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Groot Winterhoek 2014

In April 2014 we hiked for 3 days in the Groot Winterhoek. Despite a lot of discussion about the weather and some tentative forecasts we started from Veepos somewhat later than planned. After wishing Andrew Knight happy birthday for his 17th birthday (and eating muffins instead of cake) we set off on the long route down towards our intended destination of Perdevlei. The weather stayed good and we walked through the fantastic landscape of the Groot Winterhoek. As most of the scout had never visited this Wilderness area before, it was a new experience. We had limited the hike to ages 13 and over only and for the first time in several years we had to turn scouts down due to limited space.

Towards mid afternoon, it became clear that we would only get to Perdevlei very late on, possibly only after dark. We thus decided to change the plan and sleep at Groot Kliphuis, arriving at our destination at around 4.30 in the afternoon. Surrounded by outstanding views of majestic mountains and completely isolated from other people, we set up camps in a grass area near the oak trees, made supper and settled down for a game organised by Nick and Bruna. It was soon apparent that this was going to be one very cold night and the scouts slept close together for warmth. And so it proved to be, a very cold night, lots of dew and a breeze of freezing air to keep everyone (with the exception of Nick and Bruna who had a tent and Ian who had an adequate sleeping bag) if not cold, at least aware that it was very cold outside of a sleeping bag.

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We set off early on the next morning, visiting the cave structure at Groot Kliphuis and heading down the valley towards Perdevlei before veering off to the right so as to head towards our destination of De Hel. We picked up and followed the Klein Kliphuis river for much of the morning and afternoon, passing under the foot of the Groot Winterhoek mountain itself (and tossing around plans to climb to the top one day) and reaching the bridge on the way to De Hel after lunch. The last hour or so was along the road with everyone feeling quite tired and foot sore and hoping for the sight of the large oak trees that would indicate the end of the day. We reached the end at about 4:00pm, taking up residence under the oak trees in temperatures that were clearly warmer than the previous day. After a short rest, most of the scouts did the extra 45 minute walk to De Hel where clear cases of insanity became apparent as they swam in the freezing waters of the pool. A walk back to the campsite, supper and an early night indicated that everyone was tired.

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The last day was the walk out from De Hel to Veepos, a real test of stamina towards the end of the day. Leaving from the campsite at about 8 we reached the last swimming pool for an early lunch at about 12 where once again insanity prevailed and there was swimming in the still freezing waters of the river. After this refreshing break, we headed up towards Veepos and fell victims to false ridge syndrome (the end is just over the next ridge!).

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Somehow the end seemed to take a very long time to arrive and the path did not follow the map which did not help mental adjustments to deal with extra distance still to be walked. Neither did Liam who had become a gazelle and spent his time running up and down hills with an over abundance of energy. Eventually we reached the forest station and plodded our weary way down to the cars and the trip home, punctuated by a stop at the garage for a drink. Joseph, who was the youngest member, commented that “I am not sure I will ever walk again” a feeling was doubtless reciprocated by several members of the group. Until the next time, that is…

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