Quote of the week – September week #2: Fountain Gorge

Sep 6, 2012

“I boldly lay down flat and wriggled along the upper shelf of rock until I could drop  on to the narrow ledge below. Along this six inch ledge I cautiously went crab-fashion.”

Extract from an article written by Annie Wilson on her ascent of Fountain Gorge, published in the 1900 Annual of the Mountain Club of South Africa.

Annie Wilson must have been an intrepid girl to venture up Fountain Gorge back in 1900, when mountaineering on Table Mountain was in its infancy and only a few bold men took to the crags. Or maybe she had a persuasive boyfriend, because Fountain Ravine (as it is known nowadays) does not exactly offer safe and enjoyable climbing, and hardly the kind of route you would take a genteel Victorian girl.

The above quote refers to an intimidating traverse high up on the Fountain Ravine-Fountain Peak Buttress route, visible in the above photo. The first half of the route leads up Fountain Ravine – a deep ravine slicing up the western side of Table Mountain – then traverses out of the ravine along a sizeable ledge before heading up a steep gully choked with mossy boulders and prickly shrub. From the dank and gloomy recesses of this gully does the traverse referred to in the quote lead out. The above photo shows a climber halfway along the traverse.

The route is not done anymore, not since many years ago. Beside myself, I know of only four other people who have done the gully-traverse section of the route: the one is a prominent South African mountaineer and the other three have me to blame for the ordeal. I have done it no less than three times and despite the rotten rock and inaccessibility of the place, find it a rather intriguing proposition. Spare a thought for Annie, who (in line with the custom of the time) most likely completed the route in a long dress.

Despite my friends’ negative sentiments on the route, I like it. It’s often on these rough-around-the-edges routes that you learn most about the mountain. And while I won’t recommend it as a pleasant route, it’s a great option for masochists and those climbers who – no, actually only for masochists.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of hiking and climbing routes on Table Mountain, so no need to resort to the likes of Fountain Ravine. But it’s there if you want to take a walk on the wild side. That’s the beauty of Table Mountain hiking: you can adjust the level of adventure to your style of hiking or climbing.

(c) www.hiketablemountain.co.za