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Kloofing in the Cape - Review on the XPh Headlamp by Coos Diener

Introduction to Coos Coos Diener is a Stellenbosch local who grew up in the Jonkershoek Mountains.  At the beginning of 2015 he made a record attempt of the infamous Jonkershoek Marathon.  Early during this year, Coos planned a waterfilled kloofing expedition in the Western Cape.  He insisted on taking the XPh Headlamp along.  Here is a example of an awesome adventure you can have with the new XPh Headlamp. Kloofing in the Cape The mountains of the Cape have many pristine ravines, ideal for kloofing trips.  However, only a handful of these ravines are long enough that multiple days are required to explore them.  If one such kloof boasts 14 compulsory swims, it is best done in summer*.  This hiking route is only for people who like to get wet and stay so for a while.  Hence it is almost exclusively hiked during the hottest months in the Cape: December to February.  We were six who did the hike in late December.  Although it was the height of summer I was still wary of the weather because a couple of years ago we went in the mid-December but had to turn back on the second day due to bad weather conditions: A forecast of a 30% chance of light rain, with the outlook of clearing up the next day, turned into a three day storm.  It just goes to show that the weather in the mountains is always unpredictable. Getting up the hill With hopes for better weather we set off up the hill. The hike starts with an almost straight assault up the steep climb. The climb is so strenuous that it has inspired the owners of the property to leave hikers with an inspirational quote halfway up the hill from a play by James Thurber: The way is long, and getting longer. The road goes uphill all the way, and even further. I wish you luck. You’ll need it. The way is dark, and getting darker. The hut is high and even higher. I wish you luck. There is none.  With those words resonating in our minds we tackled the last big push up a green gulley to the top of the ridge.  Luckily the hut was only a couple of steps away from the ridge.  Those keen on exerting themselves can still make it to the riverbed on their first day, but we preferred a more leisurely pace.  Especially since it was Boxing Day and the Christmas excesses have not totally dissipated yet.  Apart from a gusty Southeaster which died down as it became dark, it was a very pleasant evening and we all slept outside the hut.  We fell asleep with thoughts of floating down the river, only to be startled by a group of hikers on their way to one of the other huts moments later. Descending into the kloof The next morning we started our descent.  It is not an easy walk down to the river and it takes longer than one would want, but it is all worth it once you reach the river. The compulsory swimming didn’t start immediately but we were ready to be in the water given the hot day.

Descending into the kloof  We found that the best and most practical way to waterproof the contents of your bag is to pack everything in individual plastic bags inside of a large fertilizer bag. All of this goes into your backpack to guard against branches and any rocks you might graze against.  Floating your backpack in a survival bag while swimming could also work, but it is rather impractical to haul it in and out of the pools and over the rocks. Splash covers protect against splashes but since it is not waterproof it is of little value for floating your back pack. If you want to be really fancy you can take either a lilo (old school inflatable matrass) or an inflatable tube along.  This works very well and I managed to swim through some pools on the tube with the back pack still on my back, while with other swims I popped the bag on the tube and dragged it along with a rope (mostly when I had to see where I was going, since the pack had to ride high on my back to keep it out of the water).  The tube would also be the envy of your fellow hikers when you are leisurely floating in a pool at the campsite.  Of course dry bags could also be used, especially for electronic devices that are not waterproof.  When the guys from Extreme Lights heard we were doing the trip they offered to lend me one of their new waterproof headlamps to try out on the trip. Not wanting to spend the rest of the trip in the dark I decided to only test its waterproof capabilities on the last day.  I can report that it is definitely waterproof and that it delivers an awesome amount of light, but more about that later.

Waterfall The waterfall at the most majestic lunch stop in the world. Our first lunch stop was at a beautiful pool at the base of a majestic waterfall (the first of many).  After lunch the kloof narrowed significantly and after a couple of wades we were treated with the sight of yet another beautiful waterfall before our first compulsory swim.  These swims could be rather uncomfortable on a cooler day since the kloof is so narrow that the sun only reaches the riverbed at noon.  The most impressive swim was the last one of the day known as the “Tunnel Swim” where the kloof almost closes overhead and you are left to the mercy of your imagination as you swim in the dark water.  I have no idea how deep the pool is, but with a waterproof headlamp one might consider diving for souvenirs there, since anything that is accidently dropped will most certainly be irretrievable from the dark water.

The daunting Tunnel Swim Not long after the last swim we reached our camp for the night on a sandy beach next to a beautiful pool.  All campsites are next to the river and mostly small therefore big groups (8+) have to plan their days very well to end at a comfortable campsite.  In the early evening the Southeaster started again, pouring dark clouds over the ridge.  It did not abate like the previous night and thus it looked like it might rain a little.  We prepared our camp for the eventuality of rain, but nothing came of it.

A Stony bed for the night  The next day the kloof widened again and thus we kept on the river bank and on the trails there, with the occasional boulder hop across the river if it seemed better on the other side.  Unfortunately just after our overnight camp we saw the first pine-needled Hakea covering the slopes and also on the banks of the river (I pulled out the ones I could reach).  I always feel a little sad when I see these highly invasive plants far in the Cape mountains - soon there will be many more.

The longest pool on the trip After lunch the kloof narrowed once more and it was time for more swimming.  Our timing with the swims proved to be perfect since the last swim of the day was the longest one of the whole kloof - probably about 200 meters long - and we reached it just in time to finish the swim before the evening chill started creeping in.  Our campsite was also not far and we stumbled into camp while still damp.  After decorating the campsite bushes with our wet gear we settled down and sipped on a decent Scotch mixed with a little bit of water from the river. The following day had only two compulsory swims and thus it felt quite long and very hot.  Every now and again someone slipped and fell into the water to either escape the heat of the boulders we climbed over, or our own body heat, or both since there were not much shade around.  The day ended with the river running through a narrow gorge into a long deep pool.  At the far side of this pool there is a slight overhang with some impressive San rock art.  Home for the night was close to a rocky scree.  Luckily over the years hikers have readied a number of comfortable campsites between the stones. It was our last night and I could put the Extreme Lights headlamp through its paces.  According to Hannes, the designer at Extreme Lights, this torch is the first locally designed headlamp.  The design is simple with two aluminum tubes housing the battery at the back – either three AAA batteries or a Li-ion battery (which lasts forever) and another aluminum tube in the front housing the LED assembly.  It does not have the sleekest look on the market, but looks are forgotten the moment you turn the thing on.  The light is a monster with three settings: low being more than adequate for cooking and general campsite illumination, medium for more power, and high to spot and chase away any intruders, even if they are on the ridge on the other side of the river.  The light is truly waterproof, although Hannes warned me not to switch it on or off while immersed in water.  I switched it on and left it in the pool by the campsite for more than ten minutes while occasionally dunking it and throwing it around in the water.

Although not an underwater torch, it is remarkably water resistant. It came out bright as ever with zero leakage. All round a perfect light for hikers, trail runners or adventure racers: compact, lightweight while still packing a considerable and sustained push.

I even left it under water for 10 minutes, with no water ingress or damage to the light. On our last day in the kloof we battled through thick vegetation in high heat. Wattle has taken over most of the lower reaches of the river and this made for some stifled progress.  Furthermore we were reminded at some of the campsites lower down the river that not all who come to the mountains consider the ones who have to come after them.  Once we came within earshot of the traffic on the pass we had one final swim in a pristine pool before walking to the road and tackling the final three kilometers on the tar road to the inn nearby.  There cold beers, hearty meals and our ride home awaited us, fittingly ending a very pleasant couple of days in the mountains. Buy the XPh Headlamp here. * Access to the trail is granted on the condition that information about the trip should not be disseminated in public.