The 13 Peaks Challenge – a year-long adventure

At some stage during the course of 2020, I got the idea in my head to tackle the 13 Peaks Challenge. Finding a trail partner wasn’t that easy. My usual victims – The Significant Other, Firstborn Daughter and Her Boyfriend – each gave me a non-negotiable NO.

I had been running/walking/hiking with a generally agreeable and willing friend, though, and the response from her was an immediate, if not naive, yes.

We were going to do this thing over three days, we decided. 13 Peaks, spread over 107 km of Cape mountains in three days on barely any training.

We set aside a long weekend, packed our bags and set off early one hot December morning.

18 December 2020

We tagged the first peak, Signal Hill, within minutes. This was going to be a piece of cake!

Signal Hill took a few minutes to tag. The sun was shining golden just above the horizon and the day showed great promise.

This feels like a bit of a cheat, as we simply parked our cars in the parking lot walked towards the beacon and tagged it. Then we headed towards Lion’s Head, a peak we had climbed many times before and posed no threat at all.

Despite it being quite early in the morning, only around 6:30 or so, the sun was already baking down and the trail was jammed with people heading up and coming down. More troubling than the heat and the many hikers, though, were the hot, thirsty dogs on the trail. There were two Weimeranas in particular, both wearing muzzles, and struggling in the heat. There is no water on Lion’s Head, ever, and their owners clearly had not considered bringing water for them.

Moving swiftly towards Lion’s Head.
Still in the shadow of the mountain, we had no idea what the sun had in store for us.
There were just too many people and too many hot, struggling dogs heading up and down the trail on Lion’s Head.

It wasn’t only the dogs who were suffering, though, my intrepid adventurer was head down, elbows on knees and taking strain by the time we reached the beacon.

A beacon tagged and one 13 Peaks adventurer feeling the sting of the trail and the heat.
Views and golden light and a soft breeze … we were going to do this thing!

We took our time recovering and taking in the view before we headed back down Lion’s Head and onwards towards Platteklip, which was to take us to our next peak, Maclear’s Beacon. We were feeling pretty sprightly after our little rest, and the downhill boosted our confidence.

As soon as we started heading up Kloof Nek towards Tafelberg Road and Platteklip, though, the heat slowed us down again. We decided to detour past the restrooms and snack shop at the Lower Cable Station before taking the trail up towards the Contour Path and then to Platteklip.

Heading up to the Contour Path from the Lower Cable Station.
Are we having fun yet? Absolutely we are!

As with Lion’s Head, Platteklip was a trail I had done many times before, and didn’t for a moment consider that I might find it a bit of a challenge that morning. How wrong one could be! It was a sufferfest of note! We staggered up, one heavy step after another, and stopped many times along the way. Ah, the humiliation of people passing us, telling us that we’re doing well and that we were almost there! People we would normally have left in our dust – couples with small children scurried past us! One older gentleman hiking up the mountain with his granddaughter looked at me sympathetically as he puffed for breath and mopped the sweat from his face. ‘This is a young person’s game,’ he said to me. ‘Not that I’m saying you’re old, of course!’ And then, before I could muster the air or energy to explain that I hadn’t just started a few hundred metres down the trail, in the parking lot, as he had, he moved along, not to be seen again. I sometimes feel I should carry a sign saying ‘I’m not unfit, I’ve just already done a bunch of other stuff!’ or one that says ‘Yes, I know I can do it,’ or ‘No, I know I’m not almost there!’

We were taking so much strain that we actually sat down a few times on the way up – I even lay down in a patch of shade!

Lying down for a little think halfway up Platteklip. Don’t be fooled by the smile – I’m dying!
At least we managed to look cheerful in between wiping sweat from our eyes.

During one of our rest stops we considered the option of just taking the cable car back down and giving up on the day’s planned route.

We eventually got to the top and, before heading to Maclear’s Beacon, made a detour to the restaurant for some refreshment and a little rethink.

A couple with their children spotted us at the restaurant. ‘Aaah! You made it!’ they exclaimed. Will this humiliation never end?! Of course we were going to make it! We were always going to make it!

Sitting at the table under the umbrella and looking out across the mountain range, our final peak for the day looked very, very far away. 30 km along a mountain trail suddenly looked a whole lot more daunting than it had when it was still just an idea.

Hot, sweaty and already sunburnt, we revived ourselves at the Table Mountain Restaurant before finding Maclear’s Beacon.

But neither of us is a quitter. We picked ourselves up and headed towards Maclear’s Beacon. The first few steps away from the restaurant had us rethink our resolve again – the slight incline felt impossibly steep!

It’s amazing how steep a slight incline can feel!

We snapped our pics at not-Maclear’s Beacon before arriving at the actual Maclear’s Beacon. It was the first time we had tagged the wrong beacon, but it would not be the last time. In fact, first tagging the wrong beacon became kind of a habit – our trademark move!

Happily posing at Maclear’s Beacon Not.
Maclear’s Beacon tagged. Do we look like women who are going to make it to the end of the planned trail?

Emboldened by having tagged three peaks so far, we set off in search of Grootkop. It seemed to be always just around the next corner. Every little rise in the distance promised to be Grootkop. For something named Grootkop, it certainly knew how to hide itself!

A few hot kilometres after tagging Maclear’s Beacon, and beginning to feel that the search for Grootkop might be futile, we took a few moments to enjoy a snack and take in the view of the Hely Hutchinson Dam.
Views and views for days! Hours earlier we had started on Signal Hill, far in the distance, then scaled Lion’s Head and Platteklip before sitting at the restaurant, just visible on the top left corner of the table top. And here we were, kilometres away from them all, amazed that we had made it.
Still searching for that big head – once we came down from tagging Grootkop, and walked around it, the reason for its name became apparent. Do you see the face?

Marching towards the sunset in silence, we were both so in the zone we almost missed the sneaky little trail leading to Judas Peak. It was a short walk off the trail to get there, and then a scramble to get to the beacon. 

By the time we reached Judas Peak, though, a strong wind had come up. The  scramble felt a bit precarious, and it felt as if we were going to be blown off the peak. But that was it: the last peak for the day. Homeward bound! Home was via Llandudno Ridge, a long, precariously steep descent that we slipped and slid and scrambled along as the sun set, the temperature dropped and the wind came up.

Llandudno Ridge, the last bit of trail to cover before we would reach Suikerbossie and our ride home. It would be almost dark by the time we reached the bottom of this long, long, long descent.

Not only was there no way that we were going to tag Little Lion’s Head and Suther Peak that day, but murmurings about the sanity of attempting to finish our challenge in three days could be heard above the whistling wind.

There was confusion about the trail until the end, but once we found the correct path, I was so excited to have reached the end of the day, I found the energy to bound down the slope into the parking lot where Firstborn Daughter and Her Boyfriend had been waiting in the car for a few hours. But they had snacks and icy cold drinks and we had beaten down 31 km of trail, and climbed 1 857 m in elevation gain. We were sunburnt and tired but pretty pleased with the day – pleased enough not to spare a thought for the two peaks we had meant to include in the day’s challenge. I glanced at Little Lion’s head as we drove home, a silhouette etched against the evening sky, being saved for another day.

At around 10 pm I texted my fellow challenger: ‘Thoughts about tomorrow/the weekend/the rest of our lives?’

My friend was in bed. She was sunburnt, her feet were sore, she needed a week off before we tackled the trail again. It seemed a sensible thing to do, a decision of which Firstborn Daughter would heartily approve.

6 November 2021

Our week of reflection morphed into someone having an ear infection, then a family member contracting Covid, then a running injury, family issues, weather issues, a stomach bug, studies, work, kids, more Covid, more running injuries, more Covid, and Covid again. We managed some runs and some hikes, but one week turned into another, and the months passed without us picking up the challenge where we left off.

Almost a year after our first excursion we finally got back on the trail to tag the next two peaks: Klein Leeukoppie and Suther Peak, or, as it’s more commonly known, Suffer Peak.

This was meant to be just a quick one: just two peaks, both smaller than Lion’s Head. After all the hikes we had done this year, we’d get these two peaks done in time for lunch!

With watsonias in bloom and the sun just touching the top of Little Lion’s Head, the day looked set to being a breeze.
Klein Leeukoppie (Little Lion’s Head) done!

The scramble at the top was unexpectedly tricky and, when we arrived, a few people were standing there, trying to figure out how it had to be done, and whether they were even at the right place at all. I ploughed ahead, deciding it couldn’t be that hard, and my friend followed close behind. I heard one of the other hikers say ‘We’ll see if she gets up and then we’ll try it …,’ which made me laugh – they were a bunch of fit, brauny guys waiting to see if the little old lady made it up first.

Peak one of the day, peak six of the challenge. We were styling!

Onwards to Suther Peak – we could almost smell the coffee. 

Then things started looking a little bit dodgy …

The trail back off the peak seemed a little bit tricky – even trickier than the way up, and the path wasn’t always entirely clear.

Instead of leading us back down the peak the same way we came up, the map led us down the back of the peak. It didn’t seem right – it was way too wet and slippery, unclear and generally too tricky a path to include in a route for trail runners, some of whom would be speeding through the trail at night. I was sure I had been told to go back the way we came, but getting back up looked way harder than just pushing on.

Then, in the distance, was this rude sign … 

This couldn’t be real. How could half the mountain be private property? And why would there be armed guards? Guarding what?

We decided it couldn’t possibly apply to us – we were on a mission! We were following the official 13 Peaks map, and there was no way we were being led astray. Whoever owns the land must know that 13 Peaks challengers were coming through here. So we pushed on. Well, after veering off in different directions, trying to find a clear path, we pushed on.

The sign at the bottom was even more aggressive, and yet another sign promised that they would set the dogs on us. Not only were the signs quite adamant that we wouldn’t pass, but some people with an insane amount of money had  gone and built mansions right in the way of our trail,  blocking our access to Suther Peak.They may as well have had Gandalf standing in front of us, his grey hair blowing in the wind, shouting ‘You will not pass!’

We walked up and down, trying every possible way, retraced our steps, even though that meant walking uphill again – and we definitely didn’t need any extra uphill. 

There were cameras everywhere, tracking our every move, and so it wasn’t long before a security guard turned up in his car, and then another in a dune buggy. They were unarmed, we think, and there were no rottweilers. But they did very helpfully send us in the wrong direction.

This man seemed to have some idea of what we were talking about, and told us we definitely had to turn right and keep going. The beach was that way. The app told us we were off route. Completely off route. I tried contacting a friend to ask advice and then lost signal before I could listen to his voice note. It wouldn’t really have helped, though, as our way back onto the route was blocked by fences, guards, dogs, houses and threatening signposts.

Instead of a short trip across a bit of beach, we headed down, down, down towards Sandy Bay, which, from what we could see, clearly had no trail  of any kind, let alone a trail up to Suther Peak. There wasn’t even sand down there, just rocks. A little break was taken, a narrow, overgrown trail spotted, and off we went. Puffies and poachers be damned. We couldn’t spend the rest of our days on that rocky trail to nowhere, and Suther Peak would be tagged.

Rerouting ourselves along a little path that seemed to head in the direction of Suther Peak. And, hands on hips … a clear sign of impending despair! The suffering had begun way before we even reached the peak.

Somehow, after a long, hot stomp up and down the dunes, trudging through soft sand, we found our way to the Suther Peak trail. Halfway up we got to look back at the damned gated community, guarded by men with dogs, guns and dune buggies, which had blocked our way and had sent us on a ridiculous detour.

The correct route would have been to follow the same trail back down Little Lion’s head, all the way to the bottom, and then to have turned right onto the jeep track that would have taken us to a boom. Beyond the boom lay the correct route to Suther Peak.

The little stretch of beach we were meant to cross to get to the Suther Peak trail is on the right. Instead, we followed the path behind the trees to the left of the group of houses. It took us all the way down and then we climbed all the way back up that steep sand dune before getting onto the trail that would lead us up to the actual trail!

Hands on hips made way for head in hands and thoughts of maybe leaving Suther Peak for another day. Suffer Peak was living up to its name.

It was time for a little sit-down.

We decided to take our coffee break right there, in the middle of the trail while considering our options. Strong, lithe young hikers cheerfully leaped through our breakfast rock and ran up the trail … almost as if they had not just been lost in a desert wasteland, or had risked being shot by armed guards, or devoured by vicious dogs.

With fresh resolve, we set off to conquer Suther Peak … in between a few rest stops.

We may have taken some strain but it was very pretty out there.
There’s always time and energy to muck about. We stopped at Suther Not-The-Peak to take some photos, just because it was pretty. It gave some false hope to hikers behind us, though, who thought our exuberance had to do with reaching the top.
The harder the climb the better the view: Little Lion’s Head in the foreground, and its twin, Lion’s Head, a mirror image in the distance.
Suther Peak!

Once we had tagged Suther Peak, at last, we relaxed a bit and took the time to look at how far we had come, not only on that day, but on our previous mission as well. Despite our detour, we still had plenty of time left in the day to do all those other things we had planned to do in the afternoon.

All we had to do was head down the mountain, walk through Hout Bay and get into our cars. The day was not yet lost.

But do things ever go as planned?

Our map for the day was dodgy as hell, and our Little Lion’s Head descent down the wrong side into private property, and our Sandy Bay detour were not the last of our problems.

Instead of simply strolling into Hout Bay and walking along boring but safe and predictable tarred roads, we ended up bundu bashing for what felt like days. In fact, bundu bashing doesn’t even describe it. We cautiously made our way over piles of dead wattle branches, hoping they wouldn’t give way under our weight and have us sinking up to our knees into their splintered limbs. Every step creaked and crackled precariously. And who knew what was living under there?! Turning around may seem like it would have been a good idea, but while there, retracing our steps looked even harder than just pushing on. And, anyway, the map said we were on the trail – some of the time!

Does this look like a trail to you? I should think not! We stumbled about over these piles of fire hazard and under wattle branches dripping with ticks for what felt like hours.

We were hot, tired, dusty, itchy and had got lost so many times on what was supposed to be a simple route – to say we were over it at this stage is an understatement!

At least we didn’t come across any puffadders. Loads of ticks (loads of ticks – I pulled 14 off me when I got home!) but no snakes and no bad guys!

13 November 2021

Do we give up? Absolutely not!  The next weekend we were back on the trail and ready to take on peaks eight, nine and ten: Chapman’s Peak, Noordhoek Peak and Muizenberg Peak. According to the map it was all pretty straightforward: climb up a peak, come down, follow the trail, do the same with the next peak. 

What could go wrong?

Getting to Chapman’s Peak was quite simple. The weather was mild, the trail fairly easy, the wildflowers were in bloom, and the views rewarding. The day was off to a good start.

Victorious! Chappies’ beacon located and tagged!
Taking a little break on the way to Noordhoek Peak, and looking back at the distance covered from Chapman’s Peak.
Eagerly rushing to Noordhoek Peak’s beacon up ahead! But is it Noordhoek Peak’s beacon?
Gleefully tagging the wrong beacon again – this will be known as Noordhoek Peak Not.
This is Noordhoek Peak! After some pathetic effort at taking a selfie, we got some strangers to take our picture.

Tagging a peak lifts the spirits and fills one with renewed energy, and so off we bounded along the trail to find Muizenberg Peak. The cool, overcast morning gave way to a hot, cloudless afternoon. As we moved further away from Noordhoek Peak towards Silvermine, we came across some disturbing signs warning us of the likelihood of being mugged on the trail. We also came across some red-faced, sweaty, unfit and ill-equipped people (sandals, no hat, no water) walking their hot, tired dogs on the baking hot white dune sand that made up the trail. I was more concerned about the dogs than any potential mugging.

We passed a number of interesting spots along the way that I made a mental note about visiting on another occasion, when we weren’t already tired, pressed for time and on a mission. Of course, my mental notes are quickly erased and I can’t remember where the spots are!

As with Grootkop, Muizenberg Peak seemed always just too far away, and the glimpses of the blue water of the Silvermine dam served only to tease us. I was reminded of a comment I had read about someone’s 13 Peaks Challenge: ‘Why did you have to include Muizenberg Peak, Ryan, why?’ I could relate.

Having dodged the poachers and muggers, our next challenge was to dodge the cars speeding from both directions along Ou Kaapseweg. Judging by the open-mouthed looks of alarm on the faces of the people in the cars trying to exit Gate 2 onto Ou Kaapseweg, we must have looked like two deer caught in the headlights and facing certain death.

And then, with the end within reach, with our fingertips almost grazing that beacon on Muizenberg Peak, we got lost. Of course we did. All we had to do was walk in through Gate 2, through the parking lot, turn right, and keep on walking.

My map said no. It sent us straight along a different path before telling us that we were on the wrong path. And so we retraced our steps, wandered around in circles for a while, and then figured the correct way to go.

After many detours, plus a longer trail than advertised, and completely misjudging how long it would take us, Muizenberg Peak, at last. 
There was barely time  for a happy snap and a brief appreciation of the magnificent view before taking the 6 km hike back to the parking lot where longsuffering husbands had been waiting for rather a long time. 
Yet another spectacular view, this time from Muizenberg Peak.
We were in a hurry to get off the peak and back to the parking lot. Our husbands had been waiting for an hour already and it would take us at least another hour to get to them. But I had to snap this pic of the view.

With the trail extended by various detours, another 30 km was covered on day three of our challenge. We seemed hellbent on making sure that we got full value out of each day. We would be back the next day to conquer Constantiaberg Peak. We were hoping to include Klaasenkop (or Klassenkop) but that might prove to be a bit ambitious.

14 November 

Walking into Silvermine towards Constantiaberg Peak in the distance.

On Sunday we started where we had finished the day before, walked across the road and entered the Silvermine Reserve along the footpath we had used to leave the reserve and cross the road to get to Muizenberg Peak. We honestly thought we were doing the right thing. As it turns out, we were meant to enter via the main gate, even though we were on foot and just passing through, and pay an entrance fee.

Walking along the tarred road towards the trail isn’t great, and we were keen to get off it and into the mountains. Just when we thought we were close to getting off the hot, boring road, two officious SanParks officials pulled up next to us. Had we paid at the gate, they demanded to know. We were puzzled. No? Why? They told us that if we hadn’t paid we were trespassing and could be fined. We had to go back to the gate and pay our dues. But we’re almost off the road, we reasoned. Couldn’t we just pay them?

No, we could not pay them. We had to walk the 2 km back to the gate, get in line with the cars, and pay. The least they could have done was offer us a lift back to the gate. Actually, no, the least they could have done was be polite. Someone must surely have seen us at the start of the trail if they came looking for us in their car. They could have told us then that we needed to pay. They also said that they had seen us there the day before. We didn’t see any rangers the day before, so it all felt a bit uncomfortable.

There was nothing to be done: we simply had to detour back to the gate to pay our dues. The  grumpy SanParks officials sped off in their tan-and-green bakkie and we miserably headed back the way we came.

After the admin was done and potentially legal issues (jail time?) were dodged (again!), our map issues started up again. I couldn’t access the FATMAP app because there was no signal in the reserve. I had downloaded the AllTrails map, though, and the blasted thing led us along the Elephant Eye trail, which I knew to be the wrong trail, and, most frustratingly, did its best to keep us away from Constantiaberg Peak. The AllTrails map said one thing, and when I could access the FATMAP app, it said something completely different. And then, so early in the day, my cellphone battery started to run low. Running two apps at the same time and taking photos had burnt through my battery life.

Elephant’s Eye is on the left, and the lookout where a huge group of small kids went to is on the right. We were most pleased that the kids had moved on in a different location. It was just our luck that we ended up behind them just as we started the trail.
There was much doubling over with hands on knees, wanting the climb to end. The previous day’s three peaks plus detours had worn us out and we weren’t the strongest women on the mountain. I managed to snap my friend in a moment of weakness, but that was just because I had glanced up from where I was standing in exactly the same defeated pose!

It was another ridiculous experience of on-route, off-route, where-are-we-supposed-to-be, where-is-the-trail, are-we-there-yet …

We were hot and tired.

But, of course, we made it! We somehow always do.

We were all smiles once  we had finally found the beacon, tagged Constantiaberg Peak and could finally sit down and have our coffee and sandwiches. 

Oh, the happy little fool … what is that big round thing in the background?  Could it be a clue that this was not, in fact, the correct beacon? Of course it wasn’t. The actual beacon was a few metres back.
Right. Let’s try this again … this is the official top of Constantiaberg!
One might think the whole point of reaching the peak is to behave like a complete twit!

Onwards to Constantia Nek. It’s one single trail all the way there. A dodgy map, cellphone almost dead, no signal: what could possibly go wrong?

The AllTrails app, along with this little cairn, and both my cellphone and my watch officially checking out were what could go wrong! An Off-trail Alert popped up on the app and sent us back to this innocent-looking stack of rocks. Before we knew it, we were bundu bashing again, and heading  off the Hoerikwaggo Trail, down Bokkemanskloof and into the suburb of Constantia, from where we miserably hiked along the busy highway back to Constantia Nek.

Despite our achievements, we were two disappointed hikers at the end of this day. I managed to record only 12 km of the 22 km that we covered. But we had only two peaks to tag before we were done with the challenge, and we had come a long way from where we had started, not only in terms of distance, but in terms of endurance, fitness, and trail experience.

17 December 2021

Only one day short of a full year since we first set off to conquer the 13 Peaks we arrived at Constantia Nek to take on almost 30 km of trail and tag our last two peaks. We expected a shady meander along the Contour Path for most of the way. We were very quickly cured of that little misconception. It was up … and up … and there was no shade.

This was quite likely not part of the official route and probably part of the obligatory AllTrails detour.

My shiny  new  Garmin’s navigation sent us up one  trail, the AllTrails app disagreed and sent us back the way we came. Which one  to trust? The  one I’ve just met, or the one that has given me dodgy advice in the past? I went with the AllTrails app. Of course the thing added about 5 km to the trail, leading us up ladders and scrambles via Eagle’s Nest towards Camel Rock.

Camel Rock: what an amazing rock formation. We had to stop for a little photo shoot!

We found Klassenkop. Kind of. More or less. We got right to the point and retraced our steps, retraced them again, went around the other side, and tackled the peak from entirely the wrong  side. The useful little cairns dotting the trail were obviously intended for some other route. Or not.

Both Garmin and AllPeaks kept shouting out Off-Course alerts, no matter which direction we walked. The red line on our recorded AllTrails route makes from some interesting, possibly frameable, artwork.

The peak is obscured by a gnarly old tree covered in old man’s beard and lichen. The tree, in fact, offers its limbs up to those seeking the peak and provides easy access across the awkward space that yawns between the peak and the space where one is standing. This is the case, of course, if you approach the beacon from the correct angle.

If you approach from the wrong angle, you risk your life  either on the brittle limbs of a spindly old tree that really has neither the strength nor the inclination to hold your weight, or you face a dodgy scramble up some rocks pretty much devoid of footholds and grips to the correct tree. Neither option is recommended!

Two ways to risk life and limb on Klassenkop: option A, climb the wrong tree or, option B, do a spot of bouldering to get to the correct tree.
This is the tree to look out for when trying to find Klassenkop Peak.
Relieved to be safely standing on firm ground, my friend shows no sign of the terror experienced on that tricky scramble from the rock onto the tree and then onto the peak.
I, on the other hand, am possibly just a little bit manic after not crashing through some skinny, lichen-encrusted branches before making it onto the peak.
After coffee and admiring the long distance we had covered, we  set off to find that shady Contour Path. 
Down we went, down and down and down Nursery Ravine. If it weren’t for the beautiful handrail on the stairs at the top of the Ravine, we probably would have overshot and have had to retrace our steps again, or have had to go down Skeleton Gorge.

What goes down inevitably goes up. And what goes down, down and down, will go up, up and up.

Newlands Ravine, the recommended route, is a challenging climb  that takes you up to the Saddle. 

Newlands Ravine, lush and pretty and challenging. Bizarrely, we came across a group of kids who had been guided up by what must have been some school teachers. Some of them were complaining bitterly about how much they hate hiking, how tired they were and how they were never hiking again. It was quite a strange choice of route – especially in the afternoon heat – to take a group of what seemed to be a lot of unfit children out on their first hike.

It was about  halfway up Newlands Ravine that my friend came to the realisation that we should probably have trained a bit more!  Yes. We most certainly should have! Maybe we should have thought about that option earlier than on the last 10 km of the last day of our challenge!

AllTrails wanted to send us up Dark Gorge. Just the name should be enough to tell you it’s not the best idea. If you do a bit of research, or know a bit about the mountain, you’d know that Dark Gorge is known for its loose rocks that tend to be dislodged as one clambers up towards the light. The AllTrails map certainly did its damnedest to challenge us beyond the challenge we had signed up for.

Reaching the top of Newlands Ravine feels like an achievement, which it is. However, it’s not a peak. It’s simply the Saddle. Devil’s Peak still looms up ahead.

A glimpse of Devil’s Peak from the Contour Path can fill one with dread. We would have covered about 20 km by the time we started our climb up Newlands Ravine, and have been out on the trail for many hours. That peak looms large on a good day, when one approaches it on fresh legs. For a weary  hiker, it’s an intimidating sight. Of  course, if  you don’t know that’s the peak that awaits you, you just keep trundling along!
The Saddle, where a moment was taken to given in to just a dash of despair. 
It felt as if there should  have been some reward for having reached it the top of Newlands Ravine, but all that lay ahead was Devil’s Peak and the steep climb etched along its flanks.
Devil’s Peak, and the customary celebrations at the wrong beacon! The wind was howling up there, and so our ecstatic, whooping and cheering adventurer couldn’t hear the cries of ‘That’s not the one. It’s behind you! Behind you!
We made it! That seemed like the longest climb ever but we made it.

The wind was gusting and the day was drawing to a close – there was no time for hanging about basking in our great achievement. A few snaps, a sip of water, and we were off – as was my friend’s cap, which the wind whipped off and tossed across to Robben Island before she could snatch it back.

Next, it was just a simple matter of making it off Devil’s Peak to Tafelberg Road and then to Signal Hill. Well, a simple route, maybe, and long. Very long. It was time to wrap this thing up!

And, just like that, it was done!

We were tired, sweaty, sunburt, windswept, overjoyed, and a tiny bit bewildered.

Signal Hill! We had come full circle: Signal Hill around the Cape mountain ranges back to Signal Hill.
We could barely lift our feet but we had to get up onto the beacon somehow, and I had to pull a little stunt for our final snaps – the responsibility of which was thrust upon my Significant Other, who is notoriously terrible at taking photos. He did pretty well under pressure, I think.

It had been a long day. We had spent 12 hours on the trail, had trudged 30 km, and, after a year,  we had finally closed the circle to arrive back where we started, on Signal Hill, at the end of our 13 Peaks adventure.

We did so many detours, and retraced our steps so many times, that instead of covering 107 km, we ended up doing 127 km. 

It took us 48 hours to do – over the course of a year – and we never gave up on our goal. 

Part of Day 1’s route, without Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and Maclear’s Beacon, seen from Klassenkop.
(Pic created with the PeakFinder app.)
Little Lion’s Head and Suther Peak seen from Klassenkop. (Pic created with the PeakFinder app.)
Constantiaberg seen from Klassenkop. (Pic created with the PeakFinder app.)

Looking back at some of our peaks, we were amazed at what we had done. 

We hadn’t done any real training for this thing, and neither of us had been on any of these trails before. We had naively stepped into the big unknown, confident that we would be able to cover the distances and tag the peaks. 

Taking it one step at a time, it didn’t always seem like much, but panning back and looking at the big picture, looking at the trail in its entirety, well, that’s quite something! 

We did this big thing, just the two of us, on our own, and we’re ready to do it again – just with fewer detours and encounters with potentially armed guards!

13 Peaks route profile sourced from the 13 Peaks Challenge website.

3 thoughts on “The 13 Peaks Challenge – a year-long adventure

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