A walk up Table Mountain is a journey of a different kind.
I don’t believe you’d find anyone, anywhere that would look at a photograph of a city strategically placed at the foot of a magnificent rock backdrop and not know they were looking at one of the most beautiful cities in the world—one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World, in fact. The city would be Cape Town, South Africa, and the mountain is majestic Table Mountain!
Having had the privilege of living in the Mother City for a few years, I would often glance at the mountain and think, “Ah, I guess one day I should climb that.” It took a visit from 20 teenagers from San Luis Obispo, California to finally give me the courage to tackle this beast. I could do it—why not? Thousands have done it before me.
The plan was to have the bus drive past my apartment, which was set on the road leading up to Table Mountain. It was a 7am early start, but I was ready, water in hand and good shoes on. I had this! For a few moments I was concerned that these 17 to 22-year olds would race up the mountain ahead of me and I’d be left way behind, crawling up the rocky terrain, greeted at some point by the group of youngins, waiting for the stragglers to come in. I was ready to give it all I had.
Not knowing that the mountain was literally one step up after the other, I set forth to conquer, all 5.5ft of me. Teen after teen zoomed past me and I realized my nightmare may come true. One of the young girls had asthma and I felt so sorry for her, so concerned that my only focus at one point was to be with her each step of the way and make sure she made it. What she didn’t know was that she in turn was making sure I made it! Win-win, right?
As we climbed along, I started to think about where I was, how I got to be there in that moment, and what this all meant to me. Table Mountain was one part of this incredible scene I got to call home, daily. As I took the next step up, I found myself thinking about other parts of this incredible peninsula. I thought about Camp’s Bay and how sitting on the sidewalk across from the beach, sipping the cocktail of the day at sunset, was one of my favourite things to do (and would be so welcome right about now as I write this in lockdown).
Two more teens passed me and I stopped, caught my breath, turned around and looked back at the beautiful V&A Waterfront, where restaurants, entertainment, stores, and sunset cruises abound. I thought, “Ah, perhaps there, yes, right there is where I should be sitting, sipping my wine and watching seals at play.”
My young asthmatic friend and I encouraged each other as we took another giant, nature-made step towards the top, and I smiled remembering how I’ve been here before. Helping people by volunteering in the townships at a local orphanage, teaching an adult friend of mine to swim at the local indoor pool, creating the space for single ladies to feel like they belong with our little “supper club,” indulging in experiences from Cape Malay cuisine to wine tasting outings in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, South Africa’s premier wine-tasting regions. Even driving young aspiring actors to our ‘AmDram’ rehearsals in Milnerton and Table Bay. This city and surrounds had me enthralled, captured, and entertained.
When another young lad dashed past us, it didn’t bother me anymore. Realizing that reflecting on all the beauty and experiences around me was indeed propelling me up the mountain, I walked past some fynbos (shrubland native to the Cape Peninsula) and my thoughts then took me to Kirstenbosch Gardens, a majestic floral kingdom with a walkway that places you above nature, offering a truly unique view. As if floating above it all, I felt myself now flying over to Simon’s Town, home to the African Penguins that live on Boulder’s Beach—which is my dad’s favourite fish and chips spot, I have to add.
My spiritual reverie then took me to Cape Point. Standing on top of the lighthouse, on the edge of the world it seemed, I glanced out at the Atlantic Ocean hugging the peninsula, overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. Suddenly jolted back to reality, I took yet another giant step up, checked that my new young friend was still next to me and doing okay, and looking up, realized we were not too far from the summit. “Woohoo!”
Not wanting to end my daydream, I set my mind to Noordhoek and then the start of Chapman’s Peak. With each step up I found myself meandering my way along the snaking route affectionately known as “Chappies.” I remembered that my favourite time to be on this road was at sunset. I loved the sunsets in Cape Town. A quick glance over at Hout Bay and my Cape adventure was done. It was at that exact moment that I heard my name being called out. “Hey Michelle, you did it! Good job!”
We had made it to the top of Table Mountain and with that an exhilarating feeling of accomplishment washed over me. I basked in the success, congratulated the young Americans and made my way down in the cable car knowing I had accomplished something I never thought I would. Would I try it again? Who knows, but what I do know is that the opportunity gave me a chance to truly appreciate the many sights, sounds, and smells that this special part of Africa shared with me. Cape Town is one of the most exciting, inviting, beautiful, and captivating places on earth—and the place I was once lucky enough to call home.
Editor’s note: The title of this article has been updated from its original version.