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Orange Kloof Saturday 6th August 2016 - Or A tunnel too far

posted 14 Mar 2017, 12:46 by Hagen Liebberger
The day started badly. Even in my sleep filled mind it seeped through that it was getting light outside, and my alarm hadn’t gone off at 06:00 as planned. I looked at my watch whose luminescence glowed weakly but enough to show it was 06:45. WHAT… 06:45…I was due to get to Brent’s place at 07:15. I couldn’t do it – I had to.

I jumped out of bed and threw some clothes on. Packed a day sack on auto pilot and rushed downstairs to get some food together. But first, animal can’t suffer because I screwed up! Feed the cat, feed the dog and let it outside, and finally feed the chickens. What must be done was done, and I backed the car down the drive – Don’t hit the gatepost just because you are late!

I made it to Brent’s place by 07:15 on the dot, and Brent offered to drive, which was great as I could eat and drink some vitals I had thrown in a bag. We picked up Helen and we set off along the N2 heading for Constantia Nek.

Brent drives like – well most powerful bakkie drivers - the road is his and I’m bigger than you! So we made fast time and pulled into the Constantia Nek car park at 08:10. Our guide Suzanne Smith was waiting for us, so ‘no pressure’ but get yer boots on and lets go.

It was strange to set off diagonally into Orange Kloof, instead of going up the track and path to Bel Ombre, but good to be heading off for new ground and to add a little more to my knowledge of the Table Mountain complex jigsaw of environments, hills tops, valleys and ravines.

The jeep track gains steady height, made easier by frequent stops as Suzanne and Helen swapped notes on the flora, with Brent interjecting with Geological info, which I love to learn about.

An hour took us past the towering distant De Villiers dam wall and up into the heart of Orange Kloof. The track now changes to the ‘Peoples Trail’. Which is a bit of a conundrum, as the people aren’t allowed on it without a permit. This path is well laid, but is suddenly steeper as we gained more height into the back of the Kloof, with Hells Gates and Frustration Ridge away to our left. One wonders what went on to cause such names.

Heading up 'Peoples Trail'

The sun had yet to reach us, as the Kloof is partly protected by the towering cliffs of its northern bastions, and as it had been raining that night the
undergrowth was want to give of its moisture that hung in glittering diamonds of water on every leaf, grass stem, and spider web. I hung back in third place (of four) hoping that the front-runners would glean most of the wetness, but I still got soaked.

We reached a path junction marked on Slingsby’s map as ‘Journeys End’. But it wasn’t the end of our journey. A short descent took us down to the entrance of the original Woodhead tunnel. I spent some time on Google and put together this brief history:

Brent crossing to the Woodhead Tunnel

Burgeoning Cape Town had been getting its water from a small steam on the west side of the mountain. The drought of 1880 came as a shock, so something had to be done, and the only alternative supply was to tap the waters of Disa Gorge on the far side of the mountain. A pipeline was begun from Cape Town along the west side of the mountain, and at the same time, to meet the pipeline, the Woodhead tunnel was carved through the rock from Slangolie ravine to the outfall of Disa Gorge. This was complete in 1891.

Almost immediately it was realized that even this step was not enough and the Woodhead dam, complete in 1897, was built to store the winter waters and control the flow. Still more water was required and the Hely-Hutchinson dam was complete in 1904.

By the 1950’s the Woodhead tunnel was degrading badly, partly from corrosion in the cast iron pipe caused by the powerful flow of water. A second tunnel was then completed in 1964, making the Woodhead tunnel redundant. The ‘second’ so-called Apostles Tunnel ends 100m to the north of the Woodhead, exiting on Woody Buttress.

Inside the 1891 Woodhead Tunnel

We ascended Disa Gorge to cross the stream and entered the Apostles entrance. Incidentally, I found a UTube of four intrepid youths who had explored both tunnels, traversing the length of Woodhead, but finding the lower end of the Apostles locked, 640m down the steep tunnel, then 640m back up again – many steps and endless darkness and rushing water!. It is an interesting view on UTube.

We headed on up Disa Gorge, along the deep ravine filled with luxurious verdant trees, ferns and early spring flowers until we reached the fine stepped waterfall from the spillway of the dam above us – a rarely viewed treat in itself. Lunch on top then a leisurely walk down, asking passing walkers if they knew the score of the Lions Vs Hurricanes game.

Entrance to Apostles Tunnel

We strolled over the flats past De Villiers dam whilst Suzanne talked of the Wynburg caves, which we will go past on the clubs planned hike for the 25th September. Then that long descent down the track back to Constantia Nek - I don’t like downhill. Ah well it had been a great day, I had learnt a lot, and filled in some gaps of my TM knowledge. Thanks to Suzanne from all of us for organizing the trip.

Steve Chadwick 9thAug2016




Our guide Suzanne heading up Disa














Gorge to the dam
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