My adventure Geocaching in Hogsback, in the rain

As part of an elaborate engagement plan for a friend, I ended up in Hogsback a few weeks ago. Myself and a friend were armed with an iPhone, a Galaxy phone and Garmin GPS as well as a set of clues to go hide in 5 Geocaches in the area. It was both of ours first experience in the hobby.

While I’ve tried to not mention any clues which might help to locate the caches we found, I apologise if the intended effort fails.

The plan was to take a set of clues to place in five different already established geocaches. The couple in question would visit Hogsback the following weekend and find all the clues we had hidden, the clues would build up towards the proposal. It wasn’t the best weekend ever to go hiking around outside, but we had a set mission to accomplish.

geocache9 o’clock on Saturday morning we found ourselves driving on a dirt road out of Hogsback towards our first cache at Wolfridge Falls. It was chilly, it was raining and trees were hanging over the road most of the way, and we were having a little trouble with our GPS devices. We found the falls and keeping the hint in mind hunted around for about 20min without any luck. We then thought we had the wrong location and spent the next three quarter’s of an hour walking down the road and up random paths looking for a suitable location.

wolf (Large)

Wolfridge Falls

After getting our GPS functioning again we realised we were originally in the correct place, headed back there and spent another 20min scrambling around looking for the cache. Still no luck. Because this was more than just a personal goal, we caved and gave team iPajero a call. Now with a slightly better idea of where to find the clue; we saw where it most likely was. And thus were able to hide the first clue. It took much longer than we had expected and we decided to hurry on to the find the next cache in the hopes they wouldn’t all take that long to find.

wolf (2) (Large)

Wolfridge Falls cache

Next on the list was Kettlespout falls, a drive back to town and out along another road got us to the parking area to start the hike. A fairly short hike up to the falls, gave us time to turn the GPS on and locate the given GPS coordinates. A short search quickly yielded the cache, in which we logged our finding of it (using the day’s pseudonym, “Cold & Wet”) and planted the second clue.

kettle (Large)

Kettlespout cache

With the quick find giving us a boost of morale we hopped back in the car and headed towards 39 steps. Another short walk and a 10min search yielded our third cache of the day. Alas we had left the clue we were supposed to leave in the cache back in our car so had to walk there and back again to place it in the cache.

39steps (Large)

39steps cache

With the rain refusing to relent, we decided to get all the cache’s done before we dried out and got some lunch. Next on our list was the cache at the Chapel on the Hill. Not actually part of the challenge we were setting up, we went to scout out the location as a fall-back in case something went wrong on the day, or we weren’t able to hide all the clues.

kettlie (Large)

A lovely little chapel surrounded by trees, we had a good look around the area (keeping the hint in mind), searching for possible locations of the geocache. After 10min we found where we thought the cache should be, after half an hour of searching we conceded defeat and gave our friends at iPajero another call. He tried to explain where the clue was relative to the marker we had located, and we immediately realised we were in the wrong place as his description didn’t match what we saw. We then found the actual location of the cache. While our first location still tied up with the hitn provided, it was just unlucky that we found it first and the correct one only later. This was also our first introduction to the nano-cache. We opened it up, but decided not to log the find, mainly due to our unsteady and wet hands at the time.

Much smaller than we expected

Much smaller than we expected

With our enthusiasm taking another slight beating we figured we had to find the other two clues before lunch otherwise we’d probably never get to them. Next on our list was Urst100. I had mapped all the geocaches on a map to figure out an optimal manner to search for them. It wasn’t till we headed towards Urst100, that I read the clue, and saw the GPS coordinates given were for a potential parking place, and not the position of the cache itself. A quick recalculation had us heading out on the same road as the Wolfridge Falls, stopping earlier to hike down to the Madonna and Child Falls.

child (Large)

Urst100 cache

Having decoded the hint, we searched for about 10min before locating the cache and hiding our second last clue. From there we cut across towards our last cache of the day, the Hogsback Big Tree. A bit of trail running through the forest got us to the tree a bit earlier, giving us plenty time to search for the final cache.

Madonna & Child Falls

Madonna & Child Falls

We knew going in that this was going to be a difficult cache to find; many people had previously been unable to locate this cache. Once we got there it took us about 10min to locate the clump of trees in which the cache is located. The hint helps in this regard. Half an hour of searching proved to be fruitless, and it getting later in the day, and our stomachs beginning to tire of the milk bottles and wine gums we had earlier fed them, we decided to place a third call to the helpful team iPajero.

He was able to explain the general location of the cache, but not it’s exact location. Another 20min of searching resulted in another phone call. Another half an hour of searching and we decided to call it a day. We instead chose to hide the final clue in a location that it could be believed to be as part of the cache.

39 Steps

39 Steps

With that we beat a quick retreat to the car and our late lunch. While our first two attempts at securing a meal failed, the third led us to the Butterfly’s Bistro near Hogsback’s info centre. With a fairly wide selection of food and good service we both ended up opting for a delicious steak with vegetables and chips with a glass of gluwein to get us back to room temperature. This further aided by the wood-fire and being granted permission to remove our wet shoes and socks.

Overall it was a long day, sometimes it was great, some times we weren’t the happiest people, but it was a fun experience and is a great story to tell. It wasn’t really the geocaching experience I had expected, but from a challenge perspective was great. We set out from East London at 07h00 and arrive back 12 hours later, having got some good excersize, finding five of the six caches we had set out to locate and hiding the required five clues. Although the weather was lousy, it added to the experience :)

I was delighted to hear the following weekend that our efforts were not for nought, and the proposal all went off without a hitch, and occurred under blue skies to double. My thanks also go to team iPajero for their help in locating the caches, without whose help I don’t know what would have happened.

gcIt was odd to note, that after looking for a while, when you saw a place for hiding a cache, you just had a feeling of knowing it was the correct place. You search for a while, digging around, and then you just see this one random arrangement of rocks, and know that’s where the cache is hidden. Also that although the coordinates were useful for mapping these caches’ locations; for five of the six we found, a GPS device wasn’t actually necessary. Kettlespout required the coordinates, the rest were all located by specific features.

My Geocaching account is Fiddlings.

Amatola Hiking Trail

I recently (Nov 2011) had the opportunity to hike the Amatola Hiking from King WIlliams Town to Hogsback. A group of five other engineers and two BSc graduates made for great company along the 100km we covered in 6 days.

Each day’s route leads from one hut to the next. Five huts in total provided us with a warm place to rest, a reasonably soft bed to sleep on, and somewhere to cook. The Amatola trail is rated as one of the toughest hikes in Southern Africa, and although I’m a fairly bad judge of such things, I am quite likely to accept other people’s opinions on these matters. It must be said that it is an extremely beautiful hike. Majority of your progress is made through natural forest which reveals the widest variety of fungus you’ll ever see along with splendid displays of waterfalls.

We drove up from Stellenbosch, spending the night in a backpackers in PE (Lily Pond Backpackers – good facilities, well priced), and then heading on to Hogsback to spend the night before the first day. Both the night before, and after the hike we spent at Away with the Fairies Backpackers in Hogsback, quite nice huts, although the geyser didn’t make it halfway through our group when we finished the hike. That being said we did have warm water in the morning again, and the rooms were well kept and clean.

We caught a lift with a guy called Lawrence who picked the eight of us and our gear up at 6AM in Hogsback and dropped us at our starting point just outside of King William’s Town. After having driven up in pouring rain and going to sleep with thick fog, it was nice to wake up to some slightly overcast weather.

We carried a fairly nice map which displayed the various paths one can follow along with estimated times to complete. Day 1 was supposed to be about 16km, but we think we somehow managed a route less than 12km, as we did fairly amazing time to the first hut (Gwili-Gwili) arriving some time before 1PM.

On arrival we were greeted by cleaners busy neatening the hut and a man tending to the fire of a hot water donkey. In the past it seems that some huts contained gas water heaters or other apparatus, but when we did the route each hut had a standard fire heated donkey. So day one ended fairly early and with nice warm showers for each of us.

The huts themselves were generally in fairly good order. All of them are built from wood, and generally hidden from view by the surrounding forest. Most had some form of outhouse and shower facility. Gwili-Gwili itself had a four showers and two long drop toilets and a lovely braai area under cover.

Day 2 was overcast from start to finish. We opted for a slightly shorter route which skipped a waterfall. On arrival at Dontsa Hut, signs indicated that the waterfall was a mere 0.8km away, and so several of us went for a swim below the amazingly beautiful, and amazingly cold waterfall.

Two flushing toilets were located about 200m from the hut, and a single shower linked to the donkey was available. The only problem was the wood provided was extremely wet, which resulted in fires that were difficult to maintain and only slightly not cold showers. This ended up being a repeating theme throughout the hike. Each hut had a large axe (often chained to the ground) and an ample supply of wood, but it was generally too damp to make any type of successful fire.

Dontsa Hut

Day 3 lead us on to Cata hut. A fairly long, overcast day, uneventful for the most part. The last few kilometers are covered on a jeep track, which ends down in a valley where the hut is located. The hut is fenced in along with the other buildings, but the exact time line and planning involved in the building seemed to be absent from anyone involved’s knowledge. Again lukewarm water showers were had, and shortly after we arrived a drizzle set in.

Later that evening the rain started to pour down. And we had a spectacular thunderstorm with an amazing amount of rain, causing the water tanks to overflow. The huts and shelters provided lovely dry places to cook, eat and sleep.

Although you cross rivers quite a few times throughout the hike, up until this point I had managed to keep my socks dry, mainly due to my determination to jump over as many loose rocks as I needed, and aided by the slight water-resistant abilities my hiking boots possessed. But day 4 was a lot of walking through long grass, and within the first 5km my socks were soaked.

Throughout the hike the path is fairly well marked, a continuous strew of yellow footprints ensure that you know you’re on track, and, especially through the forests, the paths are fairly well worn. After the first few kilometres on Day 4, there is a split. A shortcut which heads straight up the mountain, or a longer, slightly flatter route which takes you up the slopes of a nearby hill. Apparently everyone takes the shortcut, as we got lost for what probably amounted to an hour over the next 5kms as we repeatedly lost the track. Even though it was further, and we lost the path several times, I was extremely glad we took that route, as it takes you past one of the highest points in the area, which allows you an amazing 280 degree view of the surrounding area and valleys.

The day ended at Nmyeni hut. While hiking you are constantly surrounded by the sounds of birds, but it is rare to ever see one, or so we found. On arrival at Nmyeni hut, we were greeted by our first proper sighting, that of a Knysna Lourie, it was short lived, but we managed a few photographs.

Knysna Loerie

The hut had a couple of windows that had been smashed out, glass was lying around and rubbish bins had litter strewn around them. The shower and toilet facilities weren’t that nice either, and for once we decided to give trying to make a fire for the donkey a complete skip, and we all bathed in a nearby stream.

drying socks round the fire

The next day we woke up to beautiful sunshine. The first 4 days had provided little sunshine, mainly being overcast, if not drizzling. Day 5 held a few lovely swimming spots, and it was the first time anyone had really wanted to jump into the rivers. The sun also brought about our first encounter of a snake. A beautiful fat Puff Adder which lay in the middle of the path. Myself and one of the guys before me both stepped right over the snake without noticing him, before the person behind me spotted the snake and made a well calculated detour.

Puff Adder

We stopped and took a few photos, but he seemed fairly rustig, although the two of us who stepped over him were quite fortunate not to have upset him too badly.

Another swim, and an extremely steep descent into the forest ended us at our last hut (Zingcuka). It was very nicely laid out, with two showers and a long drop a slight way off. The hut itself was beautifully located and a nice braai area was also provided.

swim time

Instead of trying to achieve anything with the provided wood, we went hunting and took down a few dead trees which we chopped up for the fire. The fire provided us with lovely warm water for our final night. A bottle of sherry that two of the girls had carried the previous five days also did not go amiss.

The last day was also to be one of the longer ones, and once arriving at the end of the hike, still required a 4km walk back to town. We had been getting up between 6 and 7AM the previous days, and generally leaving about 7:30, but we decided for the last day to get up at 5, and ended up leaving at 6:10.

Day 6 has a section of about 8km without water, which was fairly tough in the warm conditions that we did it in, but when we eventually stopped for lunch at a waterfall with a spectacular view at the 13km mark, it was most welcome.

From there it was a fairly short hour to the end point! Once we’d taken some photos we headed off down the road back to Hogsback. About 700m later a truck came passed, and with eight thumbs sticking out, we successfully managed a grateful lift back to Hogsback where our first stop resulted in beers and ice-cream all round.

the end

We ended up back in Hogsback some time shortly after 13:00, which was a nice reward for the early start. After everyone had showered and had a bit of a snooze we all went out on the town to a lovely little pub/restaurant/hotel known as the Hogsback Inn. They provided great meals, delicious food and at a very reasonable cost, would definitely recommend giving them a visit.

The hike is managed by the Department of Water Affairs in King Williams Town, contact details can be found here (Eastern Cape office). The cost is generally R750pp for permits and a map for the 6 day route. Students apparently hike for free, which was great news for us. For more information on the hike have a look here, here and here (fairly old post).