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hiking Archives - A Familia Adventure

Marriage Shouldn’t be Your Comfort Zone – 10 Years of Pushing the Limits

By | Hikes, Our Travels | No Comments

10 years ago, in our naïve youth, Shaun and I thought a honeymoon on the ski slopes would be awfully romantic. Log cabins, evenings around a roaring fire with mugs of hot chocolate, and long walks in the snow. This was of course before either of us had ever tackled the riggers of a ski slope. Our romantic notions were quickly put in perspective on day 2, when Shaun enrolled us in an advanced ski expedition which had me skiing backwards down a ski slope, on my head, simultaneously crying and spewing profanity, while South Africa’s only championship skier (who happened to be heading up the expedition) tried to talk me down the rest of the slope. After encouragement and guidance proved fruitless, even by the professional, I was tucked in behind him and guided down the slope in the same way I now do for my kids. This may or may not be the same day he ski-piggy-backed me down a slope (can you imagine the embarrassment) while Shaun made his own merry way down with all the glee of a 5 year old. It didn’t take long for me to figure out how our marriage was going to go. It was going to be adventurous, and tangibly challenging. It was going to push my limits and test me physically, and with every test I would learn more about myself, seeing more of what Shaun seemed to see from the very beginning. 34 years of life and I am still learning about me. 10 years of marriage and I don’t think there is much I have done that has surprised Shaun. There is more validity than is given credence in the old adage: Marry someone who continuously challenges you to be better, to be your best you. Find someone who’s going to push your boundaries, introduce you to places you’ve never heard of, and inspire you to do the unimaginable because they genuinely believe you can. If you’ve found that person, hold onto them. There is no greater gift.

Bearing this honeymoon ‘baptism by fire’ in mind, fast forward 10 years and wanting to climb Kilimanjaro as a 10 year anniversary holiday seems normal to us. Given we didn’t want to leave our munchkins alone for that length of time (and the expense of getting there) we settled on something closer to home, but no less majestic.

The Cederberg

It seemed like an obvious choice, and a perfect escape. We wanted to do something together that we couldn’t do with the kids, use the time together to really be together. 10 years of marriage is an accomplishment, and a privilege. We wanted to honour that by doing something worthy of that feat. I can’t think of a more solidifying experience for a marriage than climbing mountains with your life on your back, and your love by your side. Sometimes you walk hand in hand, sometimes on your own. There is talking, lots of talking, remembering what it is to just shoot the breeze and laugh about silly things together. No constraints on your time, no one expecting anything from you. Just being together. Sometimes there’s negotiation, and sometimes stubbornness, but let’s be honest, what’s marriage without some stubbornness. Hiking requires encouragement and consideration of your partner, a reminder of 2 of the most important elements in any marriage. It’s not easy-going the whole way, but you’re doing it together. That’s what makes it fun and worthwhile.

We didn’t want to stray too far from the norm, so as is customary, we bit off a little more than we could chew. We started off with 4 days of hiking, but after deciding to squash it into 3.5 days in order to get home to see the kids, it required our walking faster than we had initially planned.

We arrived in Sandrif, central Cederberg, on Friday afternoon. After a minor deliberation we headed straight up the mountain so we could camp on the top instead of in the campsite at the bottom. It was our anniversary after all and we wanted something a little more romantic than the snoring of fellow campers around us. So after filling up what seemed like an excessive number of water bottles, we hit the mountain. Saying it was steeper than we had anticipated is an understatement. We hadn’t weighed our packs before we left (probably a novice error) so we ‘guestimated’ the weight at around 30kg’s in Shaun’s pack (I could barely lift it), and around 25kg’s in mine. I had about 3 litres of water, almost all the food for 4 days, my clothes and sleeping bag and mat. Shaun had about 5.5 litres of water, the cooking equipment, camera, kindles, tent, his clothes and sleeping bag and mat. I couldn’t have carried more, and declined his generous offer of an additional 2 water bottles tied onto my pack. After starting up that hill I patted myself on the back for my wise decision. We stopped periodically for Shaun to sit down and put his head between his knees so he wouldn’t pass out. An anniversary scraping his remains off the bottom of the mountain would have been slightly less romantic. To put the extremity of the mountain in perspective, we managed to walk 4 km’s in 2 hours! It was slow going, but the top was worth it.

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We enjoyed an anniversary dinner of cous-cous and bolognaise sauce, which I managed to sneak up the mountain in my pack as a surprise ‘treat’ for dinner. There was no champagne or hors d’oeuvre, but there was scintillating company and a sparkling sunset. There are no words to explain the calm and beauty of a night alone, on the top of a mountain, with only the one you love for company.

A perfect anniversary dinner :)

A perfect anniversary dinner 🙂

After a peaceful night’s sleep and a sunrise awakening, we began our first full day’s hike. It took us across the top of the mountain and through arches of towering rock formations. We spent 2 hours over lunch basking at a rock pool enjoying each other’s company, and the next half hour in a domestic dispute over which way we should walk. Shaun was keen to bush whack over the top of the mountain, forging our own route to the base of the Tafelberg peak, while I was rather keen to keep my shins in tact and follow the tried and tested path around the base of the mountain and back up at the allotted point. Obviously my argument was more sound, but it did add on an extra 10km’s of walking. By the end of day 1.5, and 18km’s of walking, watching the stars come out was about all we could manage. We spent the night in a cave at the ‘almost’ top of Tafelberg.

The milky way from the top of Tafelberg

The milky way from the top of Tafelberg

 

The ‘real’ top of Tafelberg we summited the following morning, without packs! It is virtually a sheer rock face and requires ingenuity, scrambling expertise, and a ferocious sense of adventure to reach.

Well. Worth. Every. Gruelling. Moment.

You really do feel on top of the world and the view is all the more rewarding knowing how hard you worked to get there.

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feet-on-tafelberg
spaceship

After descending and collecting our packs from the cave, we ventured forth on our intrepid way, making a long journey to the most serene water hole, aptly called Crystal pool, where we made the most of the icy water and basked on the rocks, while devouring abundant dry crackers and sharing our rashes of tuna. I realise it may sound daft, but a more romantic scene you’d be hard pressed to find. This may, in all likelihood, require repeating the exercise yourself to believe it. It sounds strange indeed, but it was pure beatitude.

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more-incredible-vistas

The 24km’s of walking on day 2.5 was everything I could have wished for and more. We crisscrossed through valleys of interchanging vegetation, and spent hours in lush surroundings with nothing but birdsong and flowing water to interrupt our solitude. We ‘tracked’ leopard footprints (tracked may be a strong word, leopard may also be a strong word, but in our excitement we went with it) and fired our best guesses at birds that soared above us. After paths of unruffled serenity, we found a perfect camping spot on the edge of a peak we have fondly named ‘Anniversary mountain’. From our vantage point we could watch the sun set, and rise, from the luxury of our tented paradise.

sunrise-tent
peace

 

Packing up to leave our spot the next morning was eased only by the thought that the quicker we did it, the quicker we could get home to see our kiddies. This was the carrot we needed to get our stiff arses up and moving. The weather for all 3.5 days was nothing short of perfect, but this last day was a scorcher. We had to summit only 1 mountain on our return journey to our trusty steed, another 24km’s away, but it was a torturously hot mountain. Thankfully we hit it early and spent the rest of the day pouring water on our clothes in an abortive attempt at keeping us cool. And, with a Garmin for company, we were able to count down the km’s to the shower blocks at the camp and the air-conditioned comfort of our beast (a KIA Sorento – not a horse, in case you were wondering).

To seal off a truly romantic weekend, we showed the staff at the only fast food restaurant around, just how quickly a hamburger can be consumed, before blazing through a 3 hour journey to make it home before the kids’ bed time, so we could kiss those soft, delicious cheeks we had been missing for 4 days. Day 3.5 was worth the hustle. It was the gravy on the mash potatoes. The frosting on the doughnut. We love our kids, obviously. But we really really actually like our kids too. Like we want to spend time with them because they are awesome people. It makes us want to go home to them.

We knew we had pushed the limits to get home to them early. We have pushed the limits every year since we’ve had them, and we were doing it before that too. Sometimes the limits aren’t physical, a lot of the time they’re mental, but every limit pushed, stretches and shapes you. It defines your resilience and points out your verges. Although certainly not all pleasant, I am thankful for the challenges we have faced. They have shaped memorable moments, and made the sweetness of each day that much purer.
With the gift of hindsight, would I choose skiing for our honeymoon a second time round? Well, no, because we’ve done it already. Now I might choose a voyage to Antarctica, or summiting the Matterhorn… There are so many limits waiting to be pushed, and I count myself amongst the lucky ones to have found the steady hand at my back, pulsating encouragement and a quiet assurance in my abilities.

Alive at the end.

Alive at the end.

 

 

 

Egg-sploring Plettenberg Bay

By | Beaches, Hikes, Our Travels, Parks | One Comment

If your idea of a holiday is finding some peace and solitude while sipping Mai-Tai’s on the beach, Plett over Easter weekend is not for you. Come to think of it, having children is not for you either. Both are filled with more bubble and bustle than you’ll know what to do with. Should you have chosen to embrace the amusement and vivacity that children bring, you have probably also, at some point, chosen to embrace the seaside village of Plett.

The Garden Route, where Plett is delightfully nestled, is filled with quaint little towns, beautiful seaside villages and white sandy beaches that stretch on for miles. There is no shortage of things to do either, which for a family like ours, is blissful. Don’t get me wrong, kicking back and shaking off the manacles of the daily grind is a non-negotiable, but getting out and finding exhilarating adventures that expand your mind and challenge you physically, is just as important.

Cue: hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, body surfing, forest runs for days. And these are just the obvious ones.

You can swing from the trees while on a canopy tour, tube down rivers and jump into gorges, but with a son as reckless as Lincoln, we are waiting a few more years before taking the kids on any of these – I’m rather fond of my little family of four.

Cookie Icing

Cookie Icing

Sea Gazing

Sea Gazing

"guinea packing"

“guinea pigging”

So when the holidays finally rolled around and we hit the road heading to Plett, we started narrowing down the list of Easter week activities. There was cookie decorating, egg painting, and chocolate eating, but none of those required us to leave the house. Murphy’s bad holiday weather meant that after days of rain and wind, we were incredibly grateful for those 3 activities because we did a lot more of them than we had anticipated. When the weather did allow, we added in some much needed beach time, charming coffee shop excursions, sneaky G&T sunsets, and made sure we threw in some mandatory hiking for good measure.

Plett has a beautiful peninsula that edges its way into the Indian ocean, forming the south-western tip of the bay. This is the Robberg Nature Reserve. It is surrounded by turquoise waters and plays host to a colony of barking seals, and a range of vulnerable fish species, as well as indigenous bird life happy to flit in the vegetation around you. It seemed the perfect choice for our Easter weekend hike.

Robberg-point

The magnificent Robberg peninsula. Viewing it from the start of the trail.

 

Had I been more prepared, I would have planted Easter eggs as we walked, surprising the kids along the way with tales of where the ‘Plett bunny’ came from. But alas, I was a pitiful parent and made my kids walk the entire way without any chocolate morsels. Despite this, they excelled as usual, sometimes plodding, sometimes skipping ahead, being bird watches, shark spotters and swimming in the rock pools on Robberg’s end. They seemed to need very little encouragement on this hike, despite its 11km distance, and by the time they reached the beach at the end, they dived into the water with wild abandon, leaving the adults to rest on the sand.

 

 

There is an abundance of delight on this hike. From the rock formations that date back to the break-up of Gondwanaland, 120 million years ago, to the diverse and often unexpected wildlife sightings, there is something for everyone. The hike covers various terrains, from shrubby fynbos and cascading sand dunes, to a tree-lined walk way with a canopy of birdsong. The Robberg point takes you down to sea level where you cross Whale rock, an expanse of rock so large and covered in lichen you feel like you could be traversing Gondwanaland in an era long past. Unfortunately, being Easter weekend, we were not lonesome hikers. We had a barrage of tourists hot on our heels, everyone keen for some fresh air and sunshine. Most of them opting to do the shorter routes (of which there are several) meant that at least at the point, we acquired the perspective we so often go in search of on our hikes.

It was serene and beautiful.

The most beautiful expanse of peace.

The most beautiful expanse of solitude.

 

Back in the bustling tourist hub, with half of Gauteng and a large dollop of Cape Town, we found the refuge we needed after a long hike: the ice cream shop. Ignoring the vast quantities of Easter cookies and gooey chocolate we had already consumed, our eyes devoured the ice cream before it made its way to our mouths. A heavenly end to a gastronomic week away. Despite all the people, the queues at restaurants and the parking palaver, Plett remains one of our ‘most favouritist’ holiday spots.

Bunny hunting

Bunny hunting

 

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…

Summiting Table Mountain … With Kids

By | Cape Town, Hikes, Parks | One Comment

Ok, so I know there are people who would argue with me when I say there is little better to do on a perfect day in Cape Town, than to head on a hike up Table Mountain, yes, on your feet – leave the cable car for the grannies and grandpa’s. But you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and it is beautiful. It is beautiful in a way you almost can’t describe. The way the sun hits the mountain and misty morning air with absolute peace. The sound of tiny creatures scampering through the bush desperately trying to flee the delighted cries of the children. The feeling of your heart pounding in your chest as you work your way higher up the side of the mountain, and the silence that meets you when you crest that final rise. Standing 1000 meters above the sea, looking down over Camps Bay, is nothing short of bliss. The quietness is strange at first, almost like you’re not sure what’s missing. You are completely removed from the constant droning of the cars, the incessant talking and hammering and barking. A bird chirping becomes a crystal clear sound, piercing the quietness, but then evaporating as quickly as it appeared. It’s magic up there.
This enchanted world isn’t lost on the kids either. They hear the quietness, they feel the peace, it’s taking them to a place where they can experience nature and see wonders in this world that can’t be bought in a store. It is such a vital experience for children of this generation to have, and not just once off either. When their everyday lives are constantly bombarded with images and sounds, flashing lights and perpetual adverts, they need to learn what it means to escape, to find their peace. Giving children some ‘quiet time’ is so often associated with veg’ing out in front of the TV or playing games on an iPad, when you compare that to real quiet time you realise how extremely twisted our notions of ‘quiet’ have become.

Lincoln running along the board walks on top of Table Mountain.

Lincoln running along the board walks on top of Table Mountain.

 

Our kids love the climb. We have learned that they prefer to climb rocky paths which require actual climbing, rather than hike a trail that requires only walking. They like to use their whole bodies, and they like the challenge of finding their own way over rocks in their path. It keeps the hike interesting for them, and saves us having to encourage them the whole way to the top.We have also learned they need frequent breaks, lots of little ones. Stopping for half an hour is actually more damaging than good as it lets the body relax and beginning the climb again is harder. Stopping for 1 minute every 10 minutes is great for them. They can have a sip of water and a small snack. It keeps energy levels up and gives them something to work towards. Telling them they have to keep climbing when they are needing a break is both dangerous and demoralising. Your wits have to be sharp but so do theirs, they need to be able to concentrate on their climbing and their balance. Regular breaks are key to that.

 

Watching your children reach the top of a mountain is one of the most rewarding experiences for a parent, especially when they are only 4 and 5 years old. You walked it too, so you know the effort that was involved and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t proud, it is a real achievement for them, and us of course, our inspirational pep talks were invaluable.

In our case, we climbed this particular climb a year ago with them, so we decided to extend a little further and hike across the top to the cable car. The walk along the top is extremely beautiful, you stroll through valleys filled with the largest Proteas I’ve ever seen, and climb rises covered with both ferns and fynbos. The vegetation is outstanding and the silence extends across all of it. We picnicked on a rocky outcrop with views over False Bay and across to Gordons Bay. We could see the entire mountain range that burned in the March 2015 fires, including Muizenberg, Kommetjie, Hout Bay and Camps Bay – our views were extraordinary.

 

Our rocky outcrop, and our views. Something extraordinary.

Our rocky outcrop, and our views. Something extraordinary.

 

Our travels across the top took us to Echo Valley, from where we could both see the cable car and hear the noise of the habitation. In the stillness and the quiet from where we had just come, the sight of the hoards was like crashing back to reality. We made a sharp b-line for the closest path to avoid the masses and began our descent down the mountain. What I neglect to mention is that in our haste to retreat, we chose to descend down a path that was ‘closed due to safety reasons’. If you choose to argue our sanity on this point I would not disagree with you. It was foolish and we were negligent.

What started as a peaceful, happy climb, deteriorated into dogged determination and perseverance based solely on the need to reach the bottom.

We ran out of water on the top, expecting to find a stream where we could fill our bottles, only to realise there is almost no water on the top of the mountain come March, the middle of the dry season. Just when we were turning into crusty semblances of our former selves, we found 2 puddles of water on the rocks that were the bane of our descent. We scooped those water swimmers aside and put our noses to the ground as we drained the fresh mountain water. It was our saving grace. Never have I been so happy to swallow unfiltered water lying dormant on a rock. Never did I think I would encourage my children to do so. After quenching our Sahara dessert thirst, what better way to celebrate than to sit down and have a good cry. As a pressure cooker does to release steam, so did I. My steam came out in big droplets, one at a time, each patiently waiting their turn, until I was once again calm. Nothing like a cry of frustration to ease the weight of knowing you made a bad judgement call, of knowing it when you made it but not listening, or recognising it for what it was. I knew the only way home was down, so we resumed our climb down the rocky ravine, guiding the children as they climbed down one immense boulder after another, passing them down to each other when the rocks where simply too high and too dangerous for them to climb.A 2 hour climb up, a 1.5 hour hike along the top, and a 3.5 hour hike down. What was meant to be a 4 hour hike turned out to be almost twice as long. After some choice language, nearly dehydrating, a good weep and a few discussions on when it would be a good time to call in a helicopter, we finally reached the bottom. We were all deflated, our feet hurt, and we were desperate for an ice cold drink, but we were down safely.The lesson to take from our epic hike, is don’t let the idea that you may have known better in the past, cloud your judgement on what you are currently attempting. When that more-than niggling thought tells you to stop and re-think your plan, don’t disregard it because in the past you have, and it turned out alright.

Shaun and I didn’t need to have the conversation on our errors up the mountain that day, we saw it in each others faces as we cuddled our kids before bed that night. While we tucked them in, congratulating them on their incredible tenacity during our adventure that day, I promised myself I would never take them down a closed route again. This was the last lesson I needed in that regard.

Closed route aside, it was an incredibly awesome hike! What an escapade.

 

Our family-selfie on the top of Table Mountain.

Our family-selfie on the top of Table Mountain.

Would I do this again?  

We will never do an unadvised route again with our children. But we will absolutely, one hundred percent, be taking them on the first part of this hike again! It was challenging, but an ideal hike for our family. We climbed up Kasteelspoort from Camps Bay.

What to be aware of? 

Plan! Plan! Plan! Stick to your plan. Changing your mind about the distance when you are half way through your hike is careless unless you know you have enough supplies on you. Running out of water is no joke. Realising you have no medical supplies on you when you need them is also no joke. Use the tips below!

  1. Have a map of your route and the surrounding area.
  2. Carry more food and water than you think you will need. Our kids eat significantly more than Shaun and I on a hike. This surprised us on our first major hike and Shaun and I had to go without in order to keep their energy up.
  3. Take a first aid kit. Just the basics. You’re packing light remember.
  4. Don’t walk an unadvised or closed route with your children! Putting yourself in danger is one thing, doing it to your children is iniquitous. This doesn’t mean you can’t do challenging routes, just stick to the advised paths.
  5. Tell at least one person where you are going before you leave.
  6. Take a phone with you, but keep in mind there may be no signal on the top of a mountain.
  7. Have the number for the mountain rescue service with you.
  8. Always carry a thermal, even on a hot day. The top of a mountain can have a vastly different temperature from that at the bottom.
  9. Pack a good sense of humour – things don’t always go your way!
  10. Remember you are there to have fun!!

If you have any hiking tips please feel free to share them.

Happy hiking!!

Be Still My Beating Heart

By | Our Travels, Parks | No Comments

I was in two minds as to whether I wanted to write this post. Sometimes things can resonate on such an intimate level, that you want to keep them secret, hidden away from the rest of the world. That’s how I felt when I arrived at Redwood National Park. I didn’t even have to set a foot on the lush, earthy mulch to know that that was a place I would happily get lost in. A place my soul at once wanted to stake a flag in and reserve as a serene retreat for me, and me alone. Ok, I would take people there, sometimes, but only if their hearts wanted to burst from their chests and break into song, knowing there is possibly no more beautiful place on this earth! I know I have often on our travels, gushed over how beautiful a place is, how incredible the National Parks are, and how they make you feel closer to the ethereal, while at the same time making you feel so tiny and insignificant. While I stand by all I have previously written, no place captured my soul more than this magnificent forest. Firstly, it was green. Not just any old green, but the bright ‘heavens pouring golden light between the thunderclouds after a storm’ kind of green. The foliage looks iridescent and you can smell the earth and the dew and the trees. It was lush and moss covered, and had the most beautiful delicate ferns covering the forest floor. Although forests can often make you feel closed in, the epic height of the trees raised the canopy to an extent that, although surrounded entirely by glorious vegetation, you don’t have that feeling of restriction and limited view. I have always loved Knysna forest for similar reasons… this forest is Knysna on steroids! If I could bring anything back from the States with me, it would be a little corner of the Redwood National Park. It was without a doubt, one of my favourite places of this trip, in fact, any trip.

 

Thinking with hindsight why this National Park was so much more enjoyable than all the others, I would say a large part is due to it being significantly less touristy. It is common knowledge that the tallest tree in the world is in the park, but it is not listed – about the smartest thing the Americans could have done. There is no ‘have to see’ spot. No tarred paths through the trees. No throngs of tourists. There is just incredible forest… and quiet. Plenty of it – when the children weren’t squealing with delight while throwing themselves and their bikes down the nearest forest path that is!

In the time between San Francisco and the Redwoods, we spent 2 days enduring Napa Valley. It is torment sitting in a place almost like the wine lands of home, but not quite as beautiful, and yet about 4 times as expensive! I’m not sure what we were expecting, but this didn’t blow our socks off. It could have been the budget wine tasting, or the winter fields, but I think it had more to do with our being spoilt in Cape Town – with what we have right on our door step. We Capetonians live with our bums in the butter (and our noses in the vineyard). Napa has world-class restaurants and boutique shops but unless you go there with a rather large and lavish cheque book, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

We did a whole lot of bad planning on our way up to the Redwoods, and for the first time on our trip… we ran out of petrol. (Truthfully, it was very nearly our second. In Mexico we almost ran out in the middle of nowhere, so we were thankful it was the US and not there!) We were saved by lovely country folk more than happy to cart us around to the nearest gas station, and what could have been a disaster turned out to be a lovely morning in the country, shooting the breeze with locals and hearing their stories.

 

I have often wondered how boundaries between States were decided on, but after now driving through 23 of them, you can often notice a sudden change in scenery or vegetation. Frequently an accent change goes hand in hand with it. There is no doubt that people are different too. Although we enjoyed California, we found ourselves relieved to be through it. The American belief that they have everything bigger and better, has its headquarters in California. We found people to be a whole lot less friendly, with their heads wedged more firmly up their own backsides. No disrespect (we have some very good friends who are from California). It is a beautiful State, no doubt, but there definitely seems to be a vibe that they are somehow better than everyone else. Of course this could just be their dislike of us Africans sauntering about insulting their drought, while simultaneously lapping up their good weather. While I would dare say that the mid-upper West Coast has been my favourite area in the States thus far, not having at least one hefty hound, and being a straight married couple with 2 children, did not count in our favour.

Obviously, California was not all bad (I hope that’s not the impression I’ve given). We spent just over a month in the State and it certainly has a bit of everything going for it. Redwood National Park, you most certainly stole my heart though. After a hike (bike in the kids case) through the forest, I wished we had hurried through the first part and spent a bit more time here. The kids l.o.v.e.d it! The paths through the forest are perfect for mountainbiking, and Shaun and I found ourselves wishing yet again, that we had bikes with us. Had we known this winter would be so mild and devoid of snow, we would have without a doubt made a plan to cart our bikes around with us too – we have missed them! We can’t believe it’s the end of Jan and we have yet to see snow falling. We have stood in it, played in it, lay in it, skied in it, but still never seen it fall, not more than a few flakes anyway.

A very busy month it has been, and it is clearly taking its toll, a very dear friend said to me the other day that she has never seen me looking so tired. That is saying a lot when I have had 2 children a year apart! So next on the travel agenda is ‘Get more sleep’! So with that, I bid you all farewell, so I can try and sneak in a few hours before tomorrow’s adventure. XOXO

Standing in front of a Giant Redwood in Sequoia National Park

General Sherman… Sir!

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I’ve always found the thought of saluting someone rather peculiar. It is not something I have ever done, nor something I intended doing. As both my father and Shaun can attest, men pulling rank just doesn’t sit well with me (although to be fair I don’t think Shaun would try). Then I stood before the General. So majestic, so stately, that I almost couldn’t help myself! My meager 31 years did nothing against his near 3 000, I practically felt a curtsy coming on.
Standing in a forest full of trees this size can really put your life in perspective. There is no doubt you see things differently, maybe not forever, but certainly while you are standing there. The world seems different, enchanted and full of magic. I almost expected to see fairies nestling amongst the fallen branches and frogs singing “We All Stand Together” in chorus. It’s like stepping into a different world, one in which we are so tiny and insignificant, nature shows you how resplendent and grandiose it can be when it feels like it.
The whole of Sequoia National Park, from the incredible Giant Forest and Moro Rock, to the heartbreakingly large tree stumps that could make you cry just imagining someone benumbed enough to cut them down, scream with magnificence.

 

Yosemite National Park is no exception. Although lacking the girth and height of Sequoia’s trees, it most certainly leaves you floored with its astonishing natural display. We were lucky enough to hike on both days we were there, we seem to be dragging warm African temperatures around with us, and this meant that the normally snow covered National Parks were little more than mildly icy with sporadic patches of dirty white snow. Screaming in unison with the National Parks, were Lincoln and Lola, although less with magnificence and more with delight. So happy were they to be allowed back on their bikes after 3 weeks in the snow, that anyone within a 2 km radius would have known the kids were on their bikes, and thrilled about it! We naughtily disobeyed ranger rules in favour of our sanity and let the children maraud down the almost empty tar track to one of the waterfalls, where we then took them bouldering up the riverbed to the waterfalls. Shaun loves to climb; I prefer to hop around anything I have to climb. Shaun loves to teach the children to climb; I prefer to rock myself quietly in a corner while he does it. My feet sweat, my heart thumps, and every time one of them stands up straight I yell at them to sit down. It is just better if I follow at a distance, and yes, let Shaun be a Dad. I feel like mothers are not welcome when their paranoia and needless hovering is more likely to get their children hurt than simply not being there. So this allowed me the opportunity to hang back and take some pics, the far less painful option.

The following day’s hike was up a somewhat steeper mountain. Great day, great mountain, not so great Lincoln. He decided this was the day to be grumpy and refuse to walk (ok, he’s only 3 I know, but really, of all days?!) so into the backpack he went. Roughly 6km’s, largely made up of tar path and stairs, alerts you to how America does things differently. If that trail were in South Africa, it would undoubtedly be dirt trail with markers pointing the way. Being in such incredible natural surroundings, yet having to walk on such a man made trail really detracts from the hike. It feels like it would be more authentic if you had to rough if up a little, rather than be constantly reminded of how many people had been there before you. It did lead up to an astonishingly high waterfall and no help would have made this one tough baby to climb, but a bit of natural trail wouldn’t have hurt either. There was Lincoln’s blood (he’s always falling) our sweat and Lola’s tears (she tried to climb the railing and someone other than us grabbed her – she doesn’t take kindly to strangers touching her). It was a great hike but man were we exhausted parents when we got to the bottom.

It was sad we didn’t have time to hike through the Giant Forest too and spend days lost in it’s size and fairy-tale ecosphere, but with time marching swiftly along we had to drag ourselves down possibly the twistiest road known to man, and into the dustbowl know as California.

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The California dustbowl Jan 2014

 

Saying California is in the middle of a drought would be the understatement of the year. We were gob smacked! I had it in my head that it would be green, lush, full of farms and chirping birds, land of milk and honey if you will. Granted it is the middle of winter, but ‘milk and honey’ notions aside, nothing could have prepared us for the barren land that awaited us. There were warnings on TV about the unhealthy air conditions, and as we descended into middle California we understood why.

Hundreds of kilometers of dry, desolate farms, windswept land you can see hadn’t been farmed or used for anything other than walking cattle across in years. Cattle ranches disturbing enough to make me consider becoming a vegetarian – almost, and then plane old nothing – just hills of dust. It was more than a relief to crest the rise that eventually gave way to dry vineyards, and finally the Californian coastline. Shaun and I had bets on as to who would see the sea first, it felt like we had been away from it for months, not weeks, and as we climbed out the car Lola smiled and said; “It smells like home”. It sure did. Man did that bring a tear to my eye. 12 500 km’s later and we were being rewarded with a beautiful reminder of home. It really was special – thank you California. xxx

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Our trip to date. October 2013 – January 2014

 

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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