Climbing in the Clouds

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” ~ John Muir

At 4:50am my alarm sounded and as I lay there in the semi-dark room with the new day already dawning outside I could hear the wind battering everything around outside. I had checked the weather report earlier in the week and strong winds were predicted so hearing it outside didn’t come as much of a surprise. In my email to my hiking companions confirming Saturday’s hike I warned everyone that no matter what the weather (and I warned them of the impending strong wind) we would be attempting to get to the top of Devil’s Peak.

After 3 failed attempts of reaching the Devil’s Peak summit  I was determined to finally stand on the top again as now it had been a while since I had last been up there. Bad weather had twice before made us turn around at the saddle and once we didn’t even get on the mountain slopes due to a magnificent Cape Storm.

I glanced out my window and the mountain top was already covered in cloud. It was unbelievable! The entire week as I drove to work I had watched the mountain and each morning, except for one morning, the mountain top was clear of cloud. It had looked perfect almost every day. The one day it did have cloud, but it was a thin veil of white that broke away and then reformed again, mild and still good for hiking to the top of Devil’s Peak. But as Murphy and his Law would have it, the day we set out to once again attempt to get to the top, the mountain was drenched in cloud and swirling gale force South Easter winds for company.

The night before a hiker had pulled out and by 6:00am another hiker also pulled out and that left just Judi and I to face the monstrous cloud covered mountain. Judi, waking up and seeing the mountain herself sent me a message. “Howling gale mtn covered in thick cloud… R we still on?” I replied saying “Wanna go anyway?” I knew I could not give in to Devil’s Peak without even getting on the slopes. I had to push to see how far we would get even though with the cloud cover I had already seen I knew it was unlikely we would make it all the way to the top.

As I set out, I pulled over to take this pic of the mountain. Yes, under all that cloud lies Table Mountain and Devil's Peak, our chosen route for the day. note the blue sky and sunshine everywhere else!

As I set out, I pulled over to take this pic of the mountain. Yes, under all that cloud lies Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak to the left, our chosen route for the day. Note the blue sky and sunshine everywhere else!

Judi was on board, it was going to be misty, cold and very windy but we were determined, what the hell let’s go climb in the clouds!

The start of the trail.

The start of the trail.

Arriving at the start of the trail, the dark cloud swept over the mountain slopes, whipping around us and hanging over us as if taunting us that the legend of Devil’s Peak had won yet again. In the rest of Cape Town the sun was up and it was warm, yet on the slopes of the mountain it was a completely different story. I arrived in a sleeveless top but within minutes I had pulled on another top on. With our heavy backpacks on and trekking poles ready we crossed the road and as we were about to start climbing the heavens opened up and it began to rain. We laughed as we looked out over the city below us bathed in the early morning sunshine.  There was only one thing to do, take off our backpacks and put on our water proof jackets.   Luckily the rain didn’t last too long but it was enough to wet everything nicely.

The dark cloud hanging over us, with the city in sunshine below.

The dark cloud hanging over us, with the city in sunshine below.

The mountain was deserted; only the diehards were out doing what needed to be done. The top half of the mountain was hidden under the dark cloud sweeping over and it wasn’t before long we were enveloped in the misty cloud ourselves. Although walking in the mist on the mountain is always very disorienting, as long as I know the path I’m on and I know where I’m going I find it magically beautiful. The trees with dew drops on their leaves, everything is soft and gentle and even though there is no view and sight is limited to a few meters all around you, the magic and beauty of the mountain is there more than ever!

Making our way up the trail. As we climbed higher, the mist began to envelope us.

Making our way up the trail. As we climbed higher, the mist began to envelope us.

Everything newly wet with the rain shower, the only way was still up.

Everything newly wet with the rain shower, the only way was still up.

The more direct route we had taken to Devil’s Peak was incredibly beautiful and naturally had plenty of huge stone steps for us to contend with. Judi, who last week met up with someone who has climbed Aconcagua 7 times, said our step training on the mountain is good as when you are wearing the plastic snow boots over your hiking boots you cannot bend your foot at all and you have to step by lifting your entire foot up and forward. So with each step I took I reminded myself of this. When I’m trudging through the snow in my snow boots I will be giving out so much thanks for all those damn huge big steps we trained on! With all the training I’ve been pushing to strengthen my legs and they have become pure muscle, not in an ugly way, in a strong fit I’m going to climb a 7 000 metre high mountain kind of way. It feels good. It feels powerful. My hard work training is paying off.

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Gorgeous, magnificent newly blooming Proteas along the trail.

As we walked, the path in front of us was just a white wall of mist.

As we walked, the path in front of us was just a white wall of mist.

No matter what the weather, still smiling and absolutely loving the mountain.

No matter what the weather, still smiling and absolutely loving the mountain.

With a gust of the wind, the mist rolled in thick again.

With a gust of the wind, the mist rolled in thick again.

Sadly, we didn’t get to reach the top of Devil’s Peak. The higher we climbed the more intense the wind became. It’s hard to imagine the weather can be so extreme when down in the city it’s a hot summer’s day (with wind) but on the mountain it’s a totally different story but for those who climb, they know. By the time we reached the point to climb up to the saddle the wind wasn’t only gusting 30 seconds apart, it was a constant push against us, we struggled to stand upright on our two feet. Digging our trekking poles into the ground while leaning our bodies into the wind to stop us from being blown over. Our voices and laughter quickly lost on the gusts of wind, at least we still had our sense of humour!

Trying to stand up right, dig a trekking pole into the ground for support and take a photo is multi-tasking at it's best ~ The wind at this point was so strong but we still had our sense of humour, something we never forget to pack!

Trying to stand up right, dig a trekking pole into the ground for support and take a photo is multi-tasking at it’s best ~ The wind at this point was so strong but we still had our sense of humour, something we never forget to pack!

In the end it was just not safe to go any higher, the wind would just get stronger and the mist was just becoming thicker and thicker. We decided we would turn back and walk the contour path down to Oppelkops and then make our way down to the lower contour path and back to the cars. We must have walked for about 15 minutes on the path to Oppelkops with numerous stops along the way as the path become more exposed on our left and the wind was howling and pushing us towards the edge. Although not a steep fall, a tumble down the mountainside would have been eina (sore). As the wind gusted we dug our trekking poles in with each two steps forward we took, moving in moments of strong gusts just too dangerous as with each step the gusts would move your foot to an entirely different location as to where you were planning on planting your foot. Eventually the path turned to the left and although we could see the ridge leading to Oppelskop below the mist, the path became thinner and the thought of injuring an ankle in this wind was not high on our agenda. As the wind gusted we stood there decided to go forward or to turn back. As we decided to rather head back, six trail runners came up behind us. I smiled and told them I was glad we weren’t the only crazies on the mountain! We had a quick chat as to where we had come from and where they had come up and after a short chat we bid them farewell and a safe journey. Suddenly, they disappeared in the mist and we were alone again.

The point at which we decided to turn back and head down to Oppelkop. So close yet so far...

The point at which we decided to turn back and head down to Oppelkop. So close yet so far…

We found our way back along the same path we had come up, again the mist showing us how easy it was to become disoriented as everything looked different again. As the mist swept over us, completely engulfing us and then receding again as the wind-swept back up again, with each swirl of the mist, the scenery would change.

The magical, misty beauty of the mountain covered in mist.

The magical, misty beauty of the mountain covered in mist.

A bit lower down out of the low-lying mist, we stopped to eat and have a rest while overlooking the sunny city below us.  It was only 9:15am yet it felt so much later. After a nice break we headed back down to the cars. On the lower contour path we contemplated walking a bit longer but decided we’d already had a good walk and the early finish would be good for our bodies to give them a rest.

Views of the city below as we stopped to take a break as we made our way back down again.

Views of the city below as we stopped to take a break as we made our way back down again.

Back at the cars, the mountain won yet again but we will be back, as we always are!

Back at the cars, the mountain won yet again but we will be back, as we always are!

Once home and showered, I brewed myself a nice cup of tea and climbed onto my bed with a really good book I’m reading. It was time for my post-hike nap, something I thoroughly enjoy if I don’t have plans to go out again. I usually only nap for 30 minutes to an hour, but that afternoon I slept deeply for over 3 hours! If not the daily 5am rising, this extreme weather hiking surely does take it all out of you.

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My training is going well, I’m feeling fit and ready to take on what lies ahead. I mediate every morning to prepare my mind.  There are 33 Days, 18 hours, 43 minutes and 39 Seconds till our plane rolls down that runway and we head for Argentina.

Later this week we’ll be meeting with a dietician that the lovely Dr Sacha from my lab rat experience arranged for us to meet so we can be advised as to what is good to take with us and what is the best way to fuel our bodies while on the mountain.  Then  next Saturday, Judi and I get to skip our Platteklip training hike (the angels break out into a chorus of hallelujah. Or is that just me!) and we are going to get to meet and hike with some of the other team members who will be heading out to climb Aconcagua as well.  I’m excited to meet the others and to see who we get to go on the next adventure with in Argentina.

~ Climbing for a cure, if you would like to make a donation to support those living with Cystic Fibrosis, please click here. ~

~ All Photos By Me ~

~ And just for the laugh, Devil’s Peak was perfectly clear of cloud on Sunday and this morning  and so I have decided next time I plan to climb Devil’s Peak, I’ll email everyone to meet at a secret location and I’ll drive them through to the start and we’ll attack Devil’s Peak and next time they won’t even see it’s coming. We’ll see who gets the last laugh… ~

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