Sunday, 20 July 2014

Views From the Top

Confession: when I was four years old, my aunt piggybacked me more than halfway up a mountain on a family hike in Maine. At that point in my life I had not yet grown into the appreciation of the outdoors and exploring nature that the rest of my family was exuding that summer day. I can safely say that now, sixteen years later, my overall level of excitement about and enjoyment in the outdoors has probably quintupled (minimum), so exploring some beautiful hikes in South Africa was one of my favorite parts of the past two months.

Mountain view from Cape Town
(Shamelessly taken from tablemountain.net)
Now that I’m competent at completing a multiple-hour hike on my own two feet, a bunch of others in the group and I hiked three different mountainside trails, some more famous than others, during our time in Cape Town (and also surrounding areas). We took on Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, and Muizenberg Peak. South Africa is a stunningly beautiful country, and Cape Town is set right at the base of huge mountains and mountain ranges, many of which can be seen from all over the city. I asked some locals if they ever forget how beautiful their home is because, well, they live here; some said that while they try not to become desensitized, it can still happen. While I don’t think we were here nearly long enough for the amazing views to become second nature, for me, going on these hikes was a way to disrupt the usual course of scenery and gain a completely new, but still impressive, perspective (literally) of the city.

Lion’s Head
Some of the hikers at the top of Lion's Head
(L to R: me, Sarah, Ben, Rachel, and Megan)
The right-most peak in the image above, Lion’s Head is a fairly quick hike that we did one afternoon after seeing the Bo-Kaap (a traditionally Islamic neighborhood in Cape Town, known in part for its colorful houses). The trail begins as a dirt path that slowly becomes increasingly rockier and winds around the mountainside—emphasis on “side.” Off to our left was the mountain’s unguarded edge, and below we could see Camps Bay, a popular beach spot, and the open ocean. We made our way closer to the top and then reached a metal ladder. We climbed up and heard from those coming down that we were fast approaching a pretty thrilling portion of the hike—scaling the mountain. Sure enough, we were soon faced with metal chains that were drilled deep into the rocks and provided support as one hoisted him or herself up to the next rock. This was an awesome end to the climb, and soon we had reached the top! The view was spectacular, and we could also see Signal Hill, which we had walked up as part of our morning tour of the Bo-Kaap. We started our hike fairly late in the day, so as we were hiking down the sun was setting, and lights were turning on in the city as we returned to its bustle.

Table Mountain
View through Platteklip Gorge
on Table Mountain
Our next adventure was Table Mountain, the well-known, flat mountain dominating many Cape Town post cards (also the middle mountain in the picture above). There is a cable care that goes from the base of the mountain up to its summit, but there are also a number of hikes one can do to reach the top. We hiked the most well-traveled and marked ones, called Platteklip Gorge. The trail is aptly named, as it winds around the bottom of the mountain and then straight through a huge gorge leading to the top. If you’re into Stairmasters, you’re into this hike; it is basically a path of big, rock steps. We hiked the mountain on one of the most clear and beautiful Saturdays we spent here, and it was pretty hot. Luckily, through the gorge there are some very cool spots where water seeps from the rocks and drips onto you, cooling you as you climb. The summit is huge—we only got the chance to see about half of it—and the view is spectacular: the entire city extends below you, and more peaks squeeze you on either side. We also took the (rotating!) cable car down to the bottom and got to see from afar what we had just accomplished!

Muizenberg Peak
Located in Muizenberg, a beach town just south of Cape Town where we spent our free weekend toward the end of the trip, this hike might get my top spot in terms of setting and trail. We hiked the Ou Kraal trail, which climbs gently and circles the bases of many peaks around that area. What I loved about this trail was that the view off of it was simply expansive ocean and beach towns below. For some reason I felt like we were closer to it than at Lion’s Head, and I found it really beautiful. I also loved that as we hiked further and further the sound of the towns below began to fade and we were simply just our group and the quiet trail. Many of us were lured to this trail with the hopes of finding Muizenberg Cave; regrettably, while the trail was fairly well marked the cave was not mentioned, and I had not taken detailed enough notes from my online research to find it (just means we’ll have to come back!). Nonetheless, it was still a fun, gorgeous, and circular hike up to Muizenberg Peak and down the final, steep descent through Peck’s Valley—which ended only about a 10-minute walk from our hostel!
Hiking the Ou Kraal trail in Muizenberg

These hikes have been a great way to see new views in the Mother City, but the many awesome people we have met while walking on the trails has been another major plus. At Lion’s head we met Brendan and Matt, two University of Kansas students who were seeing four countries in 11 days; Megan talked to some other Ohio natives on our Table Mountain climb; an experienced and friendly trail runner explained the ins and outs of the Table Mountain paths to me before we set off on the most direct path and he ran off on an unmarked trail with a group of friends. Did I mention that we also spotted (and some got to talk to) Rupert Friend, Homeland’s agent/hit man Peter Quinn, on Lion’s Head? Apparently screaming “Are you Peter Quinn?!” down a mountain is not the best way to get a truthful answer (“no, but I get that a lot”). Three hikes in six weeks isn’t too shabby, and these scenic views definitely give me another reason I’d like to return to this beautiful country soon.

- Simon Marshall-Shah, '16

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