Doubting Gravity: My 5 hour 15 minutes ordeal with Table Mountain

Once you’re in Cape Town, there is no avoiding the Table Mountain. It is here, it is there, it is almost everywhere you turn! And it is beautiful…breathtakingly beautiful. I mean, this South African icon is the only natural site in the world to have a constellation of stars named after it (Mensa, meaning “the table”). It is literally the most recognised site in Cape Town with its flat-topped peaks. So in November 2011, it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world!! Every visit to Cape Town should include an ascent up Table Mountain to enjoy the views from the top!

Our trip to the top

The day before, Ellie and I decided that we would hike up Table mountain. We knew that there were cable cars that left from Tafelberg Road which could easily get us up the mountain within three to nine minutes. But we had freed up the whole day for  Table Mountain, and so we decided to just hike our way up. After all, our tour guide books had highly recommended the hike and we had been meeting people who kept saying the hike was great. If we used the Platteklip Gorge route, which is the easiest and shortest hiking route (it is apparently about 3 kilometres), we would be fine. It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining, so we put on our trainers, took a taxi to the start of the Platteklip Gorge route and so on the 10th of March 2016, we started our hike at 1:30pm.IMG_0248

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This hike was no joke. Not to me. Not to Ellie. We had seriously underestimated what this hike would be like. For starters, we had some salad and chicken for breakfast,.. and that was all we ate before we began to hike (I won’t count the four tiny blocks of chocolate we had beforehand…it’s negligible anyways (lol!)). We started hiking, and the heat from the sun started to dehydrate us quickly. It wasn’t long before we started panting and drinking water and sweating and sweating some more. An hour plus into our hike, the topography of the mountain started changing – it was no longer smooth and sandy with neatly formed stones. There were big and small rocks – some were slippery and some were unevenly shaped. The path was no longer as straightforward as before, and it started getting cool – the winds were getting ready for our arrival.

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Two hours in, and we are still climbing. We had gotten close to the gorge where we could literally see the clouds pouring through. I had to stop and ask,… “are we supposed to climb through all that steepness once we get to the gorge, or is there a lift that takes us to the table top?“. (I don’t even know why people thought I was trying to be funny…it was a legit question!) Climbing up the gorge,… my goodness! Indescribable steepness, cloudiness and rockiness. It felt like mother nature saw us coming closer to her and wasn’t happy, and so she turned up her resistance. Stronger winds (x5), thicker clouds that dampen your hair and impair your visibility (x4), thornier plants which you can no longer grab on to for “stairwell support” (x3.5), colder temperatures (x5)…. we were not having fun at this point.

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I mean… doesn’t that gorge look absolutely terrifying?!
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Darn clouds.

And then around 4:30pm we got to the top! We actually got to the top! We were so exhausted that we just started running towards the cable cars. We tried to take some pictures, but we were so scared the winds would knock us over that we didn’t go too near the cliff! But the views,… the views were amazing. You could see the clouds, the nearby mountains (Devil’s Peak and the Lion’s Head to name a few), the Waterfront, Robben Island and more! But then the clock was ticking and we were exhausted, and so we needed to get our ride down.

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And then it happened. That moment happened, when I thought I wouldn’t go down. We had heard “mumblings” along the way about the cable cars no longer operating due to the winds, but Ellie and I weren’t listening to that… we were special hikers afterall, and so the cable cars must work when we get there. We were so wrong. That was when I cried – when we got to the top and realised we had to hike back down because there were no cable cars working as a result of the strong winds. I wanted to prove the laws of nature wrong – not everything that goes up must come down… at least not today. I started looking through the shut cafes to see if I could sleep anywhere that night and take the first cable car down the next day, but everywhere was shut and locked and I couldn’t become a vandal overnight!

Ellie and I held our hands as we walked back towards the plateau around 5:00pm. We went into full survival mode from then on “Nex, I’m not going to stop or look back,… so you keep going, and I’ll keep going“.  We did what we had to – we sat on our bums and used or hands and legs to “slide” down when we could. We strapped our bag packs to the front of our bodies when we needed to. My leggings tore at the knees, the bum, the middle,…. but pscheww,… who cared? All I knew was that I had to get down.

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Still had to get some pictures of the view on our way down though!

Man vs. God…God always always wins!

Through the all trauma of the heat, the winds, the clouds, the cold, the whole climb… one thing was clear to me.  The only things working in me were fear and faith in God. Until this day, I always thought that faith cancelled out fear. But when I was so scared climbing down and looking down, when my heart skipped every single time Ellie gasped or said/shouted “oops!”, when I shed a tear thinking of my family and friends, every time I wondered what would become of my dreams and aspirations or what my unborn children and unknown husband would do if I didn’t make it alive…. I kept saying “The lord is our shepherd, I shall not want… The Lord is our strength…. He’s got us! He’s got our back (literally)“.

Some feelings and “shout-outs” 

To all those professional hikers and fitness maniacs that kept running past us and didn’t stop to answer our questions or give us words of encouragement – it’s not that I was jealous. No. It’s just that for the first time in my life, I did not appreciate another human beings physical strength in spite of my lack thereof. Please forgive me.

To Alejandro and Hakeem, and to all those who passed Ellie and I (either on your way up or down) and encouraged us to keep climbing, to take our time, to persist, to sing motivational songs, and told us good luck… thank you very very much.

To the Indian couple. You were the only people we passed on our hike. We were still climbing up when you were struggling down, and we met up with you on our way down. Thanks for being a stellar example of what “one step at a time” means… regardless of how long it takes you. We all made it down in one wholesome (albeit knackered) piece at 6:45 pm!

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After more than 5 hours, we made it!!!!!!!

Tips

So what would NexTours advise given this experience?

– Start your hike as early as possible. It’s my guess that the winds would typically become worrying from the afternoon, so it’s advisable that you should at least have gotten to the top by 1pm. At least, if Ellie and I had gotten to the top by 1pm, maybe the cable cars would have still been in operation, and maybe we wouldn’t have been miserable hiking back down. Either ways, give yourself enough time for a hike down. The weather changes rapidly and so you may think you will use a cable car down, but due to the rapid weather change, there are no cars to take you down. You don’t want to be stranded in darkness at the top!

– Do not assume that because the weather at the bottom is great, it will be great at the top. Find out from the Visitor’s Centre what the weather is like at the top and what the expectation is about the operability of the cable cars. Also, when you check the weather forecast, don’t just check for the probability of rain or sun… check for the winds too (apparently sometimes the winds can be as bad as 55km/hour!). The cable cars and cafes will operate come sun or rain, but won’t operate if its windy up there. Mother nature is real and alive in Table Mountain, so everything depends on her – how tedious your hike is, your views, whether the cable cars operate on that day or at that time etc.

– If you’re still thinking of hiking, take plenty of water with you. Trust me, you will need it. Also a fully charged phone and possibly back up battery or a portable charger.

– Dress appropriately. Good hiking gear and shoes are highly recommended. It sometimes starts getting cold once you start getting to the top. Take a sweater or comfortable warm clothing with you. Ladies… don’t even bother hiking up the mountain with a wig on. The wind will blow it off. No debates, no maybes… it will be blown off.

– Take a bag pack (not a handbag) that will allow you store your items (cameras, water bottles, sweaters etc) while you hike.

– Do not underestimate the hike! Don’t ever! Remember this is a mountain you are climbing, and not a hill. People have actually died climbing it. Don’t rush it,.. .everyone’s pace is different! Eat a healthy meal before you embark on it and overdose on your self-determination and persistence pills! Make sure you are fit and healthy before you embark on the (or any) hike. If you have any form of ailment, just use the cable cars.

TAKE THE CABLE CAR TO AND FROM! YOU DON’T NEED TO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN TO BE HAPPY IN LIFE! YOU CAN LIVE A FULFILLED LIFE WITHOUT CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN!

 

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