The Amatola Hike is a 6-day, 5-night hike (+-106km) in the Eastern Cape through the Amatola Mountains. The trail starts at the Maden Dam near King Williams Town and ends near Hogsback. The Amatola Trail varies in height from 518m at Maden Dam to 1850m at Geju Peak.
You hike through Indigenous Forests, over mountains, past endless waterfalls and running streams, open grassy patches, pine forests, rocky terrain…
It is a tough hike. The days are long with very steep uphill’s and descends, so don’t under-estimate it! The paths are rather narrow and most of them are at an angle. You do some scrambling and must watch out for roots & grass that are a tripping hazard and of course the loose rocks. We found the route to be fairly well marked but you must keep looking out for the yellow markings. Some are on the ground on rocks and others are on a tree and if you are focusing on where to put your foot next you could miss a turn.
Try and keep your backpack light and take only what is really necessary. At the end of the blog I will make a list of what most of us packed for the long hike.
What I did not know was that some of the paths have nothing on the side to catch you but drop many miles down, so if you slip or trip or miss a jump over a bit of a gap…
I froze a few times due to my fear of heights, but was very lucky to have some amazing friends that helped me through the really scary parts. Day 4 was my worst but I had help, took it really slow and got through the stretch with shaky legs and a few tears of pure relief at the end. My personal feeling is that if you have a Horrible fear of heights… this is NOT a hike for you as almost every day has a heart stopping moment.
I had a back injury the month before the hike (still not sure what caused it) but my fitness level dropped and I really felt it! You must be fit and capable of hiking a minimum of 8 /10 hours a day, never knowing what Mother Nature might throw at you. We only had rain on the 1st day and the last day it poured. The other days were really perfect.
We all arrived the night before the hike and stayed at Away with the Fairies backpackers. Lovely place with all the basics you need before and after a hike. Amatola Trails arranged our shuttle to the start, gave us a few pointers about the hike along with the necessary emergency numbers and kept our cars safe while we were away. Just a pity the guy that gave us the talk has never done the entire hike himself and told us all to leave our pots behind as there are plenty at the huts. We decided to just take our own stuff as we don’t know what condition theirs would be in. Only to discover there was not one single pot available!
Ok, that is enough chit-chat, let me get down to the short day to day and photos. My camera started to packed up on day 2 but I had my cell phone and still managed to get a few photo’s here.
Amatola day 01 – Maden Dam to Gwiligwili Hut – 10.5km
We all met at Away with the Fairies for our shuttle to our drop off point at Maden Dam. A rather rough ride considering the animals, potholes and rain, but we thankfully arrived safely.
After a rather wet group photo we started off at about 8:00 for a very wet and very slippery walk to Gwiligwili hut.
We were told to follow the yellow markings along the way and to always keep right, but somehow the group split up into 4, as 1 lot walked right past the markings, another missed a turn and of course 4 of us are a bit slower than the rest. “The Bimblers” (to walk or travel at a leisurely pace) A good thing this happened on the shorter 1st day as it kept everyone more aware of each other the rest of the hike.
We all eventually arrived at the hut at different times cold and wet. After a nice Cold shower, I felt much better. 🙂 Hung up my clothes on the makeshift washing line that Bijnse put up for us and was even spoiled to a nice mug of red wine and a warm fire make by Andre. He needed to braai his meat but we needed to warm up and dry our shoes a bit. If you keep your shoes a good distance from the fire and keep a watch over them, they will not melt and pull apart as some people believe.
The Gwiligwili huts are really lovely, clean and in good condition. The walkway from the hut to the showers and fireplace was very slippery and we had to go slow.
Here and there a bed is broken but there were more than enough fixed ones. As for the ablution…. The 2 toilets are long-drops that requires a nose plug but if you kept the door open it was bearable. The showers reminded me a bit of dog kennels but at least they had running water. If you are desperate you can make a fire in the donkey and wait 2 hours for a warm shower. We all opted for a quick cold shower. The wash basin was blocked and nobody wanted to put their hand into that mucky mess, but it was the only water tap so we had to used it.
Amatola day 02 – Gwiligwili Hut to Dontsa Hut – 19.6km
We woke up to beautiful clear skies. We only started our hike at about 6:45 and then got lost within the 1st 1 km due to bush clearing. They must have cut the tree with the marking as all 11 of us missed the path, but luckily the front people realized that there were no markings and stopped us walking too far.
The path was still very muddy and slippery from the previous day and night’s rain. We concentrated so hard on the steep downhill that we all missed the next marking showing us to go UP and not continue Down! This made us all even more aware to looking out for the yellow markings. We were told to fill up with water as it was a long day without much water, but we had quite a few water points that we could stop and fill up or just enjoy a mug of cold, fresh mountain water.
The 2nd day was a really LONG Day with many ups and downs and nothing really spectacular that I can think of except that I was wondering; “why the hell did I decide to do this hike…” 😊
Due to the length of the day, getting lost twice and a bit of a late start our breaks were very short and by the time we got close to our hut and it gave us an option to go a waterfall most of us opted to go straight to the hut. After arriving at the hut only 4 people went down to the waterfall to swim in a rather shallow pool. Apparently, it is quite a scramble to get to the waterfall and not really worth it.
The Dontsa Hut is really nice with 4 sets of rooms and a huge open space between for cooking etc. The balcony was also a great place to sit and relax. As for the ablution… the toilet is quite a walk down from the hut but at least it was a flushing toilet and reasonably clean. I sadly cannot say the same for the shower! A make shift contraption built with planks and shacking with about 10 drops coming out of a hand-held shower. Bijnse and Andre make a fire in the donkey and only when we had all showered did they discovered that the valve was closed so Bijnse was the only one to benefit from a warm shower with a bit more water.
Next 3 days…