Cape Town - I think we can accept that summer really is here. The temperatures have climbed steadily, and the south-easter is making its presence felt most days, sure signs that we have passed through spring.
Of course, if we required further confirmation, the constant refrain of Jingle Bells in the malls and the piles of glossy junk mail cluttering mailboxes make the conclusion inescapable. It’s summer, and to me that means I have to shrug off the lethargy and the added kilos of the cooler months and “get out there” for some proper exercise.
The opportunity to climb high enough to be away from the madding crowd, the artificial snow, the flashing lights and that infernal pseudo festive cheer is simply added incentive.
So I made plans to head out on one of my favourite and most physically demanding hikes, Right Face Arrow Face Traverse. When the day dawned I found myself laid low with some nasty viral illness which left me incapable of mounting the stairs, never mind the front of the fifth new wonder of the natural world.
However, recovery was swift and a few days later I was able to drag my still mildly ailing frame up past the lower cable station. My lungs were burning and my legs flagging, but time, tide and editorial deadlines wait for no man. It wasn’t ideal, with temperatures due to hit the 30s, so I left home early, just after the birds completed their rousing morning chorus (far more cheerful than Jingle Bells).
Mine was the first car on Tafelberg Road because I had a steep climb ahead and wanted to enjoy at least some shade. The route is a particularly strenuous one, and potentially dangerous. Mike Lundy, in his excellent book Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula, rates it 4D, which means harsh, high, not for those with any sense of vertigo and definitely not for the inexperienced. (If you wish to experience this route, go with an organised group.)
I really needed a good workout, having done relatively mild walks of late, and I got what I had intended. The climb up the stairs to the contour path always seems to have a stronger than average gravitational pull, and on reaching the contour I headed on up India Venster. Along the way I was surrounded by a phalanx of bright pink Watsonias, almost pretty enough to take my mind off the pain in my calves.
This is an excellent route to the top but, again, not for the unskilled or unfit. There are warnings along the way and they are there for a purpose – if you are unfamiliar with rock scrambling or don’t know your way around the mountain, don’t use this route without a guide.
The early start paid off with some shade, but it was obvious the day was going to turn into a scorcher. Instead of hiking to the top I turned on to a route that takes a detour across the face of the mountain on a narrow ledge and provides exhilarating views of the city. Sitting for a rest on the ledge, feet dangling over hundreds of metres of clear air, I watched the town come alive as the commuter traffic streamed over the freeways. Glistening metallic corpuscles ebbing and flowing over tar arteries, breathing life into central Cape Town, made me even more pleased with my efforts.
By the time I had traversed the front of the mountain, negotiating the occasional rock scramble and wriggled behind broken rock faces, the sun was fully up and it was little past 9am.
The route down isn’t well defined and proved remarkably tiring in the heat; thankfully Yellowood Gully still had a tiny amount of water in the river bed, sufficient to wet my T-shirt and cool me off slightly.
The final leg back along the contour path and down the steps to the cable station proved a little worrisome. I met several groups of mostly foreign hikers and, concerned about the heat, I asked: “Where are you headed?” They all responded with a simple “To the top.”
It was obvious they had no real idea where the top was or what route they intended to take. With three hours of heavy walking in front of them, I advised that they take care and make sure they had sufficient water. I was only too glad that I was almost finished and not starting out – it was boiler room hot now and only just reaching 11am.
I had achieved my goal, got some pretty serious exercise and once again marvelled at the beauty of our city and its mountain. Adventure awaits us all up there, but here one has to sound a word of caution:
As the hot weather really gets going you are best advised to walk early or aim for routes that start on the Camps Bay side, where you can enjoy hours of shade on the climb up. Be careful out there. - Sunday Argus