Hermanus’s renowned fynbos specialist and conservationist Frank Woodvine realised a cherished ambition recently: when he reached his 90th birthday, he would test himself by attempting to climb to Aasvoëlkop, the highest point in Fernkloof Nature Reserve.
Having reached that landmark age on 14 January, Frank was ready to go. But the spell of hot summer days that followed would have made the climb too demanding, even for a much younger person. He waited until cooler and cloudy weather was forecasted for Friday 31 January – and the date was set.
The next consideration was to decide on the most suitable route. Approaching Aasvoëlkop directly from the centre of Fernkloof Nature Reserve entails a very steep and arduous climb. An alternative route from Rotary Way and along the high ground would have been a very long walk. The best way would be to approach from the Hemel-en-Aarde side.
After driving to the farm boundary of the Hamilton Russell Estate, Frank set off on his walk, which started with a fairly steep initial approach before continuing at a more gentle gradient and intersecting with the footpath to Galpin Hut.
At this higher elevation the landscape was completely enveloped in mist, with very few landmarks for the untrained eye. During his 20-year tenure as Curator of Fernkloof it was Frank himself who had surveyed and established many of the paths in Fernkloof, so in spite of the lack of visibility he always knew exactly where he was.
The Hermanus Botanical Society works together with Overstrand Municipality, which is responsible for the reserve. Frank has been a member of the Hermanus Botanical Society for 44 years and still assists them with documenting the flora, maintaining the paths and removing invasive alien plants.
The hope was to meet members of the Botanical Society who were on a survey to find a rare orchid but, although Frank could hear their voices in the mist, the opportunity to share in his triumph was not to be. The only witnesses were a long-time forestry friend who tagged along as sherpa, and a solitary boulder at Sculptured Corner where Frank stopped to rest.
The final steep section was taken 10 steps at a time, but a triumphant Frank reached the top, fulfilling his personal challenge and becoming, in all probability, the oldest person ever to have stood on that summit.
Unfortunately, the mist persisted so the spectacular 360o view from the top, which takes in the town of Hermanus, Walker Bay, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Babylonstoring, Maanskynkop and Klein River Estuary, and stretches all the way to Danger Point, Betty’s Bay, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, Hottentots Holland, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch Mountains, could not be appreciated.
The trip back down went a lot faster and Frank returned to his vehicle six hours after he’d set off. This inspiring demonstration of determination and stamina should be an inspiration to us all.
Hopefully, Frank’s remarkable achievement will encourage people to follow his example and enjoy the world-famous scenic beauty and biodiversity of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. You may even be lucky enough to get Frank to guide you and explain the many botanical treasures, each with its own story.