VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

Category: ZS Trip

ZS/WC-070 – Elsepiek

Elsepiek or Elsie’s Peak is just south of the town of Fishhoek, and north of Simonstown. I had spotted it on the way to Table Mountain, and taken a photo of a board at the base of the peak to the north prior to climbing Table Mountain (there is a track marked on Google Maps). That evening, I checked it out and saw there was a southern approach as well. I was able to find that on both Google Maps and the car’s GPS, so I made a tentative plan to activate in the morning prior to us leaving Simonstown.

Elsie's Peak board

Elsie’s Peak board

wpid-20150923_094018.jpg

Elsie Peak south board

We approached via Gulconda St and parked at the obvious layby near the fenced off section. I got out and grabbed my gear, leaving Dad to do his laundry in town. His parting words were “Make sure you don’t step on a Cape Cobra”, which is reassuring given his Voldemort tendencies.

If you look at the sign, there is a direct path up the mountain from the south, but it is not immediately obvious. In fact, it is so non-obvious, I didn’t take it, instead following the service track west before cutting up at the stone steps, taking the first left. This resulted in me taking the back way around and ultimately joining up with the path from the north. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This approach is marginally flatter, particularly as you pass the saddle behind Elsepiek.

Approach to the top from the saddle

Approach to the top from the saddle

On my approach to the summit, I ran into a school teacher who was climbing the mountain, who told me the previous day he’d had 100 kids at the top of the mountain. Today he only had 50 odd. I was touched by the irony. Busiest mountain in Africa the day before, all on my lonesome. Tiny little pimple to the south, enjoyed with 50 others.

Kids and Simonstown

Kids and Simonstown

We crested the summit with a few little scramble sections, before I plonked myself down in the middle of a seething mass of teenage humanity. This had the potential to be a crisis, but it was actually fine. I didn’t set up immediately due to the cramped space, instead taking some photos and doing a few sketches of the scenery. While doing so, I listened to the conversations a bit.

Summit panorama

Summit panorama

There was one young man who was clearly enamoured with a young lady and asked her many polite questions. It provided an excellent counterpoint to the idea that “kids these days” are only interested in a Tinder-fuelled hook up culture. I listened, amused, to their conversation for a little while. She seemed sweet, he was incredibly polite and genteel. I hope they end up great friends, if not more.

Eventually, the teachers decided that 50 kids on the side of a cliff wasn’t a great idea, and they began their descent (by the long way, not straight down). One of the kids came up and said, “Excuse me, would you mind if I asked you what you are doing?”. Such manners! Such grammar! I answered his question, helped him with a quick geography question (Constantiaberg is over…there), and then bailed up their teacher at the end. I want to shout out again the kids of Fishhoek High School. Incredibly well behaved.

I set up with the antenna on the trig point (now I had clear access) and had decided to try 10m and 12m to try get into Europe. A bit of calling got me nowhere, but I switched to 20m, and worked Sid and Adele again, as well as stations from Bloemfontein, Gauteng and Frank ZS1CM again from Muizenberg.

The trig point

The trig point

I had two American tourists come up in the interim and we got talking. They knew the company I work for and we frequented similar areas on the east coast. They told my dad I was almost done when they descended, so also much appreciated. A final request for 40m wasn’t able to be met as I couldn’t spread the counterpoise out far enough on the narrow summit, so I descended, this time taking the shorter southern path. It would have been a tougher climb up than the route I took.

Lots of lizards out

Lots of lizards out

Black Eagle soaring right next to the summit

Black Eagle soaring right next to the summit

ZS/WC-043 – Maclear’s Beacon

Week 2 of the holiday saw us down in Cape Town. More precisely, we stayed near one of Dad’s cousins in Simonstown, to the south of Cape Town. This is a beautiful little town, and home to the Simonstown Naval Base. We stayed at the Quayside, with a great view over False Bay, and able to hear the bosun’s calls from the Naval base.

The initial plan had called for us to climb Table Mountain (via the cable car) on the Wednesday, but a screwed up hotel booking (my fault) turned out a little better. Instead, we went up on Tuesday. The weather wasn’t looking fantastic on Monday, but was slightly better on Tuesday. Wednesday had been chosen due to the almost faultless weather forecast. In any case, Tuesday was what had to happen due to my screw up.

As an aside, a person visiting South Africa for SOTA purposes could do worse than base themselves in Simonstown. Almost all of the bluffs along the main road back to Muizenberg and Cape Town are SOTA peaks, and most, if not all are accessible and part of Table Mountain National Park.

Arriving at Table Mountain, you can get free parking on Tafelberg Road, where a car guard will look after your car for a nominal donation (most people seem to carry spare change solely for this purpose). We took a free electric shuttle up to the cable car lower station, and bought tickets there. It was highly recommended by family that we prepurchase tickets, particularly if it was good weather. We decided it was OK weather, and being a weekday, took the chance. We had no problems.

At this time, the mountain was covered in cloud, so the gentleman in the ticket booth was trying hard to avoid disappointment for us by suggesting we wait. He had no idea the view was not what I was interested in!

There is a story told with great mirth within my family about my last trip to Table Mountain (1986). Aged 5 or so, my mother decided that she was not thrilled with the concept of me standing up to see out the windows of the cable car. Thus, I had spent an entire trip up Table Mountain staring at a wall. Now, however, I am in my 30s, and piddly restrictions and mild acrophobia are no match. I had been waiting for this moment for a while! I got to see a view out of the cable car!

View towards Atlantic

View towards Atlantic

Cape Town

Cape Town

Lower Cable Car station

Lower Cable Car station

View towards Devil's Peak

View towards Devil’s Peak

The modern cable cars have a rotating floor, enabling all members of the public crammed within to get an unobstructed view of the city and mountain while the car ascends. I must admit, the turning is slightly nauseating, and by the end of the trip, I was willing to give my mother a leave pass on the matter of whether I should have been able to stand at age 5 or not. It is a long way down, and my acrophobia is mild, not non-existant.

At the top, we were in cloud. A brief stop to see some of the local wildlife, before I asked directions to the Beacon.

A Dassie

A Dassie

I left my father at the cafe. This was intentional for two reasons: one, I wasn’t sure about how he’d go with some of the track (and experience showed I was right on that), and two, I’ve made one contact across 3 attempted activations with him present. Ergo, he is a bad luck charm, and must be kept away from my SOTA activities.

The walk to Maclear’s Beacon starts off paved, before reaching Platteklip Gorge, where there is a fairly steep drop and climb back up. While not difficult, it is awkward, and a man that had two knee replacements wasn’t going to have made it past this point anyway. Whatever residual guilt I may have had dissipated, and I continued on.

The path is about 30-40 minutes long, and moves onto rock and the occasional boardwalk once past the gorge. It is well marked with yellow feet painted on the rocks, and the odd sign at track junctions. I took a note of the Platteklip Gorge descent as this was my safety net had the weather closed in and the cable car closed.

The weather was still a concern. There was a breeze blowing, but the summit plateau was still enclosed in cloud as I walked. The occasional clearing made itself known, allowing a brief view down towards the south back to Muizenberg and Simonstown, but for the most part, I walked in cloud.

Paved track near the Upper Cable station.

Paved track near the Upper Cable station.

Marker at the junction with Platteklip Gorge

Marker at the junction with Platteklip Gorge

The track

The track

The random cloud clearing.

The random cloud clearing.

Cloudy panorama, about halfway along the track

Cloudy panorama, about halfway along the track

As I neared the beacon, there is one last section of scrambling up (again, nothing major), before the final run into the summit. By this stage, the cloud was clearing extremely well, and the beacon made itself known. And, here I was, on the busiest mountain in Africa, completely alone.

Lo, the beacon approaches!

Lo, the beacon approaches!

Topograph

Topograph

Maclear's Beacon plaque

Maclear’s Beacon plaque

View South

View South

South view

South view

Looking South

Looking South

View south, cloud moving in

View south, cloud moving in

My initial attempts at setting up the Buddistick using a rock to attach the clamp was less than successful, and although I could hear Frank ZS1CM clearly, he was having trouble hearing me. I decided instead to utilise a sign that had collapsed to hold the antenna in place and more importantly in the clear, and was able to get back to Frank and complete my first SOTA QSO in ZS, making that 12 associations and 5 continents activated. My first thoughts after that was that it clearly was my Dad’s fault I hadn’t made contacts in the past.

40m yielded three contacts, including a weak contact up into Namibia with Peter V51PJ. I moved up to 20m, where Sid and Adele were waiting for me. I had emailed Sid and Adele before I arrived, having seen them on the SOTA_Australia mailing list for their visit to VK4 earlier in the year. They were extremely helpful to me, and helped rustle up contacts. As a bonus, they were on a summit in KwaZulu-Natal, allowing me to qualify the summit with an S2S!

I stayed on 20m for a bit more, working a few more stations, before switching to 30m to complete a better contact with Peter V51PJ again – 40m being just a bit too short for a good contact earlier. Back onto 20m, I worked into Gauteng (Johannesburg), and decided I’d been there long enough, and the wind was picking up.

Maclear's Beacon shack

Maclear’s Beacon shack

SOTA peaks galore

SOTA peaks galore

Cape Town from the top

Cape Town from the top

In the whole time I was at the beacon, I was alone. No one else bothered me at all! Thanks must also go to Frank ZS1CM who followed me from band-to-band to keep folks updated on where I was moving and when. I had clear line of sight to his house, obviously.

The Up Car going past us

The Up Car going past us.

Lion's Head (SOTA peak) from Cable Car

Lion’s Head (SOTA peak) and Robben Island from Cable Car

Yes, I was hoping she dropped her phone

Yes, I was hoping she dropped her phone

We descended again in sunshine, taking in the view, before heading back to Simonstown.

22 Sep 2015 – ZS/GP-001 Suikerbosrand

28 years ago, I left South Africa as a young boy, as unrest took over and the country began a descent into chaos, followed by the painful process of renewal post 1994. Up until now, I had not returned, for various reasons (mainly financial). The time had come to rectify that situation.

I decided I’d like to take my father back, and so we planned, 6 months in advance, to take in the sights and sounds, and visit family and friends still remaining. I hoped to reinforce the memories I had of my time in South Africa – a surprising amount, given I left just prior to my sixth birthday.

We landed on Monday evening, and were taken to our lodging place – my cousin Aileen’s house – and we settled in. The next day, we decided we’d take on the nostalgic task of returning to the old house, and seeing if the old lady who’d looked after me when I was a kid was still there living next door.

We took an interesting route to get there, basically due to the fact that my Dad’s sense of direction is not as good as it used to be, given the changes in Johannesburg in the time since he’d last been there (9 years ago).

We got there in the end, and, of course, it was smaller than I remembered, despite the owner after us basically doubling the size by putting on a second storey.

Seriously, this place was HUGE as a kid.

Seriously, this place was HUGE as a kid.

The lady next door wasn’t there, and we soon found out why. Another lady was out watering some plants, so we asked her. It turned out Aunty Mary (our name for the lady next door) had been attacked in her home, tied up and beaten and left for dead in the bathroom. She had survived, but her daughter wouldn’t let her live in the house on her own anymore, and had made her move into the daughter’s house.

The lady had contact details for the daughter and the son, and so we took those down. She also phoned the son (Johnny) to let him know we had been looking for Aunty Mary.

The first day in Johannesburg was interesting and challenging. My memories of the area we lived in were decidedly suburban. Low fences, kids playing, trees, community. What I came back to was different: barbed wire, electric fences, spikes on the fences and gates, no kids playing and no sense of community. The South Africa of my childhood wasn’t safe – certainly not “Australia”-safe – but there wasn’t a perceived need for locking ourselves away.

After Johannesburg, we headed down to Heidelburg, where my grandfather and other relatives were buried. Heidelburg is not as severe security wise as Johannesburg was, but I couldn’t help noticing that the cemetery had more perimeter security than some military bases in Australia. Presumably to keep the live people out, and not the dead people in.

A quick tour around the graveyard found the ancestral resting places. The whole area was a bit Australian, due to the importation and planting of Eucalypts at the turn of the last century. The trees hid the fencing, and the whole thing looked idyllic. A nice resting place.

Given we were now in Heidelburg, and Suikerbosrand (ZS/GP-001) was just around the corner, I took the opportunity to activate it. There are two mountains in Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, although at least one appears to be incorrectly marked according to the park map. I had hoped to get at least one in, maybe two, but timing was against us, so we aimed for one.

Entry to the Nature Reserve cost about 50 Rand ($5) for the two adults and car. After that, you follow the nature drive around. We entered from the north. After a while, we arrived at the high point, and set up.

It is worth pointing out that you are not permitted to stop your car or get out while on the nature drive, so unless you’re willing to hike in, I can’t actually see how anyone could legitimately activate these summits. The point, in the end, was moot.

The ground is scrubby, so it was impossible to find something to attach the Buddistick to. In the end, I had to resort to a different kind of antenna support (while winding the power right back).

The Antenna Support

The Antenna Support

40m was a bust – I could hear a Mozambique station but couldn’t break in, and no one responded to my CQs. I had limited phone coverage too, making it hard to post spots. 20m yielded nothing as well, so I was about to go back to 40m when The Antenna Support complained of a bad back.

Recognising that pushing my luck wasn’t a good idea (the Support is showing the signs of age), I packed it up, we reversed, and then we left. We saw a small amount of wildlife, a few birds that Dad remembered from his childhood, and avoided driving over a snake (I believe I have mentioned my father’s Voldemort-like tendencies: snakes come and find him).

First attempt, failure.

The other story has a happier ending. Just before we went to Cape Town, and finding ourselves in the area again, we phoned up the daughter of Aunty Mary, to discover she was back (temporarily) at her old house. Her son now lived there, and she was visiting. So we went over, and she recognised us instantly.

Aunty Mary and me, 28 years on

Aunty Mary and me, 28 years on

We went inside, and there, sitting on her couch, sunlight streaming in, looking out the window at our old house, I saw a glimpse of the old South Africa. Pure suburbia.