Saturday, 20 July 2013

Off the Beaten Path

When I found out I would be coming on this trip, I already knew I wanted to hike Table Mountain.  Recently inaugurated as a New7Wonders of Nature in 2012, the mountain has countless trails with some of the most breathtaking views in South Africa.  Over the course of the trip, I’ve now hiked the mountain twice with two very different experiences.  A group of us went soon after arriving in Cape Town, and it didn’t take us long to realize that there is not much of a system for marking the trails.  Not knowing how far UCT was from the actual trail head, the first time we walked about 10 miles to even start the hike at the base!  This was an experience in itself though.  I remember being a little delirious when we finally made it up the strenuous gorge the first time.  It was SO worth it.  When we had almost reached the top, Alison and I literally broke into a sprint.  Dehydrated and on the verge of collapsing, I’m still not sure where the energy came from; pure adrenaline I guess.  Upon making it to the top, we were rewarded by the most gorgeous view I have ever seen. 

The second hike was an entirely different experience that I will never forget.  It’s nearing the end of our trip, so some of us decided we needed to hike the mountain one last time.  We woke up Sunday morning to hike the Kasteelspoort trail starting in Camps Bay.  We decided to hike back down once we reached the top instead of taking the cable car so that we could spend the afternoon in Camps Bay.  The trail is known to be strenuous and we are an active group, but no one could’ve predicted how the day would unfold.  The path leading to the trailhead overlooked the swanky residences of Camps Bay with Lion’s Head behind us.
            We hiked for about fifteen minutes from the beginning of the trailhead before stopping for some water and taking in the scenery.  From there we started up the rest of the mountain.  It took about thirty minutes before we realized this path was way harder than the first.  The rocks were wet and slick.  I was already on all fours trying not to slip.  The hike turned into a climb that took a team effort to execute.  Being small, I had to be pulled up the rocks a few times.  We started joking about how we had considered hiking back down earlier; it seemed impossible at this point.  I remember gazing up the mountain wondering how the path actually gets to the top; we all reassured each other it has to reach the top. 
            As we neared the top, we all started wondering maybe this hike was for experts only.  It was becoming increasingly dangerous to climb.  Brett was in front and finally realized there is no way to get on top.  We must have made a wrong turn early on.  (In our defense, it really did look like a trail.)  There was a sense of panic for minute.  This meant we had no choice but to climb down; we even talked about calling for help because climbing down was going to be more dangerous than the climb up.  It was a bad situation, but I just burst out laughing.  Looking down the mountain—which at this point was just a drop off—we all started to think how we should have realized this wasn’t a trail awhile back.  I looked around and understood why we didn’t.  Maggie usually tends to be the voice of reason, and she didn’t come today.  We took a break and tried to strategize the smartest way to get down.  I decided I was going to write the blog about this experience and Andre suggested I title it “Experiential Idiocy.”
      Getting down the mountain was much harder than going up.  There were a lot of loose rocks   I watched them tumble down under my feet.  It was daunting to say the least.  When we finally made it to the trailhead covered in mud, sweat, and some blood, it was like a celebration.  We found the trail we were supposed to take but were too exhausted to try again.  None of us had been seriously injured, so we decided to hike down to Camps Bay for a rewarding meal.  We didn’t have a map or any idea of where to go besides down. 

To say the least, we were out of place as walked through the upscale neighborhoods of Camps Bay covered in dirt.  People stared, but no one asked.  As we toured the neighborhood, I was reminded of the racial and economic disparities still existing in Cape Town.  I’ve spent most of my time here commuting to Khayelitsha to work for Yabonga; this was the first time most of us had experienced the wealthier side of town.  Some townships are within twenty minutes from here, yet I felt like I was in a different world.  It was a difficult feeling to process.  When we finally reached the center of town, it was hard to find a place to eat since we didn’t exactly meet the dress code.  We stopped by the beach, but being at the point of exhaustion, we headed back.  When I look back on this trip years from now, this will go down as one of my favorite adventures.

-Shelby Graham 

Camps Bay!

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