AMATHOLE Day 6 – Zingcuka Hut to Tyume River 15km
I’m just going to be upfront and throw in the following disclaimer: Today was my least favourite day. Call it an unfortunate series of events, a bad batch of factors, or simply the culmination of a challenging journey … but a lot went ‘wrong’ on this last stretch of the Amathole.
The morning begins with an intense study of the hand-drawn map framed in the communal area of the Zingcuka hut. There are several route options to choose from – the easiest and most boring being a long stretch of jeep track. Or you can climb the last Hogsback peak (a staggering 1845m) – which we obviously opt to include on our day’s agenda. And then there are more ‘choose your own adventure’ paths thrown in the mix.
Goodbyes are exchanged and we set off with the other three backpackers through the Schwarzwald forest, passing a few more spectacular waterfalls which, to be honest, have become a bit like Springbuck on safari: worth acknowledging but not really all that noteworthy anymore. A section of jeep track allows us to pick up the pace and walk alongside each other for a while, but soon we turn a corner and begin a tiring ascent up the mountains. One part worth mentioning is when the path seems to momentarily disappear and I’m faced with a steep hill of dry branches and loose earth. I’m literally crawling up a wall of dirt! And it’s a little terrifying.
Once we reach open land, the others choose the non-mountainous route and we set off in the direction of the last peak. Tell-tale signs of civilisation are appearing, most notably in the nonplussed cattle we pass on our journey. It also means we shouldn’t really collect drinking water from these streams. By now we’ve given up on our search for the alleged last swim spot. A combination of bad signage and confusing map markings, I’d say.
This next stretch is pretty: Green fields dotted with yellow flowers. Wide open spaces. Wavy paths with a miniature Stephan and Karin up ahead in the distance. And then the 800m zigzag ascent begins and the mood all changes. The path is narrow and lined with dry scratchy plants that seem to tear open old shin scars from the days before. Flies and muggies are buzzing around my head (I can’t stand this) and it feels like the sun is beating down on me as if it’s the height of summer. Yet it is only 9am. My thirst is worsened by the fact that I am rationing my remaining millimetres of lukewarm drinking water into tiny sips. Every time I look up, the crest of the peak seems closer … but then Stephan traverses again and the path extends by more. I am utterly miserable and hating this section. The view may be spectacular, but the climb is dreadful.
When I finally reach the top (and I mean, finally), I’m in such a foul mood that the cool and shade of the rocks bring little solace. My parents top up my water, but we are all running low. We can see our backpackers from up here. It’s far to go, but we can see it and that’s enough to get me going again. My bag is at its lightest but my feet and knees have taken a beating. The walk along the ridge is rather adventurous and the descent isn’t too sudden or hellish.
The next trees we see become the hike’s last lunch stop. It’s almost bittersweet as we dig into our crackers, chicken, peanut butter, and cheese for the last time.
According to the map, there’s a ‘top route’ and a ‘bottom route’. We want to do the former and follow the familiar yellow feet in presumably the right direction. Like an oasis in the dessert, we find a beautiful clean stream and joyfully fill every water bottle we own, and I drench my shirt and cap in the refreshing liquid. What happiness the small things bring. Revitalised, we follow the path but soon feel like we are turning away from our intended direction. So we opt out, play it safe, and head to the split that was clearly marked. Alas, this is a couple of hundred meters back and we all know how annoying it is to walk back on yourself. (Little did I know this was just the beginning). At least we found much-needed water!
We descend into a pine forest and pick up the pace as the path widens into a jeep track of sorts. I’m getting tired and when I slip and skid a bit – within view of my mom – I’m reduced to a fed up and weepy child. I just want to finish this stupid trail now.
To cut a long story short, we have to walk back on ourselves not once, but twice more as we become more and more lost and confused by the complete lack of markings and yet myriad of new ones. We’re closer to the towns now and thus the grounds of several day loops and mountain bike trails surround us. Yellow feet point in both directions and are supplemented by random yellow arrows and blue footprints. It’s a nightmare. I can’t remember the last time I was this irritated. By the bugs, the heat, the tiredness and even the fact that I can’t walk away from the situation. But we press on because there has to be a finish.
And then almost as if out of nowhere, that heavenly sign appears: Congratulations! You’ve just completed 6 days – 100 km. I’m sorry to say I can hardly muster a smile for the group photo. But I am happy that it is finally over.
The path spills out onto a wavy white gravel road – another gruelling 3 kms or so back to Hogsback. A couple of people are chilling at a picnic spot nearby and one of the black women from their group rushes over excitedly, clutching her Blackberry. Perplexed, I jokingly ask if she wants a photo with the crazy white people who just walked for six days. Apparently she does! And the ridiculousness of this makes me smile.
Thankfully we’ve only dragged ourselves a few metres down the road when a passing police vehicle slows down. Stephan asks for a lift to go fetch the Landie and Karin asks if we can put our backpacks in the back. Which turns into: Can we put ourselves in the back? So there we are, hitching a ride with the fuzz and getting (hopefully) my first and only (very bumpy) ride in the back of a police van. Bless them, they take us right to the front porch at Away With The Fairies (where Marinus has been for about four hours already..haha).
Backpacks stashed and shoes off, we hit the bar for that drink Stephan and my dad have harped on about literally all day. Then a refreshing swim in the reservoir-type dam slash pool, followed by a hot heavenly shower. Everything takes about five times longer because I am moving at the speed of a ninety-year-old. Broken.
Dinner is a festive affair as we are joined by the rest of the clan and swop stories of getting lost – Rob even consulted a compass! – and I am one of the die-hards to go to bed last. About three hours later I’m awoken by four young and very drunk guys stumbling to their tent (the joys of staying in a backpackers) who have lost all respect and regard for fellow campers, their ability to whisper (impossible when drunk), and the majority of their vocabulary … which now comprises of shouted ‘f-bombs’. Now normally I’d just grit my teeth and wait for it to pass, but I’ve had a rough day and I’m feeling brave. And irritated. So I march over there, strip my moer and give these guys the fright of their lives. Ending with ‘and don’t even think about talking about me when I leave here because I can hear every word you say!’. Oh yes, I showed them. And they shut up. My work here is done.
The journey home is long, far, and mostly uneventful. We stay at a rather beautiful backpackers in Wilderness for a night and return to Cape Town safely the next day.
It takes a few days for my cankles and swollen feet to disappear and my cuts to heal. I justify not exercising because I feel like I must have built up some sort of credit, right? But most of all I feel grateful, proud and privileged. Grateful for the experience and getting through it uninjured. Proud of my parents (and me) for hiking that tough trail. For surviving. And privileged for having the opportunity to be so totally immersed in one of the most spectacular natural environments South Africa has to offer.
What an adventure. Thank you Amathole.