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Submitted by Wade Basson

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"A few months in the making, owing to a poor weather postponement of our initial arrangement of early September, on the misty morning of 3 November 2023, seven of us set out to complete the Wemmershoek Traverse from Franschhoek Pass to Dutoitskloof Pass. The following peaks were on our bagging itinerary for the weekend: Perdekop (1575 m), Wemmershoek (1765 m), Olifantshoekpiek (1742 m), Wemmershoek Tafelberg (1748 m), Winterberg (1613 m), Haelhoeksneeukop (1532 m), and Huguenootkop (1318 m). Expedition Team: Wade Basson (me), Craig Burns, Hans Scheffler, Meg Bruyns, Liza Serfontein, Ria Wagner, and Devon Magan.

A mixed team of mountaineering veterans, experts and enthusiasts - we started our journey at the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve gates at 8:00 on Friday morning, after a much-appreciated van ride from Stellenbosch (my forever gratitude to my grandfather, for the lift, the laughs, and the many lessons that I keep with me today on every mountain I climb). The day was forecast to be cloudy, windy and moderate in temperature, but no signs of rain. Not long after we passed the Uitkyk, roughly 1 hour away from Perdekop, we befell our first injury for the weekend, a dastardly rolled ankle for Meg. Never a fun experience to have at the start of a multi-day hike, before even bagging the first peak, but after our trained first aider, Liza, stepped in and strapped up the foot, we were good for gold, and Meg made the decision to test it out until Perdekop and decide then if she would continue. After our last expected water point for the day (at the stream crossing before Perdekop) and a short push up to the summit, we had bagged our first peak. Pictures taken and ankles tested successfully, the decision was made to move on as a full team and make for our second peak of the day. The path was unexpectedly trekked and well-marked, with decent clearance and a fair number of cairns, as we made our way towards Wemmershoek. Lunch was had just out of the howling winds in the last saddle before the Wemmershoek ascent, with everyone still enjoying their pre-made day-1 lunches. One last big push for the summit, with excess water for camp and majority of our weight still stored in our backpacks, we reached Wemmershoek peak. Two peaks down, and no more recognisable path to speak of from here on out. Reliance only on existing GPX routes, and mountaineering intuition. Not far thereafter we made camp adjacent to a vlei, where we found a cozy little spot (mostly out of the wind) to make supper and admire our campsite before heading to bed.

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We woke up to a beautiful, cold, misty morning under the cloud on Saturday, people struggling to emerge from their tents. After some coffee motivation everyone was up and packed, ready to set forth for Olifantshoek peak. With the vlei water somewhat clear and drinkable, with a bit of muck on the surface, we filtered and treated it for the day ahead - only to find a stream of clear drinking water later along our trek. If my short time in the mountains thus far has taught me anything, however, it's to always assume it to be your last water source if you do not have sufficient information. Before long we encountered the first of many pine trees along our traverse, a grand 30-year-old pine that spurred Hans' inner lumberjack. Out came that manual chainsaw, and after a burst of team effort, we did our part to rid the mountain of the alien - one pull at a time. It wasn't long until we were standing at the base of Olifantshoek peak, surrounded by many young pines. We made the decision to leave our bags, along with Hans and his trusty saw, take a couple big sips of water, and head out for a quick out-and-back summit bag. Reaching the top after some beautiful scrambles and fun slopes, we gazed out towards the horizon for the first time this weekend as the clouds began to clear up. Three peaks down. Nearing our bags, it was clear that Hans had a bit of a field day on the local alien population, having removed nearly seven trees in the time we had been pushing the summit. It was now apparent that we would have to make a group effort to distract Hans every time we came across a cuttable pine. A fairly straight forward and enjoyable hike from here to Wemmershoek Tafelberg, it felt like we were rising slowly to the peak in no time.

Progressing steadily through boulder fields up to Wemmershoek Tafelberg, we reached the summit with some much-appreciated cloud-break and the start of consistently clear skies for the rest of our adventure. Taking our time to enjoy the second summit of the day, Liza sought out the summit cache wherein we discovered records as old as the 1950's. Probably the most interesting discovery was that of a till slip, featuring a list of all the food and provisions bought by a group of hikers for their adventure up there in the 50's, to the sum total of R6.67. Now a distant dream, with just one 600 calorie meal of Forever Fresh (should you choose to use them) costing over R200.00. Four peaks down.

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Lunch, much needed relaxation, and photographs taken, it was time to move on to our campsite for the night, Winterberg Lakes. The decision to pitch up there was unquestioned, with all members of the group having at the very least a vague image of what the lakes look like, excited at the prospect of beautiful fields of grass, flowing water supply, and the perfect set up for a morning sunrise. On we trekked, with many sensible stops to take in the views high above the Wemmershoek valley. Arriving at the Winterberg Lakes was a pleasant treat, with the weather supporting a rapid camp setup and energetic gathering outside of our tents for dinner and warm drinks. It was a perfect night, made all the more entertaining by one of the most focused chess games I have ever had the patience to spectate, between Craig and Ria.

A big day ahead, I woke the team at 5:30 with the successful goal of having boots on the ground at 7:00. After being greeted by one of the most spectacular sunrises I have seen in the mountains in far too long, we completed our morning routine of packing up (joined by a short session of yoga to loosen up the worn bodies). Coffee and breakfast down the hatch, we made haste for the first of three summits for the day. Much to the team's "delight", I headed us directly up towards the Winterberg peak from the campsite, leaving no flat elevation profiles for warmup in our wake. We sent it directly vertical, but soon arrived to a section of much needed respite as the terrain flattened out before the summit. With the summit protruding from the ridgeline (requiring an out-and-back assault) we dropped our bags and made along the ridgeline for the tip. Some exciting scrambles, and an early-morning peak bag down, we headed swiftly back to the bags, knowing that we still had a considerable distance to cover, and two more peaks. Five peaks down. The journey from Winterberg to Haelhoeksneeukop was about to prove itself to be one of the more cumbersome sections on our traverse. The sun's heat starting to bear down on us, and the distant peak six taunting us with its foreboding appearance of false summits and slow rolling hills, we marched on. Water being our primary goal, we navigated cautiously and cohesively as a team down some rather steep boulder kloofs until we got to the trough of the valley between Winterberg and Haelhoeksneeukop. The chosen waypoint proved bountiful as we found ourselves a beautiful pool for a quick rinse and refilling of water storage. There is no rest for the wicked, however, and playing the bad cop I saw value in ushering the team along without too much delay, as we still had a long way ahead. Onwards and upwards onto the foothills of the rather Drakensberg-esque landscape of Haelhoeksneeukop, we marched for what seemed like and endless distance across the simplest terrain we had experienced all weekend. Nothing but short grass and shaley rocks, there was an element of mental peace as we allowed our minds to drift into silence, autonomously placing one foot in front of the other.

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Six peaks down. We all reached the second last summit of our adventure, and much to the delight of team morale, stopped there for a deserved lunch and spectacular 360º views. We made a point of enjoying this stay for a short bit, as this would effectively be our last peak off the beaten path, and our last lunch in the wilderness before returning to the week ahead. Weekend warriors, like ourselves, always bring a special contrasted appreciation into the wilderness - never taken for granted. Looking at the time and having arranged a pickup crew to meet us at the bottom of Miaspoort, we had no choice but to emerge from our fantasy world and respectfully not leave our lifts waiting. Not far away down the rocky northern slopes of Haelhoeksneeukop we arrived at the base of Hugenootkop. Mustering up all the energy and enthusiasm we had left, the whole team placed down their bags and set out to bag the final peak for the weekend. All seven of us arrived at our final peak, overjoyed and thrilled by the adventure we had all just proudly completed. An achievement not many people have accomplished, I am so proud and privileged to say that I completed this with the support and teamwork of one of the most diverse and powerful teams I have hiked with.

To Craig, Liza, Ria, Hans, Meg, and Devon, you guys are all absolute legends, and I cannot wait for our next adventure together. To the support crews, drivers, supportive partners, and bosses for allowing us to take Friday leave, thank you for always facilitating our passions to be in the mountains. Seven peaks complete! After a rapid descent down Miaspoort, we were greeted by a very welcoming Jess and Elsje, with the best tasting Steri Stumpies. Many thanks to all that made this incredible adventure possible.

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MicroAdventure time in total, out and back:
Circular route (no out and back). Start the Franschhoek Pass (get dropped off) and end at Dutoitskloof Pass (get picked up) - 3 days.

Getting to the start:
Access through Mont Rochelle Nature reserve on the Franschhoek Pass.

Best time to go:
Multi-day, so prepare for all types of day/night conditions. Best season would be Spring or Autumn, with fair water volumes on the mountain, and not too much heat or cold. Snow trekking the traverse is also possible in Winter, but be prepared - gear-wise.

Cost (per person):
Free!

Special permissions / permits:
Yes. Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve (obtained at the gate), and CapeNature's Hawequa Nature Reserve.

Booking in advance with Mont Rochelle is not necessary, but inform CapeNature in advance so that they are aware of your presence in the reserve.

A quick note about safety:
Highly recommended to do an adventure like this with a group as there are no escape routes along the way except down to the MCSA Cape Town's Agtertafelberg hut, which is a good 2 days trek from the start at Mont Rochelle. If anything goes wrong and you're on your own out there, the chances of another hiker coming across you are incredibly slim.

Pro tips:
Don't do this without ample experience backpacking in the mountains. This is not a first-time overnighting experience. If you are wondering what sort of equipment to bring or whether you are fully geared for an adventure like this, then you likely don't have sufficient experience. The terrain is tough, and the distances are long, so be sure to bring a thick skin and a great attitude.

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