Through the Valley of the Red Gods (Part 1)

I like waking up to music instead of the loud screeching repetitive beep-beep-beep of a programmed alarm. My particular wake up ear juice for this morning is Labyrinth’s – Express yourself, “whatever you do, do it good…” I like that song. The kettle has boiled, no time for a porcelain cup from the cupboard this morning, traffic is going to be a bummer. Yet nothing, not even bumper to bumper traffic, can spoil this day for me as I am on my way to go up Table Mountain through the Valley of the Red Gods. This trail is without a doubt my favorite half day hike on Table Mountain and you are about to find out why in this three part post.

So the coffee go’s in the takeaway cup and my day pack in the boot, shoes, socks and a few provisions, such a simple pack for a day out in the wild. The only regret of the day is joining the rat race maze on the highway, a necessary evil. The morning air is crisp with a slight breeze, the sky seems almost maya blue without a cloud in the sky. Once I reach Cape Town all traffic dissipates as suits scatter in every direction except the one I’m heading in. The tree leaves on Buitengracht seem to be rustling with a bit more enthusiasm than the ones at home, but nothing can stop me from parking, hiking, loving!

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I park my car between five others at the first parking on the right, below the pump house off Table Mountain road. On with the socks and shoes, bleep bleep, this is Pipe Track. Built in 1887 the pipeline, which Pipe track owes its name to, conducts water from two of the dams on Table Mountain and to the filtration plant that you pass along the way. The trail is fairly domesticated as it sees a lot of traffic in the form of residents walking their dogs as well as trail runners. Some loose rocks, a view steps and lots of ups and downs over eroded roots, but the pay off is grand.

The route teases you with scenic windows of Clifton and the Atlantic Ocean. A few steps up and she opens up to the right with Crystal clear indigo water lining white sandy beaches. Sure the beach is a few kilometers away, but what a sight. There is one particular window that I always stop at to look through. The black water pipes run continuously next to the path, under, over, right and left. On this particular window you take a bend to the left and then to the right, but the pipe continues straight breaking out from the side wall of the path and running over the ravine on man built pillars. About halfway through the bend the window revels itself. Trees to the right and left overhanging the elevated pipe, behind it the Atlantic and Clifton beach, the first of many beautiful views.

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The first segment is bendy almost resembling a roller coaster as you walk along the North Western ridge of the mountain. Up, down, right, left, another up in a right and then left again. It then opens up slightly and the trail rolls into a steady decline before heading into , what I like to call the “tunnel bushes” Tall fynbos brush up to ten feet high surround you on both sides of the path. The bushes curve out and over around the trail only to reach back to each other overhead never separating more than a meter. On average the temperature is about 3°C hotter as the air is entrapped in the tunnel like path. Going through “tunnel bushes” you realise that you are moving further away from the city and into the wild. Sirens and horns are replaced by bird calls, buzzing from flying insects and the occasional rustle in the bushes from lizards retreating off the trail.

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Shortly after “tunnel bushes” you reach the first sign indicating your on a mapped trail, this is also the marker for the left turn up Diagonal. Diagonal is self explanatory: a slanting straight pattern or line. In this case its a pattern, more specifically zigzag, like writing a few w’s in a vertical line. The decent is sharp and repetitive, but rewarding. While on Pipe Track most of the scenery is hidden by thick vegetation, while on Diagonal the Atlantic is at your back and every horizontal line hands you the opportunity to fantasize about taking a dip. Diagonal makes you realise your on a hike, this is where it starts getting hot and sweaty. Two thirds up Diagonal you reach the first scramble. Absolutely no exposure, but it needs a think through for hand and foot placing. The scramble is followed by a short stretch through thick vegetation. Diagonal has way less traffic than Pipe Track and this is evident as the path hardly seems disturbed. This also means that some rocks and foot placings may be loose, so be careful.

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Once up Diagonal you reach the cave, well they call it a cave, but its more of an overhang. According to sources the “cave” was the hideout of a deserter from the HMS Sceptre which made its way into Table Bay in 1799. There’s no real evidence left in the overhang as the cave is full of lame inscriptions from passers by such as “Donny was here” The overhang is a few meters off the path and still provides a cool place to have a muffin and a sip of energy drink. This is the suburb place to fuel up not only for the shade, but just around the corner waits the ascent up Barrier Ravine.

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