Hardcore hiking

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Die Hel De Tronk hike by Hendrik de Wet
Towering rocks, arresting waterfalls and death-defying descents make for a meaty yomp on the De Tronk-Die Hel trail.

Midway through the stupefying De Tronk-Die Hel hike near Porterville, you’ll do well to recite Winston Churchill’s words: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

The 29.1-km out-and-back trail in the occasionally brutal Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area takes about 8h16min to complete, with an elevation gain of 901 m. Stretching the hike over two (even three) days makes a whole lotta sense – less rush and more time to enjoy what matters in life. And because crowds aren’t really an issue here, it’s highly likely that you can enjoy birding and camping while meeting scarce few others.

Prime time of year to confront the tramp is from October to March. But if you plan to overnight in one of the De Tronk huts, do book in advance. Sadly, the pups need to stay home.

This is how it rolls
At the parking area, choose between two route options: the riverside trail or the jeep track. The former winds along the Kliphuis river, so there are ample opportunities to fill water bottles. To keep you on your toes, this path can be overgrown at times, muddy and even flooded in sections. All part and parcel of the adventure I daresay.

The jeep track is both longer and much more strenuous. What’s more, there are no streams. Meaning you’ll have to carry adequate water supplies all the way.

Although the trails stretch the most grizzled of walker, electrifying views and atmospheric rock formations created by the weathering of Table Mountain Sandstone enthrall and excite. Framing it all are outlandish scenes of otherworldly proteas and a flourish of mountain fynbos.

From De Tronk, the path leads south under oak trees and over a small footbridge towards Die Hel. Before confronting the hellishly steep descent after the gorge, it’s a good idea to offload heavy rucksacks at the basic overnight huts (they’re about 4,5 km from Die Hel’s waterfall). On descending the gorge, tally awhile to admire some fine Khoisan rock art.

Die Hel rock pools truly are the pièce de résistance. One of the largest natural pools in the Western Cape, it’s extremely deep. So splash around in those mysterious depths to your heart’s content. You’ve earned it! Several hikers have described a dip in these pools as the ultimate cleansing and replenishing experience. “It has a sense of holiness,” was one comment.

After overnighting in one of the huts (sans electricity and water), a tent, or au naturel under the stars, follow the riverside route back.

Be prepared
Ensure you have sufficient drinks with electrolytes and bear in mind that it can get quite cold here (yes, even in summer!). So, add beanies and jackets to your pack list. Oh, and there’s very little shade, so taking along more sunscreen than you think you’ll need wouldn’t be a bad idea. Finally, packing wide-brimmed sun hats and sun-protective clothing is just plain sensible. Happy yomping!

Accommodation & permit bookings: 087 0878250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za; GPS: 33.073519 S 19.163143 E. Day hike tariff R80 pp & sleepovers R160 pp.

PHOTO: Hendrik de Wet