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Monday, January 4, 2010

Simonsberg in Franschoek is a must do!

SIMONSBERG 1390 metres

Hiking Trail: Circular ridge route on the Simonsberg
Name of Reserve / Area: Simonsberg is a private property.
Nearest Town: Stellenbosch
Province: Western Cape
Country: South Africa

Duration of hike: 6-8 hours
Directions to get there: From Cape Town CBD, take the road to Stellenbosch then drive to the summit of the Helshoogte Pass.

Contact Information:
Ed Flitters, Cape Hiking


Best time of year to go: October to April.

What costs did you incur to do this hike: None, but I feel it is important to support the vineyard owners who allow access to their land.

How safe is it: Exposed and can only be recommended to those with experience and a head for heights.

Fresh Water: Plenty lower down

Difficulty: see above

Pets: Not appropriate as there are sections of scrambling

How will I rate this hike? Very highly. Simonsberg is an iconic peak which dominates the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek area.

sent to us by:
Ed Flitters, Cape Hiking

There are some mountains that simply get into your blood. Beautiful, aesthetic peaks such as the Matterhorn in Switzerland or Ama Dablam in Nepal. Often solitary summits they dominate an entire valley or region, tempting walkers and climbers with their exposed ridges and dark gullies, offering a playground with a myriad of possibilities.

The Simonsberg is one such mountain. It does not matter where you are, Table Mountain, Cape Point, the Jonkershoek, Mont Rochelle Reserve, Paarl Rocks and even parts of the Cederberg, this iconic triple-headed berg dominates the skyline. I remember seeing it for the first time and being immediately captivated by its striking physical presence. For a mountaineer there are hills that are climbed and then forgotten or pushed to the back of one's mind, and there are those that are revisited many times during a lifetime, presenting different challenges on each occasion; the Simonsberg falls very definitely into this latter category.

Parking in the Thelema courtyard, at the top of Helshoogte Pass, and ignoring the dozing Weimaraners, we make the gentlest of starts, strolling up a gravel road past the ordered rows of vines. Looking back occasionally we are rewarded with magnificent views of Bothmaskop and Haelkop to the south and the Jonkershoekberge to the south-east. After about forty-five minutes a large dam on our right and a small cairn on the left of the track indicate a path cutting left through the fynbos. After another hour we come to large boulders, at about 800m, an ideal resting spot for a well-earned drink. This is the point at which the path forks.

The main path, our descent route, continues left and winds its way up the south-west facing slopes of the mountain. Our route, a longer and more exposed variant, forks right and heads up north-east towards the kloof. The path is very indistinct in places, as it is rarely walked, and the fynbos does its best to repel our advances! Two stream crossings, gentle when I first came here in dry weather, but far fiercer the second time after several days of heavy rain, remind us that the mountain environment can change very quickly and that these expeditions should never be undertaken without necessary items such as a First Aid kit, cell phone, waterproofs and plenty of water.

Entering the kloof, the steep and rocky path winds its way up along the stream, passing slippery mossy banks and some gorgeous waterfalls, throwing out rainbows as the morning light catches the droplets. Care needs to be taken here, as the ground is uneven and the rocks sometimes greasy and loose. After two and a half hours we now reach the nek at 1100m. Breaking out of the darkness of the kloof into the exposure of this breche affords us breathtaking views of the village of Pniel below and the vineyards which line the R310 and R45.

After a tasty sandwich or muesli bar our route now cuts north-west up the ridge, changing sides from west to east, to a large ledge at about 1250m. There is some easy scrambling here, but one still needs to take care, and the more able and adventurous can even practise the odd rock move on sun-baked sandstone. The setting is idyllic; flowers are everywhere and the white and grey rock is stained with bright orange lichen, adding to the Provencal feel. At 1320m the climb evens out and we pick our way through the heathers and orchids towards the summit. The hard work is well and truly over now and, for me, this is the most rewarding stage of our excursion. The slopes are covered in purple ericas and yellow daisies and, although we spot no wildlife on this occasion, other than the ubiquitous lizards, there is plenty of dassie and klipspringer scat to acknowledge their existence.

The summit is topped with a large wooden cross and just next to it stands a smaller cross commemorating the life of 21 year old Jeremy Wilshere. A fifty metre scramble on the east side of the summit reveals a beautiful bivouac cave, built from stones around a large overhang, in which two or three people could easily spend the night if they had the energy to carry up enough water. There is a summit book in an ice cream container stashed in here, and the dates reveal that this is another Winelands summit that is rarely visited. In the distance we can see Cape Point, Table Mountain and Lion's Head, and slightly closer the Wemmershoek range, Franschhoek Mountain, Victoriapiek and the Hottentots Holland mountains.

Wind and rain have carved away the first part of the path down, and we pick our way carefully over loose boulders and past overhanging proteas for the initial two hundred metres, but then we level off and meander across colourful fynbos-covered slopes, looking down onto the vines and dams below us to the south and west.

Easy walking allows us to enjoy the views and reflect on the day's adventure. After two hours we reach the point at which we diverged earlier on and, following the track through the fynbos, we arrive back at the dam and gravel road which leads us back to Thelema and eagerly-awaited refreshment! Thelema Estate prides itself on being one of the highest and coolest wine farms in the Franschhoek/Stellenbosch area. A former fruit farm, it is now a cutting edge winery, producing exceptional award-winning wines. Sipping a glass of Ed's Reserve (great name!), I cannot think of a better way to end a superb mountain day.

''He who climbs upon the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary.'' (Nietzsche)

Ed Flitters, Cape Hiking

Thanks for sharing this with us Ed!
Loved walking with you in your area a short while ago. We look forward to joining you again on this one sometime soon.
Kind regards,
Juanita and Alex.


Francisco Castelo Branco said...

Hi there
I´m doing a subject about South Africa before the World Cup.
We started on Monday 4th of July...
We have more post in the future. The next one is Tuesday 12th about SA history
Visit us at

best regards


Anonymous said...

Please obtain permission to cross the private land surrounding Simonsberg well in advance. Permission is normally granted to anyone that apply. The land owners have become security conscious, even employing private security firms. These guards will not allow any casual hiking group to cross, without them knowing that permission has been granted.

Anonymous said...

Who can we contact to get more info re this trail? Permission, map, costs, etc? is dead.

Anonymous said...

Please take note that all hikers must sign an indemnity form from Tokara Wine Estate. Access from Thelema is no longer available.

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