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Otter Trail- Info and Advice

Knysna, Tsitsikamma, Wilderness
andre w
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:38 pm

Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by andre w » Sun Aug 01, 2010 7:21 pm

We also did the Otter very recently - a couple of days after Ozkaapie - we couldn't have asked for better weather during the 5 days - stunning - crossed the Bloukrantz on the 22nd July 2010 - low tide was at +/-07:45 and we started our walk from Oakhurst Hut at 04:00 - thus covering the first half of the way to Bloukrantz in dark, we've found the going a bit slow, due to the darkness and markings difficult to find on the coastal section, where a lot of rock scrambling had to be done. This part caught us unawares, because we had done the trail way back in 1992 and the trail was re-routed since then - in 1992, the coastal section wasn't done - it was all the way on the contours of the escarpment well above sea level and made the going thus much easier at the time - nevertheless, this time around, we reached the river at 10:15 - 2 1/2 hours after low tide - the "front runners" were there at 09:15 and waited for us backmarkers - we were 9 in total.
Although the crossing is not for the fainthearted, we experienced it very different compared to the Ozkaapie group - we tackled it differently:
We all had big survival bags for our backpacks - we had first put our backpacks in strong black refuse bags and then in the survival bags, which were tied tight with cable ties.
Also we had more than 70 metres of ski-rope.
We've also done the B route - but just a bit left of the cove were the fixed ropes can be seen.
One of us (Jane) swam over with one end of the rope, whilst the other end was held by another hiker (myself) and a third hiker (my wife, Margaret) made the knots when a rope length ran out - we had several 10 metre lengths - it was very important to have a secure knot (google albright knot for detail), for it not to come loose midway through the crossing.
The first one over (Jane) then securely tied the rope around a rock and all the others then crossed one by one - holding onto the rope with one hand and the survival bag in the other - we "walked" for most of the way - about chin-deep up to +/- 10 metres from the "bank" where the water got too deep and we had to "swim" - if you could call it that - still with the one hand on the rope and the holding the survival bag - we just had to keep an eye on the swell, which was quite HIGH, but all got through safely and our kit were all dry as a bone - I was concerned especially for my precious camera - not a drop of water in our survival bags or kit - when entering the water it was also important to carry the survival bag until it could be floated - dragging it wasn't an option - the rocks would puncture it!! Once one had crossed the river, you needed help to get onto the rocks with your bag. Also it was important to remember to keep a small knife available, to cut the cable ties once crossed.
Once crossed, we've opened the survival bags to put on our backpacks and scrambled up and over rocks to the left - to the sandy exit of route A.
What also helped to exit safely on the other side: we all crossed with good shoes (Salomon TechAmphibians) which is GREAT for something like this - it lets water out, has extraordinary grip on rocks and just overall a brilliant shoe!!
Not all of us were "strong" swimmers, but we've done our planning realy well - it took us +/- an hour to cross and everybody was in high spirits.
Another thing we found is that the bottom still has a lot of sand on it - from several posts we were made to believe that it was all "washed away" by the storms of a couple of years ago - not entirely true - it changed it most definitely, but no sand? and only rocks? - not true!
I agree with Ozkaapie - the crossing could be daunting and a "tragedy waiting to happen" - IF the crossing is tackled in a careless manner - if you feel it's not safe to cross once you're there, then rather opt for the escape route - BUT, if you do your planning well and respect the conditions of the day, it is very crossable - an experience you'll never forget.
The full trail is still something very special - 5 golden pages in our book of life - indeed!
Should anyone have questions, then you're welcome to mail me and I'd answer them gladly - if I can.
Regards
Andrè

OzKaapie
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Aug 01, 2010 4:39 am

Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by OzKaapie » Mon Aug 02, 2010 4:28 am

Thanks Andre,

Seems like you guys had a great time too, and the weather must have been awesome as it was 26 deg in CTN on 21st July.

andre w wrote:....and markings difficult to find on the coastal section, where a lot of rock scrambling had to be done.


Yes, even when I came through at approx 9am, the markings were quite difficult and no existent and I had to doublecheck a few times. Must be quite hard in dark.

andre w wrote:Although the crossing is not for the fainthearted, we experienced it very different compared to the Ozkaapie group - we tackled it differently:
We all had big survival bags for our backpacks - we had first put our backpacks in strong black refuse bags and then in the survival bags, which were tied tight with cable ties.
Also we had more than 70 metres of ski-rope.
We've also done the B route - but just a bit left of the cove were the fixed ropes can be seen.


From your photos, the water looks a lot lower than when we crossed despite you getting there 2 1/2 hrs after low tide. The route you followed is to the left of where I first crossed and it was too deep and current too strong and you needed to all be strong swimmers (on our day) to cross there. Most of our group shared survival bags. I didn't have one, instead relying on contents being secure in bags, which works for me...the water drips out of bag quite quickly.

andre w wrote:We've also done the B route - but just a bit left of the cove were the fixed ropes can be seen. ///
Once crossed, we've opened the survival bags to put on our backpacks and scrambled up and over rocks to the left - to the sandy exit of route A.


We actually crossed at the extreme right of your photo, into that rocky cove, then regrouped, made decision to continue or bail out once it was deemed safe for weakest to go all the way around rocks. Once there you can't see around the rocks, but on the photo it actually looks harder than what it is. We went in and out of that cove you mark ..there is a rock you can step on in between waves.
From your photos, the tide is further in but the water appears lower- no swell.
The bed of river, though not rocky, is very inconsistent. I went from walking thigh deep at exactly low tide to well above two metres within one step.

andre w wrote:I agree with Ozkaapie - the crossing could be daunting and a "tragedy waiting to happen" - IF the crossing is tackled in a careless manner - if you feel it's not safe to cross once you're there, then rather opt for the escape route - BUT, if you do your planning well and respect the conditions of the day, it is very crossable - an experience you'll never forget.


We were mindful of the fact that if the weakest couldn't get through, we turn around and at one point I said to others that we had a 30min window to see if rock scramble was passable or go back over river.

However, my point is this. What sort of trail is this? Is this an 'adventure trail' to be done by very experienced adventurers/canyoners etc only or is it for 'all comers'? If this is for extreme sports people, then fair enough advertise it as such.
Why have 'assistance' i.e. steps etc at lots of other places, but at a point where you have to make sure everybody is safe, there is not even a foot hold?
Why not have steps/path/anchors-foot holds from where we crossed (safest, and a large cove to regroup), to all the way over rocks?
Is this somehow going to ruin the mystique and uncertainty of Blaukrans and Otter itself?
Many people read this and know what 'may' be expected. Others may have someone who did the trail twice (like we had) and they had 'always walked right over at route A- including two 14 yo's'.

What is 'expected' to some is not the same for others, even if you read people's experiences here, you still can't measure it.
We were smack on low tide, yet in retrospect the waves were too huge, but we had no way by means of comparison whether that was 'normal' or not at time, i.e. is it the same for everybody who crosses every day.
The warnings at escape route about not doing it is meaningless, unless you know whether the conditions re normal or not.

Edit: Another important point. Why are those ropes there if it is not advised to use it and there is no indication of where it ends up? It should be removed as an option as it encourages people to use it. From the far side it looks like an official path that is easy enough.
Your decision to bail should be before the river.
What will happen when someone falls there?

When I got back to CTN we met someone at a braai who had done it (again walking through) but knows of a group last year where the leader nearly got washed to sea. Someone else knows of a group who 'lost' two bags.

I googled before , and found two deaths on that crossing ...didn't find that incident now, but here's another one...so there my be more, and the 'tragedy is not waiting to happen'. Another article on same incident- 5 were washed to sea and one died.

Google some more and you find more scary reports.

This is a controlled trail, where you officially register, pay etc- and that, and the fact that people's fitness to do extreme sports is not gauged-makes it even more important that the managers of the trail minimise risk.

Perhaps I have been cocooned in this cautious, litigious society in Oz too long. But when we have had deaths in canyons -wilderness where the access is not managed at all and the onus is on the hiker- there have been coronial inquiries and recommendations.
On a managed trail, those recommendations would be enforced on the owner/manager otherwise you would have lawsuits and criminal negligence.
People think my canyoning is dangerous. But because we know it is uncontrolled, we take responsibility and therefore always have the minimum equipment, experience etc and take precautions (i.e. not after rain etc) , such that it is safer than walking over street.

However where it is a controlled environment, advertised to all comers with passages that are subject to huge variance, then more should be done.

We still had an awesome time, and people are 'better and more confident' for it, but I hope my views are taken on board in the spirit intended, so that it can be safe and fun for all.

cheers :)

andre w
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:38 pm

Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by andre w » Mon Aug 02, 2010 7:25 am

Ozkaapie,
Great post of yours - I actually agree with everything you say.
We were surely blessed with good weather which made a big difference.
I also felt the fixed ropes on the other side are missleading and should be removed - the further one goes to the right of the leftest cove, the more difficult it will be to get back safely on the trail.
I always felt that Sanparks should seriously consider a suspension bridge of some sort over the Bloukrantz - I know it must be very costly - BUT - it WILL save lives - as you mentioned, the crossing already claimed some lives - and the Otter is world famous and generates +/- R 3 000 000 per year - surely they can "make a plan" - and for people who might think it's taking something "away" from the whole Otter experience - well, they can still do the crossing as at present - then just don't do the bridge!
Thanks for your post - makes interesting reading for sure and people should take note!
Regards
Andrè

Eastman
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Aug 04, 2010 6:16 pm

Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by Eastman » Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:15 pm

Greetings!

I hiked the Otter Trail back in June and have to say that the Bloukrans crossing was anticlimactic. I was concerned while planning my trip to South Africa and during the hike, primarily about the temperature of the river in that I am very sensitive to cold. I figured that I wouldn't have a problem swimming so much as tolerating the cold river water especially in winter.

The tide table we received noted that the day of our crossing was going to be a new moon which meant that the tide would be especially low. This ended up being the case. We left camp two hours before sunrise at 5:00 and arrived right at low tide at 9:45. The direct route across was about chest deep, but the alternate route was calf deep. Seven of our group of nine took the direct route which required packing backpacks in those red survival bags and carrying them across. I took the alternate route and didn't even have to use my survival bag. I just put my water sandals on and walked through the very cold water carrying my pack on my back. It was perhaps 30 yards in distance and my feet were numb probably half way through, but otherwise it was a piece of cake. This alternate route required scaling the side of the hill to get back to where the direct route takes you, but there were anchored ropes that made it quite manageable if you are strong enough to pull yourself up with the ropes. Just when I thought I was home free, I found the rest of the hike to camp to be very demanding so keep that in mind.

Regarding the crossing on day 3, I was able to get across by stepping on stones. The stones were very slippery, but if you have a walking stick and focus, it's not bad. I slipped a couple of times but my boots didn't get wet inside. Most of our group got there much later and the river was much higher and problematic so beware of the low tides times for day 3 if you don't want to create problems for yourself.

What caught me by surprise was the river crossing on day 2. No where on this forum or anywhere else was this crossing mentioned! There was no chance of getting across with your boots on, and the current was very strong, perhaps because it rained most of the morning on day 1. Although it was only 10 yards in width, I would have to say that was the toughest river crossing! The combination of cold knee high water, strong current, and the uneven rocky river bottom made for a challenging crossing, especially with a pack on.

I was very pleased to have been able to have gotten a reservation to hike the Otter Trail on such short notice. This was probably possible only because it was winter and I was hiking alone. I posted my experience because it seems to be so much different than the typical experience you read about on this forum. Although the hike is very doable, I don't think you should underestimate the hike as it tests your endurance and strength in many ways by hiking up and down, through boulders, and rivers, and ofcourse is five days long so you have to come with the necessary equipment and food to be prepared for anything and be able to endure through it all.

OzKaapie
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Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by OzKaapie » Thu Aug 05, 2010 2:16 am

That's the key.

Go at new or full moon. Spring tide- That way your low is very low and high very high. However I suspect that low tide will be either morning or evening.

We had combination of close to neap tide (where diff between low and high is at its least) and a cold front from heading up from CTN and getting there just after we crossed (so the effect on waves were already there).

I wonder if bookings are harder to get at new or full moon?

The water being so cold also means that hardly any sea water was entering mouth where you walked, so tide was very low. We had typical Indian Ocean temp in water - I don't like cold water either and it was quite comfortable for me.

So water temp is another giveaway sign of amount of current pushing in and how far it goes in.

zeyphod
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Jul 26, 2010 10:03 am

otter trail - logistics

Unread post by zeyphod » Fri Aug 06, 2010 8:51 am

hi,

I was wandering If you can get to the begining of the otter with a car? and if there is a parking place where you can leave your car during the 5 days hike?
and finaly - how usualy hikers get backe to the begining point where they left their car?

thankes in advance!

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Josh of the Bushveld
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Re: otter trail - logistics

Unread post by Josh of the Bushveld » Fri Aug 06, 2010 9:09 am

The trail starts at the end of the Storms River Mouth rest camp, so yes you can drive here.

i say this under correction, but I'm pretty sure you can park your car somewhere at that rest camp.

How you get back from Nature's Valley I'm not sure, but I'm confident someone else will come along and answer. (When I did it, some of our group evacuated halfway through and drove our car to Nature's Valley).
The 'mite formerly known as joshilewis

FGASA Level 1 Guide

Glen Reenen TR

15-18 June: Berg-en-dal

zeyphod
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Re: otter trail - logistics

Unread post by zeyphod » Sat Aug 07, 2010 4:46 pm

thankes:)

another option I concidered is parking at Nature's Valey and find a way to get to the begining of the trail.. I'm not sure which option is better?:)

andre w
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:38 pm

Re: otter trail - logistics

Unread post by andre w » Sat Aug 07, 2010 10:16 pm

Hi Zeyphod,
I've recently done the Otter and can help you out with the detail.
The Otter does not start at the mouth any longer - it starts at the reception - right inside the entrance to the Tsitsi park.
Opposite from the reception (where you have to pay conservation fees and get your Otter map) is the Otter Room, where you also visit to get a tide table and can watch a video of the Otter. That is the start of the trail.
Parking is right next to the Otter Room. We've parked our car at Nature's Valley - at the Otter parking site - very nice and clean ablution facilities where you can change into your hiking gear - we had overnight at the Storms River the night before the hike.
We got transported from Natures Valley by Natures Valley Guest House - just google them - arrange with Pat Bond - they pick you up at the Otter parking in Natures Valley - very reliable and reasonable tariffs.
If there's anything else you'd like to know, I'll try & answer them.
Enjoy the hike and prepare well!
Andrè

hikeress2010
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Joined: Tue Aug 03, 2010 2:12 am

Re: otter trail - logistics

Unread post by hikeress2010 » Sun Aug 08, 2010 2:58 am

Yeah, just confirming the trail does commence at the reception nowadays on the opposite side of road. This change actually eliminates a huge stretch of boulder hopping which one would have found when starting at end of the chalets car park. As you know boulder-hopping can make a hiker's life bit of misery so early into hike.So good move by SANPARKS for implementing this change.
My tip would be allow time to watch the DVD in Otter Room - excellent footage and informative. And of course you can get yourself sorted there as well including a shower if you desired!
Re:Car park - Definitely leave vehicle at Natures Valley(NV) if you can.Enquire at reception as we did who may be able to provide information on options. Otherwise NV Guest House may be only one providing service.
Luckily for our group we drove our vehicles there the day before hike only because there were family members remaining at the chalets for rest of week to return the 'drivers' back to Storms River.You can only do it this way if you have a return driver/vehicle. Good luck and enjoy!

Tsogo
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Accomdation overview for Otter

Unread post by Tsogo » Mon Sep 06, 2010 4:24 pm

Hi guys.
Organising the otter for a group of 11 friends next year this time and been trying to consolidate the info for them.

One is able to get accommodation at the Storms river mouth rest camp (Tsitsikamma section). Am I correct in assuming this is OK for the new starting point? After reading some threads on these forums I see that the start of the Otter trail has been relocated. One member mentioned that the start site is "it starts at the reception - right inside the entrance to the Tsitsi park". What I'm asking is whether staying at Storms river mouth rest camp would be best suited before the start of the hike?

I assume one can leave their vehicle there (Storms river mouth rest camp) during the duration of the hike and collect it after hike completion.

After completing the hike one can stay at Nature's valley guest house and organise a lift with them back to collect your car at the storms river rest camp.

Does this seem correct? Any other tips or suggestions?

Thanks in advance

Regards

andre w
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:38 pm

Re: Accomdation overview for Otter

Unread post by andre w » Mon Sep 06, 2010 8:31 pm

Hi Tsogo,
I think you're referring to my earlier post. We've done the Otter in July 10 (doing it AGAIN 3 Dec 10).
Yes, the official start is no longer where it was earlier - it USED to start right at sea level - not sure when it changed though - it now starts at the "top" just after you enter the park - as you enter, the reception is on your left - here you register, pay conservation fees (R125 per person) and get your Otter map. Just opposite the reception, is the Otter room where you sign the register, get the tide table and watch the video - the video could be important.
The parking is right next to the otter room and is also the official start of the trail. from there, you go through the "forest" down to sea level - you reach sea level +/- at the cave and from there on, it is the "old" trail - the waterfall not far off.
I suggest you overnight at Storms River the night before the hike - we did and it was GREAT - next morning you can go back up (+/-4.5km) with your vehicle to the reception, Otter room and official parking - the parking seemed very nice and "safe".
We (just 2 of us) didn't have our vehicle at Storms River - it was at Nature's Valley at the Otter parking site - also nice facilities - "safe" parking, ablutions etc etc. - Nature's Valley guest house people took us to Storms River the day before the hike - we thus "walked" to our vehicle and it wasn't necessary for us to return to Storms River after the hike - and THAT was also nice - this way we could have a nice HOT shower and not wasting time to travel there and back again.
After the hike we stayed over in Knysna - you could get in touch with Nature's Valley guest house to hear about accommodation - I'm sure they'll oblige - just google them - and enquire from Pat Bond of the Guest house.
We had a GREAT time - even if it was winter - we had brilliant weather - and the famous/infamous Bloukrans crossing was a "breeze" - due to good conditions and we were prepared well.

Hope this helps a bit
Regards
Andrè

stephens
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Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2011 11:03 pm

Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by stephens » Tue Apr 05, 2011 1:25 am

Hi folks,

I am researching my trip on the Otter Trail which happens in early Dec 2011. It seems from looking at the tide tables in crossing the Bloukrans that low tide on Dec 5th is either at 6am or 7pm. Any suggestions on when best to cross.. a long hike in the dark by sunrise or an easy day and then hike after dark? Any suggestions on the terrain and what is best? Also be great to hear from folks around managing swells when the low tide is not so low.. seems the low tide will be quite high on this day. thanks Stephen

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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 Apr 05, 2011 7:37 am

Either leave super early or take the escape route
The 'mite formerly known as joshilewis

FGASA Level 1 Guide

Glen Reenen TR

15-18 June: Berg-en-dal

Eastman
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Re: River Crossings on the Otter

Unread post by Eastman » Tue Apr 05, 2011 8:58 am

I remember the hike after the Bloukrans took a couple of hours roughly, but I stopped and watched some whales playing for a bit. The last mile or so was pretty steep downhill and would advise against the last part of the hike in the dark.

Finding the path after the dry river about 2 miles in on day 4 isn't obvious. So think of heading to the left as you cross the dry river ( I think it's the Witels River). Besides finding the path after the dry river, hiking through the dark to arrive at the Bloukranz at 6:00am shouldn't be that bad, except for waking up at around 12:00am.

Good luck!


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