To Hell and Back

 The fearsome Spaghetti Pass is the gateway into Gamkaskloof or Die Hel, which is an isolated valley contained within the high mountains of the magnificent Swartberg range.  In my case, “Familiarity breeds Contempt” does not apply. 

The thought of meeting another car on one of the sharp hairpin bends pulverises me with terror.  But Lady Luck was with us and we drove up and down with never a vehicle in sight.

To borrow a phrase from Tant Sannie’s shop in the valley, it was a “groot koekerasie” to prepare for this trip.  We had old Varsity friends visiting from Scotland and climbing friends coming from Cape Town.  There was plenty of packing into cool bags and black boxes and the worst that happened was too little milk, which necessitated a visit to the shop.  The feared high temperatures never materialised and some rain on Thursday made for excellent hiking conditions.

En route, there was a  sharp wind blowing at the top of the Swartberg Pass, so we decided to have lunch under the old Cork Oak, which is a famous landmark on the Gamkaskloof road.  Protea eximia has established a near monoculture near the eastern end.  It was in full flower, so a magnificent sight.  Spectacular views and beautiful plants were a feature of the drive into the middle of nowhere.  We were staying in Oom Piet se Huis on the western side of the river on the Doctor’s property.  The sluice gates of the Gamka Dam had been opened and crossing the milky-green rushing water was quite an adventure.  I was expecting it to seep into the cab at any moment.  We left a spectacular bow-wave behind us.  As the evening progressed,  “Do you remember when….?” recalled some undergraduate stories of high adventure in the Western Cape mountains some 50 years ago, when they were still young and enterprising members of the UCT Mountain and Ski Club.

Early on Thursday morning we headed west towards Die Leer, which was Bill’s objective. He’s been wanting to explore that area for years.  This was after we had to jumper-lead the Drifter to get her to move.  What is it with the Turner vehicles?  The simple answer is that they are geriatric just like their owners.  We did a short sortie into a kloof, but stopped short when the path petered out.  Die Leer is a steep path, which zig-zags up to a jeep track leading to the Bosluiskloof road.  The weather was overcast with clouds scudding across from the south-west, dropping the odd sharp shower of wind-driven raindrops.  The views were magnificent.  When we got down from Die Leer, we explored another kloof to the southwest.  Here I saw a 2m high Aspalathus, which I don’t recognise.  No doubt, The Boy and Prof Charlie will give me the name.  There were only 5 plants.   By now, the rain had strengthened and we were drenched.  The evening braai was transformed into a  potjie, as the rain continued to fall.

The weather was mainly clear the next morning and we decided to explore a kloof just next to the house.  There was a tiny little yellow Daisy growing on the sandy bottom below the high rock walls.  I thought it looked familiar, but it took me a while to realise that it was Arctotis sp. nova (rivulicola) discovered by Jan Vlok and soon to be described by Dr Robert McKenzie.  It has only been seen in Tierkloof at Gamkaberg, Steering se Kloof at Matjiesvlei and now in Gamkaskloof.  A very exciting find!  And then it was “Home James and don’t spare the Horses” after a memorable few days in Die Hel with old and valued friends.


Di Turner (Outramps)


The Hell (Gamkaskloof) (Photo: Di Turner) 

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