Ever since I had joined a group of friends on an extra-long hike from the Silvermine Reservoir, up to the Elephant’s Eye Cave and even further up to the top of the Constantiaberg with its VHF mast in July last year (see description of hike here), hubby and I had wanted to do the hike again, just the other way around.
Last weekend provided the perfect opportunity. The unbearably hot temperatures around the mid-thirties of the previous week had subsided somewhat, and the prevailing south-easter winds hadn’t yet returned to make hiking a rather unpleasant outdoor activity.
Weighed down with a backpack nicely stocked with a thermos flask of steaming hot tea, some generous slices of freshly baked banana loaf, some refreshingly cold nectarines and apricots, and one small bottle of water (“Hot Tip” [pardon the pun ;-)]: In summer, you need considerably more water than that!), we embarked on our hike shortly before 09h30.
In retrospect, that was way too late. In mid-summer, the temperatures can easily climb into the thirties by late morning, and you really don’t want to be trudging up and down the mountain by midday – particularly if there ain’t any shady trees left, after the authorities in charge of Table Mountain National Park have chopped them all down. (Another tip: Please use sunscreen! Not just on the face, ears – yes, ears -, neck and arms, but on the fronts and backs of legs too, if you are wearing shorts. We forgot that last bit, and looked a little like boiled lobsters for a day.)
We followed the gravel road up until a small stony path labelled ‘shortcut’ led straight up the fynbos-covered hillside. Like most shortcuts, it is steep and thus a quick way of getting out of breath right at the beginning of a hike. When we emerged onto the gravel road once more, more than a little breathless after this unexpected exertion (December being traditionally a time of increased culinary activity and reduced sporting activity…), our spirits flagged for a moment.
Hm… did we really want to tackle the Constantiaberg today? Could we not just amble around on the level for a bit, perhaps have a cup of tea and a slice of cake down by the reservoir, dangling our feet in its refreshing waters, before returning to the air-conditioned coolness of the car? Yes? No?
No. Our blog readers would be disappointed.
We thirstily gulped down some water, and replaced our jaunty peak caps with sensible but unfashionable floppy hats that were far better at shielding ears and necks against the powerful rays of the sun. Right then, let’s tackle that mountain!
Instead of taking the turn-off to the Elephant’s Eye Cave, we continued along the gravel road straight towards the west. The large bulk of Constantiaberg peak rose up on the northern side of the valley, both tempting and challenging us. Eventually, about 50 minutes after we’d started our hike, we reached a well-made boardwalk, which took us to a wooden viewing platform overlooking Hout Bay. As the platform was already occupied by two or three large groups of hikers, we followed the tiny path towards the left.
Here, a cluster of large boulders called to us, inviting us to hunker down on a south-facing ledge and to take advantage of a little bit of shade. Hubby energetically leaped across to the boulders, and perched himself right on the edge, from where he had a most spectacular view of the blue ocean with its tiny fishing boats and catamarans, Hout Bay harbour and the white expanse of beach, and the curve of mountains beyond. On the slope beneath us, we could see the curves of the road that leads south towards Chapman’s peak, and if you looked really closely, you could even make out the toll gate.
It was like standing at the edge of the world!
“Whoa!!! Hang on there…” said my legs, starting to shake. My heart leapt up into my throat, pounding in my ears, as nausea knotted my stomach, and my vision blurred. I sat down rather sharply on a boulder, turning away from the beautiful vista spread out below us, and waited for my head to clear. The last time I’d experienced an episode of vertigo was on our Valentine’s Day hike to the Saddle and Oppelskop ridge last year. Mind you, I hadn’t been on any ledges for a while… Oof. I thought that had been a once-off. This was not fun.
Hubby, meanwhile, was starting to unpack all the nice stuff from the rucksack, and setting it out on the ledge most invitingly. A thermos of steaming hot tea, a tupperware box filled with slices of fragrant banana loaf, and another box filled with juicy fresh fruit.
“Aren’t you coming?” he called over, beaming from ear to ear with delight at having found such a perfect picnic spot. A fear of heights my man certainly does not have. Lucky guy.
“Er… in a minute…” I called back, trying not to look his way… or do-o-o-o-w-n-n-n… into the abyss… Oh man, this wasn’t helping…
“Settle down now,” I told myself sternly. “You’re exaggerating. It’s not an abyss. It’s a gentle, easy slope. And those boulders have been here for decades, and they aren’t going to roll down with you… Don’t you want some tea and banana loaf? Come on, you’ve done this before, you can do this again.”
Somehow, I made my way onto the ledge, climbing backwards in order to keep my back to the drop beneath us. I felt like I had certainly earned that cup of tea! Oh – and that big slice of banana loaf!
About half an hour later, feeling invigorated and fortified, we packed our stuff and began the slow and steady slog up the stony track that steeply ascended the Constantiaberg peak from the south. It took us a little over half an hour, with numerous flower-photographing (and breath-catching) stops along the way. The spectacular view more than made up for the exertion though!
We followed the stone track as it curved eastwards along the edge of the barbed wire fence that surrounds the VHF mast, and soon reached the broad tarred road, which is presumably used by officials when they come to inspect the installation and the weather station at the top of the peak. We strode easily along this for a bit until we turned off onto a narrow path, which led down the east-facing slope of the mountain, and towards the Elephant’s Eye Cave. Descending fairly rapidly, we soon reached the turn-off to the cave, but as there were so many other hikers here, we gave the cave a miss, and continued to climb down, down, down, following the well laid-out path back to the reservoir.
We were surprised at the sheer number of people who were picknicking all around the dam – everywhere, we saw colourful umbrellas, well-stocked cooler boxes, excited kids with fishing rods and buckets, beer-drinking men braaiing meat, harrassed mothers lathering sunscreen onto wriggling toddlers, boys and girls playfully splashing each other in the cold water… Amazing! What a brilliant place for a summertime picnic though!
“Enough exercise for one day!” I exclaimed, as we climbed into the hot car, which had been baking slowly in the direct sun. “How about we pick up some ice-cold coke on the way home, and then we go for a dip in the pool?”
And that is exactly what happened! 😀