Table Mountain – an on the (l)edge adventure

Haha! Up there! You're kidding, right?
Haha! Up there! You’re kidding, right?

Back in the day when I first visited Cape Town, it all was an adventure. I did many courageous things such as bungee jumping, abseiling, caving – I was young and wanted to impress my outdoorsy South African boyfriend.

He is now my husband and we’re long past those thrills.

The more surprising it was that we ended up in just one of those situations when we went to climb Table Mountain. A friend had invited my husband to come with him up the Ledges route. I just wanted to get up Table Mountain and asked to join.

Somehow we missed our friend even though his group was meant to catch up to us. Turned out later they went up India Venster.

Neither my husband nor I knew the Ledges route. But as it was a busy day on Table Mountain we could ask passer-bys for directions. Which were still very vague:

3 old geezers told us instead of going back down Newlands Ravine to just turn right, up the back of Table Mountain.

Another fellow hiker was a bit more precise: “Walk up until you reach the pole, there you turn right.”

A jogger even pointed out the Ledges route: “You just go up where those rocks are.” But all I could make out was: rocks.

We got mixed responses, from ‘just go that way’ to ‘you might not find the path’. Generally I find all paths very well marked in South Africa’s National Parks, so I’m not too worried about ‘not finding the path’.

The Ledges route however is different: There is no path. In fact, it’s a grade C climb.

This became apparent as we met a group of engineering students and their tutor who were busy building a waving man.

One student was so helpful to point out: “There is the path, between those bushes!” But all I could make out was: bushes.

He told us he once tried the Ledges but turned around. And I began to wonder: Why would a fit young student bail out on what I’m supposed to tackle now?

I have a bad knee and was told by doctors not to take the stairs until the last knee expert shrugged it off: “Just do what you want and hope artificial knees are ready soon enough.” And here I was climbing like a steenbokkie.

With the recent rains the stones were slippery with water and sand. In came a cloud that immediately engulfed us so we couldn’t see anything beyond 10 meters.

I started to realise that what I’m so eagerly climbing up is in no way in my capability to climb back down.

The challenges that were presented to us were on the edge indeed.

I was already freaked out at any stream crossing our way in fear of slipping. So I’m biased when it comes to judging the difficulty of a climb: To me it all looks equally crazy. But we push through our fears, right? So there.

Next we met two climbers who tackled what I still thought we could simply walk up with ropes and tools and helmets and gear and all.

They told us to go up through the chimney: “It’s like a cork screw, go up inside the mountain. But all I could make out was: mountain.

There is not much possibility to go wrong on the Ledges route, as every wrong turn will eventually lead you to a climbing challenge that makes ‘Cliffhanger’ look like a good night story.

So trial and error pushed us further up. By now we have crossed ledges so narrow it’s like doing one of those ‘climb from one window to the next outside a very tall skyscraper’ stunts. I couldn’t believe that I was doing this as I was doing this.

I know they say don’t look down. But when you’re so close to the edge, where must you look? The colossal height! We were on cloud level, looking down on and across to other mountains. We were so high up we couldn’t see the ground. If one had to fall it’d be to their certain death. And we were just one step away from that! Crazy!

As the immensity of how dangerous this potentially could be entered my mind, I started leaning closer and closer to the mountain, literally ending up hugging it. It felt to me as if the sheer existence of gravity could pull me down into the abyss.

But alas! We found the chimney. You couldn’t see from the outside where this would lead, but everywhere else had led to a dead end. So we went in. But only to come out on the other side. I remember wondering if that was all there was to it.

It turned out it wasn’t. But we only found out later, when after a desperate attempt to find the path to get up failed – and we were so close to the top!

I was in despair. I just couldn’t face having to climb back what had already scared the shit out of me.

At least this had one positive effect: My lamentation was heard by Mike. All of a sudden his head popped up above us and he asked if we needed help.

Yes please!

Mike is a professional mountain guide: He kindly offered us to join the group he was taking up the Ledges route. I couldn’t believe our luck to get rescued.

We entered the chimney and it turned out we had to go up through it to the next level. There was still some hectic climbing and Mike roped us all up for safety. It was manageable to climb. What freaked me out was that there was the great nothingness right behind my shoulders, beckoning. At times we were inside a cloud and it really looked like we were on the edge to the end of the world.

What a change of scenery once we reached the top of Table Mountain: Sunshine, splendidly colourful sunbirds, joyful chirping and ribbiting, glistening wetlands, lovely delicate flowers, lush greenery complemented by bizarre looking rock formations.

We made it!

As I looked back to where we had come from I was very grateful to conclude this adventure on the (l)edge with what I liked most about it: That I never have to do it again.


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