Twin Peaks, Part One

I haven’t seen the show Twin Peaks. Apologies. But while staying in Cape Town, Kathryn & I have hiked up two mountains.

Our first was in Table Mountain National park. This mountain had been on my mind (and in front of my face) since we’d arrived. There’s several routes that one can take there, and our friend-guides, dearRachel and Stefan, have taken many of them. They live in Cape Town and hike across these mountains together every weekend. Today we took the best one. Our route went up Skeleton Gorge, to the reservoir at the top, and then along its dam and around the mountaintop to descend Nursery Ravine.

I think I’d never been on a challenging hike before, I’d usually hiked with family or with some group where whomever might have planned the hike we went on wanted to make sure folks wouldn’t have doubts that they could keep going.

We’d been promised from Rachel that the range of terrain was what made this route so fun. That preparation to us, my words, pictures, these don’t do this trail justice. Maybe an enthusiastic second opinion would help:

People often wonder which route to choose to hike up Table Mountain.  Much depends on how much time you have available.  If you can set aside 5-6 hours then perhaps the most scenic and varied route is Skeleton Gorge.  This route starts from Kirstenbosch Gardens and winds its way up gradually (or fairly gradually!) through the indigenous forest, up a couple of ladders and some easy rock scrambling, to the top of the Back Table.  Here the forest thins out and you may wish to take the short detour to view Hely Hutchinson dam (one of 5 on Table Mountain) and its sandy beach.  Yes, a beach on top of a mountain!

The route from the top of the gorge follows the eastern flank of the mountain.  Here the views are spectacular and there is dense and varied fynbos to admire.  Look out for  birds of prey hovering overhead and often the small but colourful sunbird may be spotted feeding on an erica bush.   Interesting rock formations are on either side – in particular look out for the ‘dragon’ before you cross over a small wooden bridge.  If you are fortunate to visit in February here you will see the magnificent Red Disa, a type of orchid.  Once common on the mountain but now only found in certain parts, these unique flowers definitely warrant a photo even if you are not a botanically minded person.

I love that this mountain surprised me. I suppose this is part of the exhilaration of travel and adventure. Widening our range of experience to fit into our framework of understanding how the world works. Simple things: feeling my hair saturate with freezing rain minutes after sweat was flowing, then steaming off of me. Finding a beach of white sand on top of this mountain, the air thick with white mist churning around us.

A warm iron-red stream running by our feet.

Climbing up a waterfall.

All Photos from Kathryn Stein.

While I’ve felt out of shape in recent months, I’ll sometimes forget this is the case, resting on the laurels of weightlifting addictions of years past. I gauge my fitness by comparing my performance to whomever I’m hanging out with, or to whatever challenge I’m taking on, the weight I’m lifting or trail I’m taking. I certainly lost faith a couple of times on this trek, Kathryn and I were embarrassed to need to take breaks as Rachel and Stefan assured us we were doing fine. They’d tell us about our progress, we were more than half way there, we only had a few more meters till the top, the ladders are coming up next, we’re headed to the reservoir. I moved through emotional waves, feeling alternately discouraged and triumphant as we moved through different milestones.

When I was having such a tough time motivating myself on the mountain, I imagined what would I do if I were some action hero, Tintin or whomever escaping from the police or an army? Would I be able to force myself to push harder and escape my pursuers? I’d have to hide, burying myself down in the brush or going up a tree. My life is fairly free from this sort of chase scene or mountain. The thought reminded me of being a kid, fairly happy all things considered, but still planning: if I were to run away from home, I’d camp out in these woods on the first night, then go through the woods to that main road in the morning. I could probably get into a car from there. 

On the descent my feet were shaking as they searched for places to step. This involved continual small slips and corrections. I feel like I was lucky that I didn’t crunch apart the tendons in my ankles.

We came back to a great restaurant with solid coffee, that baked its own bread, and had a very USAmerican feel to it. I was craving everything.


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