Hout Bay to Llandudno Traverse. Table Mountain Top Ten Trails #6: the adventure is out there. 

It is not often that I start a trail run at the civilized hour of 8h00 on a Saturday. But we were waiting for the tide to be out.

I was lucky enough to be invited on this route by Mark Preen. This ranks as one of the best adventure trails in Cape Town.

‘But that was easy’

Could quite easily be the response of one of the other runners in our group. Not so fast! The first time I did this trail which is a mere 10km it took us the whole day! Yes as in a 8h whole day! Ask around and you will hear stories of epics, getting lost, scary scrambles, groups being benighted, rescues, and people being washed out to sea – never to be seen again.

I am not kidding. This is serious!

However on Saturday we were lucky with very calm seas and Spring low tide! Richard planned well and we even had an hour to go before the lowest tide – just in case.

Route direction

I have done this route in both directions and I prefer the anti clockwise. Either option is doable. I just prefer it.  Here I will describe the clockwise direction though as this is the way we did it last.

A good start spot is Mariner’s Wharf. Run through the harbour towards the Sentinel. This is along tarmac. You will pass underneath the Hangberg suburb. You will quickly emerge onto some level single track under the cliffs of the Sentinel and towards Seal Island. This section is very reminiscent of the first bit of the Otter trail.

IMG_4471

looking back towards The Sentinel with Chapman’s Peak Drive in the distance

Once you turn the corner things get a bit more serious in that you need to think about route choice. Staying low and close to sea level is best until forced up. It initially seems like you need to traverse over a steep gully with a path visible on the steep far slope. Don’t try this but rather drop into the gully and back down to sea level.

 

IMG_4450

dropping into the initial gully

A few sections of scrambles over damp, slippery rocks follow. Going is slow as one needs to take care.

IMG_4452

looking back at some of the scramble sections close to the water’s edge

This is a great great friction testing lab for shoes as adhesion to a variety of surfaces is tested to the max. Some you walk, others you need a bit more upward momentum…

IMG_4456

There are often several options available and you don’t always need to scramble.

However at some point you will be faced with this sight. Spot the tatty rope. It ascends the black crack onto the platform above the water. The first step is the hardest. I would encourage you to take a rope – in case.

IMG_4461

IMG_4462

Mark Preen making it look easy, Richard Sutton in the background

There is a little section of easier going after which you will face another gully.  Once again don’t be tempted to traverse above but rather drop down past the little granite blob onto the floor of the gully and out the other (less steep) side.

IMG_4466

granite blob can be seen between the two girls in blue

Eventually you will do a slow rising traverse on a fair path. This pops you onto the slabs above the Bos 400 which went down in 1994. This is the same bay where the SS Maori is also located. From here it is a fairly straightforward navigational exercise across the burnt sandy slope to the blockhouse at the end of Rocket Road. Find your way to the dunes above Sandy Bay. From here you are pretty much on tarmac back to the start and some welcome fish and chips at Fish on the Rocks.

I can not stress this enough. This is a serious route which requires respect. You will need to go in a group with enough scrambling experience and somebody who knows the route. Also carry a couple of mobile phones in waterproof pouches.

You will struggle to complete this in under two hours. But a fairly competent group should be done in under four. Come prepared for a truly special adventure.

 

Specificity

cape-epic-sprint-stage-3-treadmtb-1536x1024Most of us have seen the photo.
Kulhavy waiting for Sauser to win the sprint.
They knew what was required and they knew what it would take.
They had a plan that matched the desired outcome. They had planned this scenario.
How many of us have the same insight?
Or do we leave it up to the gods on the day and hope for the best?
But where to start?
I was very aware of where I was fitness wise last year. I knew I could only improve at a certain rate – at my gradient. There was no way I could do the volume of past. I had to constantly assess where I was. Running by myself without my ego and those of others as a distraction. Honesty was number one.  That took a very long time to figure out.
So to my training. 
This year is the first time that I have some understanding of what Dr Phil is on about. To be honest it took months until I could even maintain a HR under 140. Probably longer to be honest. But I knew it was the way forward and I persisted. In fact I got injured and it forced me to keep all running easy. Easy and short. And then often.
Slowly building.
And then it suddenly clicked like magic. My body understood.
And now I think I am back to some form of fitness.
Anyway I digress.
I am heading to the Transrockies in August.
When I accepted the entry I knew we were not going to go full blast. The crux would be to run 6 consecutive days at altitude on pretty well maintained trail by our standards.
I look at images of my heroes and what they write and I always try to understand why they are doing what they are doing.
Why, why, why?
The answer is always there if you just look.
When I want to up my insight on finances I seek the council of my financial adviser not my doctor or best friend. I read up what Buffet and the boys are doing and thinking. Specificity. 
I observe and adapt.
So how to prepare?
First of all my partner and I have a pretty good understanding of our strategy. We are there to have fun and not to win. We will have to keep race day egos in check.
The innevitable game of sandbag is being played. I am not sure who is playing a better hand. We will see.
I have no illusion that we are going to be doing a fair amount of walking. Hope Pass etc etc will not be running terrain for us.
So there has been no track for me.
My weeks have consisted of long runs back to back to back, to back. Teaching my body and mind how to recover.
Learning nutrition on and off the trail. Dialling it in so that there are no questions on race day (sorry week).
Altitude is the factor that is most difficult to prepare for. I don’t have enough time pre event to aclimatise properly but I will do what I can.
Most important will be looking after my partner. We can only go as fast as the slowest of us two. Whoever that is. And that role will swap during the week!
Efficiency is key. Not letting any one issue get to the point of becoming a problem.
That is the theory. I am sure we will hit obstacles and make mistakes along the way but at least I have a plan.
The lessons are the same though. Specificity is key to whatever we do.
I can not say it enough.

Wendy

You sat in the middle of the room. Surrounded by people. A guru to us all. Many considered you a dear friend. Wrapped in your blanket on this sunny day. There were too many. I stood outside. I felt something was wrong. Only got to touch your shoulder as you sat there princess like. All the fuss going on a round you for your 70th. It was a Saturday.

Later when all the cake had gone a handful stood around.

You got up from your room. The birds were calling you, you said.

And then you were gone. I heard the news on Monday. There would be no class, no follow on. No weekly gathering. Everything had changed. You were the glue to the whole gathering of a week  ago. And now the glue was gone.

I danced with the bears when they scattered you in Tokai.

I thank you for shining the light.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Hiddingh – Ascension Ravine

ha

Hiddingh Ravine, The Pulpit, Ascension Ravine as seen from Newlands

My only wish for Christmas was to eat some trifle.

And so my wife went to search the local Woolworths for a) a store with a manageable que and b) one that does in fact have stock of said trifle.

I promptly finished the “serves 4” on my own.

When asked which part of the trifle I like best I had no good answer. I like the different textures and how they feel and taste different. Too much of one thing is not that great in the end but it is the subtle combination that seals the deal. Pretty much like a good trail.

A seemingly endless grassy slope is fun in the same way that caramel is fun – in limited doses. Same with bush bashing through fynbos. Fun for a while. Think the biscuity pieces in above mentioned dessert. The short bit of getting lost: crunchy chocolate bits. Scrambles above a big drop: cream. Too much of a good thing ultimately does make my head spin. The girls in bikinis sunbathing at the top: hmm maybe that was a hallucination.

And so I went. In search of new land, in search of new adventure and in search of a new route.

I wake up every morning looking up at Fernwood Precipice and that impenetrable part of our mountain. The last time that I had this view I was preoccupied with harder objectives.

This is the world between GPS tracks and heatmap lines. Now my mix of motivation and difficulty is just right.

The recce was well on its way.

Finding the quickest way onto the contour path from Newlands Forest parking was easy. A quick navigation to find the right gully and it was upwards all the way. Nice pools in the stream bed. Followed by a steep slope led to the obvious slanting line of weakness. Then another traverse onto the edge of the buttress. The long slope up to the next rockband. I got lost a bit here. Did not trust my instincts but then found the delightful calf burner that would rival Kilian’s best fresh pow. In defence of this comparison fresh pow makes you work way too hard for vertical gain, you end up hot sweaty and out of breath. Fynbos is the same with the added delight of ending up with a whole herb garden in your shoes.

This is old school FKT or TM FKT X

From the Newlands Fire base gate to Maclear’s Beacon.

What time can you post?

Leave your comments below.

 

Hohenhort 15km

I recognised the anxiety straight away

The nervousness. The slight hurry in everybody’s step. The frantic darting looks for the loo. The anticipation. I was surprised to find them so strong, so overwhelming and I had not missed them in two years.

hohenhort-mapSunday morning I stood at the start of the Hohenhort 15km road race. In fact this was probably the last race I did many moons ago. How would it feel this time around?

The loop through the leafy suburb is a funny one, lots of hills and twists and turns. I started way back in the field. I was not here to race just to do a long run and see how things went.

At the end we had come full circle, back to where we came from under two hours ago and back to where I was years previously. What changed?

Certainly the streets were the same. Many fellow runners seemed the same (though I enjoyed running with three folks I don’t often have a chance to run with) it was I who had changed, I had come full circle.

shellI realised that this was more true than a linear progression we like to believe in. I was back where I had been before, well almost. But yet I felt different.

I had grown. I wondered about how many New Years resolutions had been swept under the bed already. How many dreams had been given up? Unreachable.

How it all seemed so impossible. Impossibly hard.

If these cycles were true then maybe our approach to achieving goals should be different from our linear approach. If the finish line is back at the start then what is the point.

Well that is the point exactly.

Maybe we can look rather at the next micro cycle and see “What I can I do today?”

“What can I achieve today, that maybe I could not do yesterday?” or

“Can I do something slightly better today than I did it yesterday?”

Because I know I will be back at the start tomorrow and the next day and the next. I can start again.

But start I must.

I am reading Chris Froome’s book right now. The hours and days he spends by himself turning the wheels. Again and again. Each one building. Unraveling the carpet until it gets easier. Until it builds momentum.

But starting the momentum going is not easy.

Our brain wants short term gain for long time sacrifice. We need the equation to go the other way around. This is true in all areas in our lives. Diet, exercise, career, self discipline.

Sunday I ducked under the tape in the finish chute before we got to the coke. I felt no need to replenish what I had not lost.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Theodore Roosevelt 

I actually don’t need that much when I know I am coming back to the start. Day after day, week after week, 23 day cycle after 23 day cycle.

(A couple of nights before I did not sleep very well. It was full moon. Lunatic.)

The transition to the New Year has had its bumps. Too much compromise, too much eating other people’s snacks.

“It is not what we eat between Christmas and New Year that makes us, it is what we eat between New Year and Christmas that makes the difference.” said my wife. 

And so I set myself a challenge of 33 days to eat clean. 100% clean. No deviation. I falter, I start again. Simple. I am keeping a log. It is not the only thing I am keeping a log of.

A record, a record of honesty. Of where I am. When I know where I am I can build. Slowly.

Slowly build momentum.

Join me.

 

 

Where is scene 2 in the rooi koppies?

I switched off my GPS.

It would not lead me to where I wanted to go.

Speed bumps and traffic, high double fences mark the privileged.

I drive on. I will know it when I get there.

The road deteriorates to a dust track. The privileged do not travel here.

I skirt Wonderkop and there it is. smaller than I thought. nothing to indicate that 34 died here. There seems to be no time to contemplate that here. dwarfed by the towering. Lonmin.

On the outskirts of everything there are the Rooikoppies. The white crosses have been removed. ground burnt. soil hard. I drive on and as suddenly I cross the Hartebeespoort dam wall to another world.

Swanlake, Aloes, Diepsloot, Sandton, Veranda Panda swirl in my head. What reality am I returning to?

(Originally written a year ago, now is as good a time as any to post it.)

My parents did not name me Leo. I chose it.

Well actually that is not quite true. It is short for my Christian name which none of my friends could pronounce. A good friend once introduced me to people in California and turned to me “do you mind if we call you Leo?”

I just nodded.

And so my life was changed. For the first time in my life I managed to avoid that awkward moment just after introductions when you have to say your name three times so that strangers can make sense. In the end everybody nods in embarrassment and the conversation moves swiftly along. Or worse it dies right there.

This got me thinking about names and the stories they could tell.

tm-scan

Table Mountain at last light

In rock climbing the first person to climb a particular route gives the route a name and proposes a grade. The second climbing route I did was Right Face named so after the obvious way up the right hand side of Table Mountain. Obviously there is a Left Face too. Our aim was to one day progress to climbing on Africa Ledge. Named after the shape of Africa in the ravine.

There is obviously Africa Face, Africa Cracks, Africa Nose, Africa Crag etc  As we progressed through the grades so we progressed through these names.

dsc01825

El Capitan – The Nose is the shadow line up the centre

Overseas I climbed in Yosemite. What a more imposing name than El Capitan? The first route up the captain: The Nose. The obvious line up the prow in the middle of the imposing wall. Every party climbing the route finds their own adventure, finds themselves in a way and finds their story. Stories to be told around the campfire later.

I travelled to Utah to hang out with cowboys and climb this tower called the North Sixshooter. Utah desert is famous for crack climbing. The sandstone walls are completely void of features so you have to stuff your hands, finger, arms, anything that goes into the crack and hope that it sticks. It is absolute war. A single rope length can take every bit of energy that you have. There is a route there called The Jane Fonda Full Body Workout. Go figure.

As I progressed I wanted to open routes too.

I went back to Africa Ledge and made Africa Lunch. You see it was on Africa Ledge and my friend Tinie made Out to Lunch the same day.

resized-mary-quake

Mary on the not so scary first pitch of Quake

On Fountain ledge there is Magnetic wall and this little wavy route called Quiver. We did a very very scary route called Quake. The nasty jumble of sharp rocks at the base will chop you in half if you fall off in the wrong place. There is also a video game where you kill lots of bloody monsters by the same name. Hence I thought it was appropriate.

I had just been dumped by a long time girlfriend. We were climbing on the Lower Arrow Buttresses. You have Robin Hood, etc… I made Shot to the Heart. Not a route of great beauty but necessity.

We once again progressed and moved to the bigger cliffs.

Yellowwood Amphitheatre in Du Toits Kloof had Armageddon Time which was the bench mark route and the 1977 classic Time Warp meandering up the centre of the wall. We put up Prime Time up the middle of the wall.

Somehow I think a name gives a route a certain destiny. It gives it a certain place in history and that is where the story starts. Same with people. If we don’t like a name then we should be able to change it. Change it so that we can tell the story we want the world to hear. Tell our story.

milner-3

Automatic for the People

We developed this cliff in the heart some enchanted mountains. The first route to be put up here is called Automatic for the People. You can fall off the very first move and off the very last. In between are 250m of overhanging climbing that are hard and world class. So not automatic at all and certainly not for the people. But the theme was set to REM songs. What followed was The Great Beyond and finally we brought some Lou Reed into the mix. After 11 weekends of preparing the route we put up Magic and Loss. For every bit of magic there is an equal bit of loss. Andrew prepared a route but broke his leg before he could climb it. He called it “Bury my heart at wounded knee”. We got permission to open the route as Andrew would be off climbing for the whole season and I suggested “White men can’t jump”.

So if your story is not to the way you want the world to hear you then maybe start again.

My name is Leo.

Thank you.