Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Skeleton Gorge

Here are the pictures of our rather late-departing walk to find disas one day. We did find them, and something else besides. I had been boring Vince with stories about This is not a tame mountain (to misquote CS Lewis), and rattling off death statistics and telling of recent follies by tourists who head up the accessible slopes wearing summer frocks and sandals only to be caught in the mist on a ledge and to drop off. Or with no water on a searing day. More deaths than Everest, etc etc. Yawn, said Vince.

Before we got half way and to our goal - the disas, which only grow at these (modest) altitudes and only in or very near clean mountain water - we climbed the manymany rock steps up Skeleton Gorge, passing a bored West African security guard (a new feature) on the contour path, and past another coming down the vertical river bed, up which one scrambles.

We had not brought the corgis because they would have had to be carried up the ladders, and neither of us was prepared to lug the portly Ted, aka Vettetjie, anywhere. Shame. Pausing for me to pant and to admire the deep green kloof scenery, with its moss and ferns and tall trees, we let two well-equipped hikers pass on the narrow path down and they asked us in broken English whether we were local. Yes! I said. Big smiles, then: What is flower, they asked excitedly, beginning to take out a digital camera to show us. Red? I asked, smiling. Yes! Yes! they said. I knew that they had found a disa, you could see it on their faces. There it was. Disa, I announced. Que? their faces suggested? Orchid! I said, Ahhh, Orchidea, they exclaimed, happy. It was very sweet. With good boots, packs, water, they had come up Platteklip Gorge, the front, popular ascent of the mountain, where the previous week a lady had to be rescued due to heat exhaustion.We were spared the very hot day beyond the shade of the kloof, dense as it is with indigenous trees, and stayed in it almost till we reached the top. Here we found mist beginning to come through, sometimes breaking up to let some sun in.

And here we also found, to my surprise, three disas, right beside the path, and probably what the two descending tourists had photographed...

Lobelia, palest blue.

Chincherinchee far from home, if it is Ornithogalum strictum...


Erica abietina?

Just after we'd headed up the rocky escarpment towards McClear's Beacon before turning in to the aqueduct track (a path that The Frenchie spotted, The Local having overshot it), we heard American voices and saw a group of people walking down towards us. The person in the front, chocolate-skinned and wearing a hat, carrying a stick and backpack, was talking and pointing landmarks out to the other three, so confident that I assumed he was a professional guide. Cool, I thought. As we passed and greeted them I happened to look at the feet of one the two girls. Bare. And covered in dark sand with a pedicure faring badly. I looked at the rest of her. A silky frock. High heels in her hand. She was blonde. I'm sorry, she was, she was!

Nice outfit, I said. "Thanks," she giggled: "This is what happens when you take a wrong turn in the botanical gardens."

Huh? That would be several hundred metres below us at the bottom of a cliff. Wrong turn? Like, a vertical turn? So, as usual, not asking enough questions, I now assumed that their guide was their professional rescuer, summoned by cellphone. On they went, slowly, heading down. To like, safety?

Hermas villosa

We found lots of flowers, a spectacular clump of lobelias, flowering profusely, and a little gladiolus that reappeared in six different spots on the path. At the bridge where I had stopped for tea, my first time on the disa trek, years ago with the ladies from the Botanical Society and with Kirsten Louw, Jay and Guy's son, we found our disas. Growing next to the pale coca cola water, kept company by frogs, they were lovely. To my disgust I noticed that a couple of stems had been snapped off. A strangling offence...

Disa uniflora

Gladiolus monticola

After a snack of cashews we walked on to the aqueduct, where water was pouring off a moss lip and feeding the flowers that appeared further downstream. More frogs. I drank at the waterfall - the softest, sweetest, coldest water I have known. At this point we turned back as it was already about 5 in the afternoon. I was sorry not to have shown Vince the next gorge, a descent to the reservoirs that is as beautiful as it is unexpected. One doesn't realize that there are mountains within the mountain.

[ On the way down again. This was where we'd seen the Americans originally]

With wobbly legs from all the downdowndown (OK, I had wobbly legs, Vince's legs don't wobble - that's why I love him), we eventually made it onto the flat contour path almost at the bottom, just above Kirstenbosch. And who should we see around a bend ahead of us but the Rescuer and the Americans. The blonde girl had her shoes on again - the sand and rocks of the Table had given way to red gravel. High heeled flipflops. She was wincing visibly and her dress had done something interesting. I sneaked pictures of them before we passed. I had to ask them. Did you really take a wrong turn? "Yes!" they exclaimed. "We thought it was part of the botanical garden. And then we'd gone so far we thought we'd better walk to the cable station. Someone told us it was flat on top..."

Their rescuer's name was Errol. He'd been hiking on the mountain when he spotted this lot. "I took one look at The Outfit and I thought, Something's not right here..." Fearing for their safety he walked them down at their own pace, bringing them down the less steep Nursery Ravine on the other side of Castle Rock, and significantly lengthening his day.

So all in all we had a very good afternoon, and came back in time for dinner with a good story to tell.

I hope people are walking up to see the flowers every day as the low clouds form on the top of Table Mountain, the early frogs make their first evening noises, and as the last lost Americans are gently herded from one of the most lovely places in the world.

Footnote: 6 March: Here is copied and pasted an email forwarded to me this morning from Cape Town by Jay.
Hi All
I see in the Cape Times this morning that one of the muggers caught by the cops died after being chased yesterday.
The article also says that police spokesman Randall Stoffels 'did not want to mention who alerted security guards about the mugging, as he said it was confidential operational information'.
This is nonsense. I alerted the cops, and it's not confidential.
I was staggering up Skeleton Gorge yesterday early afternoon with a foreign friend (me being very unfit, it was taking a while).
At some point a tourist couple - who obviously spend more time in the gym than me - overtook us. A short while later the somewhat panicked pair came back down the mountain sans their backpacks saying they had just been mugged about 100m ahead of us by four or five guys with a knife.
I immediately called 10111. The call centre droid that answered didn't seem to know much about Table Mountain, was confused about Skeleton Gorge, and had no idea how to patch me through to Table Mountain radio control. He didn't know they existed and had no number for them. He lamely suggested that if I were calling from a cellphone, I should call '1122'. I called 112, the real cellphone emergency number, and got put on indefinite hold.
I then got the moer in and called the Kristenbosch reception, who gave me a TMNP number to call (021 689 4441 - put it in all your phones now if you ever walk on the Mountain!)
The guy who answered on that number was really sharp, asked all the right questions etc. (Brett - give the guy a raise - he deserves it!) I gave him the GPS co-ords of the site and told him that the muggers had moved off in a southerly direction.
I then escorted the Germans down the gorge. Within 10 minutes we encountered some TMNP guys with 2 private security guards and a dog heading up at a good pace - I reckon this was within 20-25 mins of the mugging occurring, which I reckon is really impressive. The mugging had taken place at least 2-thirds of the way up the gorge. No cops were anywhere to be seen, but again kudos to TMNP staff - it really made the Germans (and me) feel better that the incident was taken so seriously.
They managed to encircle the muggers and catch four of them.
I see in the paper that one later died of suspected dehydration after 'injuring his legs', which just goes to show that my father's long-standing warning to always take water and warm things up the mountain no matter how short your planned walk is, might just be worth taking seriously. The weather can change in a second and you never know when you're going to fall and break your leg and will need water to get through the night...
Adam Welz


  1. Wow, that was quite a post! And even though I was there, I can hardly believe the barefoot blonde story...

    It's amazing how people manage to replace brains with a mixture of guts and ignorance...

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Hmm... Died of dehydration after injuring his legs? Is this for real?

  4. Absolutely for real.

  5. I suspect his legs were injured for him...

  6. Jislaaik - what else can one say? Thanks - I HAVE entered the TBNP tel no in my phone - secretly hope I never have to use it.
    Went for a walk at Silvermine yesterday (bloody hot) and a wonderful swim in the dam afterwards - windstill and warm - heavenly!

  7. Ja...or, Ja Nee.

    I rediscovered Table Mountain on this last trip...thank you for the story about your dip after the hot walk, it puts things back into perspective, Marijks!

    PS Pictures of your vegetable garden on your blog, maybe??

  8. Ok, well, I don't know if I'm the only one missing the joke here, but what are we talking about? Not that I am defending the muggers, but still... Dying of dehydration after his legs were injured (for him)?


    Hi Jay. :-)
    Hi Marijke. :-)

  9. Ok Jay - you're going to have to find out for us how his legs were injured...It is a non sequitur.

    Vince - it has been super hot in CT. If he hadn't had any water, and then ran a lot, and fell?

  10. There has been no report of the mugger's legs having been broken by anyone. I suspect that he was chased ( on an extremely hot day ) and fell. The heat and chase also explains the dehydration.

  11. How about dog bites on the legs?
    Vince, you didn't know that injury to the legs causes dehydration? It does, as well as, on occasion, difficulty walking!

    Ok, I thought at first, anybody who can misquote Lewis like this is all right in my book.

    But then the blonde comment? I mean come on, even "I" know that you don't wear GREEN silk on a hike!

    I mean, that was in like 5 years ago? Nowadays, off-white is it, everybody knows that. Some blondes really give a bad name to others!!!

  12. Brig, you're right about Some Blondes. This one's roots were showing, and well, she was an Imposter.

  13. Holy guacamole, that IS something interesting that the blonde's dress is doing... Wonderful post and v impressed with all the proper botanical names for the flowers!

  14. A handful of criminals destroying the tourism industry of an entire nation... Well done to the security personnel who responded to this incident!


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