Cold Squad

The temperature will soon be plummeting into single digits and this means one thing: snow missions! Join JACQUES MARAIS as he treks into the Winelands mountains in search of powder.

A solid dump of powder transforms the fynbos slopes of Mont Rochelle into a winter wonderland.

Life always makes more sense when you’re in the mountains. Elevated panoramas from high up on spectacular peaks; the ozone-filled air gusting in on the breeze; the feeling of your feet rooting deep down into the bedrock underpinning remote trails…

These sensory components combine to reignite an uncomplicated connection with Mother Nature, a primal instinct that has flickered deep within us since humans first walked barefoot on the planet. This is true wilderness therapy, and it gets even better when winter sets in.

Most South Africans are warm-weather creatures and unashamedly so. And with nine months of soaking up sunshine every year, who can really blame us? So when the icy weather sets in, your first instinct may be to hunker down next to a blazing fire, with a glass of Cabernet and a good book within easy reach.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean you miss out on all the benefits of immersion in nature and exposure to cold. Here’s the deal then: this winter, be like Wim Hof and venture out to face the Big Chill head-on. There is a wonderland of white waiting out there …

Snow Missions

Here’s some insider information (for those who don’t follow ‘Snow Report SA’). The high Hawequas peaks knife-edge against the horizon less than 10km from Franschhoek and it is among them that you will discover Mont Rochelle. This private nature reserve, in my opinion, rates as the best spot close to Cape Town for those in search of a snow fix.

Mont Rochelle is easy to reach off the Franschhoek Pass, with secure parking and safe trails, and is just an hour from Cape Town. And therein lies the rub – you want to get there early to start hiking at least an hour before sunrise, otherwise the crowds may get there before you.

A key item for a successful pre-dawn mission into this captivating winter wonderland, therefore, is a good head torch.

For the rest, gear lists vary from person to person, but good footwear, a thermal base layer and a waterproof jacket are my priorities– and not forgetting a flask of quality coffee! It’s not an issue if you get to Mont Rochelle early, as the gates are always open and you can pay for your permit once you return from your hike. My favourite hike is along the Perdekop Trail, a 13km route traversing spectacular fynbos ridges and ending at a summit that rewards hikers with sweeping vistas across the Franschhoek Valley and surrounds.

During a proper winter fall, you will encounter your first snow a couple of kilometres into the hike.

‘Breakfast Rock’ is a popular coffee stop, and by now the sun should just about begin to peek over the rugged Cape Fold ranges. Keep ascending along the Uitkyk Trail section, winding your way among proteas and fynbos hanging heavy with snow.

Mont Rochelle unfolds like a fairytale landscape in dawn’s early light, with golden rays refracting from scattered icicles and cotton wool drifts.

After 2.7km, a sign points to your right in an easterly direction and you climb steadily through the snowy expanse, with views across the Wemmershoek Valley. Apparently, you can even see Table Mountain on a clear day!

The steepish 4km slog from the Uitkyk junction will eventually get you to Perdekop Summit after a total of 7km of hiking. Truly spectacular views open from the stone cairn, at1 575m the highest point in the nature reserve.

Take a breather, feast your eyes on the breathtaking natural grandeur and slug that last sip from the coffee flask. The descent awaits!

Summer, spring and autumn are just as spectacular, with Mont Rochelle’s full house of gritty trails and peak scrambles awaiting exploration. The reserve forms part of the Unesco Cape Winelands Biosphere, with 30km of well‑maintained trails through our unique fynbos biome. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, especially rock hyraxes (dassies), klipspringers and Chacma baboons. Or you may spot Verreaux’s eagles wheeling against the big blue of the sky. The mountain gods may even decide to smile on you – if you’re lucky – and let you glimpse an elusive Cape mountain leopard or caracal. For more information, go to montrochellehiking.co.za.

Mont Rochelleis the perfect family snow destination, with easy‑to‑access trails in the heart of the Winelands.

Snow Hiking For Dummies

  • Check The Weather. Before embarking on any snow hike, check the weather forecast to ensure you are properly prepared. Snow and ice make for slippery trails and visibility may be greatly reduced, so choose appropriate footwear and gear.
  • Pick The Right Trail. Select trails that are appropriate for winter conditions and make sure these have not been closed by local authorities or landowners.
  • Dress Appropriately. Layering is key to staying warm, starting with thermal, breathable garments and finishing with a wind- and waterproof layer. Waterproof boots, and gloves, a beanie and a scarf willadd protection.
  • Footwear And Equipment. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good traction will make it easier to navigate slippery terrain. Consider using trekking poles for added stability, especially where the trail is unclear andcovered by deep snow.

Go do it

  • Pack Essentials. Water, snacks, a map and a fully charged phone are essential. Someone in the group must pack an emergency kit with first-aid supplies and a whistle. Always log your hike plans and return time with someone. Perdekop and Uitkyk Trails offer moderates now trekking options of all levels of outdoor folk; just make sure you dress for the weather.
  • Best Time To Visit. Mont Rochelle is a mountain paradise in spring or autumn, when the weather is less challenging. Summers get extremely hot, while the winter brings rain and occasional snow. But that’s exactly what you want, right?
  • Getting There. From the N1, take the turnoff onto the R45 to Franschhoek. Follow Lambrechts Road/R45 for 7.5km to the reserve.
  • Accommodation. Picturesque Franschhoek is less than 10 minutes’ drive from Mont Rochelle and boasts the full gamut of accommodation options, from cosy Airbnb’s to premium five-star hotels. Click on visit-franschhoek.co.za to find out more. For more snow information, go to snowreport.co.za.

Other Places

Click here to view the authors other top snow spots in the Western Cape.