Stellenbosch Update #14: Table Mountain

Today I overcame numerous obstacles (and a few fears) in order to get to Table Mountain in Capetown and to hike up and on the mountain. I had nearly exhausted all avenues for finding someone to take me to Capetown. Finally, a local tour group organizer took pity on me (after stopping by every day for the last week). He found a seat for me in a tour van going to Capetown for the day with a guide. Jennie (the guide) took me along “because they had room.” The paying customers were three folks from Sweden (the two men were here to try to work out some kind of exchange program between a university in Sweden and Stellenbosch, the third person was the wife of one of the men). On the way we passed a vineyard that also has a wild game area. Apparently the owner has a game farm somewhere else and brought some of the animals here. It was quite amazing to see wildebeest, springbok, zebra, ostrich, and a few other species at a waterhole just outside Stellenbosch!

Everyone was adament that I shouldn’t hike alone (no kidding). The plan had always been to try to find someone to hike with once I got there (talk about being spontaneous). After Jennie dropped the rest of the group at the cablecar station to ride to the top of the mountain, she took me to the trailhead. Just as we got there a couple was getting out of their car. Jennie asked them if I could hike along with them. They were from Germany and were just terrific about letting me tag along. It took us 1½ hours to get to the top via the Platteklip Gorge. That’s a pretty fair clip. The ranger and the map say it is about 2½ hours. Here’s how the map describes the trail, “a sustained, unrelieved climb with a view that slowly shrinks between dark, forbidding walls as you (at last!) near the summit.” They weren’t kidding about the “unrelieved climb.” And they didn’t mention that it was in the direct sun in the morning and HOT, HOT, HOT. There are no trees, just scrubby bushes and small plants and grasses. You are hiking on rocks the entire time. I don’t usually sweat up a storm, but when I got to the top I was soaked through every piece of clothing I had on (Hannah, Sarah, and Mark, think Phelps Mountain on steroids).

But once we made our way through the steep, narrow gorge, the trail opened out onto the trail between the Western Table and Central/Eastern Table. I scrambled up to the Western Table where the cable car station is. There is also a restaurant and a gift shop. Sound like Whiteface? I looked a wreck and had hiking shoes on, backpack, etc. Once at the top you encounter sandal-clad tourists who have ridden up the cable car (just like the people who drive up Whiteface and take the elevator). To say the views are amazing is just not adequate. We had a bit of haze today, but even still, it was beautiful. Table Mountain rises 1086 meters in a very short distance. Some of the faces are so steep and windy you could not even climb with ropes. But once at the top, it is completely flat. It’s name is aptly given. It is also very large. Most mountain peaks in the Adirondacks have relatively small summits. Here, it is an entire park. I hiked many trails and even back down into the col to go over to Maclear’s Beacon which is across the Central Table and over to the Eastern Table.

I tried to take photos of the beautiful flowers and birds, but it was so bright in the sun that it was difficult to know if the camera was focused. I did get a few photos of the lizards. Western Table is much more civilised. That is where most of the people walk and it is quite easy to get around most of it. If you wander further to the other trails there is more vegetation and even some damp areas that have little boardwalks. I suppose in the winter or during rainy times parts of the top of the mountain get pretty soggy (since it is flat). Most of the trails are marked with paint blazes on the rocks. They are quite clever-if it is easy going, there are little shoe prints painted. But, if it will require a scramble, there is a little goat painted.

OK, so I successfully arranged a ride to Capetown. And I successfully found someone (safe) to hike with. So far, the Grand Adventure is going quite well. Now I needed to get back down the mountain and rendezvous somewhere in Capetown with the guide and the rest of the group. No one wanted to hike back down the mountain (too steep). So, I had to pluck up a tremendous amount of courage to go down in the cable car. It is a large car that goes steeply down the mountain. It is round and the outside part of the car rotates (oh joy) so that you can have a panoramic view (or get sick). I figured I would stand in the center and just close my eyes. But I actually ended up watching most of the ride. The center of the car has a platform that does not rotate, so that was my spot. I even took a few photos to prove that I was looking out the windows as we descended. I have succeeded in getting off the mountain.

Now, I need to find a taxi, negotiate a fair price (harder than you might think) and get to the waterfront to meet the rest of the group. I found a taxi van with 10 people (speaking 5 languages) all going sort of in the same direction. I agreed to the price and get in. I call the tour guide (so glad I have a cell phone) and let her know where I am. She tells me that we are leaving at 6pm instead of 3:30pm. The amazing thing is that I am able to remember a landmark down in the city to tell her where I will meet her. Fortunately, I am a little familiar with this area since we were here last weekend. OK, so now I will have a couple of hours to kill at the waterfront. I sit back and relax-but only briefly. This taxi trip can only be likened to the one Harry Potter took in the Night Bus. And with the same kinds of yelling. But, eventually I make it to the waterfront.

I walked around, shopped, and ate a very late lunch (I had eaten cheese, fruit, and an energy bar on the mountain). I saw a Semester at Sea cruise ship. I have always thought that would be a great idea to participate in. I wonder if they need any instructors? The best find of the day (other than the hiking companions) was an artist booth that had wonderful turned wood bowls. I found a small bowl made from a wild olive tree that was actually felled in Stellenbosch! Finally, I make it to the rendezvous point (before the rest of the group!) and then we head back home. I think I am ready for The Amazing Race.

One interesting thing about the trip home (I’ve been on this route now a few times, the N2) is that the townships/resettlement areas come right up to the edge of the highway. The kids and coaches come out to the medians and edges of the highway to practice soccer there because it is level, there is grass, and it is an open area. It is quite strange to see all these little soccer games going on right at the edge of the highway.

Oh, and in case anyone wanted to know, I finished my research schedule for Christo.