I wouldn’t say that I led us astray on purpose, but I’m sure that, in the realm of Freudian slips, I directed us to Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle winery instead of the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve (Land of Mountainous Mountains) in Franschhoek, accidentally, unconsciously. Not because I wasn’t up to hill training, and not because I like wine. But because I just like vineyards. Obviously.
The thing about fathers, though, is that they’re very forgiving, and very quick to turn the wheel back en route to the intended daunting destination. They’re helpful like that.
For my father and I, one of the best things in the world is to arrive at a new mountain – the quieter the better – with hours ahead to explore. (Seriously, I do like hills.)
We’ve become better at this hiking thing with age. When before we would take nothing but our uncharged cellphones and the car key, these days we carry backpacks packed with cameras, lenses, sunglasses, reading glasses, prescription glasses, powerbanks, toilet paper, pepper spray, hot water in a flask with tea and coffee in a wee Tupperware container, xylitol, spoons, mugs… It’s lighter than it sounds. And more fun.
Perhaps the most important item among these, though, is The Hanky.
I only overcame a nose-blowing fear in my mid-20s, so how quickly I (now 30) took to The Hanky is testament to the dire need for this underrated throwback when hit with icy air while pacing up or down a rugged slope. The need hits me in the ocean too. It’s the cold air, we think, but it seems it’s also just us. I have never spotted another male or female on a mountain with a Hanky. Perhaps they’re going the tissue route, but I doubt it. Mountain air calls for something much tougher.
As we tested our own robustness along the Uitkyk trail in the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve (not a vine in sight), a stream flowed like fine wine alongside us, fair ice patted the wooden railings, and the path wound its way to a lookout so grand that it called for the ceremonious opening of the flask.
As we sat on jagged rocks poking into our (my) fleshy rears, our legs dangling over the edge, Father pulled out another throwback to a time past – The Map. What a peculiarity, what a rarity, to have paper between the fingers, eyes scanning the little plan of the rather immense scene before us. And what a scene it was…
To the right lay mountain edge after mountain edge, like a row of hardbacks on a bookshelf, each one drawn out a little further than the one before. To the left was a dam, down in the valley, a shadow of its former self but still casting the reflection of the towering peak beside it, like a mirage calling us to explore never-ending hills. Between left and right, in the bright blue sky, a tiny swallow dive-bombed two crows three times its size.
Time has changed something else too, I noticed… not the mountains themselves, but how we see them. I can’t speak for Father; he has always been a mountain creature, his fire only burns more fiercely now. As a little-legged tomboy, I simply followed Dad, like a pup in a wolf pack. Now, the fire is something that is very much my own.
Even when I try steer us to the land of deep red grapes and cheese platters.
Even though it means carrying damp polka-dot or tartan cloths around.
And especially because of the very real way the mountain brings me back to nature, back to basics, and back to myself, with each hike.
For Your Information
Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve is part of the UNESCO declared Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve. Situated in the Franschhoek Mountains, the reserve offers spectacular views of the Franschhoek Valley, diverse plant life and over 30km of safe, well-maintained hiking trails (ranging from 2 hour walks to day hikes).
Discover more about the trail we took here.