The forecast for a minus 1-degree Celsius start did not deter the party of sixteen in the least. Johan de Koker and Thordis Sixt, both of the Paarl-Wellington section, had kindly offered the lifts that would be needed back to our cars after completion of the traverse, thus earning the right to walk with our section. We started off at the Rooiheuwels Farm outside Bot River with tea or coffee and a muffin to warm us from inside before we started our ascent of Watchtower Peak. We made good time in sunny weather, protected from the chilly north wind that hit us about 400 metres higher up at the tea stop. From there a short plateau stretches out towards the peak before ascending in more reasonable zigzags, and it is here that we found “Beauty and the Beast”. Beautiful fynbos, some of it in flower, and the beastly pines that were popping up. Those who had brought saws set to work with determination, and a huge contribution was made by Johan who replaced Ivor Jardine’s vigour in hunting down pines some distance off path. Sadly, Ivor, who was meant to lead the later, off-path section was in bed with Cora, both with ‘flu, so we had to make our own way.
Chris ‘Vynbos’ (as he styles himself) provided some of the botanical names in Ivor’s absence to satisfy our thirst for knowledge. Peter Phillips, sawless, impressed us with his strength in pulling out very stubborn pines with his bare hands. Rudolf Rode, John Yeld and Heleen du Toit all knuckled down with saws too, and those of us who came up behind just saw the scattered, fallen pines, disdainfully flung aside.
We arrived at Watchtower Peak’s stone cairn at 850 metres where we stayed just long enough to take in the 360-degree views. From there it would be off-path all the way back to the official Houw Hoek Trail about 700 metres below. And now the wind made itself felt since we no longer had the protection of a hill that could divert it. After lunch at the foot of the official beacon on Houw Hoek Peak at 900 meters, we continued mostly around the rest of the hills that lay ahead, keeping to a level contour over the rough, slanting surface of low fynbos and rocks. And eventually it was time to start the long descent down a rather steep slope to the upper road of the trail. From there it was an easy walk along the trail down to Houw Hoek Inn.
We covered not much more than 12 kilometres, but about half of it had been off-path, with a total of 700 meters ascent, so a worthy hike, and the party had a good sense of satisfaction and achievement. Although in the past we had completed parts of this traverse, mostly as out-and-back routes, we believe it might have been the first time that MCSA had completed the full route as a “traverse”. We like to think so!