Table Mountain is probably the best named hunk of rock in the world. It is a 3,000 foot high mountain that towers above Cape Town, with smaller arms that reach out and hug the city from two sides. Thus the center of the city is often referred to as the city bowl. Most appropriately, given the name, the entire top of the mountain climbs straight up and stops flat. Table top flat. It is unmistakable and beautiful.
Last week we drove over to the cable car to take a trip to the top. A photo opportunity in the making. The cable car, as mentioned earlier, starts from a road that is almost halfway up and photography from this point is already nice. Once we got to the cable car we decided it would be a sham for us not to make the ascent under our own power. So we turned and left. Only to return today.
We set an alarm today for 0630 to get an early start. The motivation was predicated mostly around football. Last night the new NFL season began with my beloved Three Time World Champion, Team of the New Millenium, New England Patriots beating the Raiders from the Left Coast. (I didn’t know the score before the climb as I avoided the Internet and TV but knew in my heart that they had won anyway). ESPN had a taped replay of the game set for 1600 our time. Therefore, we had to be up the mountain and back down prior. With our priorities straight, we were off.
We decided to take a direct and very steep trail to the top. We parked the Opel go-cart at 0830 and started up at 0837. I know this number because I was curious how long it would take. Climbing Table Mountain is not for the faint of heart. It is not an easy climb and people are rescued from its steep face all the time. Besides the steep climb, the weather can change very quickly leaving you lost and stranded. When we got up this morning the sky was overcast, which means the mountain is under clouds. Not a great scenario. But the weather said today was supposed to be nice, so I figured it would burn off. Furthermore, even in the cloudy weather it was warmer than usual and it wasn’t raining. In order to check myself one more time, I called up an aviation weather report, which as an aviator myself, I will always trust more than your television weather man. I was comfortable it would burn off. So with food in a pack on Debbie’s back and camera gear in a pack on mine we headed up at previously stated 0837 towards the bottom of the clouds that loomed not far above our heads.
We were out of breath in the first fifty yards. This might actually be challenging. Hadn’t really considered that one! For every three feet we moved forward we climbed one. We ultimately climbed 3,000 feet in 1.8 miles.
We were into the clouds in no time. The bottom of the cloud deck was as flat as the top of the mountain itself. One moment we were underneath and the next we were in them. This in the end was a good thing because we had no true sense of the distance or height that lay in front of us. On our descent down we were in awe of just looking back over our shoulder and in denial that we had actually been able to successfully climb it.
The climb was a cardiovascular challenge. We are in good shape overall and run often as a family, but we had to stop to catch our breath a fair number of times. When we were just about half way up we broke out of the clouds to be greeted with a flat cloud deck below us and the mountain peek above us. It was like we were on the top of the world and we were all alone. It was beautiful. The only drawback was that we now could see how much more we had to go and what it might entail.
The trail is well marked. Because of the angle of the climb, the stones laid out form very large steps. Some steps raise more than two feet from one stone to the next and they seemingly never end. Many of the plants that we encountered on the trail are found and grow only on the slopes of Table Mountain. It was a privilege to make this ascent with nobody else on the trail, as it felt that we had the mountain to ourselves. The cool mist of the cloud cover blew through the low shrubs and bushes hydrating beautiful yellow flowers as sunbirds chirped and flew impossibly fast around us. It was magical, as well as exhausting.
We made the top in two and one-half hours. Not bad. We were all out of breath and very sweaty but in overall good shape. We found a nice perch looking over the city, which at this point was still under the cloud cover, and had our lunch of juice, bread and cheese, doritos and smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We cooled down fast after we settled in to eat and found ourselves putting our coats back on. It was probably in the low 60’s at the top.
With lunch now out of Debbie’s backpack and distributed amongst our bellies, and knowing we had a football game to catch we reversed course. Relieved we didn’t have to do any more climbing we naively headed back down. If the climb up was a cardiovascular challenge, the climb down was a muscular challenge. Trying to support your weight and stop yourself from rolling down the hill the fast way with every step gets very tiring when it lasts for one and one-half hours. We stopped a number of times to allow our wobbly legs to recover this time instead of our lungs. By the time we reached our car it was nearly impossible to walk a straight line. The clutch in the car was real interesting for the drive home.
The climb was great. The kids did amazing. They actually were running up and down the hill in front of our home within an hour of getting home! The only bummer of the experience is that the cloud layer finally did burn off, just as we were coming off the mountain. No big deal in the end. Climbing up through a cloud bank to see a perfect blue sky above was pretty special in itself and harder to catch anyway. We may yet take the cable car up on a clear day in order to see the city from this vantage point, now that we have made the ascent under our own power.
Our new friends Anne and Ryan, who are also traveling around the world, joined us later in the afternoon. They have been on the road for a little longer than us, have been married for one year and are from California. We met while staying at a backpack hostel here in the city on our first day. We all enjoyed watching my Patriots beat the Raiders and having pizza delivered at half time. It was almost like we were back home in States for opening day. A great end to a great day.
I am writing this blog two days after the climb and my legs still hurt. I can walk upstairs no problem but coming down is still nearly impossible!
Tags: Cape Town, South Africa, Table Mountain, Travel, Trek