As I write this, I'm sitting atop Lion's Head looking off into the clouds; the city of Capetown sprawling out below me, houses dotting the landscape like a thousand pebbles. Table Mountain, rising before me is veiled in what the locals like to call the "tablecloth." To me, the clouds moving over the giant's spine look more like a giant waterfall, if not for the fluid appearance of the clouds, but because of the sheer pace with which they move.
Matt and I have been up since about 3 a.m., rising well before the sun so we could meet it on an even playing field. We grabbed a cab and embarked on our treacherous ascent beneath the glow of a waning moon. Opening our cab door, we hoisted our backpacks onto our shoulders and paid the cab fare before stepping with trepidation into the blackness before us. As we start to walk, our fears fade away with the sound of our first steps.
Reaching a cliff, we paused for the first time to stare out at the warm yellow glow of Capetown still asleep.
Packing up our cameras, we clicked our headlamps back on and ventured farther along the path until we reached a fork: left, a gradual incline; right, straight up. We go right.
"Are you sure you want go this way?" I ask, trying to gulp back the fear growing inside me. Before me a ladder, perched on the edge of the cliffs, leads up, up, up, the coastal landscape we had just left behind turning to craggy ledges and layers of cube-like rocks pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. The farther we walk, the farther we seem to be heading away from the safety and comfort of the city.
But we don't stop.
We cut across a high cliff, over more ledges and up staples that have been jammed into the rock face. Climbing higher offers little protection. The roar of the wind only heightens my anxiety as I scramble up ladders, white-knuckled, and make my way toward the heavens. Stairs appear, cut into the rock, and I relax knowing that we're almost there.
Then it appears, a sweeping panorama of deep cerulean blue and vibrant apricot as we reach the summit, and it's like we're discovering this for the first time.
Where, just an hour before, there had been gravel roads and dense fynbos, now there was nothing but sky. The whole of Capetown was laid out like a carpet beneath our feet, the rocky ledges and steep inclines surrounding Matt and myself acting as a kind of protection for this precious space. No one speaks. Except for two young Finnish exchange students, there is no one but us on the top of Lion's Head.
While I exult in the natural beauty of the scene, I exult furthermore in the gifts my first morning in Capetown has already given me — the gift of solitude. The gift of achievement. The gift of space. The gift of discovery.
FANCY A TRIP TO LION'S HEAD? HERE'S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IN A NUTSHELL.
How to get there: Grab a cab or take a car toward the mountains and follow the signs for Lion's Head and Signal Hill. The entrance to the Lion's Head hiking trail can be found on Signal Hill Road at the base of Forestry Road. If you're coming from the center of Capetown, drive up toward the mountain in the direction of Camps Bay via Kloof Nek Road.
When to go: Start your hike about an hour-and-a-half before sunrise or sunset. Depending on your physical ability, the hike will take at least an hour each way. Budgeting enough time beforehand will allow you to summit the mountain as the sun rises or falls, affording you some of the most breathtaking views of the city below. Check the weather in advance as Capetown is known for its temperamental conditions. Another popular time to go is during the full moon.
What to expect: The terrain consists of gravel road, rocky single track and a steep section that has ladders and chains to assist your ascent/ descent. The hike gets steeper at the top.
What to take: There's no water along the way, so don't even think about climbing without carrying some liquids with you. Headlamps are a must if you're considering a sunrise or sunset hike as well as a light jacket or sweatshirt (it gets cold up at the top!). There's no need for hiking shoes, but make sure to wear a comfortable pair of sneakers or walking shoes as the hike can take three hours or more round-trip. Sunscreen, a snack and, of course, a camera are also recommended.