Setting the table

in Cape Town, South Africa

Capetown was the beginning of our trip through South Africa. We picked it because Mark had just moved there. We wanted to visit him after his trip took him from Austin all the way down to Patagonia and back to South Africa.

Our first full day, Mark wanted to take us hiking. There was a concert near Table Mountain that evening so we were going to meet some friends after hiking around the mountain for the afternoon. He picked the India Venster, one of the more difficult — but beautiful — trails on Table Mountain.

We got started fairly late, around 11am. It was already hot, but for an hour or two hike we had good supplies: ~1.5L of water apiece, and lots of food since we planned for lunch on the trail.

Unlike most folks we skipped the cable car and began the hike up Table Mountain. After an hour or so, we stopped to eat. Although we'd seen many people on the trail, only one lone hiker passed us at our lunch spot. He looked dreadfully thirsty and admitted he wasn't sure that he was on the trail. Mark assured him it was not too long before the end and told him to keep on going. After we ate, we packed up and kept moving too.

Shortly after lunch, we approached a beautiful gulch which we thought was the actual India Venster. The view was stunning and we were happily taking photos left and right:

After a while, though, it became clear that we weren't on the trail anymore. We hadn't seen another soul, save for the fellow that passed us at lunch... but we'd caught up with him and he joined our party. He was Dutch, named Anthony.

We hiked and scrambled along some very narrow paths, with absolutely no chains or cables in sight. It was pretty harrowing to look down while crossing a few tight spots. In others, we were scrambling around rocks, or making small jumps over very deep drops. Our panic was well-managed, but slowly creeping up on us.

We were also running out of water, and Anthony was long past finished with his. Mark kept running up ahead to try and find an indication of the trail, and we'd slowly plod along, wondering where exactly he'd trekked over the untamed terrain in front of us. Occasionally we'd find little piles of stones that previous hikers had left, but it was hours since we'd found the yellow paint footprints that marked the beginning of the trail.

Anthony started admitting what a situation he was in, which was a bit worse than ours. For starters, he had been out drinking the night before, and was hungover in the morning. He didn't eat breakfast save for some candy, and he'd only brought a liter of water. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and the sun was beating on us the whole time.

Then... he swallowed a fly while we were hiking. When he was hacking away on it I started to really worry if we'd have to call a helicopter for him... and us.

The hike went on, slowly but surely. Mark was urging us to keep moving, worried that we'd give up hope. But my energy was low and I needed frequent rest. In order to cut some time off our ascent, Mark took us up some steep ways; we thought we might just hit a road or main trail again, but several times we scrambled up a rocky hill only to find more rocks staring downward at us.

After several unplanned hours of trudging along, we finally hit level ground, marking the top of Table Mountain. We were hugging each other we were so happy. About a kilometer later we found an unmarked wood-plank path.

Marching on another 20 minutes we found a sign for... the India Venster 😆

It wasn't too long until we were back in the thick of the tourism near the cable car. We gladly blended into the crowd, grabbing ice cream and drinks, feeling lucky to be alive. Our cable car ride to the bottom was pleasantly uneventful.

We later figured out that we'd gone off the trail even before sitting down for lunch, which is why Anthony was the only other hiker we saw after our meal. In total, we hiked around three of the 12 apostles, and the real Venster takes hikers around none!

With the whole ordeal behind us, it was invigorating and made us feel quite accomplished. It raised my tolerance for hiking situations, and made me appreciate having proper supplies for a given trek.