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Otter Trail- Info and Advice

Knysna, Tsitsikamma, Wilderness
ashleysanichar
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Joined: Thu Oct 01, 2009 7:35 am

Detailed Otter Trail Blog - Start to Finish with Photos

Unread post by ashleysanichar » Thu Oct 01, 2009 7:41 am

Hi, Our group on the Otter decided to blog the entire adventure. It was a great experience we wanted to share with everyone.

Here is the link.

http://www.theotterodyssey.blogspot.com/

CapeDoc
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Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by CapeDoc » Mon Oct 19, 2009 1:48 pm

We have just completed the Otter Trail.
I think it is important to give a little inf on the Bloukraans river crossing.

Since the floods a few years ago the mouth at the Bloukraans has changed dramatically. ALL the sand has been washed from the mouth, and the river bed is now smooth pebbles and rocks. The floods have scoured out the river and it is now impossible to walk across. If you wish to cross you WILL HAVE TO SWIM, with your bags, across the river. The decision you face when reaching the river is quite tough. There are many options, depending on your ability, equipment and the local conditions.
The map you will be issued with as you depart will explain, with a diagram your options.
You have 3 basic options:
Option A:
A long swim (about 60m) though the swell (or breakers depending on the daily conditions). The exit here is easier, and allows a walk out of the sea (after negotiating a few submerged boulders through the breaking waves), into a sandy channel. From there, access to the trail is staight forward.
Option B:
Here the swim is further up river. The swim is shorter and depending where you exit, the swell size is much smaller. The exit here is much more difficult, requiring you to climb out onto a near vertical rock face. Remember you will have your backpacks in waterproof bags at this stage. Once you are out, there will be rock climbing (or "bouldering") to reach the path. The shorter the swim (about 20m minimum) the more climbing you will have to do.
Option C:
Take the STEEP escape route. Some people seem to regret this, thinking that the swim would be easier!

We had 50m of rope, and waterproof bags and easy clip off carabinas. We did the Option A swim. Our 50m rope did not reach from bank to bank and we held the free end in waist deep water, having to jump over swell as they rolled in. We were only 4 persons walking the trail and swam two bags at a time across the river, swimming the rope back to collect the second set of bags. All in all it went well, only small amounts of water wetting the outside of some backpacks. Mine was bone dry.

If you are considering the long swim, I would recommend:

1) Waterproof bags for your backpacks.
A survival bag may work but we were fortunate to get purpose built bags from the UK. We had 3 lightweight bags (waterproof, roll down with a clip to secure), one heavy duty one (the roll down sort, made of heavy plastic canvass). The bags were fantastic. When used properly they worked perfectly, trapping air with the backpack, helping to float the bags across. One has to be careful with any bag one it has the backpack in it, as one of ours got small rips in it from being placed on a rock. Check your bag just prior to the swim.
2) Duct tape. (lots of it)
Seal survival bags (fold down many times, then a strip of duct tape. Repeat). Fix holes in bags prior to the swim.
3) Rope.
If you want to do it comfortably, at least 75m of rope. (Perhaps in two or three lenghts?). Preferably floating rope. Ours sank, snagging every now and then. It was easy to pull the air filled bags across, with two people swimming with the bags.
(Great rope shop near "The Spotty Dog" in Cape Town)
4) Carabinas or clips.
When exiting, you are buffeted by the waves, (with underwater rocks) and being able to quickly release bags makes a big difference. (we got away with minor scratches!)
5) Shoes you can swim in.
(And wear around camp after a long day's walk)
Slops tend to come off. The ideal would be those aqua shoes, wetsuit booties or well protected sandals (one of our party got quite badly cut though the opening in his sandals. Not great when you still have to walk). I had tight fitting crocs, which worked OK. Others ended up duct taping their shoes on.
6) Heavy duty garbage bags.
Put the backpack in the garbage bag first, duct tape it closed. Put that in the waterproof bag. "Belt and braces".
7) Ziploc Bags.
Put everything into one. "Belt and braces".
I found a "plastic" shop in Cape Town (next to the Engen Garage on Landsdowne Road near Access Park) that sold all shapes and sizes. Large ones are particularly useful. Take spares.
8 ) Plasters and antibacterial cream! (Fucidin) 8)

Hope that helps! Being prepared helped us a lot. Hopefully the sand will all come back one day and walking across the river may become possible.

Just a note on the Lottering crossing. Get into swimming gear and have a walk through the river before trying with the pack. We swam our packs over, not knowing they could have been balanced on our head and walked over.

CapeDoc
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Re: Otter Trail

Unread post by CapeDoc » Mon Oct 19, 2009 3:54 pm

We just completed the otter trail a week ago.
Only 4 of us walked it and we loved it! Not quite as tough as I thought it would be. We had a little rain on day one and a lot of mist on day two, otherwise, kindly overcast. The rivers that were for fresh water collection were all quite dry and hardly running.
I learned a few things on the trail:

- Clothing:
You don't need a lot of it! I wore one pair of lightweight long pants with zip off legs for the whole trip. Modern hiking clothes are FANTASTIC! I took 2 modern, "wicking" lightweight shirts. They seemed to shrug off dirt and smells, and were fantastically quick to dry. The long sleeved shirt was comfortable in the spring sun and prevented sunburn.

A clean tracksuit is a treat to wear around camp after a shower.

Good, comfortable, waterproof boots make for happy feet. I got a cut under my foot, but the good boots made it easy to walk on.
Good thick hiking socks also help.

A poncho works well! It stops the rain from wetting the back of your pack when you use a rain cover (if you throw it over the pack)

- Walking poles:


Ha! I used to think they were for sissies! They are amazing! I used only one and the help it gave was awesome! I found myself "punting" myself uphill, taking about 15 to 20% of the load off my legs. On the downhills, the stop the jarring on your knees as you gently lower yourself down. USE THEM!

- Kit
- A decent head torch is a good idea.
- Modern gas burners are fantastic.
- A candle or two would have been great to have. We omitted them but the would have made the hut nights better.
- If you don't want to take firelighters, a tube of "waterless hand cleaner gel" (alcohol based) works a treat!
- One of us had a UV light steriliser pen, which we used to sterilise the water. (a lot of development upstream). We had no tummy upset at all!
- A "Camelbag" type water bag is worth it! Some of the marked fresh water rivers looked a little stagnant to me. Having 2litres to sip on while you walk is very comforting and keeps you hydrated without you ever feeling the need to fill your belly with water.
- if you have an old backpack, borrow a new one!
- in spring, a lightweight sleeping bag with a liner was more than adequate.

- River crossing stuff:
Read this..

:thumbs_up:

mr_scribbles
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Joined: Sun Nov 01, 2009 10:12 pm

swimming at the otter

Unread post by mr_scribbles » Sun Nov 01, 2009 10:30 pm

hi people.we planning to do the otter sometime next year,havent booked yet tho..im not a very good swimmer,actualy cant swim at all.question is,is it absolutely essential to be able to swim ,to cross the rivers?especially the bloukrans.or are the other rivers relatively easy to cross?than i could just take the escape route at bloukrans?

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ndloti
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Re: swiiming at the otter

Unread post by ndloti » Mon Nov 02, 2009 10:37 am

As far as I can remember here is no escape route option at the Bloukrantz crossing , the walls of the gorge are pretty unclimable , just take a personal flotation device along in case the low tide is higher than average .
KNP is sacred. I am opposed to the modernisation of Kruger and from the depths of my soul long for the Kruger of yesteryear! 1000+km on foot in KNP incl 56 wild trails.200+ nights in the wildernessndloti-indigenous name for serval.

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Josh of the Bushveld
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Re: swiiming at the otter

Unread post by Josh of the Bushveld » Mon Nov 02, 2009 10:47 am

I've done the Otter once, ten years ago. From what I remember, it all depends on the tides at your time of crossing. Both high/low and neap/spring etc.

Seeing as you haven't booked yet (good luck), it would probably be a good idea to try book your trip to give you a good crossing during a spring tide, with the low tide at a reasonable time during the day (so you don't have to leave too early). There's a fair amount of walking after the crossing too so you don't want it too late either.

I don't remember the tide situation when I did it, but I remember being able to walk most of it, with very little actual swimming. Others in the group (experienced backpackers) had some trouble towards the end of the crossing if I remember correctly.

It can also depend on rainfall upstream. If the river is in flood, it may not make a difference what the tides are doing.

As far as I remember (could be wrong), there weren't any other major crossings on the trail, certainly nothing like the Bloukrans.

To answer your question, if you time it nicely with the tides, then no you don't have to be able to swim to cross it. However I would be wary in attempting it without being able to swim. Rivers can be dangerous and are very unpredictable.
The 'mite formerly known as joshilewis

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mr_scribbles
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Re: swimming at the otter

Unread post by mr_scribbles » Sun Nov 08, 2009 11:14 am

thanx guys..lets hope they build a bridge by than..else ill just have to take my noodle :P

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ndloti
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Re: swimming at the otter

Unread post by ndloti » Thu Nov 12, 2009 9:06 am

I have just read an article on the Otter trail in the latest Weg! magazine ( English version is called Go!) where the Bloukrantz crossing is described , the river bed has been eroded by heavy seas and is much deeper than average , but that may easily change in the future .
KNP is sacred. I am opposed to the modernisation of Kruger and from the depths of my soul long for the Kruger of yesteryear! 1000+km on foot in KNP incl 56 wild trails.200+ nights in the wildernessndloti-indigenous name for serval.

Moira de Swardt
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Re: Otter Trail, safety, own tent?

Unread post by Moira de Swardt » Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:07 am

heather_s wrote:Hi, we are Australians thinking of doing the Otter Trail sometime this year, probably October if we can get in; but I'd like to find out how safe the area is (crime wise)? Also, we don't like sleeping in huts when we go on multi day hikes, are we allowed to use our own tent instead?


The Otter Trail is as safe as anything can be. In other words there have been no unpleasant incidents that I know of.

Regarding the tents, at least on some of the days there is no room near the hut to pitch a tent, the huts having been built on rocky outcrops above the sea (even the river is about 200 metres down). However, if you want to carry a tent I'm sure no-one will have any objections. On the three occasions I have done the Otter Trail (none recently) the party I was with used the huts.

You should just be able to ask the people with whom you did the booking for any current information. You do have a booking? The trail is booked up several years in advance in peak seasons. It is STRICTLY limited to ten hikers a day because of the ecological sensitivity of the area which means that bookings are highly sought after.
I don't get to the Parks nearly often enough, despite two trips to the KNP and one to Golden Gate this year.

Moira de Swardt
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Re: Otter Trail, safety, own tent?

Unread post by Moira de Swardt » Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:12 am

My apologies, I see now that you are trying to get a booking for October. This is a good time to try. Students and scholars are all working for their exams and are thus removed from the competition for places.

I hope you get a place. It is a very beautiful and exciting trail and I saw lots of interesting things on the trail, including otters twice.
I don't get to the Parks nearly often enough, despite two trips to the KNP and one to Golden Gate this year.

heather_s
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Re: Otter Trail, safety, own tent?

Unread post by heather_s » Tue Jan 12, 2010 8:48 am

thanks Moira; I looked on the online booking and saw a couple of places available on two days, one in October and the other in November, there's only two of us! I don't like shared accommodation, all that snoring, haha, hence the tent query.

I lived in Cape Town for a while, about 12 years ago, but never managed to find time to do the Otter Trail. My main issue is more finding cheap flights from Australia; I need to go from Brisbane via Perth and the prices are astronomical!

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Josh of the Bushveld
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Re: Otter Trail, safety, own tent?

Unread post by Josh of the Bushveld » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:18 am

Hi heather, and welcome to the forums.

Re safety, I think there are sometimes illegal fisherman in the trail area (I saw some on my trail in '99), so there are sometimes other people in the area. I imagine it would not be a good idea to confront such people if you come across them.

May I ask why you prefer sleeping in a tent to the huts? (Am just curious). The huts on the otter are quite reasonable, and you might find you might have a much better experience not having to carry a tent (and mattress).
The 'mite formerly known as joshilewis

FGASA Level 1 Guide

Glen Reenen TR

15-18 June: Berg-en-dal

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DuneRichard
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Re: Otter Trail

Unread post by DuneRichard » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:19 am

Right so, heres the breakdown...

Take a guy foolish enough to live in the Kalahari Desert, and add an extra load of foolishness to that guy and get him really amped up for the Otter Trail.. Sound great? YEAH!!

But...

I am a hard-conditioned desert dweller, and have very (VERY) little knowledge of water in vast quantities, does anyone have any tips and/or info on the water aspect of the Otter Trail? Rivers, crossings, etc etc etc.

How do I go about preparing myself, and my equipment for the trail?
Ex Africa semper aliquid novi
Always something new out of Africa - Pliny the Elder

Thanatosis emoticon - :shock:

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17 years of life in the magical Kalahari and LOVING IT!

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Josh of the Bushveld
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Re: Otter Trail

Unread post by Josh of the Bushveld » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:35 am

DuneRichard wrote:
How do I go about preparing myself, and my equipment for the trail?

How much walking have you done in your boots, and with your (fully-loaded) backpack?

As mentioned in the previous post, I can recommend a hydration bladder. (I use a 20-year old Backpacker Boulder and put the bladder in one of the upper side-pockets, with the tube going through a loop in the shoulder strap).

If water quality is an issue, (I don't know what the situation on the Otter is now), get yourself a bottle of Aqua Salveo (chlorine pills taste horrible). I'd also recommend a second (smaller) bottle which you can drink from while waiting for the water purification to work (it'll take a while in a 2l hydration bladder).

CapeDoc wrote:- If you don't want to take firelighters, a tube of "waterless hand cleaner gel" (alcohol based) works a treat!
Very interesting idea!
The 'mite formerly known as joshilewis

FGASA Level 1 Guide

Glen Reenen TR

15-18 June: Berg-en-dal

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Josh of the Bushveld
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Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by Josh of the Bushveld » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:38 am

CapeDoc wrote:We have just completed the Otter Trail.
I think it is important to give a little inf on the Bloukraans river crossing.

5) Shoes you can swim in.
(And wear around camp after a long day's walk)
Slops tend to come off. The ideal would be those aqua shoes, wetsuit booties or well protected sandals (one of our party got quite badly cut though the opening in his sandals. Not great when you still have to walk). I had tight fitting crocs, which worked OK. Others ended up duct taping their shoes on.
I recommend Salomon TechAmphibian or SportAmphibian for this. They're the most comfortable pair of shoes I've bought so far.
The 'mite formerly known as joshilewis

FGASA Level 1 Guide

Glen Reenen TR

15-18 June: Berg-en-dal


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