Nothing beats a snow adventure! First Ascent Ambassador Henko Roukema, shares with us his photo journal from his trip to the Matroosberg Mountains.
Snow, we all love it! When we think of snow, images of snowball fights, fun and laughter comes to mind. But how is it to spend a night camping in the freezing cold, instead of just enjoying it while the sun is out shining?
Let me take you on a visual journey of such an experience. Always watching the weather forecast in winter, finally a prediction came with a good amount of snow forecasted! Excitement building! A quick call to the farmer at Matroosberg confirmed that he will allow us to sleepover, they are usually quite cautious and check the weather conditions themselves before they will allow anyone to sleepover on the mountain while there is snow and bad weather forecasted.
Matroosberg is a 2 hour drive from Cape Town if you take into account the mandatory coffee stop in Ceres. Arriving at the gate we were greeted by a queue of about 20 4x4’s. If you’re going on a weekend make sure to arrive early! Before the gates open at 7am, but best would be to go during the week when there is no one around. After the mandatory permits were obtained, it was a short drive to the trail head, let the adventure begin!
Photo credit: Antonie Speirs and Henko Roukema
Arriving at the trailhead, the mountain was covered in clouds, there is always doubt as to what the weather will do but hoping for the best as the forecast showed clear skies! At least we knew now that there was plenty of snow.
The trail is actually a well-trodden path, that gently meanders its way up a kloof, next to a stream which provided some background music and the freshest drink available - the snow increasing as we gained altitude.
As we progressed the clouds started to deteriorate, giving a chance for the sun to peep out and give us some much needed warmth.
Looking at the rocks, and seeing the icicles hanging from every nook and cranny, gave us a clear indication as to how cold it will get once darkness fell.
After about an hours stroll - there is no rush in the mountains, and with our bags leaning towards the heavier side. We arrived at the Ski club hut. The ideal spot for a break and some banter with the members at the hut.
Slogging a bit further we arrived at the nekkie looking down into Groothoek kloof, this is also where the 4x4 route ends. From here one follows a very rugged 4x4 track up all the way to the summit.
We obviously still had to make some snowballs. Even grown men are allowed too.
A very big male baboon, he certainly wasn’t as stoked about the snow as I was. Quite funny watching him walk on his hind legs trying to escape the biting cold. He should get himself a pair of First Ascent Velocity Snow gloves!
A mamma baboon with her young cuddling to escape the cold!
Looking back at the nekkie , you can see why I was so eager to escape the mad crowds and diesel fumes... A downside to the mountain being so accessible.
The further one climbs, the harder you work, the more I enjoy the view. Some say one cannot fully appreciate beauty, if it goes with physical exhaustion, but for me, personally, there is nothing more beautiful than a spot which I’ve had to work for to reach.
After a few hours we reached the summit with not a cloud in sight, keen to explore! But listening to my mountain senses we decided to first get our camping sight sorted!
As we were busy setting up camp, which involved a lot of stomping around to flatten a piece of snow for the tent. With a scenic view of course, the clouds engulfed us, it wasn’t long before we could only see a few meters ahead of us, complete white out!
Even making some coffee gets a bit more interesting in the snow as you have to melt some snow and bring it to boil, hence make sure you bring enough fuel for your stove! You will use more than double that is normally required.
The darkness of the night crept up ever so slowly as we lay in the tent in our comfy warm Ice breaker sleeping bags. Snow pattering on the flysheet accompanied by great conversation. By 23h00 we were amazed to see the milky way above us, the cold clean air always makes the stars show-off all their glory!
With our headlamps off, our eyes adjusted to the darkness, and we saw that the clouds had dropped down into the valley below making for a clear night sky full of stars and blocking most of the light pollution from the surrounding towns. As lucky as one can get!
Playing around a bit with the cameras, and simply staring at the beauty of the nature around us.
One doesn’t get a better campsite than this. With not a breath of air blowing, the temperature was well below freezing with my small keychain thermostat showing -6 degrees Celsius!
My view as soon as I opened the tent, a bright clear and sunny day! We slept late, embracing the warmth of our sleeping bags.
Ant had a better view from his side of the tent!
Ant, with the thousand mile stare, taking it all in.
Myself, feeling slightly insignificant next to the grandeur of Groothoek kloof!
After coffee, breakfast and more admiration of our view, it was unfortunately time to pack up again.
Hiking down, we had multiple stops to admire the scenery.
What is happiness?
The road to the trailhead took its toll, arriving back at the bakkie to find we had a flat tire! But no problem we were soon on our way to Ceres to buy some well-deserved tasty snacks!
Looking back at Matroosberg with antelopes in the foreground. A stark contrast to the time spent in the snow. It is a pity that our snow in SA melts so fast, it is always best to be on the mountain right after it has snowed.
In all, from home to home it was 32 hours. The hike down is easy and fast. What more does one want? If you’re willing to invest in the right gear, it is a pleasurable experience! You can fight off most of the cold and camp in comfort! It is a bit more work than normal overnighting on a mountain but what an adventure!