Originally I planned to hike from Algeria to Crystal Pools, passing Sneeukop and then looping back to Algeria. As Algeria turns out to be the most expensive camping I have yet encountered, I looked elsewhere, and came across Driehoek Farm. This required a slight rethink on our planned route, which in the end turned out to be a challenging hike during which besides one group of four at our overnight, we had the trails to ourselves.
Getting there: park at the Welbedacht sign in the Driehoek Valley.
Permits: the Cederberg Wilderness Area covers much of the Central Cederberg and is managed by CapeNature, which is divided into three areas. This hike falls into Area B. Permits must be booked in advance from CapeNature. A permit to overnight costs R120 per person per night, plus a conservation fee of R50 per person.
We used a number of sources to plan our hike: Mike Lundy’s Weekend Trails in the Western Cape which describes the route I originally had in mind which starts and finishes at Algeria, a 1:50000 topographic map purchased from the office at Algeria for R60.00, and Slingsby’s Cederberg Map. This was to be my first overnight hike since school days, so the planning phase was quite exciting!
Please ensure you understand the Wilderness Area concept before undertaking to hike in one. Specifically pay heed to the lack of shelters and toilets!
We parked the car under some impressive, but seemingly misplaced — and out-of-place, oak trees. The start to the route is at the Welbedacht sign. Welbedacht was the forestry station in the valley. It is difficult to imagine a forestry station in an area seemingly devoid of trees — apart from the crazy old oaks — as it turns out, they were felling the now endangered Cedar trees. We parked the car under the oak trees, and headed up the valley signposted Uilsgat. The trail is easy to follow, and is fairly level as it heads up the valley.
Towards the head of the valley it starts climbing slowly. The valley is quite beautiful, and features some of the largest Waboom I have ever seen.
There is a stream in the kloof, but it was not the best source of drinking water, and looked like it may well run dry at times.
At the head of the valley the track leads up the Old Uitkyk Pass — the pass into the valley before the current Uitkyk Pass was constructed. There is evidence of an established road, with rocks bearing the marks of holes drilled for blasting. It was here that we first started noticing Cedar trees growing high on the mountainside opposite, and soon started coming across the sad, silver carcasses of these beautiful trees (they only occur at high altitude in a very small area). We both fell absolutely in love with these beautiful trees, and they became an absolute highlight of the trip. The dead wood of these trees is highly fragrant, and the grain is magnificent.
We had lunch once we had exited the top of Uilsgatkloof and reached the Uilsgat Needles. At this stage live Cedar trees were becoming common. After this we headed across a plateau called Grootlandsvlakte before descending into Klein-Hartseer. At the end of Klein-Hartseer is a fairly steep climb out of the valley, with your only consolation being that you are near your over-night destination and a swim in one of the most beautiful series of pools anywhere on the planet.
We saw loads of spoor on the trail. Unfortunately I have no idea what animals had been there before us, but it was very exciting to think that some of them may have been leopard, which are known to be in the area.
Crystal Pools was our overnight destination. As we approached the river we passed a family of four: the first and only people we saw the entire trail!
What a beautiful spot! We found a flat space next to some big rocks about 15 meters from the river where we set up camp. The water in the river is crystal clear, and there are plenty of separate pools that are perfect for your evening bath and skinny dip.
Dinner was Back Country Cuisine Freeze Dri meals, and tinned peaches with custard for dessert, finished with coffee doctored with a dop of brandy. We then slipped into our sleeping bags and watched the stars and satellites passing overhead.
After a quick breakfast of Instant Oats and coffee, we packed up camp. Continuing on the path we arrived on, we crossed the river and headed up the well constructed path into the small saddle on the other side. Just over the rise you will reach the Crystal Pools Hut.
The trail continues down the slope until you turn right up Engelsmanskloof. The trail follows the stream flowing down the kloof, and at no time was it terribly steep.
At the top of the kloof you emerge on the plateau at the base of Sneeukop which now towers above you. Here we took a left onto the “Highway”. In retrospect, we should have taken the shorter route by going right to the Sleeppad Hut and not adding the distance resulting from almost circumnavigating Sneeukop. We found some stunning fynbos in this area: some kind of orchid, fields of watsonias, and what I am pretty sure were Snow proteas. I will definitely be coming back in winter to see if they were indeed Snow proteas.
Sneeukop is 1929m high, and is an impressive piece of mountain.
The section from the top of Engelsmanskloof to the Sneeukop hut was on the Highway which is easy jeep track. Sneeukop Hut is once again a very basic stone building on the eastern slope of Sneeukop. The video clip below is a 360-degree sweep of the area, and includes the hut.
From here on the trail does not seem well-used at all, and at times was somewhat unclear as it heads around into Eselbank se Hoek on the southern slopes of Sneeukop.
From here you head up and over the saddle before descending to the Highway. You will be looking back to the right to the top of Engelsmanskloof where you started your Sneeukop circumnavigation earlier in the day. You head down the slope to the left and join the jeep-track, and soon after you will see Sleeppad Hut down the slope on your right. You are now curving south towards Tafelberg, with Shadow Peak towering above you on the left.
Once you have passed the saddle between Shadow Peak and Tafelberg, you will head off the jeep track onto the trail and descend to Welbedacht, with the oak trees in the valley below soon becoming visible. The descent of Welbedacht Kloof into the valley was a knee-jerker of note. It was still hot, and to be honest, both of us were exhausted and had pretty sore feet. We arrived back at the car after sunset, and headed back to Driehoek to clean up, pack the car, and head back to Cape Town.