The air was filled with a sense of adventure and excitement as Kim, Carina and I headed out to Pniel on the morning of 8 June; for today was the launch of the Pniel Enviro Hiking Club (PEHC) under the leadership of Uhlan Lackay and it would be our first time hiking in the Simonsberg mountains.
Pniel lies between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, a mission station rich with history and the rendezvous point – the impressive Pniel Congregational Church parking lot. This spectacular white building is a mission station built in 1834.
Our hike leader, Uhlan, did the briefing and led the team of 40 (HN members, learners from Rietenbos and Scotland) to the slave monument where he gave some insight into the slaves / shackles, the monument and why it is a heritage site. We set off the tar road parallel to the church until we got to the path where the trail starts. The slope was muddy from previous rainfall and caused some hikers to slip and slide in the mud which led to plenty giggles in the team.
Once on top we followed the trail through the forest to a clearing, where we regrouped and took a water break, before taking the jeep track up towards the mountain. We steadily made our way up the incline with the promise of visiting 3 mining caves and though the uphill was taking its toll on some the banter, encouragements and laughter kept spirits up. We took the steps to the 1stcave commonly known as “2-kamers”, headlights on and eager to explore the long winding passages inside. The group was split into 2 teams to control the oxygen levels inside the cave but not everyone ventured inside and the sweeper kept a watchful eye on who is coming and going.
We proceeded up the steps to the 2nd cave, named “5-kamers” which was bigger and had more passages than the first. Found a water fountain inside as well. The trek up to the mine shaft called Silvermine was a bit steeper. We took a lunch break here while some of us were itching to explore the inside. Uhlan explained that one needs to be extremely cautious since the ledges are small and the shafts are huge holes which you can easily fall into if you don’t watch your step. There are huge wooden ladders that connects the chambers of the first and second shafts. The first shaft is more or less 50 meters and from the scaffolding plank the second shaft continues for 20 meters.
Inside it is pitch black and you need a headlight or a torch to find your way. All the light and movement disrupted the comfort of a bat, which I was first to encounter, at the back of the cave. He was frantically flying around and we decided to turn the group around as not to disturb him much more.
I will definitely do this trail again even though it is an exposed route and probably very hot in summer but the visit to the caves make it all worthwhile. Thank you Uhlan for sharing with us your beautiful hometown and the trails surrounding it!
Thank you Hikers Network 😊
Hikers Network Hike Leader