The 3 Most Important Pieces of Equipment

The 3 Most Important Pieces of Equipment

Let’s focus on the basics:  what do you really need for your sport?  In my time as a guide and outdoor athlete on three continents I learned a few simple truths.  Here is one:  there are three pieces of gear worth investing in and everything else is secondary.  Based on 25 years in the mountains, here is my take on the top three gear choices you will make.

Project: Land Rover custom door panel

Project:  Land Rover custom door panel

The stock door panel on a Discovery covers a lot of real estate but doesn’t offer much function beside a pocket and a subwoofer.  I wanted to replace this with a panel that would expand the utility of the cargo space.  Let’s be honest:  my days of alpine climbing are mostly behind me and I spend more time car camping (also known to some as “overlanding”) these days than I do shivering on Mount Rainier. 

Climbing to the sky

Climbing to the sky

On my last visit to Sani Pass I had been a passenger and was now looking forward to driving the route. The road climbed steeply up to the head of a valley. Above us to the right were the cliffs known as the 12 Apostles. The road was narrow, only a car's width for much of the way, with nothing between the edge and a long drop off.

Unexpected diversions

Wednesday we decided to take another two-pronged assault on Table Mountain.  I would take the bus back to Kirstenbosch, hike up, and meet Jenna at the upper cable station after she had the morning to walk around town.  The "tablecloth" was enveloping the mountain, a thick shroud of cloud that rolls in from the Atlantic and dissipates around the edges of the plateau.  From the gardens I could see a thick blanket of cloud stretching out to the southeast, meaning a hike would be completely socked in.  I made a quick change of plan and found the quickest way back to town.

I took a metered taxi from the garden down to the main road in Newlands, then hopped on a minibus taxi back to Cape Town's civic centre.  The taxi ride had nearly the full complement of quotidian drama:  I was wedged in between a large woman and the door, the barker hung out the door shouting, the driver casually wove through moving traffic, narrowly avoiding numerous collisions, playing his horn like jazz trumpeter.  There was an entire language spoken by hoots.

Rejoining Jenna we adapted our plans.  The mountain was not meant to happen on this trip.  Instead we walked along High Level road to explore the Bo Kaap neighborhood.  This area is characterised by brightly-painted houses lining the streets.  The colourful palette of buildings is a relatively recent transformation of the neighborhood, but it has a longer history of being a home to Cape Malays.  We learned some history of the quarter in the small museum and breathed deeply of the exotic aromas across the street in the Atlas spice trader's.    

Jenna wanted to visit the District 6 museum, so we walked west with a break at a balcony cafe overlooking Long Street for a cup of rooibos.  District 6 is an area of prime real estate just outside of downtown that had been populated by minority groups during apartheid.  In the 1980s the government began a systematic relocation campaign to move its residents to far-flung suburbs and redevelop the area for whites.  It was a sad period of local history and the museum is a beautiful tribute to the spirit of the community that had emerged organically in District 6 prior to relocation.

The tablecloth over the mountain behind Bo Kaap.  Note the new development encroaching on the historic neighborhood.

Gardens and bays

Jenna suggested we take a ride on the sightseeing bus as a way to orient ourselves to the area, and since a cheap all-day pass afforded hop-on/hop-off access it seemed convenient.  We caught an early bus at the waterfront and had a breezy ride on the top deck.  The fresh air blowing in off the Atlantic and the heady aromas of the South African earth and eucalyptus trees were refreshing.  These were the smells accompanying my childhood in Zimbabwe (minus the ocean breeze).  

At Kirstenbosch we disembarked to explore the expansive garden grounds.  I was going to leave from there on foot to hike up Skeleton Gorge and meet Jenna at the top of the cable car on the other side of Table Mountain but owing to high winds the cable car was not running.  We took a leisurely stroll through the gardens instead.

Being autumn, much of the foliage was out of season, but we found some spectacular plant life and stunning views all the same.  We walked through the tree canopy boardwalk, camphor avenue, enchanted forest, and aloe grove.  With our change in plan we settled on some lunch on the rolling lawn.  I wandered off to get some wildlife shots with my longer lens while Jenna fended off an aggressive pack of guinea fowl that wanted to pinch her lunch.  I got lucky and found the lone blooming protea plant in the park and was treated to a colorful show by hungry
 sunbirds.  The protea is my favorite South African flower as it is also the emblem of the national cricket team.

We resumed our bus tour and stepped off for a walk around Hout Bay.  This had a grittier feel, there was a working maritime economy down here with less of the curated tourist vibe.  We had a snack at a small seafood hut and walked around the marina.  As the afternoon was progressing we returned to the waterfront and Jenna was drawn into the large hall filled with crafts, arts, and food vendors.

Beaches and buses

April 20, 2015.  Mobility in Cape Town is a breeze.  The modern MyCiti bus service is reliable and convenient so we have become savvy in the ways of transit.  On our first full day in town we walked to the waterfront, bought bus cards, and rode the bus down the coast to the beaches at Clifton.  This is  quite the high rent district with gaudy, glass-fronted condos and villas reaching up the hill overlooking the water beneath Lion's Head.  We spent a peaceful hour on the rather empty beach and decided to come back later in the week when temperatures would be higher and we had our full complement of beach kit.

Further south we hopped off in Camp's Bay, a trendy outlying community.  Like beachfront towns everywhere it had all the predictable trappings (with a few local variations):  sidewalk cafes serving bland, fried food; t-shirt shops; wandering hawkers peddling sunglasses and souvenirs; gaping tourists eating ice cream; and wealthy locals rolling past slowly in fancy cars.  We met a lot of guys from Malawi selling their art that all looked suspiciously similar.

Camps Bay was a tranquil vibe and we had a bite of lunch at Cafe Caprice, listening to the conversations of the visitors and townies alike.  The bus whisked us back into town and we jumped off at Sea Point to pick up groceries for dinner.  I was delighted to find some familiar staples:  chutney-flavoured potato crisps and Windhoek lager.  Back at home we ate a candlelight dinner beneath the towering 4-metre ceilings of our main room.

Beaches at Clifton.

Lion's Head above Camps Bay.

12 Apostles above Camps Bay.

Jenna spots an overlander that has clearly seen a few kilometers.