It was a wonderful and sunny October morning after an overwhelmingly busy week-long discussions over complexity of health systems and researchers’ collective aspiration for a people-centred health system held at a venue largely unrepresentative of the rest of South Africa, when a small group of us decided to trek up the Table Mountain (Tafelburg in the local Afrikaans language, recalling the 17th century origin of this language from the then Dutch language). We were quite a motley group of young and younger, and some experienced trekkers and some less. Below is a small photo-essay with my own photos. See my entire album on Flickr too, if you like.
Table Mountain is easy to get to, as long as you are already in Cape Town. Just hop on to the red line of the Cape Town Hop-on-hop-off bus and get off at the base of the mountain from where one can either take the cable car to reach the top, approximately 1 kilometre in height from the base. See here for more detailed directions. A few of us decided to trek up one way and return by cable car.
Among the several trekking routes up the hill, we took the relatively less steep “Platteklip gorge hike”, first taken by Antonio de Saldanha, a Portugese explorer who gave the name “Table Mountain” and also the first (European?) ascent up the Table Mountain in the sixteenth century.
The weather is not always clear enough for the cable car to run. It can get quite windy and the top of the mountain can get misty, when clouds form due to sudden condensation of rising south-easterly oceanic winds when the wind suddenly ascends up the slopes to condense as clouds on the top (very similar to what happens when the monsoon winds suddenly encounter the Western Ghats, a phenomenon called Orographic lift). This cover of clouds is attributed in local legend to a smoking contest between a local pirate and the Devil himself, forming a “table cloth” when the contest goes on!
The mountains around make a stunning landscape around the Cape, the “Lion’s head”, “Signal hill” and such other hills nestling Cape Town and the small Robben Island (that once held an imprisoned Mandela) can be seen.
Our trek though was on a very clear and sunny day; the usual 2.5 hour route can turn much longer. We took a little over three hours, not only because some of us went slowly admiring the fynbos, trying to catch glimpses of the Cape Sugarbirds, rock thrushes, large flocks of White-eyes, Rock Kestrels, several species of rock agamas and trying to spot a Dassie (local name for the Rock Hyrax, the only remaining relative of Elephants, a brother from clearly another mother, as the expression goes).
The landscape is stunning. After a 15 minute walk along the road, the Platteklip gorge route begins on the right with a sign indicating not to undertake the trek alone and to only go in groups. We chanced upon a lone Colombian who joined us here.
The initial part of the trek is through relatively sandy and bouldery portions that goes up along the lower slopes of the mountain and are not very tiring. We soon came upon a stream where we filled the half-litre bottles that each of us were carrying. It was already over 11 AM and the sun was really beginning to turn up the heat. The local rangers told us about all the fantastic fauna, much of which we unfortunately did not see – porcupines, caracals, foxes and even some introduced introduced Himalayan Tahrs!
We only realised much later (and much lighter thanks to the severe dehydration) that cute-looking 500 ml bottles are not made for mid-afternoon table mountain treks. While some of the group headed faster up the mountain, four of us formed a mutual support group, battling depleting fluids and scorching sun through tree-less fynbos which in spite of its stunning beauty cannot provide shade for more than a dozen ants.
While two of us nearly heat-stroked and woozy ambled up the lower slopes, we reached the cool shade provided by the “table”, about half-way up. For me, it was like entering the Elven realms described by Tolkien! We passed out in the shade for a 15 minute snooze, caught up on some water, chatted with fellow climbers, some nearly their seventies (!).
The second half of the climb offered stunning views as we passed through the Platteklip gorge. More thrushes, rock agamas, sugarbirds and Verraux’s Black Eagle, much more closer to the Golden Eagle than to our own South Indian Black Eagle. A fairly large eagle, it is known to prey on the Hyrax. Full list of birds seen on the trip are on ebird.
At the top of the mountain are of course stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and several trails including special ones to spot Hyrax and Agamids. At the risk of causing medical emergencies(!), we stocked up on some water and calories at the wonderfully resourced and reasonably priced Table Mountain Cafe.