TABLE TOP MOUNTAIN KILLS PEOPLE…I KNOW THE FEELING!
Table Top Mountain was recently voted one of the new 7th wonders of the world. It is the backdrop of Cape Town in South Africa and its plateau is said to offer the most epic views in all of Africa.
FACTS ABOUT TABLE TOP MOUNTAIN
It is a sandstone geological structure, 1084.6m high, and is flanked on the left by Devil’s Peak and on its right by Lion’s Head.
It was first climbed in 1503 but since then it has given rise to more deaths than Mount Everest, believe it or not. I now know why. Read on.
My husband suggested that we climb Table Top on one of our ‘surface interval’ days. He had done it 2 years ago when I was at a conference. The photos he showed me then made it look very pretty with lots of wildflowers and a gentle walking slope. What he failed to tell me was that he took an easy route only half way up the mountain and then caught the cable car both up and down. Ah hah!
10 PROBLEMS ABOUT DOING THE TABLE TOP HIKE
Problem # 1. I didn’t check the facts, and worse still I believed him.
Problem # 2 was that only three weeks before I had a menisectomy on my left knee (the fourth in 25yrs, and second in 7 months). I had sworn to my orthopaedic surgeon that this African trip was to be a restful one. He had told me nothing too strenuous, gentle walking and only on flat even ground.
Problem # 3 was that post op for some weird reason I had developed a severe right sided groin strain which I could not relieve by stretching and yoga and so had gone back on anti-inflammatories. Any lifting of my right leg up or out to the side was followed by sharp pain, making uneven walking and steps quite difficult.
Problem # 4 was that in menopause, common sense no longer operates my brain and I stupidly didn’t think or imagine what I was letting myself in for.
So we set off on our Table Top hike. Tony had always wanted to do the Platteklip Gorge ‘walk’ so we drove ourselves to the base of that route, some 300m in elevation.
I noted before we started as we drove past the base station of the cable car to the top a sign that said it was inoperative for two weeks whilst undergoing maintenance. Problem # 5.
Apparently the Platteklip route is the easiest and most direct route to the top. It is 2km long, and rises 800m in elevation, which makes it a 1:4 slope. Didn’t see that sign at the bottom after coming down. Problem # 6.
I fear that South Africans are generally a lot fitter than this aging, injured Australian female who is closer to 60 than 50 years of age. They say it can take 1-3 hours to the top depending on your fitness, the par being 2.5hrs. Mmmmm.
It was a perfect blue sunny sky day. 23 degrees. VERY unseasonal for mid winter. Long black yoga pants were NOT the best attire. I was soon sweating buckets as I clambered up the stoney, rocky, very uneven pathway. There were many sections that required 4 points of attachment and some steep stepped areas that drove pains in my knee and groin that even a double dose of Mobic didn’t numb.
It was so hot in fact that I actually drank over a litre of still water, and I DON’T do water, ask my husband or any of my friends. I am certain I was a camel in my previous life. I actually drained all the water we were carrying and Tony had to resort to re-filling our bottles with tannin stained mountain stream water with only two thirds of the way done.
Problem # 6. I was over heating and my fingers were swelling. I am quite a shy person deep down and I certainly would never parade my upper chest in public in a sports bra at this age. But, I was so cooked and purple in the face that I ended up throwing all caution and shyness to the wind and taking my T-shirt off. Bugger it. Who would know me here? Who cares if anyone knows me here. All I want to do is get to the top and get back down again the quickest way possible!
With Tony coaxing me all the way, and at times pushing my backside up the steepest bits, we got to the top through the gorge. It was very pretty but I didn’t really see much except for the ground. I think I knew every stone and rock on the way. If I looked up I nearly fainted. I guess anti-blood pressure medication doesn’t help either.
Well my only saving grace was that I did it in 2.5hrs exactly. But, I nearly died. Seeing a monument at the top telling us that more people die on this mountain than on Everest was not the best thing to read. There was another small monument that had memorial plaques on it to those who had died falling or had heart attacks or suffered heat stroke. I was not comforted by the ages either which ranged from 19yrs to 65yrs.
But the view was stupendous, especially when I could breath again and actually look around without going dizzy. At the very top was a fresh water station. I doused myself and my T shirt in it and we re-filled our bottles. By now I had at least 2 litres on board and needed a toilet despite all that sweating.
Problem # 7. Well of course, this is Africa. With the cable car not working despite many people climbing the mountain each day, the powers that be had decided to completely shut the shop and café up there, and not only that, the toilets too. Yep, no toilets. Go figure. No wonder the little dassies run about the plateau like crazy. They are running to take a leak on the rocks on the cliff edges because there’s nowhere else to go! Aaargh!
Problem # 8. I was now desperate to get down. I had had enough and needed a loo to boot. I soon learned from an experienced South African couple that there was only one way down without the cable car. You guessed it, it was the same route I had just nearly died on. Double aaargh! This was seriously not funny.
So, gritting my teeth, holding onto my bladder contents and desperately trying not to cry at the mere thought of going down that awful track again, I set off. I have always denied being a teeth grinder to my dentist, but I think I did a year’s worth in that descent.
The one good thing was that more than half the route by now was in shade, yes! Far better. I could actually put my Tshirt back on and not fear of frightening young kids still ascending at 3.30pm in the afternoon. But going down with my knee pain and the groin strain meant that nearly every step was an individual one, to be taken one by one. It was painfully slow. And 5 points of contact came in very useful for many sections.
I was not in the mood to be pleasant to anyone on the way down. Tony was trying to distract me with chatter about the flowers and birds, but I was just looking at each stone chanting my mantra “every stone down is one less to go…”. I didn’t dare look down to see how far it was still to go as I would have burst into tears. Yep I was a sop. This was far harder and laborious than I would every have imagined.
When we finally hit the bottom, I couldn’t hobble fast enough to get in the parked car. I grumbled to the little African guy “looking after” our car who was angling for a tip. Something like “yeh, I wouldn’t have minded staying down here chatting all day to the taxi drivers..” I think he got the hint that I was NOT in the mood for generosity. Plus where on my hot little bod would I be concealing a wad of cash at this stage?!! Tony simply started the car. I think he knew if he said anything I would shred him alive. Don’t you just love menopause and exhaustion, what a wonderful volatile mixture. You can kill and not care. Be warned.
Problem # 9. When we re-joined the other two in our group, Dominik, our 21 yr old, super fit Austrian (who can do a half marathon in 1hr 20mins) greeted us with conversation along the line of “what took you so long, I did the top and to the bottom in one and half hours…”. I wanted to throttle him. I was dead. My legs were like jelly. My groin was aching and I couldn’t feel my left knee anymore.
Problem # 10. Would I do it again? Probably, but only after a sufficient length of time that I can no longer remember what it or the pain was like. There are some benefits to getting older, its easier to forget.
SHOULD YOU DO THE TABLE TOP HIKE?
Was I glad I did it? Yes. Is it off my bucket list? ABSOLUTELY! Could I climb over the high sided spa bath back at the hotel to soak my aching legs? Nope. Could I walk that night? Nope. Could I walk the next day? Nope.
Should you do the Table Top hike? Of course! But be aware of the conditions, weather, terrain, and the water you will need. Thongs do make not good walking gear (yep, saw a few pairs going up past me whilst I was staring at the floor). And don’t do it if the Table Top cable car cannot bail you out if you are stuffed at the top! We saw all manner of people doing the walk, but I must say most were under 30. But to add insult to injury, there were also quite a few children under 15 too. Oh, to be young, flexible and full of energy…
[Photos by Irene Isaacson]