Tag Archives: climbing

Hiking Cape Town: Table Mountain’s India Venster

1-signCape Town, South Africa is a great place for hiking because several classic peaks–such as Lions Head and Table Mountain–sit in close proximity to the city, so it’s possible to access them easily for quick day hikes. And the trails up these peaks also provide stunning views of the city and sea. I recently spent two weeks in Cape Town visiting family, and I got the chance to get out with Antony to hike the India Venster route up Table Mountain, which is one of the few trails he hadn’t taken to the summit.

For my first hike the summit of Table Mountain, India Venster provided some adventurous moments and challenges, for sure. The sign at the trailhead warns that ladders, chains, and stapels are a part of the route, and we also knew that the route requires some exposed scrambling with the potential for serious fall danger.


The route begins in a straightforward manner from the contour trail, but then it eventually winds up through a steep rocky section below the top of the cable car.


The rock scrambling began in this section, which required hand-and-foot climbing on mostly low-angle rock. Depending on experience and comfort level, some hikers might want to have a rope to help them through this section…or even a guide.

Traci J Macnamara India Venster 1

While the scrambling in some sections wasn’t very exposed…

Traci J Macnamara on India Venster

…other sections involved exposure and sharp drop-offs, and also jaw-dropping views of the city and sea.


The word “venster” means “window” in Afrikaans, and the route gets its name from a rock window along the route. We’re not sure if this window is THE window for which the route is named, but it offered a pretty cool portal for seeing the side of Table Mountain.


The view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain was certainly worth the effort involved! The India Venster route, especially, and most other routes to the summit of Table Mountain should only be hiked in good weather, and hikers should carry emergency gear, as the weather rolls in quickly up here. We only had a short time to make this hike happen, so we opted to take the cable car down, but Platteklip Gorge offers a safer descent than the India Venster downclimb.

Want to know more about hiking in Cape Town?
Check out this Learnist board I created to profile six classic Cape Town hikes, including India Venster:

“Cape Town’s Classic Day Hikes”

Cape Town Day Hikes

And…if you want to explore more of my Learnist boards focused on adventure, outdoors, nature, and sports, click here.


Family Fun: East Vail Ice Climbing

My sister and I get up to some pretty good adventures, including ice climbing in East Vail, near where I live. Once when she was out visiting from New York, we got all geared up and headed out for some sisterly fun.

Traci J Macnamara ice climbing

I stomped up a snow-filled gully to set up a top rope on an established anchor…

east vail ice climbing

…and then I rappelled down so that we could take turns belaying each other on the climb.

east vail top top ice climbing

Meanwhile, my sister was freezing her butt off while waiting because, well, ice climbing is a cold activity. But she looks cute, huh, like an ice princess here?

shawna macnamara ice princess

However, she was no princess on the climb. This girl can pull serious mental mojo out of that same freezing butt when necessary, and she picked her way to the top with relative ease:

shawna macnamara ice climbing

If you haven’t tried ice climbing, it’s cold (obviously), challenging, and ultimately fun. But it’s the sort of thing you want to try for the first time with an experienced mentor or guide.

Thinking about giving ice climbing a try?
Check out these Learnist boards I created to learn more about ice climbing and required gear:

“Ice Climbing 101: A Beginner’s Guide”

“Essential Ice Climbing Equipment”

Learnist Climbing Boards: Clear Creek and Kelso Ridge

I’ve recently begin creating content for Learnist, which I would describe as “the Pintrist of learning.” I’m enjoying the web-trawling involved, and I’m learning a lot in the process of sharing my own “learnings.”

Last week, I returned to my home in Colorado’s Vail Valley, so it’s been a work of joy for me to share the beautiful places around here that have been the source of inspired adventures. I recently compiled sources related to Clear Creek Canyon’s climbing areas:

Learnist- Climbing Clear Creek

Clear Creek Canyon, near Golden, Colorado, is a place where I like to climb in the fall and spring months. It has several sport climbing locations that are easy to access, so it’s a fun place to go for a quick climb with Front Range friends.

Since 2008, I’ve lived in the Vail Valley–West Vail, then Avon, now Edwards, and the mountains around here have been a big inspiration. Yes, it’s supposed to snow here tomorrow, but one fall I was able to take advantage of warmer temps as I speed climbed up Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak with my friend Rich. That experience inspired me to create a board about this route:

Learnist-Kelso Ridge

Enjoy exploring these boards…I hope they inspire you to go to these places or to seek out similar adventures of your own.

If you haven’t yet checked out the above links, click here to access these learning boards on Learnist:

Rock Climbing in Colorado’s Clear Creek Canyon

Colorado Fourteeners: Climbing Kelso Ridge on Torreys

Glaciers, Crevasses, Seracs and a Big Fat Bergschrund

glaciersSome of my most memorable hiking, climbing, and skiing memories come from the times I’ve either been on or near glaciers. Glaciers aren’t inherently dangerous…but they’re in a continuous state of flux as the ice that forms them moves across the land beneath. So…glacier travel can pose a number of different challenges from hiking in snow-covered terrain. I just posted an article on the About.com Survival Skills site titled “Survive Glacier Hiking Hazards,” in which I discuss specific glacier terrain challenges including crevasses, seracs, and bergschrunds.

I’ve encountered glaciated terrain in the Alps, in New Zealand, and in Antarctica. Here are a few photos that capture the terrain characteristics you’ll likely encounter if you’re hiking, skiing, or climbing in a glaciated area.



The above crevasses are on the glacier surrounding Mount Aspiring in New Zealand, which I climbed with two friends a few years ago. On our ascent, I took photos of another nearby peak and alpine route called The Rolling Pin, which is also crevassed:

crevasses 2

Seracs, or ice cliffs…these seracs are on the Glacier d’Argentiere near Chamonix, France. My friend Andy and I were climbing nearby when I took this photo.


Below, Andy is organizing his gear in one of our bivouacs above the Glacier du Tour, also near Chamomix, France. I love the puzzle of seracs behind him in this photo…we were forced to bivouac that night because it took us too long on our supposed short cut through the seracs, and we missed the last lift down that eve.

seracs 2

And…my favorite photo of the big fat summer bergschrund near the top of the Grand Montets lift, also near Chamoinx, France:


The bergschrund above sent me, my sister, and her two friends back down to the valley for beers. We had planned on going for a cruisy glacier hike that day, but the width of this bergschrund required more skill and gear than what we had with us. Luckily, we were in the Alps, and cold drinks were only minutes away…

Want to know more about crevasses, seracs, and bergschrunds?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills site:
“Survive Glacier Hiking Hazards”
If you like to hike surrounded by the beauty of snow and ice, you’re not alone. Glacier hiking is a popular activity that can put people in touch with an awe-inspiring landscape. However, hiking on or near a glacier poses a few dangers different from hiking in a snow- or ice-covered landscape that is not glaciated…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Andy Parkin: Alpine Climber and Big Mountain Survivor

Before I left Chamonix, I was able to have a last supper with my friend, artist and alpine climber Andy Parkin. Over the years that I’ve known him, he’s told me some pretty out-there stories…mostly about defying death in the mountains, but also about other rip-roaring adventures, too.

I’ve never officially interviewed Andy, so when I thought about interviewing him to write a Q&A article for the About.com Survival Skills site, I knew we’d just sit down and talk. I asked him to tell me his best survival story, and I also–for the first time–asked him if I could take notes so that I could write about it. He didn’t object. But he talks so fast that I found myself scribbling wildly to keep up!

At first, Andy tossed out a few ideas–outsmarting a storm while trying to climb a new route on Patagonia’s Cerro Torre with Francois Marsigny, a similar solo survival experience on Fitz Roy, a very grim Christmas with Victor Saunders on Shishapangma. He settled on telling me about Cerro Torre because he said that it was the one that’s inspired him the most to survive other (maybe even worse) things in the years that followed it.

I took eleven pages of notes for what should have been only a 600-word article. I wrote more than double that, and the article doesn’t even come close to the detail he gave me or the detail I would have liked to share. But I realized a few things while talking to Andy about Cerro Torre. First of all: I’d heard lots of bits and pieces of this story over the years, but hearing it like this all at once finally gave me the kind of satisfaction I imagine I’d get if I’d just put together a humongous jigsaw puzzle. Secondly: I’m glad, so glad he’s alive to tell me these stories.

What to read Andy’s tale of survival on Cerro Torre?
“Survivor Q&A with Andy Parkin: Alpine Climber and Big Mountain Survivor”
Alpine climber Andy Parkin shares his story of surviving Patagonia’s Cerro Torre with François Marsigny in 1994 when the pair got blindsided by bad weather and traversed Patagonia’s Continental ice cap to reach safety…click here to continue reading

The Utah Desert: Hot, Hot, Hot

Yikes–I just got an email from someone I know who is canyon guiding in Utah, and he said that the temperature was 101°F. I love the desert landscape of Southeastern Utah, but I can’t complain about the mild mountain temperatures here in Chamonix, France–cool evenings, sunny mornings.

With temperatures spiking into the triple digits, the Utah desert can be a pretty dangerous playground for those who aren’t expecting its particular climate challenges. Beyond high daytime temperatures, it can also get very cool at night. It’s important to stay hydrated and to carry emergency gear to self-support in remote areas. Flash floods can also be dangerous, as summer thunderstorms can quickly oversaturate the dry land.

Despite the dangers, I think Southeastern Utah is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places to pass time. Here’s a bit of evidence to support that claim. First of all…sunrise in Arches National Park:

Cartwheeling on top of Castleton Tower:

Big sky in Canyonlands National Park, near Salt Creek:

Evening sun at Indian Creek:

Sunset at Bridger Jack Mesa, Indian Creek:

What to know more about desert hazards and desert survival tips?
Read this article that I wrote on the About.com Survival Skills site:
“Desert Survival in Utah’s Canyon Country”
Knowing these desert hazards and desert survival tactics will help you stay safe in Utah’s high desert canyon country and other desert landscapes.

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

The Dru: Rockfall and The Siren of The Alps

I mentioned in a post last week about the Floria Slabs that I was climbing when a large rockfall came crashing down from a peak called The Dru. I stopped climbing and turned around to watch it pull away and tumble to the ground. Plumes of gray dust looked like they were smoking from the peak, and everyone was in awe of the sight and sound.

In response to the rockfall that I saw on The Dru, I wrote an article earlier in the week on the About.com Survival Skills site titled “Surviving Rockfall Hazards: Look, Listen, and React.” Even if you’re not climbing in the Alps, rockfall is common in mountain terrain, and it can be avoided.

I felt thankful that I wasn’t climbing on The Dru–or anywhere near it when the rockfall occurred. This peak is notorious for its rockfall, and a friend of mine once called The Dru “The Siren of the Alps.” It beckons climbers to its beautiful face, but it’s deadly, too, like a Siren. Here are a few photos of the peak and its surroundings, beginning with the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) glacier at its base:

One of the best places to view The Dru is from the opposite side of the valley, in the Aiguilles Rouges. One of my favorite mountain huts at Lac Blanc has The Dru always looming in the backdrop, with its light gray rockfall-scarred face:

The Siren of the Alps can look pretty frightening in a storm (again, photographed from Lac Blanc, Aiguilles Rouges):

Most of the time, The Dru simply looks beautiful against the Chamonix skyline, as it does here in the winter…still proudly showing a rockfall-scarred face:

What to read more about rockfall? Here’s my article:
“Surviving Rockfall Hazards: Look, Listen, and React”
Rockfall can threaten anyone hiking in mountain terrain, so learn how to identify rockfall hazards and how to survive an active rockfall…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara