Monday, September 25, 2023

Eye on Life

Broad interest online magazine


Scaling Spitskop

When viewed from a distance, Spitskop peak in Silvermine Nature Reserve seems awfully high and awfully far away, and indeed it is! Although not as high as Noordhoek Peak to the right, the distance from the gate is around 7km over hill and dale, with quite a bit of rocky hillside interspersed with marshy wetland and so the effort involved is somewhat more than a simple jeep track. Our hiking group does the trail around this time each year, and being Cape Town, the weather is different every time. Last year we blew away in a strong southeaster and today we had a gentle northwest, cloud cover and a few spots of rain.

Some years ago, fire swept through the reserve and devastated the fynbos, but as we know, this is actually a good thing if it only happens every 20 years and the regrowth of the leucadendrons, bearded proteas and mimetes, together with the smaller fynbos shrubs, ericas and pelargoniums has covered the burnt area. The prolonged drought kept everything under control, but this winter’s rains have created a surge in growth with the fynbos reaching mostly waist height but frequently overhead. The soft fronds of bracken and restios obscure the narrow path for much of the way, but it is sandy for a large part and there weren’t too many incidents of tripping. The reeds make a nice trip-wire when a boot is placed across it and the other foot follows underneath!

The mountains of the Table Mountain group are giant sponges and the evidence was everywhere, with muddy patches and stepping stones in each valley we crossed. The water that falls today can take up to three years to reach the sea at the end of the Silvermine River, in a slow release formula that has enabled the Cape Floral Kingdom to flourish through adversity and provide us with an enormous range of species over a very small area – the richest in the world and one of the reasons why I enjoy tramping through the mountains – there is no other way to appreciate its beauty.

There were only a few of us today, as the last stretch up to Spitskop is strenuous and rocky and requires a good amount of energy and balancing skills, particularly on the way down. The cool weather was a blessing, and low cloud settled over the peak briefly as we arrived, dissipating as quickly as it arrived so that we could marvel at the panorama below. Chapman’s Peak on the right lay under its usual cloud of gloom (always the first place to rain in the South Peninsula) while the white sands of Long Beach stretched away in the sunshine to Kommetjie. The top of Slangkop lighthouse peeked out from behind the mountain, and the almost completely developed valley below led our eyes to the beaches of False Bay. Each year more land is covered with houses, shopping centres and roads, and having the Table Mountain National Park entrenched all the way down the Peninsula is a priceless asset to the region, giving the man in the street access to wild places on his doorstep and limiting development to an extent.

There is a large area on the peak of Spitskop where the Mountain Dahlia thrives and it was a joy to see so many of these beautiful blooms lighting up the slope with their orange and yellow ‘nodding heads’ – another name for this extremely tough-leaved species which grows in extreme conditions of constant wind, icy winter rains and punishing summer heat. Little else was up there among the weathered sandstone boulders that are so beloved by hikers – a place to shelter from the elements, fascinating shapes to capture the imagination and the source of the shiny white grit that characterises the trails in these mountains.

We took the easy way back after the initial tricky descent, turning right down the valley to join the jeep track that winds up from the intersection on Ou Kaapse Weg, but we still had to beat our way through the closely packed proteas, thankful that they would withstand a little brushing aside by a few humans and continue to close up the path long after they had gone.

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