Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday morning falling down

Today I fell down Table Mountain.
It all started so well. I had a lovely to-do list for the day: fetch my bokkie at the airport late this afternoon; a birthday celebration of a long-lost friend at noon and a long walk on the mountain before then. With a song in my heart and a flask of coffee in my daypack, I was at the bottom of Kasteelpoort in Camps Bay at 7.30.
Yes, it’s a trudge to the top. But because I started early I had shade all the way. After all that rain last week you could still hear songs of water threaded all over the mountainside, rushing down in secret little streams under grass, glistening over rocks and gushing into small pools.
On the famous flat rock almost at the top of Kasteelpoort I stopped for coffee. I had forgotten my cup at home, but not to be defeated, I poured it into the margarine tub I had packed my rusks into. It doesn’t matter how you get your caffeine in when you’re climbing a mountain.
Kasteelpoort is a majestic name for a majestic place. When you reach the top, the buttress rises like a huge sandstone castle to your right, with another buttress on the left and you walk through this portal to the kingdom that is the top of the mountain. I thought of Anatoli Boukreev’s words: “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
At the entrance to the Valley of the Red Gods I discovered the cathedral’s inner sanctum. Under a small dome of rock, fringed by green ferns, was a tiny mountain pool. A frog sat at the edge and went plop. A sandy beach, as long as my leg, curved around it. At the far end the water tinkled away through brown reeds and echoed against the rock dome. A dry white flower petal drifted on the water. In this small world all was perfect.

From the western lip of the Red Gods’ valley I dropped down into Porcupine Ravine and was filled with the joy of the day. Now the heat was rising from the ground and the fat, round smell of fynbos hung in the warm air. All the way down Diagonal Route I scattered confetti bushes, brushing my hands in their buchu sented leaves as the tiny white petals dropped like snowdrops on the ground.
It’s a treacherous way down with lots of wet and loose rocks and I picked my way down with extreme care. At last the path flattened out a little and I was almost on safe ground. Then I saw the Yellow Flower. It stood on a slender stem against a rock, its closed buds wrapped in the outside-red of its petals. I took a picture of it and admired it in the playback. So delicate, so beautiful.
…And stepped backwards over a rock. They say most accidents on the mountain happen in a fall of no more than three metres. Now I understand why. As I lost my balance my arms groped in mid-air, looking for something to hold onto. There was nothing. I kept thinking, oh, now I’ll regain my balance. I didn’t. I tumbled down the cliffside, thinking, now I’ll stop, oh no, I’m still rolling, still rolling down. It probably took as long as it would take you to say: one thousand and ten, two thousand and ten, three thousand and ten.
And then I stopped. I was lying face-down with ground in my mouth and in front of me sat a bright-green praying mantis, staring at this apparition that had just fallen out of the sky. I stood up. Strangely, I didn’t even think that I might have broken something. I just stood up.
I was so lucky. I had chosen a very well vegetated and cushioned little cliffside to drop over and had come to a stop in a patch of plants and one of those thorny bushes. Bruised, scratched and shaking, I sat in the shade and poured water over my wounds.
The day had changed completely. It went from gold to grey. I suppose I was in a state of light shock. Even as I write this, nine hours and numerous classes of ice-cold Coke later, I feel weird.
It’s as if the mountain I love so much just flicked me off its arm like an insect. The message is clear: I may be your cathedral, but I’m a wild place. To which I can only answer: All the more reason to love you.

Photographs and copy © Judy van der Walt

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Singing in the rain

Today was a perfect day for walking. Yes, I know it rained. It is still raining as I write. But if you have invested a few hundred rand in excellent waterproof gear, like Jan and I, you are only too pleased when you have the chance to wriggle into it and be the only ones on the mountain.
So it was that we drove up to Kloof Nek like two gladwrapped sausages, waterproofed from the hooded tops of our heads to the tips of our goretexed toes. Low granite-grey clouds flew over the nek. It was a wild afternoon.
I remember once reading a description of a woman in a book that said she was the kind of person who walked in all weather. A rather staunch type. Well, I may not be that staunch but I love all kinds of weather. Fast winds, driving rain, hot sun. I love plunging into the elements, whatever they are. Give it to me, baby. Ok, maybe I am a bit staunch.
We launched ourselves onto the pipe track at Kloof Nek. Now the rain fell horizontally in fat drops and tree branches arched heavily above the path. The water treatment plant above Camps Bay floated into view through a curtain of mist, like a fairytale castle. This red-brick building is one of my favourites in Cape Town.
We didn’t walk very far. But just being in the freshest of fresh air, blowing in all the way from far over the Atlantic, was like a new beginning at the end of the weekend. It made me feel better about the chocolate tart I ate this afternoon and the several glasses of red wine I had at dinner last night.
We sat on a bench under dripping trees with the mist swirling over the ocean below. Raindrops plopped on my head with the sensation of small feet dancing. All around us happy wet frogs croaked in joy.
How can you not sing in the rain.