22 Jun A Rain-Soaked Adventure in the Boosmansbos Wilderness Area
We’d been hiking in soft-but-steady rain for seven hours when our veneers of positivity started to crack. Morale had been high within our group of 12 hikers when we set off from the main gate of Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, but now in the mountains, amidst the rain and clouds and mud, our spirits sagged like a water-heavy tent canopy. Within our group we had a mixed bag of experienced and novice hikers. Some enjoyed the rain, while others were beginning to have minor outbursts against it.
At one point, through a combination of light rain and strong wind, the rain started blowing up the mountain. I thought of the film Forrest Gump and how he describes the different types of rain in Vietnam. I think some of our group may have felt like the hike was our Vietnam. In the cloudy conditions our biggest source of entertainment were the giant earthworms we came across the path. Stirred by the wet conditions, the earthworms were nearly a metre long and drew a mixture of disgust and interest from our group.
‘We’re normally so lucky with our weather. We’ve never have a bad day hiking,’ Leon had said the day before, jinxing us. But it was true, in the year and a half since we had started doing these overnight hikes, we had somehow always been very lucky with the weather. It seemed our luck had run out, with our girlfriends in tow for the first time. As one of them said in a moment of dejection, ‘This is my worst nightmare.’ There was nothing left to do but put on a smile and keep marching towards our hut for the night somewhere above us.
We eventually found the hut, four stone walls and a roof, just as the last light was fading. Dry clothes could save us, but we didn’t have any. Everything in our backpacks was wet, including our sleeping bags. In delirium, my girlfriend kept repeating in disbelief, ‘Everything is bloody wet.’ When I told her it would be ok, she told me, ‘I didn’t realise I was speaking aloud.’ We ate and fell into a tired sleep, hoping the next day would bring a change.
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve encompasses 250 hectares of indigenous forest in the Langeberg region, near Swellendam. It’s the most significant stretch of indigenous Afromontane forest left in the south-western Cape, but we were actually headed through the reserve to the neighbouring Boosmansbos, a wilderness area in the Langeberg Mountain. Here there are 64km of unmarked paths, and the idea is to choose your own. The aim of a wilderness experience is to find no sign of humans, not even the lights of a farm and to be totally self-sufficient as not even fires are permitted.
Boosmansbos is named after a resident hermit of the early 19th century who had been known to scare off visitors and was a major reason the forest stayed untouched. We had read In a guidebook that the mountains were, ‘Arguably the most breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery outside of the Drakensberg.’ So when we woke in the morning and strong sunlight beamed through the old wooden door of the hut, we jumped up eagerly to find out just where we were. The veil of mist and clouds had lifted to give us a perfect day. Gigantic mountains cut like emerald crystals towered above us, a small river alive with the sounds of loud frogs trickled past nearby, bright blooms of fynbos dotted the hillside, and birds sang out as if to greet the sun.
We laid out our wet socks on the rocks to dry, had a session of amateur yoga to coax our bodies back into life, and then had breakfast, fruit and muesli, in the warm morning sun. Just like the weather, our mood had transformed and suddenly the mountain air bubbled with our laughter and banter.
Soon we were back on the trail, which would loop back towards Grootvadersbosch. Our socks were dry and water bottles were full. We marched in awe of the dramatic mountain terrain to our left, often stopping in the first hour to take photos. Below us, a wild indigenous forest sat untouched – the forest the hermit had helped protect. Fragrant mountain fynbos such as proteas and ericas lined the trail and we walked slowly to savour the views we had not been lucky enough to see the day before. A bushbuck crossed our path and we spotted a couple of double-collared sunbirds.
We had lunch next to a river, where we swam and waded upstream to explore unseen pools. This was the experience we were after, to find a feeling of isolation from the outside world and spend time in untouched nature. The first day had been a real challenge but we could take strength and pride from it. Despite the terrible conditions, we had endured and been rewarded with a perfect second day. I said as much to my girlfriend and asked her if she’d be back. ‘Definitely,’ she said, ‘But if it’s raining, I’m not getting out the car.’
Fancy yourself an outdoors(wo)man ready take on the beauty of Boosmansbos? We’ve gathered a few hiking essentials to get you started: