I could hear the wind gusts roaring down the valley for a few seconds before they grabbed the tent and shook it like a demented Jack Russell. Warm in my sleeping bag, I wondered if the tent would survive. I contemplated the logistics of packing up and walking out in the freezing, howling, soaking white-out. It would not be fun. Welcome to the Witteberg!
We had been tent-bound since arriving on the high vlaktes the afternoon before. The walk up from Kromrivier that morning had been pleasantly cool and misty, and the Norwegians (www.yr.no)had promised that it would clear up by mid-afternoon. However as we crested the Dome and headed up to the vlaktes, it seemed that the Witteberg had its own agenda. We packed on layers and quickly scouted for a campsite that was not too soggy. Once ensconced in our tents it was time for tea and sandwiches. “This is not so bad”, we thought, “we can wait it out, it’ll clear any minute now…”
Bloody Norwegians got it wrong of course. The wind began to howl, the mist closed in, and it began to rain sideways. The joys of Cape mountaineering! Knot-tying and yatzy helped pass the time until an early supper and bedtime. It was a long, long night…
Well the tents survived the storm, but the morning was grey and manky, suitable only for “loitering with intent”. Cabin fever was just setting in when the atmosphere in the tent suddenly brightened (it wasn’t just the potent coffee), and we realized it was starting to clear up. By nine it was a blue-bird day, and we were packing daypacks for an ascent of Witteberg Peak. Gotta love those Norwegians!!
The Normal Route up Witteberg takes a rambling line up its south-western flank, following beacons here and there. Amazing rock formations and small hidden vlaktes abound, and the elusive summit draws one ever upward. Some intricate route finding around, over and between boulders brought us to the summit at 1736 metres above sea-level. The views were astounding: deep kloofs drop away towards the valley floor, only to rear up again as the ramparts of Du Toit’s Peak. To the north the mighty Hex looms, and in the south Table Mountain lurks under a smoggy blanket. Aaaah… the glory. Let’s make tea!
During lunch we studied the map and chose a line of descent on the western side of the peak. This turned out to be spectacular scrambling along a knife-edge ridge, before plunging down a bouldery watercourse to the vlaktes far below. Back at camp, refreshed after an icy dip in the stream, we basked in the late afternoon sunshine with wine and hors d’oeuvres. Supper soon followed, and we watched the stars come out with that deep satisfaction that only a big day out in the mountains can bring.
The perfect weather stayed for the rest of the weekend, and the last day was spent rambling along ridges and plunging into pristine pools. The only problem was having to go down after such perfection. The horror of the storm had faded to an exciting memory; we had been tested by the Witteberg, and rewarded with two days of glory. And best of all we had never trusted the Norwegians (or any other weather “predictions”) for a second, and had been prepared for all conditions. We returned home with our souls restored, and a new respect for our little tent!
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