Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Up The Cloudy Mountain

Going up Table Mountain in the cable car is an annual treat. A treat because it’s expensive to ride in the cable car. You can walk up the mountain for free, but riding the cable car is priced for tourists and taking the whole family up is a major financial investment.

Revolving 360 degrees slowly over the 5 minute trip in the car, you dangle over precipitous heights and see the city shrink in size as you whiz up the cable towards vertical cliffs at the top. The ocean spreads out before you and the coast stretches away into the distance, our line of three hills identifiable in a misty haze of blue outlines halfway along the map.

It’s a gamble planning a day up the mountain especially in spring. Children go free in winter, so we always try to plan for a trip up then, but it has to be a last minute decision. Weather forecasts get it wrong, fickle winds blow up a tablecloth of cloud onto our mountain, when all around is clear. Rain can sweep in and wash a stream of tourists back into the cable car in a miserable huddle.

The children determined on Granny’s visit as the best time for our trip up the mountain. Ambitious plans for walking up for the first time ever this year were shelved after the flu broke out and the kids all took a long time to recover. The soft option it would be, once the weather obliged. The middle week of Granny’s visit was submerged by rain and trumped by our son’s turn at having flu. The last week started off wet too, but looked set to clear up. She would be leaving on Friday. Thursday it would have to be, if at all possible.

We packed the kids off to school in an optimistic mood. Cool, still and clear, the morning would be bound to warm up. The top of Table Mountain was a clean outline against the horizon as we drove back from school later. We downed our lunch hurriedly and set off, armed with fleeces and jackets too. A thermos of hot chocolate nestled in a rucksack to succour us up aloft.

Patches of cloud wafted over us as we drove towards Cape Town, the mountain always in sight. We kept a close eye on it to make sure that it wouldn’t change its mind and sulk, shrugging a blanket of cloud around its shoulders and turning its back on the world. We got closer and closer, our fingers aching with being crossed, but still the sun showed a firm line of flat mountain top ahead.

Lugging a panoply of jackets, we hardly had to queue any time for tickets, even though there were plenty of tour buses parked. A slight setback, when we found that they’d changed the rules and children are now only free on weekends and public holidays in winter, was eased by using our Wild card which gave us a discount on all the tickets. Surrounded by a group of Japanese tourists we climbed into the cable car and swept grandly and gloriously up the side of the mountain… into wisps of cloud. In those few minutes while we paid for our tickets the notorious tablecloth had swept up the back of the mountain and swirled over the top, draping elegantly over the edge just a little all round.

We emerged into a chill dampness and piled on all our jackets, feeling slightly smug as we watched T-shirted tourists shivering as they strode bravely around the paths.

Tantalizing glimpses of Cape Town in bright sunshine were visible over the edge of the precipice, bright blue ocean contrasted with the grey all around and above. The kids started off happily enough, climbing on rocks and peering over the edge, but eventually the fun of that was muted by being cold. So we found a rock to shelter us from the chilly wind that seemed to come from all directions at once and drank hot chocolate with special cookies from Inge’s deli, bought by my Mum and sister-in-law on a foray to Kalk Bay the day before.

The best packaging I've ever seen on hand-made cookies and great tasting too ... in fact I ate most of these ones!

Luckily Youngest had brought a glove puppet up with her. Perfect to warm Granny's hands...

Every now and again the light would brighten and sun would attempt to burn through the thin layer of cloud that enveloped us. We’d cheer it and encourage it, trying with the force of our minds to transform it into a sunny afternoon, but we weren’t quite strong enough a match for the wind and cloud.

They re-asserted themselves and after a brisk walk around the marked paths and a clamber over some tempting rocks, we called it a day.

We’ve been up the mountain for this year and at least we’ll always remember this one. It can’t be a bad thing for kids to experience what it’s like on a mountain in cold and fog and get an idea of what real winter is like in colder climes than ours!

The next day dawned warm and bright and, as I drove my mother to the airport, Table Mountain taunted us with its crisp, cloud-free profile, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt.

This post from two years ago has pictures of what it should ideally be like up on Table Mountain in the sunshine!


  1. Oh this sort of thing has happened to us more often than I care to remember. I like the pics of the cloud though!

  2. Despite the cold it looks like a good day out was had by all ... thank-you for sharing it with us all. Vanessa (it makes me a little homesick!)

  3. "We kept a close eye on it to make sure that it wouldn’t change its mind and sulk, shrugging a blanket of cloud around its shoulders and turning its back on the world." What a perfect way to describe old Table Mountain when it lays on the tablecloth!

  4. I rememebr going up the mountain in similar circumstances in 1997 - got to the top and we were in the middle of the fog. I actually loved it though - added to the silence up there. We walked all the way to Maclear's beacon froom the cable caar station and loved it!


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