Friday, 16 December 2016

South Africa – The Mother City’s Majestic Mountain

December 13

We get an awesome four weeks of holiday at Christmas. To kick off my month of travelling, I headed to the city synonymous with this.

Recognise it?
Getting from Lilongwe to Cape Town, known as the Mother City, is no easy task. It’s actually Lilongwe-Blantyre-Johannesburg-Cape Town, and took 14 hours door-to-door.

I have plenty of time to explore Cape Town but had one mission to accomplish at first light: climbing Table Mountain.

Table Mountain was recently voted one of the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature',
along with others such as Iguazu Falls and Jeju Island 

The mountain dominates the city, casting much of it in shadow depending on the time of day. Its tallest point is 1088m – higher than anywhere in Wales.

The shadow cast over eastern Cape Town by Table Mountain

Apparently it’s also rather dangerous to climb. I read before starting that more people die climbing Table Mountain than Everest. There are mitigating factors to that, such as the fact that many, many more people climb the South African mountain than the world’s highest, but it’s still an interesting statistic. Most people take a cable car to the top but you are in the hands of the gods for that – it’s often closed owing to the high winds which whip over and around the table.

A view of Table Mountain from the boat returning from Robben Island

That wind and various other geographical factors result in the top often being blanketed in a shroud of cloud: the ‘tablecloth’. There are legends attached to the cloud. One example is that an old Dutch pirate was challenged to a pipe-smoking match by the devil, with the results of the duel being the cloud.

That is one smokey pipe

There's your science, folks!
To beat the summer heat (yes it’s summer here), it’s advised to scale Table Mountain early in the day. I took that advice to heart and was at the lower cable car at 6am, which is also the starting place for the most common hiking trail: Platteklip Gorge.

My 'gentle' hiking trail for the morning

Being very early, it was pretty chilly with a light breeze moving along the gorge.

The Platteklip Gorge

This was until about a third of the way up the steep 3km trail, when Mother Nature decided she didn’t want people climbing the main mountain of the Mother City. A gale started flying down the ravine.

No need to worry about sunburn at this point

A few groups of people passed me coming down. Apart from one, all said they had turned back as it was too dangerous. Naturally, I listened to the one who had scaled the gorge and continued into the gust.

Visibility: low

It was also slippery and visibility began to dip. It reminded me of abandoning my family and scaling Snowdon as a child. I never felt it was dangerous but it was challenging at times. The slightly poetic description that came to mind (not my best, teacher is on holiday remember) was that I was enveloped by a waterfall of wind.

The final ascent on Platteklip Gorge

Suddenly, about 50 metres from the end of the trail, the wind relented and the stony path dried.

The end of Platteklip Gorge
 Of course, being a plateau on top means that you’re not at the ‘peak’ of the mountain. That’s another hour-and-a-bit from your starting point on the plateau. I decided to head towards the upper cable car station, during which time the cloud eased and I was rewarded with some stunning vistas.

View of the Atlantic Ocean

View of the eastern side of Cape Town

What I didn’t expect to see was a family of dassies – the closest living mammal to an elephant.

Closest relative to the elephant - maybe not closest in size...

These are amazing animals – they have collapsible ribcages so can squeeze through small gaps to escape their predators. How cool is that?!

Without those collapsible ribs, they would struggle to get through this gap

Back to the mountain. An at times tough but rewarding climb made the views even more satisfying. A great way to kick off my time in Cape Town.

Love you all


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