This morning from my balcony, way out in the bay I spot a container ship blazoned with the logo of the company I used for my trip across the Pacific Ocean a few years ago. It sparks some wonderful memories. Whilst the bus is here, our guide is not so my fellow cyclist and I wait around. It’s the story of my time here. I have decided not to do the four hour hike up Table Mountain. I originally did not want to walk it because of my knee pain but now I just want to be alone for the day. There is a gentler forty-five minute introductory route to the mountain, but I am not offered this. I will take the cable car up and meet the others at the summit later.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
The start of the hike is in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the eastern slope of Table Mountain. I leave the hikers to their usual and frustrating daily dithering and walk alone around the gardens. I wander slowly over the tree canopy walkway, through the enchanted forest and past the wild almond tree with its looping, intersecting low branches. It’s a cool morning with a few drops of rain. Heavy clouds cover the peak of the neighbouring mountain. I take in the view across an open area of grass where they have built a stage for concerts. The dark misty mountain creates an extraordinary backdrop over the various shades of green in the garden landscape.
The rain becomes much heavier. Thankfully I take advantage of the natural cover formed by the interlocking trees to stay dry. I could easily get lost in this place. I meet one of the other abstainers and he has a wry smile for the hikers in this weather.
At the cable car station, the welcome board shows the weather conditions at the top of Table Mountain as cold and the visibility as zero. The journey up is through the mist with very little to see. The only fascination is the rotating floor of our car. Just as the sign said it would be, it’s chilly enough at the summit that I need my jumper. The view is totally obscured by clouds. Hm, the top of the famed mountain is quite underwhelming.
I read the psalm (104:24) pinned to the first rock:
Oh, Lord how manifold are Thy works
In wisdom hast Thou made them all:
The earth is full of Thy riches.
This also fails to inspire me. As I venture out further along the walkway, the clouds flow past me at a quicker pace than I am walking. It’s a strange sensation; for a moment it completely shuts off my visibility. As the mist continues eastwards, away from me, there is a fleeting vista of blue sky and a bluer ocean. It’s a momentary glimpse of the city below from this extraordinary high vantage point. I shiver with both what I have seen and the chilling mist that suddenly surrounds me again. Quick as a flash, the view is gone and I am once more enclosed by cloud.
I stand alone, laughing in the fog. It’s cold, but the air is heavenly fresh and potent. The dreamlike peek of sea and sky has stirred something in me. I feel alive. I breathe in deeply. The vapour clears again and I have my second and longer look.
The harbour is visible this time. The lower clouds obscure the city streets. Slowly, with the passing of the white clouds, like the stage curtain being pulled aside, the full landscape is revealed. From the cable car station in the west across to the eastern extremity of the mountain, the panorama manifests itself gloriously. Beyond the grey and white dots of Cape Town’s city centre buildings and the lush green lump of Lion’s Head, Robben Island sits out in the blue waters of the bay. I can even see the same container ship I happily spotted this morning.
The white fog comes and goes as I stroll along Dassie Walk and over the sandstone and granite of one of the oldest mountains in the world. Kaggen’s Karos is the name given to the ever present tablecloth of cloud billowing over the peak. The original inhabitants of the Cape, the Khoe-San, tell the tale of Kaggen, the mantis god, pulling an animal pelt, a white karos, across the mountain from his cave to dampen the fires on the mountain.
The longer walks are still roped off because of the inclement weather so I take refuge in the café. My absorption with the wonder of the mountain is broken. Soon, the clouds clear further, allowing the sunshine to break through and my desire is to be back outside. A wifi room is in the process of being built above the cableway station. As the cable cars make their laborious journeys up and down the mountain, from here there are incredible views out to the waterfront stadium on the coast.
Remarkably there is not a cloud in the sky now and so I wander along the longer route, the Klipspringer Walk.
There is a small stone bench that has an inscription on it: “One of life’s most precious gifts is time.” I sit down and waste some of it, feeling elated and grateful for being here.
I continue my walk in the warm breeze. At one point the clouds return and form an arch to frame the flat summit and Devil’s Peak to the east. Some cloud remains out to the south, over False Bay and the Cape Peninsula. In the distance, further to the south and west, beyond the Cape of Good Hope, the roaring waves bear testament to the storms created by the cold flow of the Atlantic Ocean, the warmth of the Indian Ocean and the ferocity of the wind. This area is aptly known as the graveyard of ships.
What a time to be here. I stand alone on the top of the world. The weather has meant that the tourists have chosen other activities today. I have Table Mountain to myself.