We were invited to do the Otter Trail towards the end of May. It was 100 times harder that I imagined it to be, despite all my research and reading up on the trail. I am not hiker, not ‘outdoorsy’ and am not hiking fit. I’ve never been on a trip such as this before – there was no way I could have prepared myself properly for this trail in the given time. Much of it took sheer will power to keep going.
31 August 2011, 15:06, Ngubu Huts, Otter trail, Day One
Arrived in George yesterday at around 11am. We were picked up by Gecko Shuttles and driven to Storms River camp (The start of the otter trail). It was about a 1.5 hour drive.
Team – Rio, Jason, Adelline, Steven, Rishina, Kelly, Carol, Leylah, Lindi and myself.
We were booked in at the Storms River Forest Huts which were surprisingly very cosy and comfortable. I would definitely stay at this camp again at some point.
After settling in, we had a huge lunch ‘our last meal’ at the Sanspark restaurant. The food was just what was needed. After lunch, we did a a short 1.5km hike to the storms river mouth as a warm up.
The rest of the evening was spent getting to know each other better as half the group had not met prior to this.
The following morning we asked a fellow forest hut camper if he would give us and our packs a lift in his Landrover up to the otter room as it was a very steep winding 3km trek from the huts. After checking in, there was a compulsory video to be viewed in the Otter Room. We should have perhaps paid more attention but being as eager as were to start the trail already, we fast-forwarded most of the video.
Started out on the trail at 10:10am with a beautiful walk through the forest. Backpack already feeling killer heavy just 20min in. Lots of uphills and downhills. The walk started through a forest and eventually comes out down to the sea and continues along a rocky shoreline. This is where there is a lot of boulder hopping. Takes getting used to with the heavy packs.
Reached the waterfall at about 12pm. Had a quick lunch (we should have actually spent more time at the waterfall as there were not many spots along the rest of the trail as nice as that) Also the first day’s walk is quite short and once at the camp there isn’t much to do there.
More forest walking and then down to the beautifully situated Ngubu huts (1:30pm) with a stunning view of the sea and forest behind.
During the late afternoon we started cooking a splendid communal meal of baked beans curry (Rio was head-chef). Sweet potato mash with coconut oil. Braaied boerewors, with rolls. Carol had rice with tuna, sweet potato and baked beans curry. There was also a fresh salad (cucumber, tomato, parsley, seasoned with olive oil)
*There is a daily ration of wood for each hut – it is enough for a late afternoon and early evening fire or braai.
*Toilet has a splendid view of the ocean.
*Outdoor shower, cold water.
*Log cabins are basic, comfortable and warm.
The following days, I did not feel inclined to journal – so here is a recap of what I recall as I sat on the plane on our way back home.
Otter Trail, Day two
We took a break at a beautiful rock formation. Day 2 felt the hardest as there was an intense climb at a steep incline. It just seemed to go on forever.
The Scott huts were situated next to the Geelhoutbos river. We arrived in good time and were able to enjoy the sunny day for a couple hours. Had my first icey cold shower at this stop. My quads and calf muscles were so sore, struggled to walk up and down the stairs to the hut.
Otter Trail, Day three
Started walking early in the morning at about 7am. We aimed to get to the Lottering river at low tide. Crossed the first river, hopping on the stones. Much of the walk was along the coast. Intermittently through forest and fynbos. The weather turned cold and windy early in the day. Arrived at the Elandsbos river at mid-tide. Had quite a shock as we were not psyched to be ‘swimming’ at this river.
Stripped down and walked across – the water was chest high and numbing cold. I was terrified as I tried to walk carefully across holding my pack above my head. It started raining as were got to the middle sandy bit. Wet, windy, cold we had to hurry to put on our rain gear and get to the other side. At this point it wasn’t obvious where the path started again. It seemed that there had been a mini-landslide where the steps should have been. We ended up scrambling up a dangerous steep cliff of rocks to join the path in the forest.
Arrived at the Lottering river at low-tide. Water still waist high but there were more rocks than the previous river to step on while crossing. Before descending to the river we could see the camp which motivated us to get across that river quickly.
We reached the camp in the nick of time as a rough storm came in with high tides. Waves up to 10m. Our huts were right next to the river mouth. We had a quick lunch of noodles and soup and climbed into our sleeping bags for the rest of the afternoon/evening, watching the ocean waves crashing against the rocks. Unfortunately there was no drinking water – just a dark black sticky liquid coming out of the taps. It was a cold, windy and damp night. Rishina’s bag with contents were wet (the survival bag tore when we crossed the Elandbos river).
My left knee was in a lot of pain by the end of this day.
It is amazing how the weather can dramatically change our experience of a trip such as the Otter Trail.
Otter Trail, Day Four (Escape – E6)
We woke at 5am and started walking at 6:15am, wanting to get to the Bloukrans river in good time before low-tide. It was a 10km walk to the river. We kept up a good pace arriving at 11:30 with low tide being at 13:10. It was dark at first when we left the camp so we used our headlamps. The weather improved immensely from the previous day. The walk was not too strenuous (even with my bummed knees – both now) The downhills and rock scrambling on this day were the worst on my knees.
Much of the walk on this day is along the rugged rocky coast.
We had lunch at the Bloukrans. After watching the river for a while I made a call to take the escape route. The current looked too strong, the river looked deep with currents flowing in more than one direction. Tree trunks coming down the river. Waves crashing on the opposite side of the jagged rock cliff. I didn’t feel it necessary to risk injuring myself further or having my pack with contents and sleeping bag soaked through. (After Rishina’s survival bag tore on the first river crossing, no way would mine not tear on the Bloukrans). Ideally we should have had an inner dry sack liner in the pack and a dry sack for the sleeping bag. Also we didn’t have water sandals to climb up the rocks on the other side.
We (Carol, Rishina and myself) walked back up to the point where the warning sign was with the Ranger’s mobile number. Called and he said he would meet us at the top. The escape route was 2.6km at a steep incline, but boy was I glad to be up there away from the Bloukrans! It was a whole other weather system up on the hill. I took my time going up and enjoyed the views of the sea, the greenery and fynbos, the birds, the mountains, the beautiful blue sky. As much as I was glad to do the hike and experience such an amazing trail, seeing the ranger I felt such relief. The ranger said that he was expecting a call from our group as the tides and swells were too high and that we made the right decision not to cross.
As we left a woman was about to go down to scout out the trail. She will be participating in the Otter African Trail Run where the runners have to complete the 5 day 42km trail in a matter of hours. The fastest time has been 4hrs48m53s. The cut-off time is 8 hours.
The ranger did us a huge favour and dropped us off in Nature’s Valley. We headed to the Natures Valley Guest House where we had a booking for the following night with the rest of our group. As expected they were full up with another Otter Trail group that arrived that morning. The owners were very helpful and took us to the Natures Valley Trading Shop also known as ‘The Shop’ where the shop owner Tish arranged for us to stay at her B&B Froggy Pond. While she did the arranging we had lunch and a drink at ‘The Pub’, gave thanks for an amazing experience with no serious injuries and prayed for the safe crossing and return of the rest of the group who decided to cross the mighty Bloukrans.
Top tips from the group
- Carry light, don’t overplan.
- Go with the right crowd – it’s more fun
(Kelly, Steven, Adelline)
- Take a rain coat
- Do at least 4 day-hikes prior to the otter trail
- Take proper hard-wearing sandals
- Enjoy the views (take time out)
- Take a strong waterproof bag for valuables
- Carry a lot of ‘Game’
- Take sugar and lots of sweets
- Take Kelly with you!
- Keep water purification tablets somewhere easily accessible
- Less is more when packing
- Keep your stuff dry by having an inner waterproof sack liner in your pack that won’t tear as it is protected by your pack
- Stock up on cappucinno sachets – it’s luuurvely
- Inner dry sack is a must and a dry sack for your sleeping bag!
- Team planning – everyone doesn’t have to carry duplicate items
- One gas canister between 3 people was enough for the entire trail – so say 2 gas canisters per hut is more than enough.
- One pot and one light kettle was useful.
- Some regular candles for evenings in the hut.
- After debating this as it was just an additional cost which I didn’t want to spend on – the water bladder that fits in your pack would have been tons more convenient!
- Have a rain cover for your bag! Ponchos are useless and get in the way especially when it is windy.
- Milo and Cremora was the best warm drink that I had on the trail (thanks to Leyla)
- Do not underestimate the Elandsbos and Lottering rivers especially when low tides are not that low and in bad weather.
- Lots of strength training for your quads and calf muscles which do most of the work.
- Inflatable airplane pillow worked well.
Breakfast – fried egg in a breadroll
Lunch – a breadroll and cheese
Snack – Carrot
Supper – communal meal – braaied boerewors, (egg fried rice, tuna for Carol), baked beans curry, sweet potato, salad
Breakfast – Oats; scrambled eggs
Lunch – Wrap with tuna
Afternoon warm drink – Milo and cremora
Breakfast – Oats
Snack – Wrap with salmon
Lunch – Noodles cooked in a tom yum soup.
Snack – Crackers and salami
Breakfast – cereal bar and smarties
Snack – Super C
Lunch – Melba toast, sardines and salami
Second Lunch (at the pub) – Fried fish and chips
Brunch – eggs, bacon and toast at the Pub
Supper – home-cooked chicken curry by Rishina (The Natures Valley Guest House kindly let us take over their kitchen to prepare a most welcome curry for the safely returned group)
Visit Flickr to view more photos from the Otter Trail