Saturday, May 18, 2024

Eye on Life

Broad interest online magazine


Oppelskop, where Van Hunks roams

A fiercely cold wind swept over the saddle between Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain as we set off for Oppelskop.  The steep zigzag ascent is always daunting at first, but we soon warm up and things get easier – or we just concentrate more on maintaining our footing! The slopes have fully recovered from the fire of two years ago, but the mass flowering of pink watsonias that we witnessed in November 2018 will not be repeated due to overgrowth by other fynbos and late flowering this year. The views across the city and up the West Coast in the distance, with rows of mountain ranges fading into blues and greys, make the hike very worthwhile, even if only enjoyed from the lookout at Oppelskop, and today’s wind nearly blew us from our teatime perches.

My first account of this trail, written two years ago in mid-winter, remains a true reflection and only the weather was different:

“If climbing Lion’s Head had never been on my bucket list, I can assure you that zigzagging up the steep face of Devil’s Peak had never appeared on my radar! The hiking list read “Oppelskop, park end of Tafelberg Road”. So off I went to meet a large group of people who had done this before and were apparently looking forward to doing it again. 

The day was another winter gem – windless, sunny skies, mild temperature – so again winter woollies were not required. We set off up towards the contour path on Table Mountain, passing workers repairing fencing in the still blackened area of the last fire to prevent people from taking a short cut between the zigzags, thereby creating a possibility of damaging erosion in wet weather. I certainly appreciated the zigs and zags, and the amazing work done decades ago to lay down flat stones along the path for the thousands of hikers. At a junction we took the path marked Devil’s Peak/Oppelskop rather than Platteklip Gorge which we did a few months ago (the contour path, not the Gorge) and thankfully headed into the shade of the looming mountain. The slope is steep and the path narrow and the view is spectacular all the way, but I was constantly aware of the drop off to the left and the height to which we were climbing steadily, steadily. You have to consciously stop to admire the view or the odd flower or bird, as mountains are to be respected and never taken casually. Every footstep needs to be measured in such terrain, even on such a well-trodden path.

We reached Oppelskop (an outcrop of large, flat rocks that were definitely the most comfortable I have ever sat on) after a climb of just over two hours. We had emerged into the sunny side a while before and despite being winter the sun beat down on us and the going got tough as perspiration ran almost as freely as the multitude of mountain streams we crossed. The flask of hot chocolate in my backpack (I had left home before sunrise) seemed like a crazy idea. A half hour’s rest was a treat for all, I think.

Usually the rest break means half-way mark, but no, we were going to make this a circular walk and continue up to Breakfast Rock, so named because hikers coming up from the Newlands side would stop there for breakfast. So it was back into the shade of a steep cliff with another narrow path and an almost unobstructed drop of, without exaggeration, 200 or more metres to the road below. Stoically plodding on and reminding myself that I had no fear of heights and was perfectly safe, we rounded a corner and had to negotiate a few metres that caused a little trouble for those with a genuine fear. I focussed on the rock face and was pleased to get past that bit!

At Breakfast Rock, three paths met and we suddenly found ourselves in hiking traffic! Thirty or so other hikers arrived at the same time to enjoy a break next to a strongly flowing, pristine stream, and we exchanged the usual friendly greetings, then continued like trains on a track passing through a junction. I dipped my hiking towel in the stream and wore it draped over my head (felt a bit like Lawrence of Arabia) for the downhill clamber as the sun was still relentless.

A loud bang echoing off the sheer cliffs of Table Mountain on our left indicated that it was midday and we could see the smoke on Signal Hill where the Noon Gun had just been fired. This was a longer walk than usual and pretty strenuous, despite being on the downhill, as the stone steps set at intervals were high and had to be negotiated sideways to prevent knee jarring. The dinky cars way down below eventually grew larger and it was with some relief that we finally reached them after an excellent but tiring morning. 

Looking back to where we had walked, I was amazed by how far and how high it was. No small achievement, I think. And such a privilege to be able to do it.”

Today we took the short route down to the road, as the numerous lovely streams and waterfalls had taken a toll on the path and it had become rough and rocky over time. It was no longer winter and spring was very much in evidence, with Table Mountain draped in greenery that softened its sheer rock faces as never before. We passed the site where our hike leader had almost slipped off the edge on the last hike and much conversation about safety and fitness flowed back and forth between us as we remembered what could have been a horrific accident. The trail is narrow and rocky and requires extreme vigilance. Once down on the road, we could relax and enjoy the last few kilometres, gazing up at the mountain from whence we had come with awe and wonder without tripping over a rock. Again, a privilege to have such easy access to one of the world’s great places.

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