On Sunday morning, 25 July 2010, I met up with Johan, Isabella and Lourens at the parking area near the large reservoir in the Silvermine Nature Reserve. They were accompanied by Kiki, their friendly Jack Russell terrier.
Our destination for the day was the Elephant’s Eye Cave; we wanted to go up, have a picnic at the cave, and then return the same way. But, as sometimes happens when the company is excellent, the conversation is stimulating and the weather is simply glorious, our short up-and-down route became an extended circular ramble that lasted the whole day: up to the top of the Constantiaberg peak, down to the top of Blackburn Ravine overlooking Hout Bay, and back to the Reservoir.
There was just so much terrain and so many topics of conversation to be explored, that I don’t think any of us really wanted the hike to end. Well, perhaps our bodies did. Kiki, for one, was absolutely bushed by the time we returned to the car, but then she hadn’t known it would turn into an all-day hike, poor dear. Besides, she must have covered about 2 or 3 times the distance with all her running back and forth.
I had arrived a little early, so I went for a walk around the reservoir in the morning light. It was so tranquil down by the water. The only sounds were the thudding of my boots on the boardwalk and the rustling of reeds at the water’s edge.
The sky’s reflection in the water was a deep calming blue, its surface as smooth as a mirror.
It was barely ruffled by the trail of a pair of Egyptian geese, who created a v-shaped wake of ripples as they paddled away from the shore.
As I made my way back to the parking area, I cast a final look at the two geese, which were floating so peacefully, side by side, preening their feathers.
(Incidentally, this was the final photo I managed to take with my camera. There’s something wrong with the lens retraction mechanism, and I’ve had to take it in for repairs. The rest of the photos in this blog were all taken with Johan’s camera.)
Shortly afterwards, my friends arrived, and we heaved rucksacks onto our backs and tightened our boot laces. As we were about to start our hike, Johan handed me a walking stick – one of those lightweight telescoping aluminium ones you can adjust to your height. I loved it – it was just perfect! I was particularly looking forward to testing it on the descent, which is where I usually struggle most.
We followed the main tracks upwards, leaving the reservoir behind us in the valley. We took the shortcut up, which made us puff and pant a little, but it was a quick way of getting warm. Even though the sun was shining and the sky was that brilliant blue you sometimes get here in winter, the air was so cold in the shade, that our breath was smoking. My favourite kind of hiking weather!
We followed the narrow stony track past the Silvermine Crags, and along the ridge overlooking the lush green forests of Tokai and Steenberg. There’s a path that leads up to the crags, and all along them; we walked this some time ago (see here).
A close-up of these purple bushes reveals that they must be Erica hirtiflora. They are pollinated by insects, possibly bees, and prefer growing on slightly moist slopes and in marshy places. They are indigenous to the Western Cape.
As we trudged up the rocky steps past the Fireman’s Lookout and towards the Elephant’s Eye Cave, we stopped to admire the view – okay, and to catch our breath. 🙂
Eventually, after a bit of slog, climbing steadily up the zigzags, we reached the Elephant’s Eye Cave. Lourens, who likes exploring caves, immediately climbed up to the back to see how far the cave went into the mountain, while we made ourselves comfortable on the rocks near the entrance. When he returned, he reported that there was just a small opening right at the back, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere.
And then my fellow hikers unpacked such a picnic spread from their rucksacks, that I was quite speechless. We usually limit ourselves to apples, bananas, water and maybe a slice of buttered bread or some crackers. Clearly, we can learn from this! 🙂 Of course, the downside of picnics on the mountain is that someone has to carry everything up… hm…
Lourens poured me a mug of the thermos coffee he had made – although it was very sweet, it was hot and delicious, and just right for sitting at the entrance to a slightly damp and chilly cave.
The only one who wasn’t peckish at all was little Kiki. Once she had reconciled herself to the fact that her lead had been affixed to an immovable rock, so that she could not scamper around, she sat quietly among us, thinking peaceful doggy thoughts.
The forests of Tokai and Steenberg lay spread out below us. It’s just so beautiful here…
There were loads of people on the mountain that day. At one time, I counted about 5 groups (including ourselves) picnicking in the cave. As soon as one group left, another arrived.
Once we had eaten and drunk our fill, we packed up all our gear, and left it at the entrance of the cave, with Kiki on guard duty, while we clambered up to the very top. Although I had recently been to the cave with Richard (see here), I hadn’t gone inside. I’d looked at the boulders lying scattered all over the slanting floor of the cave, and up at the roof, so hiiiigh up, and I’d wondered whether any new ones would happen to fall down while we were sitting there or exploring inside. Hm. Not a happy thought.
It was quite cold and damp at the back of the cave. Lourens showed us the small ‘passage’ right at the back, shining a torch into it. Here, the air had that bone-chilling, earthy, slightly mouldy smell that is so typical of caves.
After a while, we emerged into the sunshine. We didn’t feel like returning to our cars yet, so we consulted the map, and decided to make our way up to the top of Constantiaberg. It was a long and steady slog, upwards and ever upwards, but we took it slowly, and paused frequently to gaze at our surroundings.
And whenever our spirits flagged, Johan called encouragement from the back, “We’re almost there, just keep going.” (We were just relieved he didn’t make us put stones in our rucksacks everytime we stopped! ;-))
About 45 minutes after we had left the cave, we reached the fence that surrounds the 100 metre tall VHF mast and its surrounding structures at the top of Constantiaberg peak. The last stretch had been an easy ascent along a tarred road, which comes up the mountain from near Constantia Nek, towards the north. Just outside the gate, a small sandy track led southwards through the fynbos, skirting the fence.
The view from up here was simply glorious. The sky could not have been bluer, and despite that, there was a refreshing nip in the air – in the summer, we’d have wilted in the heat by now. All along the southern and western horizon, we could see that there was a cold front approaching – sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the line of the water and the cold front, but there is a subtle difference in colour.
From here, the path descended steadily. This would’ve been really tough on the knees, but I had my new walking stick and so I was fine! 🙂
We were walking through fynbos, with patches of flowers inbetween. In the far distance, we could see the broad white beach of Noordhoek, curving towards the suburb of Kommetjie. If you look really closely, you might just be able to make out a short white vertical line that is Slangkop Lighthouse. Look, I’ll zoom in a bit more.
We were descending quite rapidly now, and could see our destination on the ridge below. It was a wooden viewing platform on the ‘neck’ between two higher-lying peaks, Constantiaberg on the left, and Noordhoek peak on the right.
From there, it looks as though several paths head in different directions. One seems to go almost vertically down the side of the mountain towards Hout Bay; another path climbs up Noordhoek peak, and a third follows the side of the valley down towards the reservoir. That was the route we took back to our cars.
But first, we had another picnic on the wooden platform, finishing off the last crumbs of the chocolate cake, and the last mugs of coffee and tea.
What. A. View.
In the foreground, you can see that the rolling hillsides are traversed by a couple of roads, the largest of which is Chapman’s Peak Drive. Somewhere along that stretch, just visible if you know where to look, is the so-called East Fort, which is one of the oldest working batteries of original guns in the world. The cannons have been restored and are in working order, and are occasionally fired on special occasions.
You can also just glimpse the sweep of Hout Bay’s sandy beach, and the harbour with its breakwater creating a shelter for the fishing vessels that are based here. The pointed mountain sticking up into the sea is known as the Sentinel. At its foot, very near the breakwater from the harbour, lies the West Fort. This is less well-preserved than the East Fort, and I don’t think the cannons there are in working order.
This is the viewing platform. You can clearly see the VHF mast at the top of Constantiaberg – how amazing to think that we had been up there!
Johan and Lourens had meanwhile scrambled over to some rocks that overlooked a sheer drop down Blackburn Ravine. Once they’d proved that the boulders weren’t about to topple down with them, I made my way over too. And it’s fine, as long as you don’t look directly down. 🙂 But wow, isn’t this simply breathtaking?!
From here, it was an easy, more or less level walk all the way back to the reservoir, and back to our cars by 17h00. This had definitely been the longest walk I had attempted since… well… I can’t even remember… but it had also been one of the nicest.
So, a big THANK YOU to Johan, Isabella, Lourens and Kiki!