Saturday, November 04, 2006

Table Mountain - one of my favorite spots in the world

I'm back from South Africa after about 32 hours of travel time. I caught up on sleep last night and feel pretty well right now. My knee is starting to feel a bit better - the swelling is starting to diminish at last.

I was shocked to find that my son, Richard, had grown taller than me in the time I was gone and that my dog, Emma, had gained a lot of weight this past month. No one took her for walks during my absence so now I have to put her through "botany bootcamp" to whip her back into shape. We started with a walk around the OSU Olentangy wetlands park to do some birding and then an extra loop just for Emma. She doesn't know it yet, but she's going on a long walk with me this afternoon, too.

At any rate, now that I'm back with my internet service provider with its faster access rates, I'll catch up on the blog in a few days time. I'll start with our hike up Table Mountain on Oct 22, 2006. Dennis Laidler also did a blog post of our day, and I hope you'll go take a look at his Table Mountain pictures, too. I have a lot of pictures on this post, but I hope you'll find the download time worth the wait.

Gigi, Esprit and I started ahead of Dennis while he and Nick were organizing to park his car at the cable car station. We started at the top gate of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, where I found this beautiful butterfly visiting the Scabiosa plants. I have the name of of the butterfly in a book I'm having shipped, so I'll update this entry at some point in the future.

This is a caterpillar of a moth that is all over Table Mountain. I photographed this on the Stinkwood Trail, which is what we took up to the contour path.

Turning left on the contour path from where the Stinkwood trail joins brings one to Smuts Pad (Jan Smut's trail) up Skeleton Gorge. It starts off with a nice set of stairs on the gentle part of the slope, then it changes to some steeper sections lined with ladders to climb and then you scramble up through the stream on the large rocks. After that scramble, there's another steep section with steps and then you're on the back side of Table Mountain.

It's fun to see all the pictures we all took of each other on this hike. Gigi took pictures of me taking pictures of her, Dennis and I did the same, and I suppose Gigi and Dennis also have a fair number of these types of photos. Esprit spent most of her memory chip on taking self portraits against the scenery.

Here's the first of several ladders up the steep part of the trail. These are very easy to go up and down, although we passed a fair number of tourists who were pretty hesistant to go in either direction, but then, again, it's kind of hard to hike this trail in stupid shoes.

Just above the ladders is my favorite part of the trail, an easy rock scramble up the stream. Dennis posted some pictures of this section on his blog.

Here's Dennis coming up the trail at the top of Skeleton Gorge.

Gigi, doing the same.

Esprit and Dennis taking in the view near the top of Skeleton Gorge,

and, here's the view from the top of Skeleton Gorge looking out over the suburbs adjacent to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden area. One of these burbs is Plumstead, where Dennis and Gigi live.

Just for comparison, this is the view of the mountain slope next to Skeleton Gorge.

Our first look at Blister Bush was also at the top of Skeleton Gorge. This is a good plant to know so that you can avoid touching it. It causes a contact dermatitis that raises blisters on the skin when its exposed to sunlight. I experienced this in 2001 - nasty, nasty plant!

Once up on top of the mountain, you can see the fynbos vegetation, which is typical of the Western Cape. This part of South Africa is in a winter rainfall area - just like the Mediterranean, southern California, southwestern Australia, and the coast of Chile. These areas of the world have some of the highest numbers of plants per unit of area and the Western Cape of South Africa is certainly a biodiversity hotspot. There are about 1500 species of plants on Table Mountain, including this "everlasting" one in the sunflower family.

This is a Leucadendron (cone bush or sunshine bush). When the sun is shining on the bracts subtending the inflorescence, it looks like golden sunshine radiates from the shrub.

See what I mean?

The trail that leads to Maclear's Beacon from the top of Skeleton Gorge is pretty easy to hike, but it just keeps going up and up and up until you get to the highest point on Table Mountain (Maclear's Beacon).

The trails on Table Mountain are nicely groomed, so the going is pretty easy, except that it's all uphill (at least half the way). Dennis and Gigi didn't have any trouble at all, even though Gigi was recovering from a knee injury. Dennis has more energy and stamina in the mountains than anyone I know, except maybe his two sons, Chris and Nick.

The views from Table Mountain are absolutely breathtaking. I really enjoy seeing how the colors change with the different patches of vegetation. Whatever is in bloom lends its hue to the landscape; sometimes yellow, sometimes red or blue. These colors change depending on whether the sun is out or if the mist has rolled over the table top.

I got a kick out of these two fluffy foo-foo dogs hiking along with their master. You might need to enlarge the picture to see them since they blend in with the trail color so well.

The mist was just rising out of one of the many gorges flanking the buttresses on the face of the mountain. Pretty cool, I think.

This is one of the old signposts dotting the trails of Table Mountain. I used it as an opportunity for a Woodcentral "sighting" picture.

This is an example of one of the modern signposts. With the nicely groomed trails and excellent blazes on them, it's hard to imagine that anyone could get lost up on Table Mountain. However, many people do get in trouble up there each year, especially when the weather suddenly changes and all the landmarks disappear in the mist.

Dennis, Gigi, and I spent a lot of time taking photos during the hike. It gives one a chance to rest in addition to snapping some great pics.

Typical mountain fynbos habitat. Fynbos is also nicknamed "painbos" when you're walking through it in shorts. Every plant seems to have spines or scratchy leaves.

This is Window Stream, one of the nice places to rest and gather water. Most of the streams in the mountains of the Western Cape are pure and provide clean water for drinking.

Whenever you find an abundance of frogs, you know the water is pretty clean. Can you see the frog sitting on the second rock from the right?

Here's another one just hanging out in the stream.

One of the many species of Erica up on the mountain. Dennis posted a similar pic that he said was Erica empetrifolia. The other plant readily visible here is a species of Restio.

Dennis and Esprit walked over the retaining wall used for water catchment on the back table. The water is directed to a reservoir that provides water to Cape Town.

Another vista showing the trail we had been walking all morning.

One of the beautiful Disa orchids up on Table Mountain. Gigi told us to be on the lookout for Orchids and we had all walked pass this diminutive one. Gigi spotted it, though (hurray for Gigi!).

Just for scale, there's Dennis and Gigi taking photos down the trail from where I took this picture.

It is so beautiful up here. Photos just can't do justice to this landscape.

I like all the rock scrambles along the trail. This was Esprit's first time to ever do some of this kind of climbing and she seemed to enjoy the experience.

This is a view of the back table, looking toward the Cape Peninsula.

You can just glimpse some of the buttresses called the "twelve apostles" that flank the western escarpment of the mountain above Camps Bay.

Dennis, as usual, had more energy than the rest of us so he climbed this rock formation just for the fun of it.

The rock up on Table Mountain is an ancient sandstone laid down about 450 million years ago. It overlays a shale that is about 500 million years old that was deposited before the Cambrian explosion. Underneath these layers is granite.

I used a polarizing filter on my camera during my fieldseason and it works some magic with these landscape shots that involve blue skies.

Simply stunning! This sure isn't Ohio . . .

The plants in the foreground of this picture belong to an endemic family of South Africa, the Bruniaceae. These are probably in the genus Berzelia.

You're probably tired of the fynbos pics, but I never tire of seeing this landscape. There is so much diversity here and many of the species are found here and no where else in the world. That's pretty special and contributes to the magic of Table Mountain.

Here's Dennis looking over the edge at the Cape Flats area of Cape Town. You can see False Bay near the horizon and the Hottentot Holland Mountains beyond that.

This was a good spot for a self-portrait. First my face,

and then my feet, dangling over the edge.

This is a nice view of the Cape Flats from the edge. We sat here on a rock and dangled our feet. When you're looking up at the mountain from the contour path, that smaller buttress looks very tiny.

Dennis has some nice panoramas on his Table Mountain post. I finally learned how to do this type of photo merge using my Adobe software package. This and the previous photo are my first attempts.

As you approach Maclear's Beacon, the west coast and Robbin Island appear on the horizon.

After all that walking uphill, we finally reached the highest point on Table Mountain, Maclear's Beacon.

Another Woodcentral Sightings opportunity - with Dennis' and my hats posing side-by-side.

Here's Esprit posing on top of the mountain. She described the experience of climbing Table Mountain as "empowering."

The top of Table Mountain is, indeed, rather flat. It's also pretty swampy part of the year and the trail includes long stretches of boardwalks to protect the habitat. Areas like this have a lot of exposed rock that is easily walked across. The cable car station is a small dot on the horizon at the upper right side.

Gigi and Esprit near Maclear's Beacon.

This is actually a photo of a redwinged starling that is sitting on the rock on the right.

The starlings here are much more interesting than the European vermin that infect North America.

A nice view of Robbin Island from the top of Table Mountain (another WC sightings photo). The prison on Robbin Island is where Nelson Mandela spent a significant part of his life.

Dennis threatening to through my Woodcentral Hat over the edge.

We had lunch on the edge of a natural ampitheater to the west of Maclear's Beacon (visible at the top, center).

This was a nice spot to sit and dangle feet over the edge.

Dennis and the rest of us enjoyed the view and the relaxation.

A view of the city bowl district from the front of Table Mountain.

And another Woodcentral sighting.

I like this picture of Gigi. She looks quite happy to be on the mountain.

The front face of Table Mountain is very steep and looks very intimidating. However, there are several trails for climbing up the mountain from this side, ranging from easy to "requires ropes." My first climb up Table Mountain was via the Indian Venster route (under the cable car station) with the Laidlers in 2001. I also did "Left Face B" with Chris and Nick Laidler in 2003.

Yes, there is a trail that goes up the front face under the cable car station. It involves a few challenging rock scrambles, but most of it is easy climbs.

This area is also a popular spot for technical climbing and you can usually spot teams of rock climbers using ropes and hardware to climb the cliffs.

This is where the trail for "Left Face B" comes out on top. It offers a beautiful view of Lion's Head and Signal Hill as well as the city bowl district.

Here's a view of Left Face B. It was a really challenging, but glorious trail. Not for the faint-hearted, though, and not something to attempt without someone experienced in climbing the mountain. Nick and Chris were excellent guides.

Here's the "tourist route" up the front face - Platteklip Gorge. It's basically a zig-zag slog up a very well used and groomed trail. Not too interesting by comparison to the other trails up the front face.

It's hard to imagine that there are 4 million residents in the Cape Town area and that there is this wonderful mountain and natural area in the middle of it.

This cairn marks the top of one of the trails for the front face. It had a visitor when we were here.

I'm not sure what kind of lizard this is, but it seemed pretty content to be basking in the sun on this cairn.

The front part of Table Mountain offers some beautiful vistas with sheer drop-offs. Vertigo is a handicap over here.

I've managed to lose my fear of heights over the past several years of coming up different routes on Table Mountain. I enjoy looking down the slopes and over the edge.

One has to be practical, though. I was on my belly holding this pole over the edge to take another WC sightings pic. Dennis had a grip on my day pack as well.

The views are absolutely stunning. This mountain has its own kind of magic that enthralls the soul.

You can see Devil's Peak beyond the end of Table Mountain in this view.

Here's another view of Cape Town, Robbin Island, and the west coast. You can see all the way to Yzerfontein and beyond on a clear day. Our weather for this hike was perfect and the vistas were beautiful.

This is the trail along the top of the front face. We headed over to the cable car station after our lunch. Gigi, Esprit and I were going to take the cable car down to save wear and tear on Gigi's (and our) knees, while Dennis was going to run down Indian Venster.

As you approach the cable car station you see a nice view of the Cape Peninsula beyond Camps Bay.

We spotted this male orangebreasted sunbird foraging near the trail. The sunbirds are fun to watch.

There are more and more people to deal with the closer you get to the cable car station. Most people visit Table Mountain via this route. They arrive at the top, walk around the trails near the station, eat food, drink alcohol, buy souvenirs, feed the dassies, and then ride down. Doesn't seem like much fun compared to climbing and hiking up there under your own power.

You can see a good view of the front face from the cable car station, though, including the routes I've climbed up with the Laidlers.

Down we go on the cable car. It only takes a few minutes via this route compared to several hours on foot. We watched for Dennis on our descent.

We caught this view of him running down Indian Venster. We had taken our time on top before catching the car down. Dennis made it down in just over an hour. If you squint just right you might be able to make out Dennis' red shirt. This photo was taken through a dirty window, so it's not very good, but it does give a sense of scale of the route Dennis took.

This is the view of Cape Town from the access road to the cable car station.

And, the view from near where Dennis had parked the car. You can see the effects of the most recent burn in the area. The invasive gum trees were heavily affected - a good thing for the restoration of the native fynbos of the area.

Thanks for coming along on this virtual tour of Table Mountain. I hope some of you will have an opportunity to visit it in the future. I plan to return in a couple of years for another field season and I'll climb Table Mountain by another route.

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