Table Mountain temptation
The allure of Table Mountain – towering over Cape Town, its verdant slopes beckoning with myriad hiking trails – was too strong to resist, even for S, who was five months pregnant.
Actually, the climb had been her idea all along. D would have been perfectly content to spend our baby-moon weekend lazing around, but he too was glad to go hiking and burn off some calories to justify our double dinners. If S had been in need of an ego boost, she could have scarcely done better than our daylong assault on Table Mountain. Virtually every woman we passed stopped to tell S how amazing and inspiring she was.
Of the many paths leading to the top of Table Mountain, we chose to ascend via Skeleton Gorge – partly because the trail is both beautiful and modestly challenging, and partly because this route up the back of Table Mountain begins in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Thus we could kill two birds with one stone, climbing the mountain and then spending some time relaxing in the gardens after concluding our hike.
After passing slowly through the gardens, where D kept getting distracted by various colorful birds, we ascended a moderately steep path through the Skeleton ravine. The trail passes through all of the mountain’s floral zones, and the first part of the track cuts through a rather thick forest – we consider this one of the ravine’s upsides, as the dense vegetation provides great cover from the sun.
At some point – maybe halfway through the forest – the beaten track petered out, giving way to a field of boulders. The steeper part of the rocky trail featured a series of wooden ladders to help with the ascent. After a bit of bouldering, we again regained the forest path, which eventually led us out of the woods at the top of the ravine. Here we found a group of hikers huddled around a map of the mountain while one older lady, who was clearly intimately familiar with the terrain, laid out everyone’s options.
To reach the summit, we still had about an hour of hiking up Smuts Track to Maclear’s Beacon. We started out on the Smuts trail, but veered off onto a more solitary path instead of hiking all the way to the top. There were plenty of hikers on this sunny Sunday, but we didn’t see a soul on our trail, which followed alongside an aqueduct before leading to a scintillating water reservoir.
We descended back to the gardens via the steep Nursery Ravine, in effect circumnavigating the Castle Rock portion of the Table Mountain massif – a beautiful circuit that skipped the summit, but offered a measure of solitude and some striking vegetation in the form of king proteas, South Africa’s national flower, and disa orchids, dubbed by some “the pride of Table Mountain.”
In Namibia, a few weeks earlier, we had crossed paths with a birding enthusiast who had spent quite a bit of time in South Africa. When S asked about his favorite birding spots, he did not hesitate, immediately singing the praises of the Cape Town sewage works. We decided to pass on this noxious suggestion, opting instead to return to Kirstenbosch the following morning before our midday flight to Johannesburg. The gardens did not disappoint. Among the two-dozen different birds we spotted, at least half were new to us, including the gorgeous orange-breasted sunbird and the endemic cape sugarbird.