Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hiking Table Mountain, and a safety lecture

The Frenchman and I went on a three hour walk, first driving for about ten minutes from home and parking at Constantia Neck. 

We hiked up past Eagle's Nest and then straight up some rocky scrambles towards the top of the mountain and the sculpted sandstone rocks, the most famous of which looks kinda-sorta like a camel. You'll have to wait for the Frenchman's post to see the camel.

We stopped a lot for pictures (and breathers, for me: it's steep - he could just trot the whole thing), but if you were just charging from one end to the other, I think this walk could be done in two hours. The views are spectacular.

Busted on the ascent! Checking a mobile device while in nature: Tsk. But the Frenchie likes to records his routes by GPS, and was presumably checking to see whether his satellite was awake and tracking him.

 Aristea macrocarpa

Berkheya armata

 Homo francophoniens

The view over the Hout Bay Valley.


 Ixia polystachya

At last, the top!

 Leucadendron sp.

 Struthiola sp. 

(Vince hiking with his small camera on his hip. The backpack with full kit is superheavy, and too valuable.)

Halfway, or more, and downhill from here. My father's mom was a De Villiers...no other connection.

 Psoralea sp.

Bad photo with zoom, but my parents' house.

We stopped here for lunch, on the jeeptrack that allows infrequent vehicles to access the ranger's station on top, one of very few structures on the mountain.

Carniverous Drosera trinervia on the cool rock faces beside the road. Accompanied by a soundtrack of click frogs

Watsonia coccinea

Scabiosa africana, and unsure about the yellow. Cotula?

Formerly Albuca, now Ornithogalum, poss. imbricata. Like green snowdrops.

The way home, back to Constantia Neck. After our move from Brooklyn to Harlem, and starting originally during a garden installation he helped out on some years ago (outsize bags of soil up stairs), Vince's knees have been a bit funny. So he was worried about this long downhill jolt. But they were fine.

Massive early summer and unseasonal rain caused unprecedented mudslides on the mountain.

Moraea tricuspidata

And then we were down again. 

A short drive, and cold gin and tonics waited for us in my mother's garden.

And now for the lecture.

Table Mountain Hiking Essentials and Tips:

1. Hike with companions.
2. The weather on this mountain turns on a dime. Pack an extra layer as well as a windproof jacket, no matter how hot it is down below. Trust me.
3. Contrary to popular belief, Table Mountain is not flat. Wear walking shoes or boots. Remember flipflop girl?
4. Pack water and snacks.
5. The sun in South Africa will fry you silly. Ozone hole. Sunscreen, and hat, if you do hats.
6. Map. Slingsby's hiking maps cover the whole mountain.
7. Inform someone of your route, and your approximate return time. Stick to that route.
8. Allow the least fit or slowest member of the party to walk in front. They should set the pace (er, that would be me).
9. Personal Safety:
i) Leave jewelry at home. We remove our wedding rings.
ii) Pack as few expensive toys as possible, and keep them in a backpack, not swinging from your neck. A camera is my necessity. I prefer a point-and-shoot on hikes as it's light and held in my hand or a pocket, and not ostentatious. Cellphone is useful if you get lost or need help.
iii) In the unlikely event that you do encounter unfriendlies, cooperate. Be meek and unconfrontational, and as calm as possible. Hand over everything. Your goal is to leave the situation unharmed, not save a camera. Take nothing on your hike you are not prepared to lose.
iv) For a highly unlikely, worst-case scenario, I take pepper spray. Keep it in a pocket. It's no use to you out of reach in a backpack. Should you have to use it, bear in mind that with the frequent wind you are likely to be sprayed by your own spray. Be aware of wind direction and stay upwind of spray. Practise at home. Personally, I think a codeword is useful if you are in group. At the word, everyone drops, turns and covers eyes and nose. I know. Very dramatic. It's unlikely to happen, but be prepared.

I have never had a bad experience on the mountain. Thousands of people hike this mountain on a regular basis, safely. But headlines are headlines. Most injuries and all (as far as I know) not-infrequent fatalities on this apparently friendly mountain are caused by user-error. Falls, dehydration, lack of preparation and unfitness, and plain stupidity.

But there have been and continue to be muggings, and a minority are violent. Areas to avoid: Karbonkelberg above Hout Bay, Sandy Bay dunes, caution on lower slopes of Lion's Head.

But that leaves you an awful lot of mountain, from Cape Point to Maclear's Beacon.

Hike forth!


  1. I thought the weather would turn on a tickey ...

  2. Lovely! Wish I were back there. I recognize several of the plants from hikes that we did a couple of weeks ago. I have some photos of Moraea tricuspidata from the Helderberg Nature Reserve. Sorry we were unable to connect up while we were out there. What a fantastic country!

  3. Was falling in love with the leucodendron until you found the droscera - wow! that is gorgeous! What a nice way to spend a December day.

  4. I love it all.But...the blue of the Aristea..ahhh!

  5. I have to second the sunscreen warning. I'm allergic to the sun, so I wear long sleeves, long pants, and a hat all the time. As a compromise with myself for wearing all of that, I don't wear sunscreem - never found anything that suited me. About halfway through our hike, I realized my hands were scorched. That said, it's still one of my all time favorite hikes and I'm STILL enormously grateful for the detour you and Vince recommended. An absolutely magical day!

  6. I hate that things are such that even Peter Slingsby's map cautions one about the mugging risk on Karbonkelberg. Ugh. Your photos make me want to venture up a mountain again this weekend, but (alas) I am heading to Pretoria for the festive season. Merry Christmas!

  7. <adds to 'to do' list...

  8. Thanks so much for this gorgeous post! The pictures are spectacular. Keep them coming, please.

  9. Awesome, thank you for posting, I am so far behind I might as well go back in time... I was indeed recording our hike via the GPS of my phone and watch, but you've got the path pretty well. I'll post the camel as soon as I can.

    Homo francophoniens

  10. Wow...Nice snaps.... Hope you had a great time. Me to had great interest in adventure riding and I'm now preparing for a trip in Mount Skill Academy.


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