Kloofing is the art and science of hiking down a river. In the Western Cape we are lucky to have several rivers that we can kloof in. Kloofing though is not like a conventional hike. Most kloofing is preceeded by the hike in – the length to get from the cars to the point where you enter the river system. There can also be the hike out – getting back to the cars. Then there is the time in the river system.
The hike in and out is conventional hiking. You need shoes you can walk in for several kilometres, water and food. What you bring in your pack and on your body has to be what you are prepared to kloof with. If you hike in boots you will have to carry those boots in your backpack all day… so rather hike in shoes you are going to kloof in.
Once you enter the river system you have to accept that everything you have can potentially get soaked and thrown over waterfalls. Delicate electronic equipment is thus not recommended. This can make kloofing a little more risky than average hiking as cell phones are more likely to get wet or damaged. Reception is not really likely so it is probably better not to bring one along. Camera’s are also a risk unless they are waterproof and impact resistant.
You should wear tough lightweight shoes with a good grip. Sandals are not recommended and bare feet are also not viable. It is usually better to wear socks as it prevents friction, especially when sand gets into your shoes. Board shorts are a good idea as they dry quickly as is a synthetic T-shirt. Cotton clothes remain wet for a long time, create friction and get heavy when wet. A gentle breeze will soon make you cold so try to avoid cotton, if possible.
A hat is essential (kloofing is nearly always done in summer) as is sun block.
You must carry at least 1 litre of water, more if the hike in or out is long. Lunch and snacks are important for day kloofing. You should, as always, bring a personal 1st aid kit and sun block. It is important to bring a warm top. As always the weather can turn quickly and being wet will increase the risk of hypothermia.
Everything in your bag must be waterproofed (except the waterbottle). Waterproof bags can be purchased from Cape Union Mart or you can use plastic bags. Shopping bags are not waterproof. You should have two layers of waterproofing and the bags must be tied with string. If your waterproofing fails you equipment will get wet and incredibly heavy so make sure you waterproof properly.
Kloofing is tiring and by the end of the day you can run out of energy. It is a good idea to ensure you have some energy snacks for the last section of the kloof to keep you going to the end. This can be particularly useful where the last part of the kloof is in the water and the sun is going down. Cold, wet and tired is not a good combination.
Kloofing is more dangerous than most hiking so there are some basic rules to follow. The hike leader will re-iterate these rules at the beginning of the hike.
- Never, ever dive into a pool, regardless of whether you can see the bottom or not. Pools are always jumped into feet first and only after ascertaining that there is sufficient depth and no underwater obstacles (sunken trees for example). The hike leader will give you permission to jump when he is satisfied that the jump is safe. There are too many cases of quadraplegics who dived into pools to take this risk.
- Don’t spread out. It is very easy to slip on wet rocks and fall. If you are too far ahead or behind no-one will know that you have fallen (possibly unconscious into water). It takes a very short time to drown. Always stay in visual contact of the main body and wait patiently for everyone to catch up. If you are behind, ask for everyone to wait while you catch up.
- Be careful of your footing. Rocks can be slippery and it is easy to fall. Rocks can also shift underfoot so what appears to be a stable rock can easily shift. In at least one case we know of a boulder rolled on top of someone, injuring them seriously and for life.
- Sunblock is absolutely critical. The sun reflects off the water and you will get severely burnt if you do not put sunblock on and reapply it at frequent intervals. A hat is also essential but will not prevent you getting burnt because of reflected glare.
- Remember to drink. You are surrounded by water and it is easy to forget to drink water. You can, ironically, become dehydrated while standing in a river!
- At the end of a day kloof you will have to get in a car and drive home. It is a pleasant feeling to change into dry clothes and not wet the car seat. Leave a change of clothes and a towel in the car for the end of the hike.
So you should pack:
- Clothes for kloofing in
- Warm top
- Food (including snacks)
- First Aid Kit
It is a good idea to bring a change of clothes and a towel to leave in the car for when you get back to the car. Having dry clothes to change into at the end of the day makes a huge difference to your experience of kloofing. Also having a waterproof bag to put your wet clothes and hike bag into in the back of the car is a good idea and makes the owner of the car happy.