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hiking with children Archives - A Familia Adventure

A Holiday Less Travelled

By | Hikes, Our Travels, Uncategorized | No Comments

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.

Food and ‘stuff’

Kids’ clothes

Mom’s clothes

 

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.

This is what waiting for mum and dad looks like…

…and more waiting

…and some catching.

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.

 

 

A Life Less Ordinary

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Last week called for a change in habitat. After our great experiences on Airbnb, Shaun and I decided we would rent out our home to families looking for a more “homely” experience when visiting Cape Town. If people want to stay in our house and the timeframe suits us, we pack our bags and out we go.

So last week we found ourselves residing in the Cederberg. It hardly felt like we’d been booted out our home. The location couldn’t have been more perfect, the views more beautiful and the sounds more peaceful. It was a little piece of heaven. We were overlooking the Clanwilliam dam, and had the Cederberg Mountains against our backs. You could hardly find a better playground.

Running to the water from our cabin

Running to the water from our cabin

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Our private beach spot

As is customary in our adventuring, Shaun had to bring the old workbook along; cramming in a good 8-hour day amongst our dam swims, walks, and hikes in the mountains. The fact that the temperatures were reaching the mid thirties worked in his favour because we had to spend midday indoors with the air-con humming on full capacity to escape the heat.

The temperature however, did little to deter us from undertaking the 12.5km Kliphuis hike along the Pakhuis Pass in the Cederberg. Anticipating the heat, we woke at the crack of dawn, poured food down our gullets, applied a full body suit of sunblock, and hit the road.

It was well worth it.

The Cederberg offers views and solitude in a way you can’t refuse it. You breathe it in, you soak in the views and you revel in its stillness. The incredible rock formations can keep you mesmerised for hours. We hadn’t planned on walking the whole route but found ourselves unable to turn down the opportunity of a full morning, alone, in paradise.
The kids were troopers. I say this with the utmost gratitude, and respect for their endurance. They put up with some crazy ideas their parents have. They walked almost the entire way on their own little legs. Running over the flat sandy patches on top of the mountain so we could make up time. Braving a walk head on with baboons because it was the only way past them. Learning to track leopard footprints in the sand despite the sweltering heat, and constantly being schooled on where it is safe to take drinking water from. These kids put up with a lot.
At midday, after 4 hours of hiking, when the mercury was reaching a balmy 35 degrees, we reached the end. If our car didn’t have air-con we would heave melted into a puddle.

 

After returning to our cabin, we decided a swim was in order. In an attempt to entertain the kids while Shaun and I endeavoured to get some work done, we would let them run down to the dam to build their rock castles and throw stones in the water. On this particular afternoon, we were heading down for a swim, so I was with them, well, a few precious minutes behind. The children ran ahead while I packed a picnic, and when I got there I found them standing 5 meters from the dam, waiting rather stoically for me to arrive. In a very matter of fact manner they informed me they had found a puff adder at the water. Now my snake knowledge is minimal, my tendency to overreact is also pretty minimal, so I decided it must be a little mole snake. I patted them calmly while getting them to show me where this ‘puff adder’ was. It was so incredibly camouflaged that it took me a good half a minute to see it! At that point I knew it wasn’t a mole snake, its marking were far too beautiful, but I still couldn’t say what it was. So we called in the naturalist, aka. Dad, who arrived at a rate of knots with eyes sticking out on stalks. It was definitely a ‘puffy’ (Lola’s later affectionate name for it), and as we gawked, while simultaneously marvelling at Lola and Lincoln’s incredible observation skills, the tubby puffy slid into the water and swam away! It came as more than a surprise to us all, but not enough to put us off swimming in that heat, we just did it with our eyes peeled.

puffy

One camouflaged Puffy

puffy-spotting

Puffy spotting!

Saying there is an abundance of wildlife in this corner of the world clearly goes without saying. The area is largely uninhabited, and development hasn’t boomed like other ‘dam’ towns, leaving bird life and wild animals roaming about freely. We had a pair of herons gliding about using our corner of the damn as their runway, and we shared our still mornings with a plethora of bird song. The mongooses, bush rabbits and buck all bound around gleefully, and they were just the obvious ones. It was a really special place to let our children partake in nature. To be somewhere so unspoiled, and have it be in Cape Town’s backyard, is a real treat. To be able to sneak away in the middle of term, and have the good fortune of being able to simply take our work along with us, must make us some of the luckiest people around. Always striving for a life less ordinary, always looking for balance, it’s weeks like this where I think sometimes we do get it right.

 

Obstinate Children and the Application of Speed. I Could Write a Thesis.

By | Cape Town, Hikes | 2 Comments

Having a body clock set to the crack of dawn can be a wonderful thing, especially as the weather turns and Cape Town’s mornings have a warm clarity about them. Jumping out of bed with a wicked enthusiasm to hit the mountains reminds me of what it was like going skiing. Only I get to put on far less clothing and needing the loo just before you leave the house is fraught with considerably less aerobics. Regardless of what time I wake up however, getting Shaun and Lola ready to leave the house is like trying to wake a bear from hibernation. There is much grogginess, grumpiness, and a general disillusionment about the morning. Dangling the carrot of a hike up the mountain, finally gets them to the kitchen, and after Lincoln and I have run several laps around the dining room and sung karaoke to countless songs while Lola and Shaun finish breakfast, we all scramble into the car to hit the only mountain in sight with no clouds on the top. In Cape Town, a warm clarity in the morning means nothing for the rest of the day; the weather here can turn like a cornered celebrity.

So with very few options, off to Constantia Neck we head. Being a public holiday, coupled with our poor forward planning and all of Cape Town’s active population having the same idea, we were stuck in hiker’s rush hour.

Never start hiking at 9am!

We had a lunch date at 12 so this set the tone for the hike upfront. The name of the game was speed. I’m quite sure I repeated this several times just to make sure everyone had got it.

No one got it. I would be lying if I said the kids hit the mountain with any speed what so ever. There was a lot of feet dragging, moaning about the fact that the path went up, eye rolling, staged protests, and several stops in the first 10 meters to sit on rocks. Oh yes, our children too, are human. We certainly can’t win them all. With a little whip cracking and threats of being left at home the next time, they did manage to up their game somewhat. There was more backpacking than usual, more whining, and more disenchantment, until we found our first snake that is. Noisy, black and a tail that seemed to go on forever, Lola was jolted into the morning with rapture! It (the snake and Lola’s rapture) made its departure rather hastily as we climbed the less travelled path to the top of Table Mountain. Lincoln and Shaun had opted to walk on the dirt road with the rest of the pilgrims, so Lola and I enjoyed that viewing alone. As we neared the meeting point of the two paths, we casually walked past another snake, this time a Boomslang. This too was rather noisy, and alerted us to its presence. Only after calling Lincoln and Shaun did the beautiful yellow and black snake slither its way onto the top of a bush and watch us for what felt like ages. I may casually mention it’s a boomslang now, but had we known that at the time I don’t think we would have stood by so casually. At the time we were intrigued that it showed such an interest in us, seemed completely at ease, and made its nonchalant way right in front of us along the path, instead of heading back into the bushes. It was an incredible sighting and reminded us how careful we should be when strolling along our mountain paths, particularly at this time of year. When you’ve done something enough times you tend to adopt a rather blasé attitude towards it. Mindful caution is never a bad thing.

Lola-strop
Shaun-and-Linky
Lola-sulk

The name of the kids game not having been speed, meant that we had to up the pace on the way down. In an attempt to get the children fired up, Shaun and I implemented sprint training into the hike. One of us would walk with the kids while the other ran down the mountain about 50 meters and then turned and sprinted back up to the others. We took turns doing this until we were exhausted and the effort was completely lost on the kids, whose comments were more concerned with making sure Shaun and I ran the same distance and sprinted as fast as each other all the way back. Lincoln, never liking to be excluded from a race, did finally join in. At no point however, did Lola bow down. Peer pressure is completely lost on that one (I’ll thank my lucky stars in 10 years time!).

I certainly won’t chalk this hike down as a win, the kids obviously didn’t feel it, despite the wildlife viewing successes. Sometimes though, Shaun and I just need to feel the mountain under our feet and get some distance between us, and the rest of civilisation. On that score a hike is always a win, regardless of how the children fair. Even a bad hike gives perspective, and sometimes that’s all we’re looking for.

Shaun

Perspective

 

Would I do this again?  Yes. We have actually done this hike many times, but so has half of Germany. It is a great walk, offers options for different fitness levels and has incredible views over the Constantia wine-lands and False Bay. It is popular though, so if you are looking to get some space, this isn’t the walk for you.

What to be aware of?  There are quite a lot of dogs on this walk; most are not on a leash. Be mindful if your kids are dog phobic.
Due to the efforts to restore the natural Cape Town flora, almost all of the tall alien trees have been cut down. This leaves a very sunny hike with little-to-no shelter. Go prepared: take water, hats and sunblock. We walked past more than a few overcooked tourists.

The peak of our climb - the southern most Apostle. Lions Head in the distance with Table Mountain to the right.

Summiting the Elusive Path

By | Cape Town, Hikes | No Comments

Everybody has one, a path they never seem to conquer. Maybe it eludes them for a month, maybe a year. Ours was almost 5 years, and in the most literal sense, we could not reach the end.

Sunday, being Fathers Day, Shaun decided we aught to tackle our nemesis. After a hearty breakfast of leftover pizza, we packed our backpack with our hiking essentials; 4 energy-bars, 6 granola bars, 4 apples, a bag of biltong, a bag of nuts, a bag of sweets and 4 bottles of water, and headed for Llandudno Ravine. This might sound like an awful lot of food, but when your children are climbing a mountain you could literally open the fridge and tip it into their mouths and it still wouldn’t fill them up. Rather safe than sorry we always say, sometimes. So anticipating the beautiful day that Cape Town was promised, we all set out in our summer staples. Being rather more sorry than safe with this one, we encouraged Lola to climb into my long-sleeved vest, thus sporting a pair of strangely fashionable trousers, bar the rather large hole in the middle. It certainly served its purpose, but it was a gentle reminder to improve on our planning skills. Thankfully our children are rarely cold for long, onwards and upwards and the layers get peeled off.

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All the energy in the world!

 

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Lola’s stylish ‘mom’s-vest-pants’.

 

The first part of this particular climb we have done a reasonable number of times. We begin, we get a fair distance, and just when the views start getting good, one of us professes exhaustion and we retreat for home. This has become somewhat of a habit. Sunday, however, was different. The children began the climb with such gusto that Shaun and I found ourselves panting at the pace. They climbed hard and they climbed well. There are a few scrambling points in this hike where they have to pull themselves up using rungs drilled into the rock, we like to let them do it because firstly they love it, and secondly it’s incredibly good for them. Although we are always standing beneath them in case they need us, we find they are capable of doing the majority of climbing on their own. It is undoubtedly their favourite part.

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In the shade of the mountain.

 

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Climbing – their best!

 

A large part of the beauty of this particular path is that there are few other hikers, there is little but the sound of mountain water dripping and trickling on its descent through the rocks, the cries of indigenous birds and the occasional squeaking for treats from the children. As we passed our previous highest point along this path I readied myself for a rumble of thunder or a blinding lightening strike, something to signify the importance of this next step. But as with most obstacles that are overcome, it was accompanied by a large side of ordinary, and a distinct lack of significance on the rest of the world. As the path wound its way up the ravine however, we silently cursed ourselves for never having completed it before. The world may have been unaffected by our bold steps, by our hearts weren’t. It was an escapist’s utopia in every direction. Incredibly beautiful and incredibly remote, it was a landscape filled with unexplored paths and weathered rock formations. The kids thought they were in heaven. They could climb, play, hide and watch the rest of Cape Town scampering about their busy little lives hundreds of meters below them.

 

One more rise up, as you crest the top of the mountain, you find yourself on the southern most Apostle. The most extraordinary view over the Western Cape Peninsula awaits. Songs have been written for views like this. It is nothing short of paradise. Five minutes alone on the nose of this apostle and you can feel the problems of the world draining away. Unfortunately the solitude can’t last long, and when joining the rest of my hiking party, half of which are pint sized people of course, peace and solitude were quickly replaced with giggles and games; the Croods being game of choice for this landscape. On strict orders from the children we were running, jumping and generally behaving like cavemen, until we met our exhaustion and had to rest before our perilous descent.

Although regularly fuelled and watered, after 4 hours on the mountain the children tend to lose concentration. This is a problem as it always occurs on the descent, just when they need their wits the most. They have the reserves physically, but without the mental attentiveness to their foot placements they tend to trip or slip frequently. When one wrong foot placement could mean a long tumble down a steep ravine, we like to resort to backpacking them, reserving our helicopter call-outs for more enjoyable occasions. This path required minimal backpacking, as there is only about ten minutes near the top that is a steep, uneven, rock staircase, hugged closely by rather a lot of nothingness on one side of it. With Lincoln’s natural inclination being to run, acting as sherpa seemed the obvious choice.

With the risky business behind us, we left them to wind their way to the bottom of the mountain as we enjoyed the last of the solitude that the unflustered Llandudno ravine provides. Six hours on the mountain is exhausting, but it puts a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

 

Would I do this again?
Without hesitation! Unlike our last foray up Table Mountain which had us clinging to the rocks on a ‘closed’ path on our descent, this climb was pleasant all the way up and all the way down. It is exquisite, it is peaceful, and it was worth the multiple attempts to get to the top.

What to be aware of?
· This is not simply a hiking route, there are small sections where climbing up the rocks is required. There are rungs drilled into the rock but there is one section which required a bit of careful negotiating, as the rocks are quite wet being mid winter and the rainy season.
· A fair portion of this path can only accommodate one person abreast. This happens to be the case along one particular section of steep drop off to the one side. I mention this as it makes holding your child’s hand and guiding them a little more difficult, but not impossible.
· I wouldn’t suggest this hike for children with little experience, but for everyone else, go for it!

Our Route
· Park outside Ruyteplaats Estate off the top of Suikerbossie road in Hout Bay.
· Walk up the outside of the estate and turn right on the path above the trees, follow the path to the left when it veers off and keep heading up the mountain…

A beautiful, green, Lions Head - Cape Town.

1 Mountain, 1 Toddler, 3 Pre-schoolers and a Pregnant Lady

By | Cape Town, Hikes | One Comment

You haven’t seen Cape Town in all its glory until you have climbed to the top of Lions Head. Making the trek up this beautiful peak is inspirational, you wind your way around the mountaintop and in doing so are afforded 360 degree views of Cape Town city, the surrounding mountains, not least of which is Table Mountain and the Stellenbosch peaks, as well as incredible views of Cape Towns beaches, Robben Island and the Atlantic ocean.

This is a climb we have made many times both before kids and after them. Pre kids, we used to climb to the top and then race each other down, before heading to one of the city’s quirky coffee spots for a little breakfast. After kids, we made the modification of adding a child carrier to one adult and a ‘cango pouch’ to the other, as well as a bag with diapers, wipes, bottles, sippy cups, fruit bars and lollipops (for when they have reached their limit). As time has passed we have managed to lose both child-transportation devices in lieu of throwing them onto our backs when they get tired, and replaced innumerable toddler ‘essentials’ with a handful of protein bars and a sports drink or two. Climbing mountains has got considerably easier.

Climbing Lions Head pre children.

Climbing Lions Head pre children.

Climbing Lions Head with liiiiiiittle children.

Climbing Lions Head with liiiiiiittle children.

Climbing Lions Head with slightly more capable children.

Climbing Lions Head with slightly more capable children.

Caution!! Rock climbing training in progress! Nerves of steal required to view this picture.

Caution!! Rock climbing training in progress! Nerves of steal required to view this picture.

After a long period of training our children to hike with proficiency, we launched into an exciting adventure of heading up the mountain with, as the title suggests, not just our little family of four, but some extended family as well. My brother, his almost six months pregnant wife and their two boys (aged twenty-three months and three years old). We dug out the child carrier, filled a bag with all the toddler ‘essentials’ and grabbed the protein bars and sports drinks. Off we set.

Mikey (my three year old nephew) last climbed a mountain as a four week old embryo inside his mother’s tummy, that was the last time we coaxed my wonderful big brother and his sweet unsuspecting wife up Table Mountain. It must have done a great job in laying the foundations for great future climbing for Mikey, as he set off up Lions Head with sheer determination. Every step was calculated and the thought and energy that went into keeping his consistent pace was impressive. Every offer of a ‘lift’ from either his uncle or his aunt was politely declined. Danny (my almost two year old nephew) walked approximately 20 meters before he was hoisted into his carrier and strapped to my brother’s back where he remained, safely, for the duration of the hike.

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It has taken many years of hiking and climbing with our kids to teach them where to put their feet, what rocks to hold, what rocks not to hold and where to stand when they are waiting for us. Climbing up ladders and rungs drilled into the rock requires agility on the side of the parents (you have to climb with them but not use the appropriate holds and foot rests because they are), as well as nerves of steel. Five years in and I still haven’t developed the steeliness needed to prevent clammy toes and moist palms. My poor sister in law didn’t know what she was getting herself into! I’m sure she watched in more than horror as we guided her little three year old up the sheer rock face and out of her sight as she awaited her turn up the steely rungs of terror. Negotiating a six month pregnant belly up those rocks was a feat in itself and she put many a passer-by to shame as they huffed and puffed their way up, only to notice her belly and the pack of children and realise how easy they had it.

As all three children reached the top, on their own, followed protectively by their hovering parents, the sun began to set. Anyone with an inkling of the effort it takes to get a troop this large just to the beginning of the hike, knows that we weren’t about to can the idea just because we left an hour after we were planning on setting out. This rather annoying deviation in time pushed us into the beautiful ‘sunset window’ at the top, but also into the rather perilous position of descending in the dark. Not first prize for a hiking party with more people needing to be carried than there were backs to carry them, but down we had to come. Opting for the less hazardous, slightly longer route down, left only one child lying on their back after trying to race ahead of his older sister (yes, Lincoln), but the rest of us set a steady pace climbing down the rocks and Shaun and I set about managing, carrying and herding the three children.

Shepherding three pre-schoolers up the side of a mountain is intensive stuff, getting them down involves dogged determination, and muscles, lots of them. This was the first time we found ourselves outnumbered and out of time. There is no fast decent when moving in the dark, especially when you intend to get everyone down in one piece. Carrying a child on your back and holding another child’s hand utilises muscles I’m not sure I knew existed until the morning after our hike. Think of it as a continual bicep curl with your arm behind your back. Hoorah!! – Navy Seals here we come!
Night time or no night time, I’m not sure I would recommend this hike if you intend taking your children up, unless you and your partner are relatively fit. Your children don’t have to be, as long as you turn around before they reach their limit, or you can carry them down. We would have been in rather a pickle if we weren’t able to carry the kids down, and the hike certainly wouldn’t have been as enjoyable. The best advice I can give is know your limits.

That said, children have an amazing resilience and an ability often far beyond what we credit them with. Mikey, having never climbed before, was able to summit the top, entirely on his own, and he never once, not even on the way down, complained about his legs, the length of the hike or how dark it was. Our children are used to this craziness, but seeing how easily other children adapt when thrown in the deep end is inspiring, it makes me want to grab other parents by the collar and tell them to do more with their kids. Don’t be reckless, but get out into the wilderness and push yourselves to see more, experience more, climb a peak you’ve never summited and show your children how to enjoy the outdoors! It’s beautiful, it’s free, and it’s freeing. Go and breath some fresh air as a family, it’s never too late to start, and I can assure you – you won’t regret it.

 

Standing underneath Corona Arch - Arches National Park, Utah

Our Frozen Potatoes

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It is hard to describe the magnificence of a national park – photos don’t come close. There is a reason a piece of earth has been cordoned off and declared exceptional. Imagine a blazing red sand dusted with the whitest snow, valleys where mountains of rock stretch straight up towards the sky, and waterfalls frozen in time with only cracking icicles hinting at their movement, and you will have an idea of the incredible views we had driving through Arches, Canyon Lands and Zion national parks – sites that easily feature on our list of most phenomenal places to see.

As Shaun so succinctly put, Arches National Park looks as though God has been practicing building castles. There are towers of rock scattered randomly across the plains, and towering arches of rock that defy gravity. By my understanding they should by lying in a neat pile of rubble on the floor.
We hiked with the kids to one of the biggest arches, and it was extraordinary. Through snow for most of the hike, we were then rewarded with a bright red arch of rock that spanned 140 feet.Several arches required walking to from the parking areas, a hike in the children’s case, and this necessitated getting out of a 22 degree car and into -9 degree fresh mountain air. Awesome you might say, well the children thought not! By the end of the day they were fed up, tired, and totally disinterested in our starry-eyed gazing at the rock formations. We ended up running back to the car as the sun was setting and it was nearing -15, carrying the kids on our backs wrapped in our coats so they wouldn’t be mentally scarred from the cold. The last thing we needed was to have them blatantly refuse to go outside the next day!

 

With a warmer high of -9 the following day, we managed to coax them down to the car with promises of hot chocolate and blankets, promising them they didn’t have to hike that day. On opening the car door, our potatoes that we had in our ‘grocery cupboard’ fell out the car with a very loud crack. We Africans still have to get used to the idea that anything left outside, even in the car, freezes over night! 1 bag of potatoes down, we are now learning. With the kids being thankful that they weren’t left in the car over night, they climbed in hastily and began nestling in for warmth. Being the trustworthy parents that we are, we left the kids to fall asleep in the car (on the way) to Canyon Lands, and let them lie in blissful slumber while we climbed out to take photos and gape at the absolutely astonishing vistas. These views could make you believe you are on another planet – they are eerie, and breathtaking.

 

Obviously giving the kids a day off worked in our favour. Arriving at Zion National Park the following day, we managed to have the kids sufficiently psyched to attempt another snow hike, this time with more thermals! All was going swimmingly, until we reached this sign…

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The picture says it all doesn’t it?! So we followed our eyelash-batting- clan-leader over the no entry sign! This of course was after I had told Lola how naughty the other men were for crossing over it just as we got there – so she blatantly refused, saying we were not allowed. In the mean time Shaun headed off with Lincoln in tow, slipping and sliding with glee, and I carried rule-abiding Lola while almost landing on my rump as we negotiated our way over the treacherous ice, keeping a beady eye upwards to make sure a somewhat large and pointy icicle didn’t come crashing down on top of us!  The boys of course didn’t even consider this as an option and had a ball laughing their way underneath the frozen waterfall. Dramatics aside, it was incredible once we were able to continue our hike up the gorge. There was plenty of snow and we were yet again amazed at the hiking ability of our 3 and 4 year old when given half a chance. We have had it proven to us time and again that if you give the rope some slack and put a little faith in them (obviously within reason) they blow you away with their capabilities. Our hike in Zion was no exception.

 

Back at the ranch (I believe the town we stayed in was called Springdale) we enjoyed a bubbly hot tub experience, while the town folk were getting ready for the evenings Christmas parade. It was shiny in a way that only an American Christmas can be. So with stars in our eyes, and Christmas jingles in our heads, we hit the hay for a much needed nights rest.

Venturing into the South

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Coincidently, and very luckily for us, our trip landed us in the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains in what is arguably the most beautiful time of year there, autumn. Wowzers, we couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque welcome to the South!

After leaving DC we headed into the Shenandoah valley and stayed in a small town called Crozet where we were treated to real Southern hospitality. We spent 4 days exploring the gentle mountains which were speckled with the most amazing variety of colours, a sight we can’t replicate no matter how beautiful our country. We climbed peaks and sat gazing over the rolling hills (we are comparing this mountain range to the Drakensburg and we win hands down in size and magnitude – but to be fair, to less fortunate folk who haven’t had the luxury of experiencing the Drakensburg, these are still mountains) and tried to breath the city out of our lungs.

Crozet bbq!

Crozet bbq!

The weather began to turn when we were there and a cold front moved in dropping the night temperature down to about 4 degrees, but we were staying in a wonderful little home with inside heating, a luxury us South Africans are not used to. This came back to bite us in the proverbial rump when we waltzed out our door one morning heading out for our first big hike in the mountains, not realising how cold it really was because we’d been sitting inside a heated house. Driving high into the hills to venture down a particularly beautiful waterfall gorge, we arrived at our location, climbed out the car and greeted our first sprinkling of snow! Lola looked up very confused and said “the rain is white”! In all my wisdom, I had packed one jersey for each of us, aside from the one we had on. As you can imagine, this was simply not enough! We managed to source 2 towels from the car, and used them to tie the kids to our backs, we were embracing our African roots, and keeping both ourselves and the kids warm in the process. Very freaking cold about describes it. Needless to say I learned my lesson, and from then on Shaun packed the warm clothes. I know where my strengths lie… I pack the food.

 

So time in the Shenandoah passed all too quickly, and we found ourselves winding our way down through the mountains along the most unbelievably scenic drive, stopping only a handful of times for my extremely car sick husband to feel solid earth beneath his feet. As we left one national park behind us, we entered another, The Great Smoky Mountains. They have this name because the trees emit so much moisture there is a haze lying over the forest in the morning and evening, even for much of the day. Until we found this out, I thought we were unlucky in always waking up to a hazy view (so uneducated)!

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains

These two mountain ranges run north-south through the eastern interior of the States, joining with others to form the Appalachian mountain trail, a trail that runs 3500km and passes through 14 States. I mention this because this is Shaun’s new goal. We are going to walk this trail in entirety, in one go… Sigh. I’m just trying to convince him to wait until the children can at least carry their own back packs! 😉
We drove through Cherokee, and Indian reservation which was eye-opening and sad in it’s dilapidation, and headed into the Smoky Mountain Nature Reserve to walk part of the Appalachian Trail (in training already ;). It was a magnificent hike! It is quite high, and the hike takes you even further up, giving you an indication of how autumn passes through the mountains. It starts at the top (where it is coldest) and works it’s way down through the trees, so by the time we reached the top of our hike there were absolutely no trees with leaves at all, simply fir trees, leading the kids to believe that it was Christmas at the top of the mountain!

 

The kids walked all the way up solo (really great that we have 2 such adventurous little souls who spur each other on) until we reached an area of the path where we kept hearing thumping. Now Shaun and I know a fair amount about nature, we know when to panic and when to retreat quietly. We both froze. The thumping happened periodically, and loudly, both intriguing us and preparing us to run. The kids were scared silent (this never happens)! Shaun decided he would go and investigate it alone, returning with the embarrassing knowledge that what had us on high alert was a male bird performing his mating ritual! He was perched atop a log and periodically displayed his sizeable tail feathers and flapped them so hard that they thumped the air (sounding very much like a scary daddy bear walloping a tree)! We were safe, a little embarrassed, but chuffed to catch the hopeful daddy bird in action.

Highlands Town

Highlands Town

Aside from hiking, we also explored a few little towns and had a waterfall viewing day. One town in particular, looking very European, had the best ice cream we’ve ever eaten! This was on a day when we woke up with our first frost outside, we were dressed in our new thermal winter gear, and walked around town with an ice cream cone… tourists!

The waterfalls were beautiful and the area is a wonderful little place to visit. It happened to be on a weekend when we were all feeling a little homesick and moods were low, being in such a peaceful place when feeling so somber doesn’t really help. There was little but beauty to distract us from missing our family and friends back home, and as silly as it may sound, the beauty makes you miss them more because we just wanted to share it with everyone. Having absolutely no reception on our phones didn’t help either. We have been surprised at how patchy the cell reception is in the States. What we have realized is how advanced our country really is in many regards, in various ways we wouldn’t have thought of before.

Highlands Lake

Highlands Lake

We had mistakenly thought Shaun could work while I drove, but there is little to no mobile data connection along the major highways, something we have always taken for granted in SA. This has meant work has to wait until evening time on days when we spend a long time in the car. As you can imagine, this is not ideal working conditions, but not vastly different from what we expected. I’m really lucky Shaun can work as easily and quickly as he does, regardless of where he is and what his surroundings are. Give him his headphones and the rest of the world doesn’t exist, it’s like plugging him into the matrix. Now I’m laughing at how nerdy I sound. This is what being married to an engineer does to you! Sorry honey 🙂

Anyway, I’m waffling. I feel like I have adequately, although briefly, filled you in on our trip up until we left for Mexico. Sorry the updates have come so tardily! I will be on my best behaviour for the next while and write about Mexico with haste!

Sending so much love to all of you!!!
S & M & L & L

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