Sunday, 7 July 2013

Rocks and Ladders: Conquering Skeleton Gorge

Maclear's Beacon
One Sunday morning, five of us set out to hike Table Mountain for a second time, excited about finding a trail called Skeleton Gorge that began in Kirstenbosch Gardens. The trip started off a bit rough, with our cab driver going 10 minutes down the highway before we confusedly said, “Isn’t Kirstenbosch in the other direction?” and he subsequently turned the car around.  We breathed a sigh of relief when the entrance for Kirstenbosch gardens came into view, only to have our driver speed past it and say that the entrance to the trail was farther down the road. A couple miles later, we were unceremoniously dropped off in a parking lot near another entrance to the mountain that we had never heard of. That’s what adventure is for, right? Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and we set off with a vague description from a volunteer park ranger that Skeleton Gorge was somewhere uphill and to the right. An hour of wrong turns later, which included being stopped at the edge of a reservoir and sent back by an imposing man in military gear, eventually a sign pointing us in the direction of Skeleton Gorge was found with great elation. We set off along the narrow trail, occasionally pausing to admire the view of Cape Town from partway up the mountain and some interesting plant life and waterfalls.
The crazy ladders!
The air became increasingly humid as we trekked across the rocks, steps, and branches, our muscles burning with how steep the climb was. According to the website we had visited, Skeleton Gorge involves ladders and a rock fall, so we were incredibly excited when we came to the giant wooden ladders stretching haphazardly up the hill like an obstacle course. It was at this point that we got a text from Angela informing us that tickets for President Obama’s speech at UCT were being handed out near All Africa House only for the next hour. Oh well! Not much you can do about that when you’re halfway up a mountain. After the ladders we hit the bottom of the rock fall, an endless pile of boulders that seemed to reach the sky. A waterfall ran down the boulders as well, so it was a lot of fun to scramble from boulder to boulder, pulling ourselves up with our hands and getting our feet sopping wet. This was definitely a trail for the adventurous. We finally reached the top of Skeleton Gorge and proceeded uphill some more along the top of the mountain. It was quite eerie because the entire mountain was shrouded in fog, so the views of Cape Town consisted solely of clouds. Our final destination was the cable car on the other end of the top of the mountain, by way of Maclear’s Beacon, the actual highest point on the mountain (not the cable car as some might think). Our hike along the top included pitstops to explore a deserted cave, perilously climb a giant rock formation (thankfully everyone made it up and down safely, though at some points I feared I might need to put my Emergency Medical Responder skills to use), and pose for a million pictures when we reached an outcropping with incredible views of the city.
Our hike was definitely an adventure (ladders and waterfalls included), and our 4 hour climb was rewarded with incredible views from the top, a delicious and much-needed lunch at the Table Mountain Cafe, and a quick 5 minute cable car ride down that put our hours of climbing into a bit of perspective. I recommend that anyone visiting Cape Town hikes to the top of Table Mountain at least once. We've done both Skeleton Gorge and Platte Klip Gorge on this trip, which are each steep and stunning ways to the top, though not for the faint of heart. Any way you climb the mountain, you’re rewarded with amazing views of Cape Town and a great workout.

View of the city from the top

Written by Jill Anderson

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