“Are you doing Ledges?” called the trail runner at the top of Newlands Ravine.
“Yup,” we shouted down at him from the Knife Edge.
For a moment, the trail runner looked distinctly tempted to join us. “Have you done it before?” he asked.
“Nope,” we shouted back cheerfully.
The trail runner’s look of interest vanished.
“Okay then, good luck,” he called, carrying on briskly with his planned run.
“Pffft,” I said to Martin. “Clearly Mr Timid Trail Runner likes things to be all nice and safe and organized. He should go and live in England.”
An hour or so later, I was ready to admit that Mr Timid Trail Runner was actually Mr Eminently Sensible Trail Runner. You see, having already done most of the B hikes in Tony Lourens’s Table Mountain Classics, I’d decided we should try a C hike. A C grade, according to the book, involves ‘more serious scrambling or climbing, often in exposed positions, demanding the use of a rope for most people’.
However, Tony describes Ledges as ‘the most popular way up to the tabletop from the Saddle’. And, even though it has a C grade, his comment in brackets beside the grade is that ‘a rope may be necessary’. Since several of the B hikes we’ve done have had the same comment, and, like most people, we don’t think we’re most people, we reasoned we’d be fine.
Which we were, right up until we got to the final scramble. I was fairly sure – especially after Martin nearly slid to his doom trying to climb the waterfall around the corner – that the rock face in front of the last cairn was the ‘polished pitch’ mentioned in the trail directions. But I was even more sure that I was NOT getting up it without a rope.
The problem was, we didn’t have one.
The other problem was, Martin hates turning around. And, since I know it’s often more dangerous to climb down a mountain than up it, and there had been some quite, err, exciting moments on the way up, I wasn’t altogether keen to go back that way myself.
Luckily, I am one of the luckiest people on the planet. So, it was at about this moment that we heard voices. Looking down the cliffside, we spotted four hikers not far behind us. And, best of all, they were not spring chickens.
Now, as every hikist knows, old hikists are the best hikists. It’s not so much that they’re not batshit crazy like the rest of us. No, they’re probably madder. But, they’ve survived this long on the mountain because they have a basic idea of what they’re doing. So, it was no great surprise that, when their group caught up to us (I’d insisted we wait for them), one of them turned out to have a rope. And knew how to use it.
Steve (their lead hikist) made a daring, unprotected ascent of the four-meter pitch. He then hauled the other five of us and our packs up after him, using a handy horn at the top as his belay device. Martin, who had initially attempted the ascent without a rope, was amazed to discover what a difference it made.
As a confirmed top-roper, I wasn’t at all surprised. I know very well that nothing gives you greater confidence on a mountainside than being firmly attached to it.
Of course, I might have felt even more confident if I’d been wearing a climbing harness, instead of having what was ‘maybe a bowline’ tied loosely around my waist. And, I think I would have felt even better if Steve’s rope had been a real climbing rope instead of a cotton household one. And, maybe also if Steve hadn’t been perilously perched on a not-very-large-ledge while shivering from the cold.
But one does not look a gift rope in the mouth (or whatever), and so I at last emerged at the top of the mountain with a sense of wonder, all my limbs intact and the firm resolve to get myself a rope for scrambling. And to learn how to use it.
Distance: 12km (including walking back along Tafelberg Road)
Duration: 4 hours of moving our butts and 6.5 hours in total
Difficulty: Without Steve and his rope, this would have been a Definitely Will Die hike. Even with a rope to get you past the ‘polished pitch’, there are some Probably Will Die moments. Definitely take a rope and a big pair of cahunas.
Directions: For Ledges, pages 76 – 78 of Tony Lourens’s Table Mountain Classics. Then Steve and Martin’s noses to Maclear’s Beacon
Parking: The parking on Tafelberg Road for Devil’s Peak. If you really want to, you could take two cars and leave one by the Cable Car. But the 2km walk along the road is easy and pleasant enough, if it’s not too busy.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS HIKE
- Not dying.
- Not getting lost. (This hike was adventurous enough already.)
- Discovering yet another amazing new part of the mountain.
- Finding the secret tunnel and chimney and climbing through them.
- Meeting Steve, Gay, Rodney and Fran at the exact moment we needed help.
- Learning how to use a rope without proper climbing things such as bolts, gear or harnesses. Or even proper rope.
- Having Maclear’s Beacon (civilization) pop out at us from a completely unexpected angle. (Still strongly suspect it was a fake, duplicate beacon.)
- Deciding to join the Mountain Club of South Africa, buy a rope, and start doing C-graded hikes responsibly. (And about bloody time too.)
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THIS HIKE
Photo credit note: Since Alison’s phone died before we got to the really interesting part, half the pics are actually Martin’s.