The Amatola Hiking Trail – A formidable Extreme Hiking Adventure.
The Amatola trail is famous for its beauty and challenging six-day hike through the Amatola Mountain Range. To take on this adventure without deliberate and calculated preparation would be both foolish and dangerous.
So, the three hikers, who embarked on this adventure in early December 2013, knew they had to be well prepared, fit and carrying the right equipment to deal with the challenging climb through the mountains. This team had completed this trail on three previous occasions and had a good idea of what to expect – or so they thought! They had hopes of another memorable hike in the soul restoring splendour of the magical mountains outside Hogsback.
Imagine, if you will, the shock and panic of getting lost on the first day, when you follow yellow markers that loop around, not distinguishing day walks from the main trail, and a crossing that does not indicate the direction to the first overnight hut. The weary hikers eventually reached the Gwilligilli hut at 10 pm that evening, slipping, sliding in the mud and bushwhacking in the dark, only to find that the hut was locked (sleeping out in the open is not an option, – they made a plan…), and despite the rains the area had received, the shower did not have water due to a blocked pipe.
The next two days were an obstacle course, climbing over numerous fallen trees and crawling under overgrown brush that had not been cleared, making this an obstacle course of note. With the heavy rain that fell, the paths had been reduced to streams making walking in mud-caked boots a very dangerous undertaking eventually making it to Dontsa hut on the second night at 8pm. On the third day the hikers had to cross a waterfall in flood by going over a ledge adjacent to a sheer drop on the one side and the waterfall on the other, the slippery surface made this crossing very dangerous in these conditions. The hikers made it to Cata hut on the third day at 9 pm – another long day walk, slowed due to the slippery dangerous terrain and slowed by the obstacles on the trail. Wet wood and water tanks (blocked) made things difficult after three wet sloshy days in the mountains.
Cold, wet (even with ponchos and jackets) and exhausted the hikers decided it was time to bail out, another three days under these conditions would be impossible. Fortunately, Cata is the one hut where cell phone reception can be found. The emergency number at the hut will greet you with a “This number does not exist” message. It has not been replaced by a new emergency number. The issued map the hikers carried did have a new number written on it, but it had run off the page because the water soaked map had been used numerous times to read contours to find the path, or something that resembled one.
They managed to get help from the Amatola after hours Forest Manager who referred us to Tonya Burton, a most helpful lady who resides at Hobbiton in Hogsback. She managed the 2 hour drive in treacherous conditions, to fetch the hikers and bring them through to Hogsback. According to local information, the Day 4 Hut is vandalized and had the hikers continued, they would have spent the next night out in the open. Day 4 does not allow for a safe extraction at all (if any), and the heavy climb due for that day in the rainy conditions would have made the hike a survival exercise. The Thyme river was also flooded and on Day 5 they would have had to cross this river some how to reach Hogsback. – Not fun with a backpack.
Tonya, thank you for your willingness to assist, your understanding of the area and the dangers they would have faced confirmed that we had to get them off that trail. Continuing was not an option – we would have had a very unpleasant medical emergency had you not been prepared to help.
The Amatola trail is one of the Jewels of the Hogsback area, if we want visitors and tourists to enjoy this trail it must be well maintained and all the overnight huts must have water and wood (preferably with a sharpened axe that can chop the 30cm diameter x 60cm long logs provided…..Re: Cata)
The last thing you want to hear at 6am is “No, we are not okay- you need to get us out, we won’t make it to the next hut, it’s too dangerous”
We are not in any way suggesting the trail should be closed, but rather that the trail be maintained and kept in such good condition that it becomes the talking point of avid Eastern Cape adventurers. With the stunning landscapes, breath-taking waterfalls and natural untouched forest regions this trail gives the hiker a unique opportunity to quietly pass by nature and just leave a foot print behind.Compiled by Melissa Gouws