View from 3,558 feet

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a national holiday in South Africa, which means school was cancelled! (Take note America!) My friends and I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day and so began our journey to the top of Table Mountain.

We took a cab from Liesbeeck Gardens to the base of one of the trails, called Pletteklip Gorge. We then started our ascent up the mountain around noon. Even from the start of the trail we had an amazing view of the city, but as we got higher up the trail and the noises of the city subsided the view became even more incredible. The hike up was not incredibly difficult, but it was very steep. It was the most difficult hike I’ve ever been on, even though my guy friends with crazy long legs made it look easy! Everyone we met along the trail was super nice, and would encourage us on the way to the top – “You’re almost there! You can do it!”

The last bit of the trail was in the shade, so we literally could “see the light” at the top of the mountain. When we at last reached the top we decided to take Smuts Track to the highest point on Table Mountain, rather than go towards the Cable Car and tourist-y areas. Smuts Track was marked by periodical yellow footprints painted on rocks. It was an easy path to follow, especially because it was mostly flat.

The highest point on Table Mountain is called Maclear’s Beacon and is marked by a pile of rocks with a pole on it. We wondered if it was the highest point in general, or if the pole was the highest point… we’re still not sure. Either way, Wikipedia says it is 3,558 feet… I am so proud to have finally conquered the mountain! My friends and I then shared a picnic lunch sitting on the rocks looking over the entire city of Cape Town. We could even see Cape Point, Robben Island and Seal Island (where they shot all of the film for Shark Week with the Great Whites).

Each of my friends and I decided on a different type of shoe to wear on the hike! Dan wore hiking boots, Sally wore Vibrams (barefoot running shoes), I wore running sneakers, Josh wore Chaco’s, and Zach went barefoot (not the whole time, but a good chunk of it). We thought it was pretty funny. We weren’t the only hikers with a variety of shoes either. There were kids in jeans and stylish shoes definitely not made for hiking, intense men who went barefoot and shirtless… some families even brought their dogs with them!

Although we could have stayed at the top of the mountain forever, the sun started to fall in the sky and we knew we had to start making out way down. In Cape Town, the sun sets around 6:30pm and it becomes completely dark. None of us brought flashlights with us on the hike, so it was imperative to set a good pace down the mountain. We decided to go a different route and chose Skeleton Gorge.

Skeleton Gorge was very different from Platteklip Gorge. The majority of our trail was covered by trees, rivers and waterfalls. We barely had a view of the mountain. There were no markings on the trail either, we just had to go with our gut and look for the well-used path, rocks that looked like stairs, and wood reinforcing stairs made out of dirt. At one point we had absolutely no idea where the path led next. Dan thought he found it, but we had to hug a tree and carefully tip toe on tree roots on a very steep ledge to get there. But of course that was the wrong way! While clutching the tree, I looked down at the stream below us and saw that someone had scratched an arrow into one of the rocks. Although it was not a very convincing marker, we crossed back over the tree, down the steep ledge, and into the river. Thankfully it led us back to the correct path!

The descent down Skeleton Gorge took several hours, but it was beautiful and absolutely peaceful. We didn’t see any other people but ourselves for hours. My favorite part was finding the waterfalls, so untouched and naturally beautiful. The path eventually led us into the back of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The gardens were already closed for the day due to the public holiday, so we had the place all to ourselves. I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks when they start their concert series.

I finally made it back to my room around 7:15pm and completely crashed. I woke up very sore this morning and had a little bit of difficulty going down stairs, but it was all completely worth it! I’m sure I will be making more hikes up the mountain during my time here and can’t wait to discover all of the trails. !

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