Information for hikers in Southern Africa
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Foothold, the gem of the Johannesburg Hiking Club!
This is private property and permits are required. The club is targeting conservation orientated groups/clubs. The club’s administrator will issue the necessary permits and upon confirmation the relevant code for the lock, and directions, will be given. Bookings to stay at Foothold, either in Hikers Haven or for camping, should also be made with the club’s administrator.
Situated some 120 kilometres from Johannesburg, the Johannesburg Hiking Club has established a slice of territory called Foothold, which is situated on a portion of a farm. It offers a splendid range of scenery, Hikers Haven accommodation, camping and access to a host of trails.
Hikers Haven nestles in the foothills against the mountain escarpment of the Magaliesberg and accommodates up to ten persons in relative comfort, with necessary mod cons for weekends or longer. Extensive additional space is available on the largely wooded property for caravans and tents.
Water is piped from mountain springs.
Trail options to the escarpment are either via the chain ladder, footloose gully, jubilee gap or Marjean pass. Easy low level routes on the property allow for shorter-duration walks through the bush.
One needs to spend at least a weekend at Hikers Haven, to experience the beauty and variety of trails. Once on the escarpment there are plenty of opportunities to explore, depending on the length of hike required.
Start by following the ‘Chain Ladder’ arrow on the signpost next to the braai at Foothold. Pass through the farm gate, closing it to keep the cattle out. The trail now leads along a fence so watch out for the resident zebras. When you reach a fork in the trail, branch off to the left and pass the ‘0.5km’ marker. Proceed through the stile and head to your right where almost immediately you will veer to the left and start to climb. A short stop at the 1km mark is advantageous in order to admire the patchwork homesteads and watch the vultures nesting on the rock face. Now head off up the hill, following the ‘Chain Ladder’ arrow.
The path is well defined, and marked by means of red ribbons hanging from the branches of trees, and painted dots on rocks along the way. The track dips downhill for a brief stretch just before the ladder; but don’t get your hopes up too soon! At the foot of the cliff you will pass one of the wonders of the Modern World – the main catchment junction for the spring water that feeds the Johannesburg Hiking Club’s Foothold property. Be careful not to stand on the black plastic piping.
The approach to the ladder can be tricky – watch out for dislodged rocks, and be careful not to dislodge any yourself. Ropes, chains and steel rings are there to assist you. The ladder consists of 72 rungs and is a masterpiece in itself. Once you reach the top of the ladder, a brief scramble takes you to a small plateau where you can rest and enjoy the view. A cairn includes signposts indicating that Footloose Gully lies to the west, Jubilee Gap to the east, and the chain ladder to the south (but you knew that, since you have just climbed it!)
If you head east, the trail takes you along the top of the cliff towards the cairn that marks the top of Jubilee Gap; even further east lies Marjean Pass. To the west, the trail runs along the top of the cliff towards the top of Footloose Gully and thence to another cairn at the top of the ridge. Alternatively, a short, stiff climb (including a bit of bundu-bashing) takes you straight to the top.
From the top the mountain slopes gently to the north; several kloofs with streams and pools (depending on the rainfall) lie within easy reach. To the north-east lies Souci Pools; further down the river you will come to Humdinger Pool. To the north lies Mhlabatini Kloof (out of bounds unless you have a permit, as it is Mountain Club property) and, to the north-west, Fern Kloof. The kloofs are well defined and are lined with fascinating rock formations.
After lunch you will probably head back south towards the ‘koppie‘ on the horizon, which lies just to the west (right) of the cairn marking the top of Jubilee Gap. At the cairn you can decide which route to follow for the return trip (Footloose Gully, Marjean Pass, Jubilee Gap, or even back down the Chain Ladder) but we have decided to take the Footloose Gully.
Footloose gully route
The existence of a hiking route through the cliffs was a pre-requisite to the club’s purchase in 1987 of the property now known as Foothold. No such route was found on the property, but a magnificent gully (later named Footloose) existed nearby on the property of our friendly neighbour who agreed to allow the club the use of it.
This cleft in the cliff face is accessed from the camp by using the same main path as for the chain ladder gully route up to a point near the cliffs where a bifurcation takes place, left for Footloose, right for the ladder. On reaching the cliff face, admire the majestic aloes jutting out from the rock, the route turns left along its base for five to ten minutes of easy scrambling, before it turns right and up into the gully which is long and steep, though not too difficult but which often contains loose stones which, if disturbed can be hazardous to climbers below. Care must be exercised here.
The main path up to the cliffs slopes gently initially then steepens quite dramatically in places as it penetrates the shading forest. The unprepared hiker may require as much as an hour and a half, including rests to get to the top of the gully, an overall climb of about 350mr. over a distance of 2,25km. A welcome break is usually taken here on the cliff edge which offers a fine view of the surrounding countryside and the forest and camp below.
Though not as spicy as the ladder gully, the Footloose gully route is a rewarding and picturesque scramble through pristine nature.
This route is popular for those scared of the chain ladder or who perhaps dislike scrambling or crawling up the gully or gap. It takes you out of the main Foothold gate back along the entrance road, along Heap’s Way and then left at the red markers along a farm path. Make sure all gates are left as they are found (request from farmer for the safekeeping of cattle.) Walk along the path through a few gates and then follow the red markers to the left which take you gently up a rocky path. Watch out for the pile of rocks where the path splits, left takes one up Jubilee Gap and right is Marjean Pass.
Now follow the yellow markers to the escarpment. The path leads through typical African bushveld where the ground is tussocky and the higher you get, the steeper the climb becomes and the looser the soil gets, so watch your ‘foothold’. The going gets very steep so make regular stops for air and admire the patchwork of fields to the south or watch the vultures soaring in the thermals. The last surge through the gap to the crest is invigorating but rewarding as one summits the escarpment. A myriad of hikes now awaits the keenest of hikers.
Clamber over rocks and boulders at the base of the gap. There is a rope/chain to assist one up and down the gap but with a stretch of the legs and a push or pull by fellow hikers, the crest is reached. Stop to pick out the route you have just hiked or relax and take in the splendour of the horizon.
From the crest a myriad of eroded nooks and crannies demand exploration amongst the weird and wonderful boulders, potholes and trickling streamlets which awaits the keenest of hikers.
For the less energetic, or the ‘birders’, there is the short ‘bird path’ or the ‘Koppie Loop’ The latter takes you along the path to the chain ladder but at the 1km mark one veers off to the right to follow the markers and explore the ‘road less traveled’, around Millennium Koppie and back to the fence. Here you can pick up the bird path back to Foothold.
The bird path takes you over the stile to the south of Hikers Haven, through typical African Bushveld, up pass the ruins of an old farmhouse, along the edge of a large donga to a fence where you meet the usual trail back to Hikers Haven. Over 100 species of birds have been spotted in and around the Foothold area in the Magaliesberg.
For the less energetic, or the ‘birders’, there is a quartet of inter-linked nature trails to be walked. These have much to offer those interested in rambling around enjoying the trees, flowers, birds and occasional animals but more often their tracks.
Bird-watching is an increasingly popular pastime world-wide and Foothold, despite the lack of natural water or dams, provides plenty of interest to such enthusiasts, whether beginners or veterans.
The permanent drip into the grindstone at Hikers Haven attracts a great variety of birds and happy hours can be spent sitting comfortably, watching the passing feathered parade. The first Foothold bird list, noted 47 species – the current count (if we cheat and include the tame ostrich at Aasvoelkrans), is 180!
For the bird trail, head a little south and over the stile on the western fence. Follow the red markers in trees through some typical African bushveld. This takes you along the side of a deep donga and passed the ruins of the old farmhouse. Various paths lead off to the east back to Hikers Haven, making the trail very short. Carry on passed the old farmhouse back into thick bushveld watching and listening for a large variety of birds. This trail meets the track to Millennium Koppie and beyond but if one has had enough, wander down the path back to Hikers Haven.
Take either the bird path, or the preferred route to the top, leaving Hikers Haven in a northerly direction, passing through the gate which must always be left closed. Pass the 0.5km mark and at the 1km sign, stop to admire the view over the patchwork of fields to the hills in the horizon. Look towards the escarpment and if you are lucky enough, watch the Cape Vultures soaring in the thermals returning to their nesting grounds along the rock face. Gaze up to the Footloose and Ladder Gullies before taking the red ribbon route to the east through African bushveld. Listen for the various bird calls, feel the texture of some leaves or look at the moss or toadstools growing around the foot of various trees. This route offers the slow hiker, the birder, the stroller or not so fit person, a good hike but nothing too strenuous.
Remember: This is private property and permits are required.
The club’s administrator will issue the necessary permits and upon confirmation directions and the relevant code for the lock will be given to approved conservation orientated groups/clubs. Bookings to stay at Foothold, either in Hikers Haven or for camping, should also be made with the club’s administrator.