The ladders in Skeleton Gorge start after about three-quarters of an hour of walking (with lots of breathing-stops). The walking, however, is like climbing a staircase that never ends. Five flights in a Brooklyn walk up? That's nothing. Even though I am jittery about heights, I like the ladders, because I can hold on.
I like the boulder-scrambling too. Much more fun than endless steps and the vegetation has changed, too, as you are now right in the streambed. The water trickles under the boulders and forms tannin-clear pools on sand. The walls are steep rock and soft with moss, and ferns and trees lean in from the edges. This is old Afro Montane forest, designed to repel fire. Fynbos on the other hand, needs fire.
I hoped that this might be a Table Mountain ghost frog, but it doesn't appear to be.
The end of scrambling, and the gorge broadens while the path returns as we zig zag up to the sunlight.
At a particular corner there is always a clump of disas, and here they were, in bud.
Pale blue and floriferous Pseudoselago serrata, now also a popular garden plant, appeared once we had emerged from the trees. Plants at home in fynbos like nutrient-poor, slightly acidic soil, but this one seems to have adapted to many garden conditions. Lots of sun, please.
Up on top at last, though still far from Maclear's Beacon which really is the top, and we were not heading that way this time. My back was giving me issues and said, Any more an' I weell queet.
Struthiola ciliata, I think, though the books say it flowers earlier. Scented at night.
The carniverous sundew, Drosera trinerva, which often has white flowers.
I hit the brakes for this one and got down as flat as I could, but not flat enough. Eulophia aculeata, aandblommetjie (night flower) in Afrikaans. About 6cm tall, right beside Smuts Track.
We passed the breakfast pool (a traditional stopping point) where many disas were in bud. We will have to go back for them.
And turned off onto the aqueduct that was built to channel water into the reservoirs farther on.
The little waterfall was dripping its sweet water, which the Frenchie still spurns, sensibly, I suppose. He still distrusts our pale tea-brown Cape water. A child forever of British Columbia's turquoise pools. I drank a cool bottle of it to no ill effect.
My new disa. We had come looking for disas and I was very happy about this little one, Disa glandulosa. Quite stand offish, it pollinates itself, not happy to mix with hoi polloi of mountain pollinators.
Crossing the rickety bridge, with disas in bud beneath, near the water.
The Woodhead Rerservoir ahead, with the empty Hely Hutchinson above it.
These were everywhere: Tritoniopsis parviflora.
The stream had widened, fed by other tributaries from other valleys and high rocks, and was a series of tannin brown pools where tadpoles hung suspended.
While I sat on a rock in a pool, the plops of diving frogs broke the silence.
Parasitic Cassythia ciliolata tangled and tumbled over everything like cheese whiz sprayed at high pressure over all the vegetation.
Crossing between the waters...
An old favourite, Pelargonium cucullatum, in mass bloom between the reservoirs.
And a little thicket of Roella amplexicaulis.
Instead of following the jeep track, an easier walk but far longer, we cut left after Hely Hutchinson, heading for Nursery Ravine, Skeleton Gorge's twin on the other side of Castle Rock, and which would take us straight back down to Kirstenbosch again, where we had started.
Here I bushwacked, thinking snakey thoughts, to photograph this mountain dahlia - Liparia splendens.
Stupidly, because I was a bit amazed, I did not take a picture of the trees at the top of Nursery Ravine. I smelled them first, and was convinced that the strong scent was an aftershave, on an invisible human, which made me surreptitiously take out my pepper spray ( I have an active imagination). After walking through dry grass and open fynbos we were suddenly in a green glade that looked like the Northern Hemisphere. They had small cones, like cedars, and were pale green, very tall, 40 feet plus, and had evergreen, soft needles. And they smelled like over-perfumed muggers...You laugh, but several men on Skeleton Gorge reeked of cologne.
What are they?
Out of the green glade and at the top of Nursery Ravine which was down down down all the way. Talk about jelly legs...
The open patch of brown at 2 o'clock from the dam below? In front of that is a white roof (one of many), and that is my parents' house. My mother used to be able to see hikers walking up the zig zags of Nursery Ravine.
My old friend, the blister bush, Peucedanum galbanum [spellcheck wanted to know whether galbanum should be 'jailbird'...].
The network of Kirstenbosch's upper gardens and paths.
The king protea, Protea cynaroides.
Back in the forest that flanks Castle Rock's lower reaches. Nursery Ravine's path was much steeper than I had expected and I don't recommend it for anyone with knee problems.
At last we were down again. A silver tree, Leucadendron argenteum.
We had finished three liters of water and three little Ceres juice packs on the mountain, and were still thirsty enough to love this fountain near the end of the path in Kirstenbosch.
All that was left was a walk across the beautiful gardens to the car park. I would have killed for an afternoon cup of coffee and a scone with jam and cream, at the upper restaurant, but we were moneyless.
So, a very good hike. Leucaspermum above, but I don't know which one.
It is a beautiful mountain. Just go prepared.