Otter Trail part two: The cheese lover’s guide to survival…
I am a lone lazy bones in a city of comparable olympians. I’m not even vaguely joking. Capetonians on the whole (and adopted Capetonians for the most part) just aren’t happy unless they’re running 20km a week, climbing mountains and have at least one limb hanging off as a consequence. Naturally with my love of cheese and generally not walking up hills, I don’t fit in quite so well in this side of Cape Town life! So it was with a mammoth amount of reluctance that I agreed to do the Otter Trail hike this November. Don’t get me wrong, I love the outdoors, I’m a sucker for a beautiful coastal view, meandering rivers and will happily sit and watch the tiniest birds in a forest for hours. But getting sweaty, carrying a 15kg backpack and frantically trying to keep up with my team mates is not usually my idea of fun (blame Ten Tors and Duke of Edinburgh – I think I’m scarred for life!)
Anyway, myself and 11 colleagues and partners are back – I survived and the trail is utterly beautiful! You can see some the pictures and a run down of the trail in my previous post here…
But here follows the unfit, cheese-lovers guide to the Otter Trail!
Book in advance to secure the best time of year with consideration to weather and tide times. We booked a year in advance to get our days and secure the whole trail – only 12 people are allowed on per day.
Arrange to stay the day before the hike starts and the day after if you can. This made our trip much less stressful and allowed us to spend some quality time at Wild Spirit where Ben and I stayed on our road trip, as well as visiting local farm stalls and Birds of Eden – the worlds largest free flight aviary. We camped at Wild Spirit (R60 pppn) and left our cars there for the duration of the trip. Jenny (the owner) kindly organised a shuttle for us (R1000 for 12 of us) to drop us at the start. Wild Spirit has lovely catering facilities, warm showers, a log fire, happy vibes and great food and so is the perfect start and end to an Otter Trail adventure. Particularly great for me was the availability of local and ethical food. Wild Spirit always offer a great vegetarian option and their meat and eggs are free range. The breakfast with delicious fresh bread, a range of jams, home made muesli and free range scrambled eggs is fantastic and great value for money.
Just down the road from Wild Spirit you must pop in to the Natures Way Farm Stall. They have fresh milk from the farm and there’s even cheese tasting (I was overwhelmed with joy). The boerenkass (stronger than average dutch cheese) is particularly excellent and you can get freshly baked bread, salami, jams/chutneys and wine – it’s a hard life 🙂
Here’s my comments on what is recommended for you to take by sanparks and a few added extras…
Comfortable backpack, as small as humanly possible: if you have a big rucksack, you’ll find a way to fill it, so go for something small – mine was 35 litres – enough to carry all my gear except our trangia stove – which Ben took. Due to its excellent back ventilation system and waist belt, the bag was pretty comfy.
Hiking boots: Plenty of my friends wore their trail running shoes but I’m glad I took my lightweight hiking boots – they are waterproof and provide great ankle support – really useful for preventing sprains when climbing over rocks with tired legs!
Waterproof bags: Although the weather was good to us, this is not always the case and besides leaks are common (poor Brett ended up with lots of his belongings covered in milk and wine!) and river crossings can mean a soaking. So make sure everything is waterproof. I lined my bag with a cheap (R20) rucksack liners from Cape Union Mart and wrapped most of my belongings in side this in smaller zip lock bags – particularly things like food, sunscreen and the essential dry socks! In addition to this, most of us had a rain cover for rain showers and bought a survival bag (R30 – again Cape Union Mart) for the deeper river crossings.
Cable ties: Useful for fixing everything and sealing survival bags for river crossings.
Light weight stove and fuel: We have a pretty good meths trangia and our friends Cathy and Hagen had an excellent tiny gas stove. These are perfect for making tea/oats for breakfast as well as simple camping meals for dinner.
Camelback/water bladder: Really useful for sipping water constantly on the go.
Sunglass holders/incorporated cover: I got a great little strap for my sunglasses which doubles as a cleaning cloth and cover. This was really useful as constantly going in and out of dark forests it becomes annoying to have to keep putting your glasses away/risk scratching them. Not much of a problem if you aren’t too sensitive to light, but this certainly made my life easier!
A good camera: You’ll want it – two of our group had SLR’s and you really need one to do the trail justice – extra memory cards and batteries are then also essential. A relatively wide angle/35mm lens and a 300mm telephoto lens for the bird life are preferable (according to Ben!).
Food: Finally some part of the trip I could offer a little expertise in! The key is to be light but still nutritious to provide fuel for the hike – not the easiest task! I refuse to eat 2 minute noodles – as light as they may be they seem to have both the taste and nutritional value of cardboard so I was determined to come up with a viable alternative. By necessity you’ll have to organise your cooking around your cooking equipment. We had a group of 4 to go with our trangia. This worked well as we cooked one meal each per night. Here’s our meal plan:
The first section is short so take plenty of meat and load up on the protein on the first night rather than carry it across the trail, also it’ll go off pretty quick if it’s warm.
Risotto – my meal!
500g risotto rice (if you buy the boxes of rice it often comes vaccuum packed in two portions of this size – 1 portion (500g) is enough for 4 people plus a little extra).
2 stock cubes (I used garlic and onion ones, as I don’t buy meat stock)
In a zip lock bag:
– 2 tbsp italian herbs
– Salt and pepper
In a second zip lock bag:
– 3 tbsp of good quality grated parmesan
– 1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme leaves
– 4 tbsp of chopped macadamia nuts
Make up the stock in one pan on the trangia – once the cubes have dissolved remove from the heat. In a second pan, add the rice and a little stock. Stir continually gradually adding stock until the rice is cooked with just a little bite left in it. Season with zip lock bag ones contents (herbs, salt and pepper) and then serve with a generous sprinkling of the toppings from zip lock bag two.
A filling meal that’ll cost you only 550g or so in weight and very little space in your backpack!
Emilys pasta and pesto with chorizo.
Pesto is highly concentrated in flavour so you don’t need a lot of it – great for saving weight, it’s delicious with whole meal pasta and some chopped chorizo (either buy vaccum packed our a whole dry sausage so it keeps). This was the perfect fuel to get us through the long day on day four.
Ffi’s lentils and rice.
Anything dried is perfect for the Otter trail as the vast majority of the weight in foods is often water – which is generally plentiful at the camps, so why carry it? Ffi made the perfect last night supper to fill our empty bellies after the longest day. This meal really highlighted how awesome spices are when camping, as Cathy also highlighted in her blog. For relatively little weight cost, mixed spices, garlic and chillies can make a meal really spectacular and warming. Ffi has recently been to Turkey so she brought some of the wonderful mix she bought there to flavour her lentils. We all went back for seconds…and thirds.
Other food tips:
I made these for four of us based on my recipe I used when I was working 14 hour days at Tesco/Pizza Hut.
This is a very rough guide and exactly how much you use of each ingredient will depend on texture and choice. But basically….
Most of a jar of honey
4 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp butter
Chopped dates/dried apricots/peaches/pears/apples/mango/pineapple (a selection)
Chopped nuts (again any selection – I particularly like macadamias, hazelnuts and walnuts)
1 bar 80% dark choc broken in to chunks
4 tbsp mixed seeds (linseed/pumpkin/sesame/sunflower etc)
Cacao to grate on top
Melt honey, sugar and butter together in a large sauce pan. Take of heat and mix in oats, fruit, nuts, seeds and finally the chocolate chunks. Mix well, spoon on to baking trays, flatten, top with a grating of cacao and bake in a medium heat oven for 25 mins or so. Cut whilst still slightly warm (easier).
I refused to give these to anyone who insists flapjacks aren’t oatbars…stupid Americanised languages 😛 (For those who don’t know, South Africans think flapjacks are dropscones/scotch pancakes/American pancakes).
– Portion properly: This allows you to make sure you have both enough and not to much food. As Brett highlighted, you should definitely have some emergency food as you never know. Extra fruit/nuts and a spare dried pasta packet are perfect for this.
– Biltong: Delicious when you’re sick of fruit/nut mix. Helps replace much needed salts lost but make sure to drink plenty of water with it.
– Water tablets and Game/Tang packet drinks: We purified all our water with tablets because who wants to deal with V&D on a hike? The taste isn’t all to bad, but a sweet, sugary hit is great when walking so we filled out water bottles with either Tang or Game powdered drink. Tang is cheaper but Game is isotonic so good for the long days.
– Provita and peanut butter: Light and energy rich.
– Packeted tuna: More expensive but saves on weight in a big way. I try not to eat tuna at all so just took one pack for a mid week protein boost.
– Rye Bread: Lasts longer than ordinary bread, is more filling/energy rich and can often be bought pre sliced.
And the number one thing to take is….Good friends 🙂
Particularly useful we found are:
– A scout leader! “Prepared” is an understatement to describe Bretts approach to the Otter Trail. Extra food, a fantastic first aid kit (waterproof tape – perfect for blister) and an unfailingly cheerful and supportive attitude (particularly useful for getting my lazy ass up hills) were just a few of the things he brought with him 🙂
– A yoga teacher! A good stretch is totally invigorating after a long days hike, particularly when the clambering and carrying has been tough on shoulders and legs. Having Maya with us was so valuable for making sure we all woke up with less aches and pains the next day.
Thanks to everyone for an awesome trip 🙂