrain for a short while, before we saw a fresh leopard spoor in the sand. Hmm…we were a bit weary of a possible leopard encounter. But leopards are elusive creatures, and we passed his territory without any sighting of him.

Then we hit a spot where we could sit in the shade for a quick tea break. Once refreshed, we reached the gulley at about 11:30 where we had to go down to bottom of the valley. It was on the warmest part of the day.

Going down the gulley was quite challenging for some of our group members. Fanie, some of the other males, and I then took turns to walk with one of the ladies at the back and to help her. Her energy levels were quite low, and we went down much slower than anticipated. The heat bouncing back from the rockface was not contributing to improve the situation either.

At about 15:00 we were halfway down the gully, and reached a shady spot where we sat down for a short break. As the group leaders Fanie and I indicated to the group that we are still a long way from Crystal Pools and we had to step up the pace to reach it before dark.

Once down in the gully, the trail winds gradually to another uphill, passing dead Cedar trees, before we realized that we are not going to get to Crystal Pools before dark. We opted for a spot near Crystal Pools where there is another lovely pool with fresh crystal-clear mountain water. We reached this overnight spot, Anvil swimming pool, at about 18:00 just before dark. Crystal Pools was another 3 km away, and we would not be able to walk to the hut, whilst the darkness sets in.

Day 4 Anvil Swemgat to Sleep pad hut 7.9 km

What should have been a relative short day, in distance, become longer as we still had to catch up with the 3 km to Crystal Pools, and only then start the actual part of day 4.

We hiked up a little gully, getting to a contour path just as you passed Crystal Pools hut. We walked in the shade of the cliff face for a while, then the trail turns to the right. Here we have encountered another steep uphill into the gully, on route to the plateau that takes you to a T- junction either to Sleep pad hut or to Sneeukop hut.

Th first section of the steep gully was still cool and shady, and we covered some distance in a short while. The last part to the T-junction was again in full sun, and one could feel the heat reflecting from the warm rocks surrounding the trail. You reach the top when you feel that you are going forward only on fumes.

At the T-junction we had a welcoming break for lunch at about 11:30. Here we also had cell phone reception for the first time since we have started the hike, and everybody made use of the opportunity to phone their loved ones.

The trail to Sleep pad hut was a long contouring path where you pass the Sneeu Kop and Twin Peaks. It was a gentle walk, and we arrived at the hut at about 14:00. Some of us started to pitch tents, and get ready to go and have a refreshing bath in a beautiful but cold river stream. But the group opted to try out the hut, as they were all too exhausted to pitch tents. So, we all were crammed in the small space available.

The view from there is breathtaking as you overlook the farms in the valley down below, i.e. Driehoek, and Sandrif in the distance. You can also see Sneeu berg on the opposite part of the Cederberg Mountain range, and Clan William in the distance to the west.

Outside the hut, the sun has started to set. I looked into the sky, admiring the sunset thought the beautiful clouds to the south. Then I saw large cloud formations forming, and quietly thinking to myself:” Those looks like snow clouds”, but since I am not knowledgeable about snow, I kept my thoughts to myself, and our 7day weather forecast did not mention any possibility of snow anyway. Little did we know…

Day 5 Sleep pad Hut to Wolfberg Arch 0 km

In the early hours of the next morning, at about 3:00am, it has started to rain, and water were coming through the structure’s roof at some places. The guys who actually slept in their tents, came to the hut too when the rain started. By sunrise, it was so misty and rainy, that we decided not to walk in the rain, yet, and sit it out for a while, waiting for the rain to settle down.

The mist escalated, and the rain kept pouring down. After a group discussion, we have decided, to stay at the hut, as it was too dangerous in the misty and rain weather to go up with Gideons’ pass to the Wolfberg Arch as planned.

During the morning, another group of hikers stopped at the hut, asking if they can join us. The hut was divided into two “rooms”, and we accommodated them. Another group stopped by, getting out of their soaking wet clothes, changed into dry clothing, and moved on to the Sneeukop hut.

The temperatures have started to drop as well, and it was getting very cold. We add layers of clothing, sitting in our sleeping bags, wearing beanies and gloves. By 12:00 it started to snow.!! So, my suspicions were correct about the snowy clouds. Wow, what an awesome sight! The landscape changed into a fairy world within a couple of hours. Fanie and I were over the moon with excitement, since this was really the first time in our life’s that we could sit and watch the snowflakes falling down. Words could not describe the beauty thereof.

We only went outside to collect fresh drinking water for cooking and drinking purposes, and cleaning ourselves with wet wipes. It became so cold that we had to cut pieces out of our emergency blankets and wrapped it around our feet, preventing hyperthermia to set in. Later in the day another four people, total strangers, joined us in the hut. By now we were 14 people 7/ 7 crammed into each section of the hut. We almost looked like sardines in a tin, and some had to sit up straight to sleep that night.

Another group wanted to use the hut as well, but since we were already 14, they moved on the go and sleep in a cave not far from the hut. What a memorable experience.!!

Day 6: Sleep pad Hut to Sandrif via the Jeep track 20.1 km

We had snowfall straight through the night, but our group decided that we have to walk the last stretch to Sandrif on the jeep track-the alternative route. It was already day 6, and we were supposing to finish the hike on this particular day. So, we skipped the route via Wolfberg Arch and cracks, and hiked only 63.5 km instead.

At 6 am, snow was still falling, and we considered all options, even emergency evac. But decided we to walk, as an evacuation by helicopter would be very expensive per person. We all used the day stuck in the hut to regain strength.

By 9:00 the snow has started to clear a bit, and we bid our fellow hikers goodbye. We once more covered out feet in strips of the silver emergency blanket, and socks, before we put our boots. Bodies were covers in as much layers of clothes that we had available. Our gloves soon became wet, and we used other socks to cover our hands. We even thrown one another with little snow balls. We had great fun!!

As we walked on the jeep track and gradually descent into the valley, the sky has started to clear, and one can hardly believe that there was still snow falling in the higher parts of the mountain, where we just came from.

Fanie, Tommie and Koekie picked up their pace and went ahead, at about 15:00 so that they could go and collect the vehicles other from Kliphuis pass campsite and return to Sandrif. That would take them about three hours hence and forth.

I stayed behind to guide the rest of the group, and we entered Sandrif at about 16:00. Once you enter pass the parking area near the foothill of the Cracks, you pass though the Valley of the Red Gods. The magnificent rock formations are really special and something to see.

Whilst waiting for Fanie and the others, we used the campsite ablutions, and the hot water showers were just wonderful, soothing our aching, very tired muscles, and we felt like proper human beings again. The campsite was full of weekend visitors, and once they realized we were hiking in the mountain for six days, everybody wanted to offer us food and drinks. All of the campers were extremely friendly, and hospitable.

Fanie, Tommie and Koekie eventually arrived back at Sandrif, very late that night, as the collecting of the vehicles took longer than originally anticipated. They drove the vehicles back on the dirt roads (mountain passes) in the dark, and made driving quite challenging.

This epic hike has officially ended, and we bid our fellow hikers a safe journey back home.

Fanie and I were quite relieved that we have successfully led the group without sustaining injuries, or without getting lost. It was a memorable hike, and we loved the beautiful landscape, as well as the company of our friends hiking with us.

Rating: Difficulty: 9/10 (Wilderness hike- no luxury huts, ablutions or slack pack available when attempting this trail)

Beauty :9/10

We did the trail on the 21st of September 2020 until the 26th of September 2020

Tips for this wilderness trail:

Reservations are done via Cape Nature. Check their website for pricing.

 This trail is not for the faint hearted, or persons who have never walked with a full back pack before/ or who is not accustomed to multi day hikes.

Rugged terrain- proper boots with ankle support, and a hiking stick be recommended.

Be very fit, be prepared for any type of weather. Have a GPS with coordinates handy, as well as a proper map. Read up on the hike, on various hiking websites.

Have a good emergency kit available, and enough food for an extra day.

In summer, water will not be readily available. Best to do this hike in late August to September, but you can still encounter snow as we did.

Sign the mountain register at Cape Nature-Algeria office before you start the trail, and out afterwards.


Foot note:

The products/ food/ gear that are referred to, are things that we personally prefer to use, or helped us on our hiking expeditions, since we have started hiking. Personal preferences may vary from one hiker to the next, regarding gear, food and products used.

All information given above, is based on our personal experience, circumstances, observations and weather conditions of a certain hike.

 It might differ from other hikers’ experiences, or different weather conditions and circumstances.

Check out some more of my photos at 500PX and PhotoPixSA and the Trip Reports and Hiking Trails
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