This is one of those truly magic hikes that inspire you to keep exploring because you never know what’s just around the corner.
I am fascinated by this part of the mountain. There is a train line that most people don’t know exists, you can touch wagon wheel tracks carved into the rocks hundreds of years ago by the voortrekkers, there’s a canon that was used to notify people when someone had made it to the top, and last but not least, there’s a creepy old train tunnel that runs directly under the N2 at the top of Sir Lowry’s pass for the train you didn’t know about.
If I had another lifetime I would spend it documenting the incredibly fascinating micro-history of South Africa. The past of seeming insignificance gives history its texture. Knowing these little stories lets you find wonder in the smallest things. A groove cut into a rock can represent the beginning of an epic journey, a new life in a far away land.
Quick history lesson courtesy of Wikipedia
Gantouw in the Khoi language means eland and historically these large animals crossed the Hottentots Holland mountains at this narrow and steep pass. The Khoi and San people followed the eland and, after European settlement at the Cape, the pass became an important gateway to the Overberg for transport wagons hauled by teams of 24 oxen.
The earliest recorded crossing of the pass was by a Dutch East India Company surveyor, Hendrik Lacus in 1662. By 1821 more than 4 500 wagons were using the Gantouw Pass (Hottentots-Hollands Kloof) each year.
Starting in 1828, a new pass was constructed on the current route that would allow ox wagons to navigate the pass without difficulty. Construction began at a site about 2 km to the south of the Hottentots Holland Kloof, by the engineer Charles Michell using convict labour. The new pass was opened on 6 July 1830, and named after Lowry Cole, the Governor of the Cape Colony at the time.
In 1903 the route was upgraded again when a privately owned railway company built a railway line alongside the road with a level crossing (ie. train/car intersection) right at the top. This is another fascinating part of South African history. The rail industry was a bit like the current private space industry. A few mega wealthy individuals spending fortunes prospecting on which routes, technology and methodology would succeed. That’s a story for another time, but the battles left some interesting remnants, including a “train to nowhere” that I’ll write about another time.
Lets get back to the hike. Drive to the top of Sir Lowry’s pass and hook a right into the lookout point. Don’t leave valuables in your car. Take your bags and hop over the N2 to a small awkward section of tarred road that goes nowhere. The tar quickly becomes gravel and you’ll reach a fork.
Side Mission: The right (southern) route takes you down the hill and then runs parallel to the train track. When you’ve walked about 700m you’ll find a small path that leads to railway line. If you follow the railway line back towards the summit (600m) you’ll reach the southern entrance to the tunnel. The tunnel is roughly 250m long and the train line is still used! albeit very infrequently – Don’t be an idiot.
At the fork, take the left (northern) option. It’s a great walk that’s relatively flat and can be quite magical in the early hours of the morning. Around 1.7km in you’ll reach a small path to your left. From here you can see into the small valley that is the top of the Gantouw Pass. We’ll take this left route up for now as it gives us some altitude. I didn’t climb all the way up as I wanted a slightly more sheltered spot to set up in. I walked uphill about 350m and found my spot, but at this point you should really explore. It’s all quite spectacular.
I spent a few hours playing radio and exploring, then when I was done I headed back down to the original path and continued on a few hundred meters to the signage. Turning left (north-west) takes you into the Gantouw Pass. You only need to walk a few hundred meters before you start to notice the grooves cut into the rocks from the ox wagons. I encourage you to keep walking down the pass. The further you go the more you’ll appreciate the magnitude of getting ox wagons up that mountain.
Finally on my way back I hopped up the hill to the old signal canons. These canons were used for a few different things, but usually to announce that someone (often a trader) was coming. I’m guessing these were only ever fired at certain times of day so that people (in Strand etc) would know when to look up.
Once you start exploring these mountains you’ll realise that there are so many nooks and crannies to investigate. Starting from the same parking spot you could also embark on the 22km hike (with >1000m elevation gain) up to Hansekop, or go and look at this big hole (probably trespassing). The Hottentots Holland mountain range is massive and full of adventure. This little hike was the first hit that left me wanting more.
Date: 2 December 2018
Distance and Elevation: <6km and 150m Elevation Gain.
Coordinates: Parking spot -34.149124, 18.927797 Setup Spot: -34.140277, 18.939589 Wagon Wheel Tracks: -34.139108, 18.9379902 Cannons: -34.1394482,18.9376912
Conditions: Cool, overcast with a little bit of drizzle.
Radio Stuff: You’ll need a self supporting mast as there are pretty much no tall trees. The summit would provide a better take-off angle if weather permits. Had great contacts all over the country.
Notes: Leaving my car at the parking lot in the early hours of the morning was sketchy as frig. I wonder whether you could get an Uber from Gordon’s bay?
KML: Downloadable here.