Honestly, I am as surprised as anyone that my kids are prepared to put up with us. I keep expecting them to disown us, to beg for parents who don’t think that wandering the mountains whilst lugging all their gear on their backs is great holiday fun. But they have surprised us at every turn.
Escaping into the Cape Fold Mountains might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but lucky for us, it seemed to be the tea of choice for our children. Parenting win!
Most unlike us, Shaun and I decided on a route about 2 weeks ahead of time, leaving us plenty of time to worry about other things, like Shaun’s recent brush with decrepitude. Turning 35 seems to have come with a bag of niggles, most notably his ITB showing him the finger every time he runs more than 5km’s. This was a mild concern but we hoped taking it slow and making sure his pack wasn’t too heavy would mean his leg suffers no further disrepair.
So lightness of packs being the order of the day, I took the kids shopping to choose what they would like to eat on the hike. Having their buy-in is crucial for a successful hike. Their buy-in meant we came home with 6 bags of sweets, chocolate flavoured oats, and ‘lime and black pepper’ tuna (they assured me this would keep their protein levels up). After sensibly applying my ‘adulting’ brain and getting a few more essential items like coffee and biscuits, ok, and some biltong and cous-cous for dinner, we were ready to get the packs packed.
Our thinking is this: Most importantly, the kids have to enjoy the hike or it’ll be our last!
In order to achieve this:
1. Make sure we have slightly more food than we think we’ll need.
2. Make sure a large portion of this consists of sugar.
3. Make sure there is as much caffeine as sugar.
4. Have at least 1 energy gel for each of us per day (just in case the wheels come off the children’s wagons, mother looses her sense of humour, or dad gets wobbly legs).
If we can get points 1 – 4 right, we’ll be hitting our most important objective (refer to above)!
So once we had decided on food, chosen the barest of essentials for clothing, got a sleeping mat and a bag each, and packed the tent, there was nothing more we could do but distribute the weight as fairly as we could.
Lincoln tips the scales at a hefty 22kgs – we decided 5kgs was the max weight he should carry.
Lola clocks in at a marginally higher 24kgs – so she should also have no more than 5kgs on her back.
This obviously leaves the bulk of the weight to be distributed between Shaun and myself.
I weigh in at 64kgs – this means absolutely nothing because I can only carry what I can carry. I mean if I can’t pick up my pack, what’s the point. So I packed it until I required assistance standing up, and then repacked it because I forgot to pack any clothes, and then when I couldn’t take any more, Shaun had to take the rest. My pack weighed in at 22kgs.
Shaun’s beefy 72kg frame had to carry the remaining 27kgs.
It worked out to us carrying roughly 1/3rd of our body weight each, with the kids having more freedom to run with a lighter pack. The trick is getting them to think they are much stronger than you are because they can go so fast, then they really shine!
Where did we go you ask?
We chose the Grootvadersbosch / Boosmansbos Nature Reserve which is just past Swellendam. It has well established hiking trails (which would help us avoid mistakes of the past) and being springtime, was bound to have incredible fynbos.
The downside is that it doesn’t have a large selection of routes to choose from, just 2 well maintained paths leading up into the mountains for roughly 16km’s, at which point you find 2 very rustic huts, next to an icy mountain stream, with accompanying frozen pools… Bliss. So this was where we were heading.
16kms up is a little too much for our kiddos to do in one day however, so we decided we would camp out at the 8km mark, and break the ‘Up’ leg into 2. Coming down would be easier so a long return journey we weren’t so worried about. That left one day in the middle where we could do a day hike or explore the surroundings. Solid logic (for a change).
Day 1 – We go Up!
The start of the hike is never the best, we were all taking strain under our full packs and were anxious to get past the dirt roads and into the real wild, where the rivers run uninhibited and the wildlife roam freely. Luckily it didn’t take too long… Before we knew it Shaun was standing on a snake, Lola was gathering insects and Lincoln was wetting his shoes in all the mountain streams. It was lovely (it would have been less lovely if Shaun had been bitten!). We started munching our way through our heavy loads and already the stresses of the world were slipping away.
We only began hiking at midday and by the time we stopped for the night the kids were shattered. ‘Just’ camping at the 8km mark was easier said than done. The trail was beautiful and winding, but totally devoid of any terrain flat enough to pitch a tent on. We eventually cut our losses and pitched our tent right on the path. What we lost in comfort we made up for with our view. It was extraordinary.
We had an enchanting dinner of cous-cous and salt, while enjoying the evening’s entertainment of watching the clouds roll down the mountain into the valley. Pure simplicity. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You can’t imagine the perfection of an evening like that; you really have to experience it. Utterly soul replenishing.
Day 2 – We go Up some more!
We greeted the morning with sore hips and crooked necks. The world had never looked better. We had an ocean of cloud in front of us, and a warm sun above our heads. The kids were clowning about, and life on the mountain was peaceful, if a little windswept. We had the remaining 8km’s to get us to the big river and swimming pools high up in the Cape Fold Mountains.
After coffee, breakfast and packing up our gear (in that order), we set off along a path probably not walked by a 7 and 8 year old before. We reminded the kids how epic they were, and hoped that would give them a good boost for the tough day ahead; we needed them firing on all cylinders. You’ve got to play the cards you’ve been dealt – Lincoln likes the encouragement of being told he’s a super star, Lola likes being given sweets. So having sweets and protein bars at the ready, we hit the trail. We had a big mountain to climb.
Going up can be slow going, so we continued with games stared the day before, being the ‘favourites’ game (whereby someone chooses a subject and we all have to guess each other’s 3 favourite things), and ‘20 questions’ (this was particularly amusing, but they picked it up quickly). It kept the kids very entertained until Shaun and I couldn’t keep up with their pace and they left us in their dust (well this is what we told them). In full disclosure, this was also a bit of a tactical manoeuvre from our side; if we let them get the lead on us it fires them up in a big way, it becomes a game of ‘we must stay ahead of mum and dad’. It’s a winning move.
Luckily after a short lunch there wasn’t much walking left before finding the river and the huts. This left us an entire afternoon to play in the pools and lounge like lizards in the sun. After a hot morning of hiking there is little better. There were no cold beers, but there was ice-cold mountain water. The kids were pooped and it took us a while to work out that Lola hadn’t drank enough water from her camel bak and was pretty dehydrated. Luckily we had packed the rehydrate so we had her gulping down bottles of it, but not before she said “We aren’t hiking tomorrow. Not negotiable.” So that sealed it. Once the rehydrate kicked in she had so much energy we could have sent her down the entire mountain and back up again; it’s amazing how the body shuts down when not fuelled correctly. But the enthusiasm ship had sailed, and we said if they didn’t want to they didn’t have to. We would have an ‘off’ day.
We pitched our tent inside the hut as it had no window or door and the nights were chilly. It did give us a very flat surface to sleep on and some shelter from the wind, which was much needed. (We were doubly grateful when it started raining on the following night).
Day 3 – Mary and Shaun don’t know how to sit still.
Good hard sleeping, interspersed with gale-force wind that made the corrugated iron roof sound like it was going to lift off the hut. But we were all there in the morning, more or less chipper, and ready for an adventure.
Lola was ready to eat the floorboards out the hut, so we began with breakfast. The men slowly made their way out the tent and joined the day, although more reluctantly today. Lola with her will of iron was still adamant that she was not hiking, so of course Lincoln followed suit. Shaun and I had been gazing at the final mountain peak looming in front of us and agreed that we couldn’t be this close to the summit and not get there, so we decided we would do it independently, as a trail run.
Hitting the trail up the final peak had me fast realising what a good thing it was the kids weren’t heading up. It was completely overgrown and had me wishing for Lincoln’s shin guards. At that point I was thankful for Lola’s stubbornness of will. Saying I was nervous going up on my own was an understatement. I was at the top of a mountain range, on my own, summiting the final peak. There was obviously no cell reception, and no way for me to get hold of Shaun if I needed him. I was super cautious.
Sitting at what felt like the top of the world like that, reminded me how we all need that time, and we all need that space. It was awesome that I could come down from that and let Shaun loose for his slice of peace and freedom. It’s like pushing a little ‘reboot’ button on life.
The kids spent the day playing make-believe games, collecting insects at the river, wading through the rock pools and trying to catch tadpoles – the most quintessential childhood day. I am so happy they could have that break from the busy-ness of ‘real’ life. There should be more carefree days like that.
The evening was spent lying in the grass staring at the clouds, chatting, laughing and taking ridiculous slow-mo videos of ourselves. The most perfect family evening together.
Day 4 – My kids are my heroes.
I would love to say we awoke in the morning after a wonderful nights sleep, but it was windy. Like really windy. The kids and I were less perturbed and managed to catch our zzz’s quickly, Shaun on the other hand, unbeknownst to us, made out into the night in search of rocks. Yes, rocks. I awoke to what I can only describe as the sound of the hut collapsing in on us. I had a panicked moment of thinking this was the end of us all. The sound was like nothing I had heard before; a banging-crashing-scratching sound. Ok, it was probably just that it was so incredibly loud, and it woke me up, at which point you obviously can make no sense of anything. A man enraged from lack of sleep, hurling boulders onto the corrugated-iron roof of our hut, was in actual fact none other than my lovely husband who was, yes, a little irritated with the incessant rattling and thumping of the roof sheets, but was as he puts it, ‘gently tossing’ rocks onto the roof.
So aside from minor heart failure mid way through the night, we awoke to a peaceful, serene morning; rain gently falling and mist rolling peacefully past the door of the hut. Absolutely beautiful, until I realised we had to hike all the way down the mountain in that! I panicked. I had visions of the children flat out refusing, of tossing their cookies and stamping their feet, or worse still, sulking the whole 14.5km’s down the mountain.
Conversely, everyone was in such high spirits. By the time we had packed up camp the kids were doing push-ups and star jumps to warm up before heading out into the frigid weather. I was amazed. The walk, although initially so misty we couldn’t see anything, cleared up to reveal the most incredible mountain cliffs, gorges plummeting down next to us, and carpets of flowering fynbos.
Beautiful though it was, it was still freezing cold, and the kids and I put our second pair of socks on our hands to keep warm. It would have worked a little better for me if Lola hadn’t stood in a puddle and wet the pair on her feet, meaning her ‘hand’ socks moved south, my ‘hand’ socks moved onto smaller hands, and Lola’s wet foot socks failed dismally in warming up my numb fingers. But such is life.
Despite the cold, or maybe because of it, the kids flew down that mountain faster than I have ever seen them move. They kept up a constant pace of 4km’s an hour, including breaks, I was positively having to scuttle in places just to keep up. It was a perfect hiking day, and I was sad to be heading on the ‘out’ trail. The fact that the kids needed almost no motivating whatsoever certainly helped, and we got to our car about 2 hours earlier than planned.
As we drove down the dusty road towards civilisation, I found myself gazing at the mountain ranges we were leaving behind us, and wondered how long we could live in them before needing to return to the comforts of home. There is a time and a place for everything, a wise man once said.
….I feel a challenge looming in our future.