Where it all started

Eagle’s Nest! The first hike I did five years ago, having done as little exercise as possible my whole life. It all began when I toiled up the hill at Cape Point lighthouse one day, stopping to rest and catch my breath every 30 steps, while a young woman in a cocktail dress and high heels surged past me. It was time to take myself in hand and turn my body into a lean, mean, hiking machine.

Eagle’s Nest, a fairly low peak in the shadow of Newlands mountain, with an almost 360 degree view from the Back Table all across the southern suburbs and back to Newlands, is deceptive and not for the unsteady. Having puffed my way up there at the nadir of unfitness, and being unable to walk up or down stairs for four days afterwards, I now consider it a doddle. After all, with some 330 walks under my boots in the intervening period, I should be at the zenith of my fitness. The last two years brought a pandemic, lockdown, various injuries and illnesses, but I am back in earnest.

Yet another perfect winter’s day in Cape Town greeted us as we began the steady climb from Constantia Nek up to the jeep track. The sun shone brightly on the verdant slopes of fynbos, pine plantations and rocky crags, and beyond stretched a deep blue sky unblemished by cloud. What a day to be out in nature! A large group of youngsters passed us in no time, headed for the dams on top of Table Mountain = a hike too far for us today. Others passed us on their way down, having started out before sunrise in these fabulous conditions.

A steady pace and lots of pleasant conversation (which helps distract us from the climb) soon saw us at the corner where the real clamber would begin. It’s funny how the memory chooses to block out the difficult bits and only lets you recall the fabulous views from the top. I’d forgotten the scramble over boulders, narrow slits where boots could snag, prickly bushes lying in wait for you to grab at to haul yourself to the next level. Half of the group declined to go to the beacon, choosing to rest on a rock in the sunshine and look over towards the Hottentots Holland mountains, hazy in the distance from winter smog. The rest of us climbed ever upwards, and I’d forgotten about the extra tough bit hidden behind the ridge, necessitating hauling the trailing leg up in the crook of an arm to get over the rocks. I remembered why I couldn’t walk for four days.

But the views, the views! All of the effort, the crawling and clutching, is so worth it just to spend half an hour on top of Eagle’s Nest, kings of all we surveyed. Familiar landmarks were picked out – it was surprisingly difficult to identify some, with barely an open space beyond the sprawling wine estates. Far below, the road into Hout Bay was filled with dinky cars in an endless stream back and forth – surely one of Cape Town’s most frustrating routes behind a truck, but not our concern right then.

The downward trip was no easier than the upward, with knees getting a good jarring despite the help of branches and hiking sticks, and it was good to get back to the rest of the group on the jeep track, where we made sure to make them feel they had really missed out! We passed a small troop of baboons further down, the youngsters swinging from the branches of the pine trees while the alpha male leaned with his back against a tree, rather inelegantly, and yawned to make sure we could admire his awesome teeth. With no visible food, they took absolutely no notice of us and it was a pleasure to see them chilling in their natural environment.

And yes, I am having a little trouble going down the stairs today.

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