What is it with Cape Townians? Every time we go there the residents want to take us on some brutal hike. You’d think we were in Colorado or something. The healthy trim bodies, flushed clear-skinned cheeks, positive can-do attitudes in the face of boulders, rain and wind.
So, here we were at the fancy Lord Charles Hotel for the BFAP (Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy) Ag Outlook event. Thom was there to give a talk on ag research in southern Africa (click here if you’re interested). You’d think we’d be safe from overly enthusiastic out-doorers. Well, I should have known. Get a bunch of first born overachieving academics together and what do they do? Decide to climb the steepest, highest mountain they can find. Oh, and everyone’s coming! (And, because we’re overachievers we can’t stand to be left out!)
So, instead of having a nice breakfast in bed, reading the Times with a warm cappuccino and fresh croissant, guess where I was at 8 am one Sunday morning? On my way to Jonkershoek Mountain, where all the worthy and brave conference presenters (and trailing spouses) were convening to climb to the very tip-top (yes, that’s it in the distance).
The head over-achiever, a guy named Johan who was in Lulama’s department at the University of Stellenbosch, met us at the trailhead with his dog, wife, hiking stick, and primo hiking outfit including bon-fide hiking pants and boots. Here’s a photo of the whole motley crew.
The guy on the far right is Lulama’s department chair.
Johan informed us it was pretty flat at the bottom, then got steep, and then the last legs would include climbing and leaping over large boulders and ravines, and that he’d have to carry his dog across some of it because the dog couldn’t leap that far and would fall to his death. When I looked up and saw what awaited us, and when Lu and Inga confirmed it would be more strenuous than Table Mountain, I cried uncle and said, you know, I’m in for like an hour and a half and then I’d like to turn back, especially if the boulders are going to be double my height and I have to climb them. Lu and Inga readily agreed!
So, we started off, our eyes fixed on the top of the ridge, where the mountain met the clouds, where nary a living thing could be spotted. I think the estimate was that the whole thing would take about 4 hours there and back. (Oh, and notice anyone missing? Thom conveniently got food poisoning so was still warm and cozy in our hotel bed. Actually, it took him like three days to recover so it wasn’t a good thing.)
The first 20 minutes were an easy hike through beautiful scenery. See Johan with his fancy walking stick and florescent jacket (in case he slipped through a gorge and needed to be spotted by helicopters)?
Just where it started to get steeper, Lu’s department chair and Johan’s wife waved good bye and turned back. Did they know something we didn’t? Seems to me that’s a red flag when the people who live closest to the mountain turn back. But forward and onward we went.
At this point it was starting to get a little steep and gravely. Of course, I chose at this moment to step on a branch with my left foot, not realizing my right foot was underneath said branch, and whoosh, I did a flying face plant. Fortunately, I was bringing up the rear so before many people noticed, I was up and on my feet. It was a little hard to explain the red dirt streaking up my body but Johan didn’t slow down and people were afraid of being left behind, so the incident was soon forgotten by everyone except my throbbing knee.
After about an hour and a half I began to hum, Climb Every Mountain…
…ford every stream…
When we got to the point where the vegetation pretty much ended and all that was left were rocks, Lu, Inga and I said our goodbyes.
The views were gorgeous.
I was kind of second-guessing myself, almost regretting not going all the way to the top. Should I just go for it? So, I used this decision-making technique I’ve become fond of using. You close your eyes and feel what it’s like to go down Path A (e.g., continue to the top), then you feel what it’s like to go down Path B (e.g., turn around now). When I felt path A my chest felt tight and had that feeling of regret like, why am I doing this, this is no fun. When I felt path B my chest felt wide and open and light. So, I knew I was making the right decision in turning back.
It turns out that was definitely the right decision. I think most of the rest of the group regretted going onward. One guy rolled his ankle soon after we departed. There were lots of bumps and scrapes scrambling over the rocks. And, it took much longer than they thought. Though they were supposed to be back by 12 noon, but they didn’t get back until something like 4 pm. I’m so glad I listened to my heart! (Whenever the boys ask me for advice, instead of telling them what I think they should do [which has a high probability of being ignored anyways] I tell them about this technique and have them do it and tell me what sensations they feel as they imagine themselves going down various paths. This way they figure out what’s best for themselves and I sidestep being the annoying, interfering parent.)
All in all, it was the perfect length hike — not too easy, just enough exertion to feel like you’ve worked off last night’s dinner, and of course, you can’t beat the company of an Ndibongo! (Inga on the left, Lulama on the right.)