otter trail

i finally got to hike the otter trail last week – and it was truly amazing. we got the spot booked about 7 months ago for the 6 of us, and while i had good intentions, i didn’t get as much training in for it as i would have liked.

so when we went to a talk about the hike a few days before we left, and the guy spoke about this being the most technical walk he’s ever done – more than kili and several others, i started to get nervous… and ended up spending over R2000 at their store – admittedly this includes a new sleeping bag and weather proof lightweight jacket (which together fill about R1600 of that).

but while doing it i realise it was fine – it wasn’t a walk in the park (yes yes, it was a walk in the forest, you know what i mean!), but i certainly didn’t need to have done plenty more exercise for it.

it starts at storms river mouth and goes along the coast through the tsitsikamma forest to natures’ valley.

i kept comparing it to the fish river canyon hike i did a year ago, because that is also a 5 day hike – and here are some similarities and differences:

they’re both 5 days

Fish is flat – walk down into the canyon and then along the canyon and out at the other all is flat apart from the initial entry
Otter is up and down a lot, with some flattish undulating bits in between. ups can be very tough. very tough.

Fish is in the sun – there is little to no shade and the sun beats down; and this can only be done in winter
Otter is often in the shade of the forest along the sea coast

Fish is 89km in length – so 15-20km a day mostly
Otter is 42km – so the longest day is 14 and shortest around 5

Fish you sleep under the stars on a little foam mat you carry with you, wherever you stop. no facilities at all.
Otter you sleep in triple bunks in wooden huts with flowing water, toilets, shower and rubbish bins.

Fish it never rains (touch wood)
Otter – it will rain, at least once. it will. be prepared!

on balance, i’m glad i’ve done both. the fish is tougher, but also more rewarding and more out of your comfort zone. but after day 4 i wished we’d finished, and i was happy to do 5 on the otter.

some info and tips:
– bring rain gear – that coast is so green cos it rains often. it will rain. come prepared with a rain jacket (lightweight) and backpack cover and fast drying clothes if possible.

– you can stop often for a swim or a sightseeing spot – there is plenty of time. (except day 4 – see further on)

– bring a steak or sausage to braai on the first 2 nights – it will last and you will so love it. whiskey or similar is also apreciated

– pack light!!! i cannot emphasise this enough – it makes all the difference. you don’t need a new t-shirt for each day, and 1 pants for the day and another for the evening is fine. you will all smell a little after a while. it’s part of the fun. genuine!

– i didn’t want to take them, but boy am i glad i did: take a pair of those telescopic walking sticks. they are worth it. i had 2, but for a stretch i only had 1, and i noticed clearly how much weight they took off my back. often i carried them in one hand while i was on a flat bit – but for the uphills, wow, they help.

– bring enough snacks for eating on the way while walking

– while there should be wood at each hut each night, there wasn’t always some. be prepared to make food without a fire. a stove is a must.

– you can get water at each hut on the way, or in some faster moving rivers. on day 4 though, there is a long walk, with few water spots, so be sure to ration your water to last all 14 kms including the river crossing

– you’ll know that on day 4 you need to cross the bloukrans river – preferably at low tide. we had low tide at 06h45 or 19h30 – meaning we would have had to walk either 5 hours before or 3 hours after in the dark – which we didn’t want to. we took a chance and got to the river by about 13h30 (it’s 10km, so about 4-5 hours). we managed to work a way across with ropes and helping each other, and were on our way around 16h00 again.

– i would not want to walk either part in the dark – especially between the 4 and 7km mark before hand

– make sure you have enough survival bags for the river crossing – they tear easily on the rocks and you don’t want a wet bag! each person should have their own, and have cable ties to seal them with. remember to take a knife across outside the bag so that you can undo them

– do not put your walking sticks into the bags 🙂

the last day’s walking is quick – we were done in record time (it’s just shy of 7km). you walk the last kilometre on a beach – you will definitely want to stop and swim there – beautiful.

it’s tradition to have a meal at the restaurant on the far end of nature’s valley – the beer and burgers will live up to the fantasy you start talking about on day 2 or 3 🙂

it really is a marvellous walk – i found myself actually walking without thinking about anything – some meditate for a long time to reach that, and i was grateful for that. very beautiful, relaxing and inspiring.

well recommended 🙂

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