24 July 2012
I was out of bed early. I looked out of my hostel and the top of Table Mountain was draped in thick white clouds. It was slightly breezy with heavy cold moisture in the air. Today I met my guide, Margaret – Table Mountain Walks, whom would take me trekking the iconic flat top Table Mountain. At the foot of the mountain, near Camps Bay, the Kasteelsproot Trail was the starting point of the walk. The flat mountain top was completely draped in a cloth of mist. However, the lower pancake like colorful sandstone strata with myriad hues of orange was exposed. Narrow and rocky trails lead uphill into the Apostles and towards the thick clouds. Views of Lion Head and Robben Island was now a hazy distance. The electric blue of the Atlantic dominated the horizon. In the south, the land is exposed to the harsh ocean waves.
The uphill trail led straight into the clouds. This is the “Back Table”. The landscape turned into a dreamy world. Distant views were inhibited but the immediate became pronounced. The air turned chilly as the light wind blew across the valley and hills. There were no boundaries. The mountainscape resembled a primordial landscape filled with native fynbos vegetation. This vegetation is unique to this area of Cape Peninsula. The most recognisable plant here is the large-flowered Proteus. The terrain and land-form constantly transformed with every shift of the mist aided by the wind. Melodies of bird calls transcended into the valleys and hills. The views in the brochures of isolated coastlines and picturesque coastal towns in the valleys below were absent. In contrast, I felt excited and invigorated to walk, though carefully, through this idyllic and primitive environment.
At the Valley of Gods, the red sandstone rocks that had tumbled down years before dominated the landscape. Orange lichens together with Old Man’s Beard flourished helped by the abundant moisture. At times, although rarely on this occasion, the clouds would relent and exposed the beautiful valleys and the blue Atlantic on the south-western coastline. I was still hopeful the mist would lift. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. Tall grasses, shrubs and stunted trees clustered together in large numbers inter spaced between rock boulders and tumbling cliff faces. The trail continued through the mist into Echo Valley and Isolation Valley through more rock boulders, swamps, grasslands and boardwalk towards the Eastern Table. Birds occasionally flew past hurriedly. We finally reached McClear Beacon, the highest point on the mountain at 1086m. A small pile of stone rubble marked the point. After a wonderful lunch, the trail continued on relatively flat terrain. The clouds continued to tease with majestic views but only briefly. The trail seemed to be the ends of earth. The end was nowhere as it was completely obscured by the mist. At places, I felt it was precariously close to falling over the cliff. One wrong step may send me into an abyss. I am glad that I had a wonderful and knowledgeable guide, Margret, with me. We reached the top of the Plaketipp Trail on the “Front Table”.
A rocky gully, between two large hills, led downhill. The surfaces were slippery and sometimes my boots lost traction. There were hikers ascending from the Lower Cable Station. Without warning, beautiful views of the Lion Head, Signal Hill, City Bowl – Mother City and beyond emerged as the sun shone brightly. I had exited the recalcitrant cloud bubble. My wishful thinking at the beginning of the trek did not materialise. The downhill trail was tough and steep at places. The eight-hour walk had taken in the various parts of the mountain and enabled a close encounter with the natural and ancient flora. This trail, with a capable guide, had been phenomenal, though hazy, misty, cloudy, obscure, foggy……….through a mystical landscape.