Monday, June 4, 2012

Facts about mountains, pt 2

Recently, a running buddy and I decided to hike up Table Mountain. In a show of fitness, bravado and general I'm-better-than-you exercise initiatives, this hike was also going to involve jogging. My previous mountaineering post mostly drew from a walk that I took up Lion's Head at the time, but Table Mountain and its surrounding environs offer so many more important and fascinating mountain facts that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to relate a few:

Fact 1: Never, ever, ever jog up a mountain

Holy crap, I have never regretted any decision more in my life, and that includes the time I bought a packet of wasabi-coated peanuts thinking that they'd actually be delicious (even during my end-of-month scrimp 'n starve period, I still threw them away rather than eating them). Jogging uphill in the local neighbourhood seems to be somewhat less taxing than hoofing it up mother nature's back acne.

A less romantic way to describe the view, but it'll do.

Being the sort of guy who's been training (poorly) for his first half-marathon race, I reckoned that it would be safe enough for me to jog short distances at a time whenever the path was flat and wide enough. Turns out that I didn't consider just how much my body would hate me for doing a walking recovery while continuing uphill. Even the Constantia Nek jeep track -- one of the gentler paths up the mountain -- was murderous enough at anything more than a brisk trot.

The top of the mountain doesn't get much better, despite the fact that it LOOKS flat enough from the outside. Most approaches to the mountain's high point involve a pretty consistent uphill march, with occasional false hope presented in temporary dips and flats. If this mountain really is comparable to a table, somebody did a horrific job of sanding down its surface.

The trails on the top are as varied as the ones on the way up -- some are broad, flattish, well-defined paths while others tend to be almost invisible and go through the more adventurous region. It takes a good while to explore them all.

Fact 2: If you ARE jogging, never slow down around others

If you're running along a trail and you've just about to hit blinking red on your stamina bar, there is literally nothing worse to see around the next bend than a happy family taking a mountain stroll. Further horror if you meet older runners who are going faster than you. At that point, I'd rather take a faceslap from a roaming mountain bear* than take a break while I'm in the field of view.

The unyielding gaze of contempt.

Stopping to rest where other mountain explorers can see you spells almost certain doom. If you do not consistently present the view of a fit and healthy jogger, they will remember your show of weakness. The children will chortle about you while eating picnic sandwiches, old people will hit you with their shame-rays and most responsible adults will call the police and have you arrested (as they rightly should).

Fact 3: Don't start forest fires

On lower mountain trails around the Constantia area, you'll occasionally find some fire extinguishers helpfully nailed to nearby trees. Don't be fooled! On further inspection, you'll notice that they're actually just painted lumps of wood. Really.

I forgot to take a picture, so I drew this one.

I had to have someone else point out to me that these were fakes. They're part of an awareness campaign about fire hazards in the area, which is a super helpful reminder even to people who may somehow believe that they're real. I don't know what's scarier: the fact that I'm so easily fooled, or how badly I'd have been screwed if I ran into an actual fire.

Fact 4: Once you reach the top, the mountain has no power over you

This is true. You are immune to fire, fall damage, dassie attacks** and Negative Energy. You may safely rest at the top, then descend the mountain while ignoring all important warnings.

Celebratory Conquest Egg Sandwich

Maclear's Beacon is a pile o' rocks marking the highest point on Table Mountain: 1085m up. So that's about a kilometre closer to outer space when you think about it. And the silence at the top is absolutely astounding. If you're not plagued by rain or pesky tourists, you can sit at the base of that rockpile and occasionally get an earful of absolutely nothing. What's quite astounding -- particularly when you spend enough time living in the city around the mountain -- is realising how rare such a deep silence actually is.

This is my victory face. The beard started growing as soon as I sat down.

It's a lovely little landmark and a great halfway resting point. It's reassuring to think that the hardest part is over with by this point.


So, you got a fair bit of exercise while going up those hills, and now you reckon you'll just slide down Skeleton Gorge and enjoy the smooth sailing of a mountain descent.

No kidding, "Skeleton Gorge" is an actual trail name.

But if your legs are sufficiently tired, you're gonna get the shakes in 'em before too long. And if you're navigating sufficiently steep/uncertain terrain, you're going to have some epically powerful joint impact stuff happening to you (insert whatever science necessary over here). It's actually this part of the journey that's going to verifiably rob you of basic leg functions for a week. Say goodbye to stairs, raised platforms and slightly uneven floorboards.

Taking the path down Skeleton Gorge *at all* can be risky under the wrong conditions (if the hint wasn't in the damn name already). The gorge sports a rather lovely mountain river that's a trickle in some parts of the year and a torrent in others. There's some amusing sections involving ladder climbing for particularly steep bits, but ultimately you're following a little stream pretty closely for a good chunk of the gorge descent and occasionally even crossing it -- and if Ghostbusters has taught us anything, it's that crossing streams is always an overwhelmingly dangerous idea. In this case, it makes for some ferociously slippery rocks and awkward splashy situations. Compound that with shoogly, exhausted leggies and you have a recipe for Uh Oh.

Get to the bottom, however, and you'll feel like a champion.

Fact 6: Instalamb!

Instalamb! It's like Instagram, but with more lamb. Who wants to make this a thing? It'll be awesome, I swear.

Anyway, enough mountain stuff for now. Peace out.

* Table Mountain admittedly has no bears. And surprisingly few sharks.
** Sadly, though more plausible than bears, one rarely sees dassies anymore. And never enough to form a decent attack formation.


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  2. Thoroughly entertaining as always good fellow. Couldn't disagree more with your appraisal of wasabi coated peanuts though, those things are awesome. You must've gotten a bad batch, or you are a broken human.

    Also, blow me down, imagine my surprise when I googled "shoogly" only to find that it's a real word and everything!