Sunday, July 17, 2011

King of the mountain

I remember once many years ago we were on holiday in Cape Town. We went up Table Mountain in the cable car and my mom pointed at the figures far below us and said: “Look children, mountain hikers!”
Today I was one of those mountain hikers that waved back up at the cable car. And I wouldn’t have swopped places for anything in the world. India Venster is a king of a hike. It is pure royalty. It is filled with splendour and has had its share of tradegy. It is one of the oldest and most popular routes up the mountain. It has claimed lives, absorbed buckets of sweat and been trodden by thousands of boots.
On this day, another peach in this glorious midwinter hot spell that has lasted almost three weeks, we added our footprints to the thousands before us. Spring has confusingly sprung and it’s only July. The bobbejaantjies sat in royal blue clumps, the red buds of the China flowers have popped open to a surprising pink and white and the yellow daisy bushes shout ‘springtime!’
India Venster is tough. For the first two thirds it’s a hard, straight-up climb, mostly just below the cable car. The difficult part is where there are some big step-ups between some big boulders and this is where most of the trouble has been. Thanks to the kindness (and hard work) of some mountain lovers, India Venster now has some sturdy bolted on handholds and chains that have made this tricky negotiation much easier.
Doug and Keri with baby Rachel.
Now the hard work was past us and the blue sky soared above where a black eagle was being chased by crows. Then it pulled away from the crows like a Ferrari leaving a Volkswagen at the kerb. What chance does a crow have against an eagle with a two-metre wingspan and such a stately name as Verreaux.
Spot Gilad, dropping out of the sky on a rope.
As we rounded the buttress to the back of the mountain, a friend dropped out of the sky. Literally. It was the well known Gilad, abseiling down a rockface as if it was a normal Sunday morning occurrence, which, for him, it probably was.

When we smelt the bacon we knew we were near the top cable car station. We took the cable car down and passed some hikers on their way up India Venster. This time I knew exactly what if felt like to be the one down there on the rock.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My new love is shimmering and flirty

I have fallen in love. Again. This time my passion goes by the name of homoglossum priori. Yes, yes, I know, not very compelling. Neither is its popular name, rooi Afrikaner. That makes me think of Eugene Terreblanche’s nek.
I spotted my new love when Jan and I walked up to the Saddle earlier this week (see previous blog). It was icy and windy and yet here were these red-velvet pointy flowers swaying in the wind, smiling at the cold. Six-pointed scarlet stars.  The other day someone said there aren’t many flowers on the mountain in winter. Well, wherever they were walking, it wasn’t in this gold-green fynbos with its red beauties. Homoglossum priori is the flirty younger sister of the red disa – the one I fell in love with four months ago. My new love, h. priori,  wears a flimsy red dress and pointy shoes and dances in the wind.
So, today, armed with a new 100mm macro lens for my Canon 40D, I went back to the Saddle again. Today there were blue skies and full-on sunshine, but it was still icy up there in the teeth of a very cheeky southeaster. You could feel the Antarctic on its breath.
H. priori is not shy. She performed for the camera. Smiling, weaving, shimmering her velvety petals. Oh yes, I am in love. And here she is, in full glory.

And here, just because Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world, is a rock. A very old one. In the last light.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Grey turns to gold on a Blue Monday

It happened again this afternoon. When I looked out the window I saw a grey afternoon, clouds sweeping over the mountain and a wind that shook the pine tree next door. Not exactly inviting weather for an amble on the mountain.
Homoglossum priori - fancy name for a six-pointed star that shines on the mountain in winter.
But wait. Jan arrived home early on this, a miserable Blue Monday. He dragged me out the house by the scruff of my waterproof jacket and announced that we were walking up to the Saddle. If you look up at Devils Peak, you’ll see the saddle at its bottom right, before it slopes upwards to the top of Table Mountain.
And then the grey afternoon was transformed by alchemy as the late sun broke through underneath the clouds and washed the mountain with pure gold. It’s one of those wonderful mysteries of Table Mountain. Don’t believe it when it looks miserable from your window. Just be brave enough to tie up your boots and get outside and let that clear light touch you and breathe the fresh cold air that carries a hint of buchu on its breath.
Below Devils Peak the slopes were star studded with six-pointed red flowers. Homoglossum priori swayed in the chilly southeaster, catching the sun in their petals, turning this flower from the Iridaceae family into a red-gold creation. Popularly named Rooi Afrikaner they flowered next to the path, in the cracks of rocks and next to the stream up on the Saddle.
Which brings me to one of my favourite spots in the whole world: a patch of soft grass sheltered by a huge rock in the middle of the Saddle. Here you can lie back on the softest grass bed (check for ticks afterwards), listen to the stream tinkle and catch an orange-breasted sunbird hopping onto a bush in front of you. We ate a sweet orange and rinsed our hands in the icy stream. No Blue Monday stands a chance against this. It’s called Heaven.
The Saddle is a world in itself. A freezing wind galloped ahead of a bank of clouds that poured down the mountain, lost us in mist and five minutes later cleared to let the sunlight back, dancing over the disco-green leaves of watsonias, pelargoniums and leucadendrons. As a last special bonus, the sky lit up around Lion’s Head in a candy-pink sunset that faded into thick creamy clouds that soon became grey again. Which just goes to show: don’t let the grey clouds bully you.