What a joy to wake up to a cloudless sky after what seems like eternal winter in Cape Town! As I stepped out onto the deck at 5.30 this morning, a faint glow on the eastern horizon was dimming the stars, and I realised that it had been a long time since a cloudless day had dawned. It didn’t feel like Spring quite yet, but the promise of an uncancelled hike at Silvermine was something to look forward to after weeks of inactivity in that area.
There was a festive air in the car park as eighteen eager hikers and three dogs gathered to exchange health updates (what else is there these days?) and decide whether to do the easier jeep track or go straight up onto the ridge towards the Elephant’s Eye cave. The jeep track won easily, as Covid hasn’t been kind to many of the group and lack of proper exercise has made some of us look for an easing into hiking again. There was still some huffing and puffing on the climb up to the track (myself included) but a relaxed stroll up the winding trail enabled us to once again appreciate our good fortune to live in close proximity to such easily accessible natural beauty, without having to watch where we put our feet.
It was a different story once we branched off onto the path to the cave. Winter rains have taken their toll on this once sandy path, with watercourses taking the path of least resistance and increasing over the last few years from a damp seep to gurgling rivulets, gouging out the sand and leaving bare rocks to stumble over. The method of removal of alien vegetation along the edges of the path leads to further hazards, as the modus operandi appears to be sawing off the sapling three or four inches from the ground and leaving short spikes of stump randomly spaced for hikers to trip over. Even some brightly coloured paint splashed over the raw stump would help to draw attention to them – one can only shake one’s head at the rocket science.
After wading across the river that tumbles over the clifftop as a waterfall, we passed thickets of bright yellow leucadendrons, swathes of deep pink ericas that stain these mountains with warm colour in Spring and waist-high fynbos thriving after a particularly wet winter. Another discussion ensued as to whether to continue up the zigzag to the cave or branch off and relax on the warm concrete platform of the dilapidated remains of a firewatcher’s hut closer to hand. It was fifty-fifty and I was happy to rest in the sunshine, swinging my legs over the parapet and munching on a rusk. Far below, the jarring sound of chainsaws battling out a parody of Duelling Banjos disturbed the peace of the mountains, until coffee time signalled a lull in proceedings. There is seldom a hike unaccompanied by the buzz of a chainsaw as removal of trees continues apace both in the plantations and the urban areas. Of course, our coffee break ended with the return of peace and quiet, and we turned homeward to retrace our steps and enjoy the sweeping panoramas towards Simon’s Town and Cape Hangklip on the other side of the bay, and pause awhile to admire the reflections in the still waters of the dam.