I’m an out and out peak bagger, so I always start a new year with a list of summits I’d like to tick off. Here are some of my favourites.
Cathedral Peak, KwaZulu-Natal
The 20-kilometre return hike is a big day in the hills that can take up to nine hours. The trail has everything a hardy peak bagger could hope for: spectacular mountain scenery, weathered sandstone cliffs, trickling streams and waterfalls and a final exposed scramble over slabs and rock steps, one of which is aided by a ladder.
It starts on the U-bend in the road just below Cathedral Peak Hotel. After about 400 metres, turn right onto a signposted path that takes you across the Mlambonja River. Continue steeply up through the grasslands, over the contour path and up two relentless gullies to the summit pyramid. The view from the top, over the deeply incised vegetated valleys and across to other dramatic peaks, is to die for.
Organise day permits (R30) and guides at Didima Resort. Complete the mountain register before setting out and sign back in on your return. Start early, particularly in summer when afternoon thunderstorms are common, and keep an eye on the weather as you go.
Cathedral Peak Hotel runs free guided hikes for guests a few times a week.
Little Lion’s Head, Western Cape
It’s hard to tire of the Lion’s Head, one of Cape Town’s most iconic hikes, but if you need a change of scenery this wonderful three-kilometre return walk is a winner. Taking around 90 minutes, it makes a lovely evening outing so be sure to pack sundowners.
Follow the sign to Mount Rhodes off the M6 between Llandudno and Hout Bay and park at Valley View Road near the big gate that blocks the road heading up to the right. Ring the bell on the right-hand side of the gate for security to let you in, then walk for about 10 minutes to a bend in the road where you can pick up the path that follows the ridge of the little peak. It’s poorly marked at times, but you can’t really get lost – just follow your nose and take the easiest line through the rock bands to the summit from where there are outstanding views of the Twelve Apostles and Hout Bay.
Compassberg, Eastern Cape
Summiting the craggy 2 502-metre Compassberg is a wonderful challenge for fit mountaineers. The remoteness of the majestic peak that rises out of the Karoo plains is a big part of the allure, but even getting there is an adventure. The 40-minute drive on a rough road from sleepy Nieu-Bethesda takes you to the McCabe’s farm where the cairned trail starts. The farmer will point you in the right direction, but keep your wits about you as it’s easy to get lost on the steeper sections. The round trip will take six to eight hours, but the view from the summit over the koppies to Graaff- Reinet and beyond is ample reward for your efforts.
Permits cost R20 a person from Brenda and Alf McCabe, tel 049-842-2420.
Photo by Shaen Adey.