Hike #36: Vlakkenberg Peak

The wind buffeted the house, gusting hard enough to rattle the roof. I staggered up the stairs with a cup of coffee for Caryn.

“This wind is scary,” I said, glaring out of the window at the wild thrashing of the palm tree. “I don’t like wind. I’m phoning Martin.”

I phoned Martin. “It’s very windy,” I told Martin. “It’s actually a bit scary.”

A short silence. Then: “So you’re saying you don’t want to go?”

Yes. “No! Of course we want to go! It’s just… really windy.”

I knew I had already bailed on too many hikes. Martin is a cheerful, tolerant sort of fellow, willing to put up with all sorts of nonsense from his friends. But his voice had an edge that warned me I was in danger of falling from grace.

“Maybe it won’t be so windy that side,” I said. “Tell you what, let’s go anyway and see how it is.”

So, after Martin had sat outside my house for 20 minutes because Caryn and I were busy moving plants around the garden and didn’t hear him ring, and then after Martin had sat inside my house for another 20 minutes while Caryn and I struggled to remember how to put shoes on, we bundled my stinky dog Jane into the back of his bakkie and headed for one of Cape Town’s most snooty addresses.

“So this is how the other half live,” I said, as we wound up Price Drive in Constantia, staring at the rather obscene mansions, and being stared back at by cameras and security guards.

“You mean the other one percent,” said Martin.

We parked at the end of the road opposite a tall wall that had an enormous wrought iron, electric fence and camera encrusted gate, which led down an iron and electric fence-lined drive to another, identical iron and electric-fence camera gate.

“It looks like those special doors they have at banks,” I observed. “Those people are clearly scared silly.”

I turned my attention to the mountainside in front of us. It looked distinctly like a mountain.

“I thought it was going to be flat,” I complained, as we started up the steepish, definitely Not Flat slope. “I mean, Vlakkenberg – that sounds like it means flat mountain, you know?”

“I think Vlakken might mean flags,” said Martin, whose first language is German.

“Which is sort of the opposite of flat,” pointed out Caryn, helpfully, disappearing into a deep tangle of silver trees and other leucadendrons.

I looked around. The dense thicket was doing a good job of protecting us from the wind, but a bad job of providing a view of anything more than a few feet away. Caryn, Jane, and Martin were nowhere to be seen.

“Oi!” I shouted, annoyed. “Where is everyone?”

Martin, who, in the time between hikes #35 and #36 has been for little jaunts up Aconcagua and Elbrus, was trotting up the hill like a frisky ibex. Caryn, under the mistaken impression that she should attempt to keep up with him, was hard on his heels, while growing harder of breath. Jane was having a fabulous time vanishing into the undergrowth, forcing me to backtrack while wondering if the people behind those gates would be kind enough to adopt a stray dog smelling strongly of otter poo. I thought probably not.

At last we emerged from the thicket. The view improved, but the wind situation became instantly horrible.

“Ugh,” I said. “It’s disgustingly windy.” I held on to a clump of restios. “I think we should turn around.”

But Martin carried on, and Caryn followed dutifully, falling over a few times. I scrambled after them, emitting the occasional shriek as the wind made a jolly good effort to dislodge me from the ground.

Eventually I found some large rocks to shelter behind and threw a small tantrum.

“I hate wind, this is scary, and I’m turning around,” I announced from between two boulders.

Caryn confessed that she wasn’t feeling particularly happy to be there either. So Martin calmly handed over his car keys and then, free of the three females who’d been holding him back, reached speeds of 31km/h on his way over the mountain.

“I’m sorry for being a wimp,” said Caryn as we tottered back down, apparently forgetting who’d been Chief Wimp.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “I have no patience with people who push other people into doing hikes they’re not comfortable with.”

I paused awkwardly, remembering Martin’s former girlfriend in tears on one of my earlier ‘easy’ hikes.

“I mean, I did do that once. But I’ve never done it again.”

As the three of us got back into the bakkie to go and wait for Martin while drinking coffee at Constantia Nek, I threw a last glance at those wrought-iron-electric-fence-camera gates. I was quite content to leave feeling scared silly on this mountain to the people behind them.

Vlakkenberg Peak Hike details*

Distance: 5km

Duration: 1.5 hours, if you are Martin, and capable of achieving Usain Bolt speeds while hiking

Difficulty: Supposedly easy, if not undertaken in revolting winds

Directions: Use the directions on Page 76 of Tony Lourens’ new guidebook Southern Peninsula Classics, but then instead of looping back around to return the way you came, continue on along the path north-east towards Constantia Nek.

Parking: Top of Price Drive, and Constantia Nek

Post-hike eating place: La Parada, Constantia Nek, which has a dog-friendly terrace.

* from Martin, who actually did the hike

My Photographs of the Vlakkenberg hike

Martin’s photos of the hike

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