Monday, March 5, 2012

Bucket List Climb - Table Mountain

It's that time of the year where the cold fronts start making their way closer to the African continent. To me that just means one thing....depression. This weekend a second weak cold front aimed at the Cape, but fortunately didn't spoil the weekend too much. Last week I was a bit depressed because my weekend didn't result in much and I was fearing that I might have a second one in a row. Fortunately a friend of mine called unexpectedly to ask me if I wanted to go paragliding at Porterville. She recently had a very unfortunate accident on Lion's Head and broke  her back. She explained to me what was crushed in her back and everything but I was just relieved that she could still walk. She is on the road of recovery and obviously determined to get her life back on the road...and her paraglider in the air. After weighing up our options and talking about bucket lists and things you have to do before you die, we eventually dropped the paragliding idea and decided to walk up Table Mountain instead. Porterville was too far to drive and Lion's head was going to blow out, and seeing that walking up Table Mountain was still on her bucket list, we decided to do just that.

I have walked up Table Mountain a few times, but I cannot exactly remember how many times. There are many routes that one can take, so you can basically start on any side of Table Mountain and reach the top in one way or the other. I would say the most boring way up is Platteklip Gorge with steps taking you into the gorge and spoiling the view and excitement completely. Perfect place to take your family for a walk. I did another route some time ago called the India Venster ("Window"), but I remember getting lost at a point and wasting about 45 minutes trying to get back to the route. The name India Venter apparently comes from a hole in the rocks that when viewed from a certain point resembles the map of India. If you look through it you see spectacular views on the other side. I still have to find it. We once did a walk over Devil's Peak all the way to the top, and got slightly lost as well but managed to find our way again. Anyway, with a slightly damaged paragliding patient I didn't want to take on a hectic route, but Platteklip Gorge was just too easy. We made the decision that we will walk up halfway and where the road splits, we will make a call depending on her back. 

We left from just underneath the Cable Car station at the bottom and headed up on a relatively easy path to the Main Contour Path. There we would make the decision to walk along the contour path to Platteklip Gorge, or to head into the direction of India Venster. Starting time was 8:15 and the pace was not too fast. We were followed by two lady tourist who managed the footpath well with their fancy shoes and tank tops. They eventually turned away to Platteklip Gorg, which is a good idea if you are not protected against the sun. We decided that we are going to try India Venster, despite the warnings that it is not for inexperienced climbers and that navigation is difficult. No Shit Sherlock, that is why I got lost the last time. 

The climb was getting steeper, so we made frequent stops to appreciate the view and to sometimes wave at the passengers in the cable cars. When you look in front of you and at the top cable car station you wonder if you will ever get up there. I was a bit worried about my hiking partner, but she was really doing well and constantly had to re-assure me that her back was fine. As we were walking up we noticed some paragliders taking off from Lion's Head and we had to convince ourselves that the site will be blown out quickly and that they would all have to land soon. We were there to cross out an item from a bucket list and we were going to complete it, come hell or high water.

Navigating India Venster is indeed a bit troublesome. You move away from a clear footpath and eventually end up climbing rocks. It is not too difficult to climb, the rocks all seems to have natural handles where you can grab onto, but if you did not do the jungle gym thing when you were a kid you might struggle to get up. To solve the navigation issue some yellow footprints were painted on some of the rocks, and sometimes you are really please to see one in  the distance. There are times when you look up and think to yourself that you might be stuck, but somehow you find your way again and you move on. I was a bit disappointed when I reached a difficult climbing spot where they actually put up some stainless steels climbing footsteps and chains. Although this obviously helps a lot, I think they have dropped the difficulty rating by a few bars. My only issue getting up there was my walking stick that was always in the way, but we both did the climbing with ease. Every now and then we would throw our eyes into the direction of Lion's Head to see if the paragliders were gone, but somehow they managed to keep flying.

The route takes you straight up to the upper cable car station, but a 50 meter cliff prevents you from going further. From there you go to the back of Table Mountain where you are met by the spectacular view over Camps Bay. Here the path sometimes touches the cliff and it would be wise to keep to the left hand side of the path. Don't look down, a sudden wind can cause havoc and this unfortunately has happened before. When you get to the back side and you see ropes dangling from the top, then you know you are nearly there. This is where you can do abseiling from the top. We stood there and watched three girls from Germany sliding down the ropes. I remembered that my bucket list also had that entry somewhere at the top of the list. Still have to cross that out one day.

From the abseiling point it is easy walking to the the finish when you reach the sign saying that this is not an easy way down. Hell not. Coming up was hard enough. When you look up from here you can already see tourist hanging over the edges trying to get the best pictures. I have found though that when you get home and you look at the pictures, they are not nearly as awesome as being there. Anyway, being on Table Mountain is great. Walking up is even greater. Flying down on a paraglider will probably be the greatest.

We reached the cable car station at around 11 am. Taking into account the many stops we had, it probably could've taken us only two hours to get to the top. Table Mountain is a 1000 meters high, but you do only start climbing half-way up. Platteklip Gorge is the easy way up, India venster the slightly more interesting and daring way to go. All in all we enjoyed it and managed to shorten her bucket list. My list? Yeah, I still have a few things to do....Oh, and as we were going down with the cable car we saw that the paragliders were still flying. Next time....

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