Peak Formosa

“Her vast barbaric haunches” visible from the breakfast table…Formosa Peak outlined in the manageable blue glare of my prescription sunglasses, above the seamist that has not yet burnt off, the indented rivermouths, the wave cut platform. From here the long mountain line is an abstract in aluminium window frames of the café where my Dad takes his coffee, above the high street, adjoining the radio studio. But a month ago, Nic, Sean and I set out on a morning dark highway with dried fruit, no camera and a hand drawn map given to us by a trail hardened local who jotted down some helpful tips as well: “Careful of bushfires,” “Slow and steady - no race.”

Dad has asked me to write a guest column on the hike for his field notes in the local paper, no doubt also to be broadcast in installments to the fill up the local FM hours. So here I will set down those things that could never be included there. Like: the music playing as we traced the Tsitsikamma Range for 100 km’s, then bent inland at Kareedouw, echo pedal guitar, where phrases overlap in ways that can never be predicted and in turn give rise to ideas not yet imagined: the long drive into the musical unconscious, and in the background a sad Mancunian voice singing about war and wasted time. Like: the long unstoppable ascent, Nic and I cursing Sean as he traced the three ridges high above, only halting at the summit scramble, where the ocean came to view again and, like that day on the white sand at Robberg we were looking back from somewhere that had only been looked at before, stared at for years, feeling the burn, the credit balance of youth, the invincible summer.

See Nic’s calves trembling in the final gully, me pressing myself into the slope, making love to the gradient, digging in long guitar nails into the grass tussocks and soil below. Reaching the top there were aerials and a cross brought up by evangelists with Bible in a protective Tupperware. Nic recited Ozymandias, finding some stability in the vast and trunkless legs of stone; Sean read out something apocalyptic from Corinthians; I looked at the stacked fold ranges, the kloofs where no roads reach, the bushsmoke scudding along the valley floors.

Descending again, the slow clench of stepping became unbearable and I surrendered to a loose limbed dance which went on and on in the mid-winter heat. Reaching level ground I almost shed a tear of gratitude and began peeling off clothes as I neared a stream that flowed from the slopes above. Baboons barked across a still dam; the mountain leaned to seaward, three-ridged like a shark’s tooth, haunches in place.

Afterwards we drove through orchards where trailers of apple crates trundled and men in rags hawked apples at the bottlestore. Apples spilled from bakkies at intersections: it was harvest time in the Langkloof. Roadblocks checked for pork products on the highway. Sean pressed on along it to Cape Town; Nic returned to his dream room; I padded around the stone floors of someone else’s house.