The drip, drip, drip of water from a gutter at 4am was, for the first time since Cape Town’s drought experience, a cause for alarm. Our hike was to be on the contour path of Table Mountain and no rain had been forecast. I was in fact a little concerned about how hot it might be as we made our way along the sunbaked face of this formidable Natural Wonder of the World, with its absence of shade and warm rocks. Having stayed in town overnight for the early start, I went outside at first light to assess the situation. Low cloud sprawled across the city, obscuring the contour path from view, but to the south I could see the bright light of dawn and knew that the hikers would turn up! There’s nothing worse than a cancelled hike.
The air temperature was mild, the misty clouds high enough for good vision and the air was still. Actually the best possible conditions apart from the lack of view – one of the main objects of hiking this trail! The initial climb up from Kloofnek Corner can be daunting in its steepness, with not too many zigs or zags, but once we reached the beacon where the contour path levels out, we could pride ourselves on a job well done as we looked down at the cars parked far below, Dinky toys stretching for kilometres on either side of the Cable Station.
The proliferation of flowering fynbos kept me well at the back of the group, as I try to take every opportunity to capture what I see on the premise that if I have taken the trouble to walk all the way up there, I might as well take the trouble to get some decent photos. Despite this not being the aim of the hiking group, I feel more than capable of catching up with the tail-enders and so am not a safety risk (assuming I don’t trip and fall off the edge). There is something rather special about being out of sight of other people and pretending to be alone on the mountain, just me and those ancient, ancient rocks that were once deep beneath the sea. The strata and indeed exposed level surfaces bear testimony to wave action and sedimentary deposits.
There is a very steep drop-off from the contour path that shouldn’t be disregarded. The path is at times rocky, damp and slippery, and care should always be taken to watch your feet. Looking at the views and interesting things along the way are best done while sitting on one of the many ledges that provide great tea stops and a little shade. There are places where the edge is visibly crumbling and I can’t help but wonder how it can be prevented from simply sliding away, leaving a gaping hole and no safe access on this extremely popular trail. Gabions have been placed in appropriate places but this may not always be possible.
The streams are still babbling down the gullies, some perennial and the reason why the Cape was settled by sea traders, and the many seeps were home to sundews, lachenalias, pretty grasses, ferns and moss. No flower should go unnoticed simply because it is too small for our eyes to appreciate. The best thing about digital photography is that it allows you to take that flower home for examination under the microscope of the zoom on your computer – for me, this is the only way to truly appreciate the fine detail and incredible diversity of nature, and very often you get the added bonus of a bug inside the flower!
We had nearly reached to Devil’s Peak end of the trail when, looking back, we noticed that Table Mountain had appeared, wraith-like, from the mist as it burned off in the heat of midday, and so we were not robbed of an opportunity to gaze once more on the path we had travelled in its rocky embrace.