Coming back to the real world after being in what was essentially semi-solitary confinement for 5 days was weird. We were all in a sort of daze at the cars and shops and people of Swapkomund. Having a proper shower was the best thing ever. We were all completely exhausted. That night we went out for dinner with the crew and then slept, before getting up and attempting to sort out our filthy, sand and mud covered kit. I would like to apologise to whoever had to clean those rooms. After stuffing it all into bags the best we could, we headed out for the tiny airport and caught a (very delayed) flight to Cape Town, where we would spend one night before attempting the big 3 - Signal Hill , Lions Head and Table Mountain
The idea was to see how long it would take us to get up and over all 3 on foot (spoiler - it took me over 5 hours). This time, the victims were just Darren and myself - Dani and Jim made the genius decision to take the time to recover, and handsome Pete had to head home - so apologies for all the rubbish pictures. My personal photographer had better things to do. The idea was to get up early and start the run and then head straight to the airport to catch our flight back to the UK where we would have 6 hours to wait before out flight to Panama. In that time we would have to swap out kit - we had left our Panama kit in the back of Jim’s car at Heathrow. We were going to try and dump the Namibia stuff we wouldn’t use, and pack the essential Panama kit we needed. Hectic right?
The thing about air travel is that unless you are travelling in business it is NOT conducive to recovery after these huge runs. Every flight is painful. Trying to sleep while your legs ached and pinged, worrying you would not get enough rest to be able to attempt what was coming next. I would go as far as to say the flights were actually part of the challenge. Especially when they hadn’t changed the film choices.
At dinner the night before the run, we discussed the route. We were to head up and over Signal Hill, up and over Lions Head and then up to the top of Table Mountain and get the cable car down. It was over 6,000ft of elevation across 9 miles on very tired legs, up hills with my favourite things in the world on them - ridges. Ridges and drops. I tried to block out this thought by drinking wine. That was the sensible thing to do.
The next morning Darren and I set off after breakfast, along roads and straight up the worlds longest steps. They weren’t ACTUALLY the worlds longest, they just felt like it.
And so it begins……again……
I was already NOT HAVING NICE TIME. There are no proper paths up Signal Hill - you sort of scrabble up and I didn’t like it at all. To be frank, Signal Hill is a bit of a shit show on the edge of Cape Town. There are NO tourists there, loads of littler and it feel like the sort of place I used to go and drink Strongbow when I was 13. I was tired and scared of the ledges that were up ahead of me. Once at the top, there was an amazing view of Lions Head and Table Mountain. As beautiful as it was, I was still bricking it. I decided there and then I was not going to get too the top of Lions Head - I would be too scared and it wasn’t worth it. It’s important to know your limits, and and I know that getting up there would mean nothing to me except a possible panic attack and having to be rescued. I would go as far as I could, and then loop round and come down. I didn’t need to stand on the top of a tiny rock to prove anything to anyone.
Signal Hill from the bottom of Lions Head
Lions Head and table mountain in the background
It was a beautiful day with amazing visibility, and Darren was loving it - he’s a big fan of rocks and ridges - and this just made me feel even more shit. Why couldn’t I be more like him? Why did I have such an issue with drops and ledges? I felt like a total idiot. I felt, once again, like I wasn’t good enough. I let Darren run on ahead of me like a fell goat, and I plodded on feeling like Mr Blobby at a Crossfit session. I tried to take in the views, but at the back of my mind I felt like a bit of a failure.
Camps Bay from halfway up Lions Head
Some nice, “technical” trail…..
The trail up to Lions Head starts very friendly and lovely, but soon turns into craggy rocks on the edge of a big hill. There are people coming down towards you as you go up - I hate this - and so I focused on the floor. I imagined all the tourists laughing at me huffing my way up in running gear. Every now and again, I would look up at the view whilst leaning on the solid side of the mountain to avoid the possibility I might throw myself off. It was both mesmerising and terrifying. I probably got about 500 ft from the summit before I stopped and hid on a ledge for a bit. I waited for Darren to come back down for 10 mins, but them decided to make my own way down and head up Table Moutain. I had stupidly run out of water and it was very hot.
Views alright though……
The trot down was a lot easier - the paths were wider and they were runable but my legs were shattered and running hurt. How the hell was I supposed to do another 300km on them? At the bottom of Lions Head, I crossed the road the saw there was a tap that was dripping water, so I filled up my flasks and started to try and find the trail up Table Mountain. At this point it all looked a bit like the New Forest, and after a few false starts I found the trail that would take me up - and joy of joys it was ALL steps. ARGH! STEPS!
Table Mountain trails
I was totally on my own now, and I felt better for it - I could take it at my pace and get on with what I needed to do - and that was get to the top. I could be as slow as I wanted, as long as I got there. This is a reminder that you are the one that judges yourself, and yes it is easier to do that negatively when other people are there, but ultimately you have control over your thoughts. The flora and vegetation were beautiful and I decided to try and enjoy it - and for a little while, I did.
There were some amazing bushes and flowers and hardly anyone else on the trail. I met a good few lizard friends, some of them bright green and red, some of them blending into the rocks. The path up to Table Mountain is steep - steeper than Snowdon - but loops round, with little waterfalls everywhere and places to sit for a minute. And then the sheer drops start.
Spot the lizard…..
Regular readers of this blog (all 3 of you - hi mum!) will know that I have this stupid fear of heights and drops. I have tried and tried to get over it - most notably last year when I had a near meltdown on Arran. I don’t know what it is about them, but I am terrified of big drops, narrow paths and cliff edges. I feel like I am going to either fall down or throw myself off. I have to use my hands to guide me, stare at the rock face and not look down. It’s ridiculous. The thing about being halfway up Table Mountain when the ridges start is you can’t do anything about it - you either get to the top or you go back. And I was NOT going back. Because that would mean looking down. The funny thing is, looking back on this as I write it, the vertical scrambles seemed like the hardest thing the world. They were, on reflection, simply a tasty warm up for what was to come in Panama.
Some of the ascent featured vertical scrambles up rocks - I used my bands and tried to control my breathing and be nice to all the people coming down the other way. I tried to make funny jokes with them, but my voice sounded weird. I was hungry now - really hungry - and because it had been billed as 9 miles I hadn’t bought anything to eat with me. The hunger and anxiety bought on the shakes. I’m a fucking idiot sometimes. As I turned a corner I could see the cloud was coming in - sweeping the top of the mountain, and I was headed straight for it. Suddenly I heard my name being shouted from behind me - it was Darren. I could have sworn he was in front of me?? He had been doing parkour or some shit at the top of Lions Head, and so WAS actually behind me and he had FOOD! He stopped and checked to see if I was ok (I wasn’t), chucking me a few shot bloks and a bit of cliff bar (noms) and then trotted off ahead of me - like the fell goat he is. In my head I had thought I was near the summit - turns out I was still an hour away and now I couldn’t see the summit. All I could see was cloud.
Staring up into hell…..
I dealt with the next couple of miles by counting steps, resting when I could and trying to stay calm. I wished I had bought my headphones. Eventually, the vertical scrambles stopped and I realised I was at the top. In the cloud. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and was convinced I was going to fall off the edge. The top of Table Moutain is of course, flat. I was not going to fall anywhere. There was no edge.
Finally at the top.
Cloud hiding the imaginary edge
I followed the path until suddenly the cloud completely cleared and I could see the cafe and cable car at the top. Thank fuck. I had done it - I was there. I met up with Darren and went straight to the cafe for a rehydration beer. I met some of the locals who live at the top of the mountain - the dassies - fun little animals that look like a cross between a gerbil and a beaver. They lounge around on the rocks at the top. They are funny. They are brave.
View from the top…..
Cable car down……
What is also funny (or not) is the way I processed what I had just done. I didn’t congratulate myself for getting there, I beat my self up for how long it had taken me and what a total wimp I had been. I managed to take some photos from the top, and did a little ‘positive vibes’ video for the Bad Boy Running lot, but ultimately, my overall feeling was disappointment in myself for not having done it better. I was tired, physically and mentally from the previous week, and possibly (no shit) irrational at this point, but I just felt massively disappointed with myself. I still sort of do.
We got the cable car down and met up with Jim and Dani who droves us and our sweaty, disgusting selves to the airport. We were due to fly from Cape Town back to Heathrow and I need a shower. BUT there was a water shortage in Cape Town so all the showers at the airport were switched off. The thought of sitting on plane for 10 hours in this state made me want to cry. But superhero Jim to the rescue - he managed to smuggle both me and Darren into the business class lounge for showers and food.
So that was it - goodbye South Africa. Man Vs Table Mountain is definitely worth doing if you like that wort of thing. Believe me, I will go back and do it again. I will keep doing the things that scare me until they don’t scare me anymore. That might mean I am doing them forever, but so be it.
The plane arrives and I sleep for the full 10 hours home. Which is good because shit is about to get really, really real.
Pretending to have a nice time at the top of Table Mountain.