When the start of a hike is marked out only by a burnt, split tree with a rock in the middle, you know that you are up for some sort of adventure. And so, began our very Lord of The Rings inspired hike up the treacherous Dark Gorge.
But before we had even begun that part of the hike we already experienced a prequel of things to come by getting ourselves lost in Newlands Forest on the way to the top contour path. At one point, we stumbled upon a group of homeless people just across the small river who were still sleeping with a small fire smoking gently. We gave them a wide berth and stumbled across another fashioned sleeping spot but fortunately it was empty. Because we were essentially forging our own paths we were met with spider webs in the face wherever we went but we did not encounter Shelob. I briefly got entangled in thorns before climbing up onto a rocky gorge that was covered with green and slippery moss which required climbing on all fours to ensure stability. But we knew if we continued up we would eventually connect with the top contour path. And soon Ewe popped up onto the contour path with only a few metres left to connect with the actual start of our hike.
The Dark Gorge is about 60m further on the contour path past the more traditional Newlands Ravine. There is no sign at the start of the hike but I had seen the famous tree from another blog and knew that we had to first start at the right side of the gorge. Following the cairns for a bit of the way up we came across the Dark Gorge sign which urged us to go up the Newlands Ravine route instead.
But spurred on by an easy succession of cairns we were able to follow them all the way up the gorge as the path narrowed and got increasingly rockier. There is also a point towards the top where you have to move across the gorge from right to left to avoid heading toward Dark Gulley which requires a rope to ascend. It is at this point where you see a multitude of magical trees and it really appears as if you are in Middle-Earth.
It was only right at the top where the gorge really narrowed and got steep that I felt a bit nervous. I found myself on a vertical cliff using very small foot and hand holds as leverage to climb up. It changed from a hike to actual rock climbing. At this point I questioned my own sanity at dragging everyone on this particular route. Fortunately, it didn’t last too long and we were soon up and over onto the saddle. It would be very difficult and is not recommended to descend the Dark Gorge so we walked a bit further along the saddle and then down to Newlands Ravine. We found ourselves back in the winding paths of Newlands Forest a mere 4-hours later after what felt like a very full day of adventure.