Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Taking on the Mountain

Table Mountain is one of the key features of Cape Town. It's outline represents the city on signs and banners. Nelson Mandela spoke of viewing Table Mountain from across the water on Robben Island, viewing it as an emblem of hope for the mainland to which he would return to someday. Locals tell tourists, if you only do one thing in Cape Town, go to Table Mountain.

Table Mountain from town. Click on it to view the large size and see where the lower cable station - outlined in red - lies on the mountain.

Table Mountain is a beautiful land mass, but it is also a tourist spot. There is a cable car – made in Switzerland – that will take you from the lower parking lot to the top of the mountain where you can stand and gaze out over all of Cape Town, Table Bay and the Atlantic Ocean or into a milk bottle of fog, depending on the weather. You can also eat at a cafe atop the mountain, buy some souvenirs and then take the large cable car back down the mountain. Or, you can walk.

I wanted to walk. I had seen people coming down on foot when I'd first visited Table Mountain's parking lot last Sunday. It was now a week later and I had my heart set on going up the path.

I walked from one end of the parking lot to the other but I could not find anything that looked like a footpath entrance. Finally, I approached two Table Mountain employees in bright green sweatshirts standing near the ticket booths. They informed me that the path entrance was a 15-minute walk (about a mile) down the paved road and one of them quite adamantly, after giving me quite the evil eye, insisted that I couldn't climb the path in “those shoes.” I informed her that I was quite capable of climbing in my hiking boots and headed down the road. I didn't fully believe them because I had seen people descending a path directly below the cable car and because of the girl's rudeness, but I figured it was worth a try.  Road along Table Mountain.

Sure enough, just under 15 minutes down the road, I found the path entrance, marked with a small restroom building. I topped off my water bottles and began the climb. The path quickly became rocky and when it joined with another path I wondered if I had just climbed off the water run-off instead of a footpath. It's something I've been known to do before.

The walk was beautiful and the beginning was a steady even climb over crushed rock and red soil. Beautiful and delicious smelling flowers lined the path. The day was overcast, warm with a heavy breeze. Perfect weather for walking outside. I was glad to be wearing a dress as its billowing in the breeze kept me pleasantly cool. I met others, people going up at a faster pace than me, people coming down. Everyone was friendly. I had packed water, a can of almonds and a citenge in my shoulder bag (as well as some souvenirs and presents I'd picked up earlier in the day). Every 20 minutes or so, I would stop for water and almonds, laying out my citenge on a rock so as not to get Munchkinhead's dress dirty. Sweat washes out, that African red dirt is resilient.  Starting the climb.

The path turned steeper, large boulder-like rocks instead of crushed stone. The climb became more intense and more of an actual climb using hands and arms to pull my body up the next step as the path wound through the gorge. I paused after a long stretch of steep large rocks, near a good sitting place, and went to my bag for my citenge. It wasn't there! I'd forgotten to pick it up after my last stop 15-minutes back down the hill. At first I thought, “oh well, that's gone” and continued on a few more feet. Then I paused. 15 minutes – 30 round trip – was not much in the scheme of this adventure and it was one of my favorite citenges from Zambia, depicting a village scene with men smoking around the fire and women nursing their babies. I also was beginning to wonder if I could climb back down these massive boulders I'd been pulling myself over. So I turned around and headed down.  The path up, and down, and up again.

People on their way up assured me my citenge was where I had left it. One group even apologized for not picking it up. That was sweet of them to even consider it. Going down was much harder than going up. I often had to sit on the rocks and scoot until my foot could reach the next boulder below. A gentleman in bare feet scampered past me, going up at a seemingly unbelievable pace. I reached my previous resting place and found my citenge. This time, going up only took 10 minutes.  Citenge, right where I left it.

The climb became even steeper after that and the views ever more breathtaking. Notes began to appear on the stones, messages left by previous climbers for others following. “Don't give up now.” “You're almost there.” The bare-footed gentleman came scampering back down past me. A good sign; I must be getting close. Another group came past going down, “only 35 more minutes to the top!” Thirty-five minutes later, I was still in the middle of the path, but had caught up to a local couple I'd passed going back for my citenge. We had ascended into the mist that shrouded the top of the mountain. My glasses were fogging up constantly. The fog became thicker and the air colder. I was glad I'd gone back for my citenge as I wrapped around me like a shall. The three of us continued on together.  Showing off the view.

Finally, the ground flattened around us and a large stone pedestal with a map rose up, a beacon in the mist. We checked the map, but it didn't match the paths available. We headed on the path that continued going up. Timber poles with chains connecting them guided us up a steep slate route, providing needed handles. Suddenly, there were other people. People who had come up on the cable car and were gleefully taking pictures on top of Table Mountain. We'd made it. I'd done it!
Top of Table Mountain

I looked around. It looked like Daly City. You couldn't see more than 5 feet in any direction. No spectacular views from here, those had all been had on the mountainside. I didn't care; I'd climbed Table Mountain.

I met a lot of people from many different places at Table Mountain. Many of them said something about my shoes, but only the two Indians flat-out said “you can't.” The lady at the lower cable station and a guy sitting on a boulder on the path, smoking!, who told me I needed to take off my shoes to keep going. Because climbing a mountain in socks would be such a good idea. They'll never know I made it to the top, but I know, and I know my motto remains true, “anything you can do, I can do in heels.”

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