On the 23 February 2017, 12 members and friends of the Johannesburg Hiking Club hiked the Otter Trail, a 5-day hike along the South African coast. The hike starts at Storms River Mouth and ends at Natures Valley. What follows are the tales of those hikers…
UP TO THE CHALLENGE
My adventure on the Otter Trail did not start on the 22nd of March, rather the day I joined JHC.. For me it was a life changing decision culminating in many life changing experience including the Otter Trail.
Many poetic words are said about the Otter Trail that I would not justify repeating.. Its simply a hike that should be on everyone’s bucket list.. Do not question yourself if you are “up to the Otter challenge”. Just get started and you’ll see.
I was fortunate to have a leader whom I regard as my “BFF “ MARK - Who from the get go started to organise the trip in a systematic seamless manner -- Mark – You are simply the best and I truly appreciate your friendship, leadership and all that you did for the group.
Apart from the gracious opportunity to do the Otter – I also had the pleasure of hiking with the now famously labelled “ Dirty Dozen” You guys are awesome – The joy, laughter, learnings and stories that we shared with one another will forever be embedded in my memory.. Spending 5 days tackling the gruelling Otter Trail would not be a memory if it’s not done with likeminded, lighted hearted, humorous and kind people. I would jump to the opportunity to hike with you guys any day.
I take the learnings and experience I had with you in the Otter back to my everyday life with the intention of balancing the ”rat race” we are faced with and the humility one gets from hiking with a humble group of friends –
To anyone thinking about doing the Otter for the first time …
Dream It !!!! Plan it !!!!! & Execute it !!!!!! ….. After all it’s your dream
Having got onto the Otter by default quite late in the day, and never having done an away hike, it was with no small amount of trepidation that this journey was embarked upon! Lots of nasty creeping little doubts about being able to keep up with the more seasoned pack. Butterflies in the tummy? Nah - more like bats!
What a waste of energy. What followed was six days of pure bliss on a spectacular trail with an awesome bunch of people. Wonderful, colourful, diverse humans – each one adding a special piece of the whole.
Kim Donnelly. We missed you. I’m really sorry you couldn’t come, but I hope it makes it easier by knowing that you gave the person who took your place the happiest six days of her life to date.
And Mark – you rock! Thank you for allowing the free-range chickens to fly the coop!
Lance Armstrong wrote that 'it's not about the bike.' Despite the fact that he cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories, his words came to mind when I collected my thoughts about our JHC Otter Trail hike of February 2017.
Otter tracks in a cove at Bloukrans, fluorescent blue ocean washing onto the jagged spine of the shoreline, tortuous tracks through an emerald forest, mysterious black pools surrounded by blue, pink and white flowers - all gained greater poignancy because they were shared with kindred spirits. Dave with his wild greying locks, the young-at-heart trio of Greg, Brillo and Annie, the eternally energetic 'Duracell duo', the tranquil mom and daughter team of Kat and Annie, the mischievous eyes of Francois, Afzal's ready humour and the steady hand of Mark - if I take one thing from the Otter, it is the words Christopher Mcandless who said something along the lines of 'beauty is nothing if it is not shared.'
To my friends and Fellow hikers, Please see my little note.
It was at the dawn of day, when the dirty dozen took on the Otter to play and Mark the team leader, a comrade fighter, was never afraid to help out any hiker. Charmaine the road runner was a keen energetic hiker continuously providing her winning banner, when repairs were needed to my pants she was always there with an endless dance Then there was Bernard the 24 valve v8 hiker, who came back with a dash, only to have disappeared in a flash. The happy and considerate hiker Annie, always presented us with smiles that was oh so jolly.
Introducing Afzal the sport fisherman, the thoughtful and kind hearted hiker was going through a slump, but later had received a phone call from Donald Trump. I can never forget Katherine the scuba diver, who alone with her mother presented herself as this pretty hiker In addition was mom Anni, the iron lady hiker, who was the quieter but was ready to be a great fighter.
Brillo the caring hiker, with 7 Two Oceans and 7 Comrades would always decide to bide, making sure he is at his wife's side. Not to forget Craig the professional cyclist, the ongoing fighter hiker, who continued persevering as a trail biker. Introducing the story teller and famous harmonica blower,
Francois the league squash player , the fit and gritty fiddle hiker. Along came Greg,5 Comrades, the rescue hiker, that when I tripped over the edge from a root band, there was this voice from behind saying here, take my hand. Oh of course, I almost forgot. Then there was I. Nothing much to say, but with all the signs and "OOOHH NOOS". came friendly encouragements and woes, and every time I tackled a steeple, there was help and cheers from all the people. THANK YOU.
Love you all.
THE JHC DIRTY OTTER DOZEN
For some time, most of us have had the Otter Trail on our Bucket List! So, when the opportunity arose to join a group from the Club to take on this adventure, the dozen jumped at it.
Under the watchful eye and leadership of Mark Eifler, the trail walkers assembled with much trepidation at Storms River Mouth on Thursday 23rd of February.
The inimitable gang made up of: Craig Jenkinson, Bernard Robinson, Anni Marusich, Kat Marusich, Dave Ewart, Afzal Shaik, Charmaine Lautre, Francois van Jaarsveld, Brillo & Annie Gillham (guests from Morgan Bay), and Greg King. Five of the party on the wrong side of 60, but fighting fit and raring to go.
The Otter is hiked between Storms River Mouth and Nature’s Valley. Everyday a dozen hikers set off on this 5 day ordeal. Accommodation is in two rustic huts at each of the 4 'camps' with 2 bunk beds going 3 up. No lights; cold showers but thank goodness adequate toilets facilities!
You carry everything you need for the 5 days: (dehydrated) food, gas cooker, pots, clothes, (& a few tots of whiskey!) - all this normally comes in weighing about 15 Kgs.
Day 1 is not too bad - 6 Kms, but does require quite a lot of boulder hopping. Just before camp, one is greeted by the most spectacular waterfall. And crashing waves at your back.
Day 2 is a real challenge. Although 'only' 8 Km your total ascent & descent is 1 500 meters. But, from the higher vantage points there are the most spectacular views of this pristine, unspoilt coastline.
Day 3 is also 8 Km but much more forgiving than Day 2, but nevertheless a hard slog. Much of it deep into indigenous forest.
Day 4 is the interesting one. As you have to reach the Blaauwkrantz River at low tide, which is 10 Km from camp, it meant that we had to arise at 03:30 to start hiking at 04:00 with headlamps to reach the river at 10:00. Boots off, cozzie on, back pack into your waterproof pack and you wade through the river in this magnificent ravine. After crossing & enjoying breakfast, there is still another 4 Km to camp. The day's total ascent/descent is an eye watering 1 150 meters.
Day 5 starts with a formidable 200 meter ascent, but continues on a reasonably flat plateau until you emerge with the beautiful Nature’s Valley beach before you. Another 3 Kms and you arrive at the finish, the De Vasselot camp site, for a total of 10 Km for the day - and the adventure is over!
One of the daily highlights was the group sitting together around the fire after supper and going from person-to-person to relate your ‘Magic Moment’ of the day. This mirrored the incredible sights, sounds & experiences that the Otter Trail gives you.
Over the 5 days one covers a formidable total ascent/descent of 6 800 meters!
The sunsets that we experienced were simply out of this world!
No injuries just exhilarated, tired & exhausted bodies at the end of every day!
But what an incredible, awesome, unforgettable experience, but not for the feint hearted or the unfit!
Bucket list item ticked!
Filtered sunlight dancing on the evergreen, Afromontane forest floor. Fields of Wild Iris, ferns and Wild Garlic; a tranquil fairy paradise dotted with brightly coloured fungi. Gnarled roots forming treacherous, living staircases to negotiate.
Folded, quartzitic sandstone relentlessly thrashed by charging waves. Scrambling over walls of rock. Labouring up yet another steep ascent to round the corner to yet another breath-taking blue-hued seascape. Shockingly cold fresh- and sea-water pools inviting you to swim with the underwater locals. Roiling white water playing your bedtime lullaby.
Mussels perched on the seashore, their beards anchoring them at home. Dolphins leaping in the surf. Ever elusive Cape Clawless Otters leaving tell-tale footprints on the beach. Driftwood and pebble beaches, smoothed over aeons. African Black Oystercatchers, cormorants and gulls owning their real estate.
Gardens of fynbos flowing down the hills – proteas and ericas abound, with Bloukappie, Cross Berry and vygies as supporting cast members – a riot of reds, yellows, greens, violets, whites, pinks. Cape Sugarbirds flitting from one fast food-flower to the next.
Earth, water and air burnished fiery orange by the sunset. Every night’s campfire a chance to reminisce in wonder. The luxury of chocolate, liqueur and a warm sleeping bag. Jet black, liquid glass sky studded with thousands of flawless diamonds.
Looking back at the headlands passed on this 45km journey, one’s perspective distorted by sea spray.
Soft white sand of Nature’s Valley beach and Groot River Lagoon, marking the end of an extraordinary five days, surrounded by new friends who’ve been there!
To all my fellow hikers
… whom have done the Otter before me I bow to your generous and valuable information you have parted onto me as it helped me so much on my trip and as I listened intently and put everyone’s thoughts and ideas into one “basket” (ok my little mind )and then made a conscientious decision when I arrived at a particular “hazard” (re river crossings etc )on the route and led my party through without any serious injury and everyone was really happy that they had done it and smiles we abound by all.
To Bernard, Afzal, Charmaine, Dave, Brillo, Kathrine, Onni, Anni, Greg, Craig and Francios you guys made the hike unforgettable and what a great experience it was to have shared it will you all …I will do it again with you all in a heartbeat…
So when are we going again … this time to swim the Bloukraans and not to walk ankle high through it… but hiking through the night and the rain was a truly remarkable experience and great to see everyone’s spirit was still in high mode throughout the hike.
MEMOIRES OF ANNI M
New boots - new rucksack – ready to roll
Storms River and some trepidation – was I too ambitious in choosing Otter Trail as my very first away hike? I was not alone in my folly though, half our group were complete newbies!
As it turned out , no. The sights , sounds , smells and great company made it, if not a walk in the park, at least a most enjoyable slog.
It would require an entire book to even begin to describe the delights and tribulations of the Otter Trail.
The daintiest of flowers, star bright nights, fairy forests, pounding sea, laughing rivulets, deep,dark pools, dolphins, muscle sapping climbs, slippery descents, unidentified footprints, icy water, perfect weather, super,humorous companions.
Day 1 Wobbling like jelly. Rucksack shifting every which way.
Day 2 Finally find my centre of gravity. Just in time – a gruelling day.
Day 3 I'm in the swing of things
Day 4 Such fun!
Day 5 Oh no! Is this the end? It's way too soon!
Would I do it again ? Absolutely !!!
A BIG thank you to all involved – foremost our very able and organised leader Mark E , the comics who gave us a laugh a minute , the men who shared the ladies dorm , thanks for being such gentlemen, and the rest of the group who each in their own way added a special touch to this experience.