Conquering Table Mountain

Monday was a public holiday here in South Africa, so to my utter delight, the weekend was extended. Youth Day is celebrated on June 16, and since that was a Sunday, also being father’s day and the birthday of a very special John Bollman, it carried over to Monday. It commemorates the youth who marched against the government during Apartheid. Specifically youth day is in remembrance of the Soweto riots of 1976, sparked by the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which made Afrikaans and English the languages of instruction in black schools. As previously mentioned, language in South Africa is an extremely complex subject, and the language of instruction in schools carries many implications. The blacks knew Afrikaans as the oppressor language, so the people of the Soweto district protested. Over 150 students were killed, and thousands injured when police dispersed the crowd. In the times after apartheid, South Africans remember a bloody past while looking ahead to a bright future under the banner of the rainbow nation.

Such a holiday is obviously celebrated largely amongst the blacks of South Africa, with the majority of the festivities in the townships. Since the townships are not regarded as safe, especially for white, foreign Americans, we stayed away from the celebrations. Instead, we opted for a closer look at South Africa’s natural beauty. With the entire day ahead of us, we embarked on the most strenuous, long hike that I’ve ever attempted.

I was able to ascend to the top of one of Cape Town’s most distinct landmarks, Table Mountain, with my family. All this required was paying a fee and stepping on a cable car that whisked us to the top of the plateau. However, in the spirit of youth day, were in for more of an adventure than a five-minute gondola ride. We began the assent with an easy walk on the backside of the mountain, with a perfect view of the “twelve apostles” on one side, and Camps Bay featuring the infinite Atlantic on the other. The easy part quickly faded into a more strenuous incline of rocks acting as steps. With the energy that comes with beginning a hike, we sprinted up this section until I had to stop, or else my heart would explode. Still energized and excited, we began the climb up a gorge, following the steps of a waterfall. For parts of this we had to legitimately climb rocks, or in my case, grab a hand at the top or a boost from the bottom. This could have been straight out of a teamwork, motivational video and reminded me of my family’s experience at Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica. Finally reaching the top of the gorge, we looked down to see our progress and were rewarded with the most beautiful view of Camps Bay. Mistakenly, we had believed that at this point we were nearly to the top of Table Mountain. Incorrect.

We continued to climb, calves burning from the boulder scrambling, until we reached the top of our mountain, offering an incredible view of the entire Cape peninsula. Indian ocean on the right, Cape Point was directly ahead, and the Atlantic stretched to the left. We believed we could follow this over to Table Mountain. Incorrect again. We had climbed one mountain, connected to Table Mountain only after a drastic decent then ascent, forming something resembling the letter M. We had absolutely lost the path at this point, we were thousands of feet in the air, and we had not seen any other hikers in hours. Exhausted, we pressed on, with the cable car station in our sights. When we finally reached Table Mountain, definitive pathways greeted us, and ultimately, over five hours later, and the view of a lifetime. From the top of Table Mountain, on the most perfect day since I’ve arrived in Cape Town, we could see absolutely everything. The winelands stretching far away, Robben Island, Lionshead, Devils Peak, the townships, the city bowl—everything.

Enjoying the view, we even crossed paths with a few Michigan State alumni, impressed by our group of 8 MSU students. I was glad to find the cable car station and café that I had remembered from my last trip up the mountain, which sold me water and a much needed slushy. This instant civilization contrasted distinctly with the remote wilderness that we had been immersed in just minute’s prior. Finally feeling somewhat refreshed, we began the descent, which proved to be just as difficult as the climb. Basically hopping down rocks for two hours, we finally reached the parking lot, with the only mishap of a small face plant by my friend Kirsten. It is a miracle there were no rolled ankles. Fatigued passed any point that I can remember, legs ready to give out, we headed to our favorite after hike spot for a bite to eat—the Eastern Food Bazaar.

I’ve always considered myself an avid hiker, mostly from the influence of my beautiful family and their affinity for the outdoors and the national parks. However, nothing had prepared me for this rigorous SEVEN-hour journey up and down Table Mountain. I’m extremely proud of myself, and can absolutely say that I’ll have a constant reminder of this hike in my legs for the next week.

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