Hiking in lockdown level 3 is a hectic blend of smiling, waving and stranger danger
Mila de Villiers discovers that social distancing is awkward at best when the trails are teaming with lockdown-fatigued Gautengers
“Because it's there,” George Mallory quipped in 1923 when asked why he wanted to climb Everest (he'd already had two failed attempts).
Unlike our friends in the Western Cape, Gautengers unfortunately can't relate to Mallory's infamous maxim — owing to the province's considerable lack of massifs, made even more apparent during Covid-19's lockdown rules.
Ask any Gautie where they enjoy hiking and “Magaliesberg” will be their go-to response. This august mountain range extends across Gauteng and North West — waterfalls, rock pools, ravines, kloofs and escarpments aplenty. It's an ideal place to rid your body of isolation angst, right? Right.
Slight snag, though: North West is a no-go for Gautengers and the favoured hiking routes managed by the Magaliesberg branch of the Mountain Club have been persona non grata'd until further notice. No Tonquani Kloof, no Hamerkop Kloof, no Castle Gorge, no Mountain Sanctuary Park. Nada.
The only option us GPers were left with was the Hennops Hiking and Mountain Biking Trails, roughly 60km from Joburg (our party's point of departure) and 30-odd kilometres outside Pretoria, which explains why — as we entered level three — the hike-happy (and lockdown-fatigued) denizens of the Hoëveld ascended upon Hennops like influencers to Lion's Head when the moon enters a new phase.
From toppies to teens to toddlers (sans tiaras), this grassland biome was teeming with zealous hikers on a Sunday in early June. In an effort to minimise contact, card facilities had been replaced with cold, hard cash and the masked millennial collecting our ZARs traced the mapped route of the 10km Krokodilberg Trail with a conscientiously-gloved hand.
We'd arrived at the crack of yawn, so headed towards the coffee-station-cum-roosterkoek-patisserie, where we were offered hand sanitiser before we placed our orders.
“You should have seen it yesterday!” the woman preparing our hot drinks exclaimed from behind her face-shield when we commented on the number of visitors. Hectic.
People attempted to distance when approaching narrowing pathways, with each side-step met with far more 'thank yous' and 'hellos' than in the BCE (Before Corona Era)
Masks were a must prior to entry and promptly abandoned by the majority of hikers as soon as their treks kicked off. And yes, every member of our group of five was a culprit of said offence. But let's be honest: they get siff and stuffy enough on a stroll through the 'burbs. Imagine having to don your precautionary cloth for a solid two-and-a-half-hours. While traversing the not-quite-Camino. In the unforgiving African sun. Sies, man.
Where possible, people attempted to maintain distance when approaching narrowing pathways, with each sidestep met with far more “thank yous” and “hellos” than one received hiking BCE (Before Corona Era). As in, people were really keen to start chats with strangers ...
At the “Kees se Uitkykpunt” viewpoint, we found maddening crowds in hot pursuit of Instagram-worthy pics, snacking on trail mix and sipping from Valpré bottles, all with a surprisingly scant understanding of how the metric system works (it's 1.5m, not 15mm, guys).
So we partook in some Grade 1 scrambling towards terra incognita (ie, a rocky outcrop some distance from the masses), where we enjoyed a bit of social-distanced scenery and a sneaky Sharp cigarette.
Once we departed from our “Contraband Koppie”, overtaking saunterers proved a far more frustrating task than usual. Impatience vs maintaining distance is a perilous game to play. (Disclaimer: no octogenarians were harmed in the process. Promise.)
The remainder of the route fortunately mostly allows for wide berths or single-file traipsing and concludes back at the beginning of the trail, the Hennops River. Now, one has more than one option of crossing it: on foot, as we'd done on arrival (think sandbags and a rickety wooden bridge) or by an old-school cable car.
And yebo, did the airborne device not turn out to be the preferred mode of transportation for everyone but us.
Virus risk: 1 — Diligent distancing: 0. Happy hiking, y'all!
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