Getting in and out of my chair at work today was a challenge to say the least. Just walking was painful enough. I felt like a zombie. My leg muscles have never felt such rigid stiffness. And my shins have never been covered in so many cuts. But this past weekend was worth all of the soreness my body is complaining of now. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the Stellenbosch chapter of the South African Mountain Club on a kloofing trip in the Hexriver valley of Dedoorns, a stunning mountainous area sprinkled with wine farms. Just the drive out to Dedoorns was incredible. We drove in between mountain ranges and when we couldn’t go over or around the mountains, we drove through them, in the longest tunnel I have ever been through. Emerging from the tunnel was like being transported to another planet. Was I still in South Africa? The landscape completely changed before my eyes. All of sudden huge rugged mountains were swallowing the road. When we arrived at the farm in Dedoorns to meet up with the rest of the group, delicious black and green grapes were practically shoved down our throats. “Take some for the road!” could be heard from Retief, our rambunctious young-spirited 65 year old farmer who would be guiding the overnight trip through the canyon that exits directly behind his enormous grape farm.
The motley crew of Afrikaans-speaking mountain lovers consisted of young and old, experienced and novice, men and women. There was Retief, the incredibly fit farmer who made kloofing look easy. Dennis was a talkative elderly gentleman who complained the majority of the trip about how he hates rock climbing and abseiling but does it anyway, hoping to look back on his life with a feeling of accomplishment. There was a botanist from Kirstenbosch gardens outfitted in his jeans, sandals, and camera. I got to see the non-business, sarcastic side of Teuns who invited me on the trip. A trio of young adults from Cape Town joined the group, as well as two couples, and then there was Casey, a lad from Portland, OR who has worked as a canyoneering guide in Zion National Park. He and I were the only ones who didn’t understand Afrikaans. The group of 15 or so piled our packs, selves, and an overflowing basket of grapes into the back of a small “backie” (pick up truck) and were transported through uninhabited terrain, up long gravel roads, and past grazing zebras to our starting point at a secluded nature reserve. From there we trekked up a long trail to the very top of the gorge where we would begin our journey down the canyon for the next two days. A viewpoint from the top gave us an idea of the enormity of Groothoek Kloof, the biggest kloof in South Africa. We immediately began abseiling (rappelling) into the wide canyon and over the course of the day completed nine abseils in total. After the last abseil, we continued hiking down into the gorge, the further down we went, the more narrow the gorge began to become.
At long last we reached our homey campsite for the night, a small area nestled between a huge boulder and giant tree, protected by the towering canyon walls on either side, and complete with a fireplace, camp chair, and pristine swimming hole. Although the water was bone chilling, it was refreshing to take a dip before settling into camp. After a satisfying dinner of mac-and-cheese complete with peppers and homemade pesto, I slipped into my warm sleeping bag and gazed at the starry night sky for a long while, listening to the soft murmurs of the creek, before resting my tired eyes.
The next day the nature of the canyon transformed as we hiked further into its interior. We exited the rocky screes of the upper canyon and entered a forested river bed where we hopped from boulder to boulder and took frequent tea breaks to enjoy our surroundings. After exploring a side kloof, we prepared for our journey into the narrowest part of the canyon, where the only way down is to abseil several waterfalls and plunge into icy pools of clear, fresh water. The cleanest water you can find. The first abseil was the highest and was mostly a free abseil where your feet are hanging without touching anything. You can lower yourself as slowly or quickly as you please. I chose to take my time going down so I could explore the nooks and crannies hidden along the waterfall. As I looked above me, I could see a line of blue sky beyond the large boulders stuck in between the walls of the gorge. After abseiling four waterfalls and sliding down mossy boulders, I reached a final boulder where we were instructed to throw our packs into the pool below and jump into the water.
After finishing the abseils we still had a long trek ahead of us. We stopped for lunch and warmed up in the sun and then continued down the gorge, using slippery boulders as unintentional slides, balancing on downed logs strewn across the creek, and hopping from boulder to boulder being careful not to lose balance. Retief and another girl completed the whole wet portion of the trip in their bare feet. Hardcore. The last portion of the trip was through thick thorns and brambles where my legs were relentlessly grabbed by every single thorny branch, resulting in cuts up and down my legs. We took a final dip in the river around 7pm before exiting the canyon for good and getting picked up by Retief’s wife where we stood in the backie as she drove us back to the farm. The cool evening air dried us off as we sped down the mountain and through the rows upon rows of grape vines. The trip would not be complete without another basketful of grapes to munch on when we returned to Retief’s abode. On the drive back to Stellenbosch where I would stay the night, Teuns informed me that Retief’s trips always end in the dark no matter what. Hands down I can say this kloof is one of the coolest places I have ever been.