In the four long years since the last visit to my beloved homeland and country of my birth, South Africa, I had dreamed of renewed walks up Table Mountain. Having clocked up a 3-day Boland Trail hike, I was well in the mood for an excursion up Cape Town’s lofty fortress. A date set for just after Christmas, it presented an opportunity of working off the excesses of the festive period. I had long since done Echo Valley, which is just one route hikers use to cross from the flat plateau visible from the Cape Town city bowl, to the central areas of the mountain. The idea of climbing from the front via Platteklip Gorge (“Flat Stone Gorge”) and descending via Kasteelspoort on the Atlantic Ocean side of the mountain seemed an attractive option, weather permitting.
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Having contacted an ex-colleague of mine, Kobus Botha, from the days when we both plied our trade at Plessey Tellumat, we agreed to meet up for a walk to Elephants Eye, a cave on the Constantia side of Table Mountain, just below Constantiaberg. The route starts out from the Tokai Forest Arboretum, zigzagging up the hillside across several plantation service roads, eventually making its way towards a junction on the edge of Silvermine Nature Reserve, where one has the option of heading south towards False Bay and the reserve or alternatively, taking a short walk via the fire prevention lookout to Elephant’s Eye. It’s by no means an extensive walk, in the region of some 6 km, however it is worth it in terms of quick access to Table Mountain’s fynbos and the incredible views across False Bay as well as north across Constantia, towards Devils Peak.
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Occasionally the path isn’t always clearly visible save for the piles of stones that have been left at regular intervals; nonetheless, one is required to clamour over large boulders. Having said that, there’s only one way and that is up! A lower waterfall is reached, which provides an opportunity for some interesting photos of the foliage carpeting a vertical expanse of rock, before continuing left of the stream. This is where Disa plants can be seen flowering at certain times of the year. Further up the trail crosses the riverbed and continues up the right bank for a while. The upper section of the gorge narrows, with rock walls extending upwards on both sides. Sunlight streams down from the top of the gorge. Save for the sound of trickling water, a lone birdsong could be heard, sounding its call repeatedly, as if in the hope of soliciting some distant response. I was pleased in a way that I was walking on my own. In one respect it is perhaps not the wisest thing to do, having broken a cardinal rule of hiking, yet it is at times like these that one finds oneself exerting some measure of control over one’s own destiny.
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It was a late start after a muesli breakfast and a cup of tea, before we set off around 08h00 on what was to prove the longest day of the trail at 16.1 km and the most exhausting one at that. Leaving Shamrock hut ahead of the group of ‘piepiejollers’ (too rude to translate) who, despite being our neighbours for the night, had been located out of sight at Landroskop Hut, less than 100 yards away. The path swept past their hut but then swung to the right, reaching a jeep track that meandered down the valley towards the gorge fed by Riviersonderend, literally ‘river without end’. At was at this point that we passed fields of exquisite colour, coupled with the sweet smell that fynbos generates, a paradise on earth. Fires had occurred here in recent years and a distinction regarding the age of the vegetation could be made where fire breaks had been cut in the landscape.