The fire that raged in Jonkershoek during March was massive. It started later during the same week as the Cape Town fires, which got a huge amount of publicity. The Cape Town fires also had a direct impact on the lives of many residents and as a result, the Jonkershoek fire received much less publicity and was perceived by myself as “not serious”. I was therefore astonished, on 11.04.15 to drive into the nature reserve and find a scorched landscape. Almost the entire Jonkershoek valley within the reserve has been ravished by fire. Only the upper-end of the valley, beyond 1ste Waterval and the upper part of the north-east ridge did not burn. The comparison below shows the view from Rifberg compared to a similar view of the valley from Katedraal, taken in January 2014. The image taken from Katedraal had to be cut and resized to give a better comparison. The quality is therefore not great, but the effect and magnitude of the fire is clearly visible. The burnt proteas along the top contour path sometimes lean in towards the hiking track. My pants and arms are covered in lines of charcoal. I look at the burnt fynbos and remember the dense vegetation I saw last time around in December. I shake my head in unbelief and continue. What amazes me though is that signs of new life are already evident. I see some yellow flowers, a few lizards and a group of Cape Siskin (Kaapse Pietjiekanarie). According to my birding field-guide the Siskin actually prefers recently burnt fynbos….. amazing! I have also read of ants, burying the seeds of certain plants which are then preserved during the fire and in fact will germinate afterwards having the advantage of less competition for natural resources. My aim for the day, Rifberg (a.k.a 1st Ridge Peak). I find my way up the Slabs-route. The fire burnt as high as the start of this route, at the bottom of the slabs, below the orange-coloured rock. There is a famous tree here, used by leopards to sharpen their claws. The tree only just escaped the blaze. A small mercy to this magnificent and intriguing mountain adapted sub-specie. The Slabs-route is mighty impressive, but so are many of the sights in Jonkershoek and the Cape mountains. The south-west facing slope I’m on is still in the morning shade for which I’m greatful on this warm and clear April day. I proceed carefully with every step, as the loose rocks combine with vegetation and gravity to create a fairly difficult ascend. From time to time I have to scramble and use “all-fours”. The scenery is both amazing and shocking at the same time. Not only are the towering bell-shaped towers around me impressive, but as I gain altitude the views towards the opposite side of the valley begins to reveal the extent of the damage of the recent fire. I proceed upwards, until I’m on the narrow neck on the right-hand side of the top tower. I’m now on the mountain’s ridge and the huge cliff faces on the Banhoek side of the valley are almost overwhelming. What a glorious theatre! It is difficult to photograph this without a wide angle lens and even more difficult to describe. I’m now out of the shade and for a moment want to get my sunglasses. I decide against it, considering that the peak cannot be much further. The route approximately follows the ridge of the mountain, again I have to scramble on occasion as I go higher and higher. Just as the route starts to feel long and I consider taking a water-break, I see the beacon. Rifberg is one of the least climbed peaks in Jonkershoek and also one for which it is very difficult to find any information about. I’ve previously tried to climb it from Langrivierkloof, but could not find the right route. On that occasion I continued up to the Pieke. Now at last I have managed to get to the top of Rifberg. There is no trigonometric beacon on Rifberg, even though it is slightly higher than Pieke and Katedraal at 1 517m a.m.s.l. As usual on most peaks in the Cape, a small rock-tower stands sentry. I spend about 2 hours here, absorbing the views, fresh air and enjoying sandwiches with chocolate as dessert. I see Pieke from behind, an interesting view considering the massive rock faces when seen from the opposite side. Still impressive they are, they are less intimidating from this angle and the route up and down can be deceptive as I have learned the hard way. It is truly amazing how close I am to “civilisation”, yet it feels like I’m light-years removed from it. How small we are and how ridiculous some of our “problems” are! I’m reminded of Ps. 8:4 “what is mankind that you think of them, human beings that you care for them”, yet still He does! Across the valley I look beyond the mountains and see Hangklip, Strand, Somerset-West and Helderberg. Over False Bay I see the Cape peninsula, Table Mountain and Cape Town. There is some fog hanging low in the air towards the Cape peninsula and I imagine it being an island floating in the air. The Bottelary Hills are also surrounded by fog and I recall the many times I’ve seen these massive peaks from that vantage point. Closer though, right below me, I’m reminded of the magnitude of the damage of the recent fire. “How did it start?” I wonder. I sometimes struggle to get a fire going with a match, how can this happen naturally? Perhaps a piece of glass laying the veld, with a combination of sunlight at just the right angle, dry vegetation and wind? (although this is not entirely natural) Still sounds unlikely to me.Rock falls, lighting….? Perhaps a human act, by accident or with intent (I certainly hope not!)? Fynbos is a fire-adapted vegetation, but the veld should not burn more than once every 12 – 15 years. I believe the last fire in Jonkershoek was during 2009 and therefore the devastation below me is even more damaging than it would have been otherwise. As sad as it is, in time new life will again be abundant in the valley below. I already saw some evidence of this today. I gaze down towards the car in the valley at Witbrug and I imagine being able to glide down within a minute or less, but of course I have no wings, natural (or unnatural). I therefore stop dreaming, put on my back-pack and start to take the first of many careful steps down towards the Slabs and further on, to the car and inevitably into “civilisation”. The whole experience however has left me refreshed, my soul feels free and I feel blessed to have had this opportunity which will live in my mind forever.
Rifberg & the fire