Tag Archives: hiking

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.


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

Downclimbing and Descending in the French Alps

GR 96-1A few summers ago, I set out by myself on a hiking and cycling journey through France–from Calais to Chamonix–in the footsteps of British Romantic poet William Wordsworth. In all, it took me forty days to complete the journey, and on Day 39, I had to make a steep descent down my final big mountain pass on GR 96, the trail that I was following into Sallanches for that night and then onto Chamonix the next day.

The weather wasn’t great that morning, and I’d spent several stressful hours traversing high alpine meadows covered in low clouds. Route-finding was difficult as the trail became faint through the meadows, and it was difficult to plot out my route through the low clouds, mist, and fog. And then, I came upon one of the steepest sections of hiking trail I’ve ever descended (pictured above right and below):

GR 96-2

The trail threaded down through a massive cliff face, entirely exposed. But it was equipped with a rope in the most difficult sections. I was hiking alone, and in this moment, I wished that I had on a pair of climbing shoes instead of my hiking boots for better traction. Better yet, I wished for a climbing partner and a rope!

GR 96-3

But I somehow kept my wits about me and remembered all of my downclimbing skills to stay safe. As I got further away from the exposed trail, I could fully see how steep the terrain was that I’d just hiked through.

GR 96-4

I think that rock climbing and the practice that it gave me with downclimbing helped me stay calm when I reached this section of the trail. I proceeded carefully but with confidence once I got going…even though my first sight of the descent route filled me with dread.

Want to know more about how to build your downclimbing skills?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:

“How to Downclimb Safely on Steep Terrain”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

In Praise of Trail Markers!

1-Shawna Macnamara and TraciIt’s always reassuring to see a trail marker in the middle of nowhere. But if you’re in an area that doesn’t have consistent trail markers, it’s important to remain vigilant along the trail and look for marks that will help you return along the same trail if you’re meant to be on an out-and-back hike. And…if for some reason, you become lost and need to turn around, you’ll want to recognize the correct trail when you hit it.

Generally, I feel constantly reassured of my location when hiking in the French and Swiss Alps, sometimes annoyingly so. But I’d rather complain of constant trail markers than complain of getting lost. Large cairns are often visible on the peaks of mountain summits, just to help you make sure you’ve arrived. My sister Shawna and I (above right) were happy to pose on the Mont Buet summit cairn near Chamonix, France, as was our buddy Trent:

2-Trent Burns Mont Buet

Guideposts are also common in the French and Swiss Alps, sometimes giving you numerous options at each juncture:

3-Alps Guidepost

Blazers in Switzerland are often yellow and diamond-shaped, like this one on a trail along the Rhone valley:

4-Alps Blazer

Trail blazes are common along trails in the Alps, as well. Typically, France’s GR (or Grande Randonee) trails are blazed in red and white paint on trees or rocks, but in this area in a high alpine meadow, there weren’t any trees; it was a notoriously bad stretch for foul weather and route-finding errors, so the owners of this farm painted a huge blaze on this building to help guide hikers through. I was especially thankful for it on this scary, foggy day when I was passing by:

5-GR96 Alps Blaze

Yes…all of these trail markers are amazing to find, especially in bad weather. But I also feel comforted by the natural trail markers I always look for when hiking in well-known areas. I frequently look for patterns in the area where the trees hit the skyline…here’s one of my favorite silhouettes that helps me navigate through a well-known wilderness area at night:

6-Natural Trail Marker

Want to know more about cairns, blazes, blazers, guideposts, and other trail markers?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:

“Using Landmarks to Navigate Effectively”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

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.

The East-West Rule and Daytime Navigation

Two summers ago, I went on a forty-day hiking and biking journey from Calais on the north shore of France to Chamonix, in the French Alps. I covered nearly 800 miles of terrain, and I used three main navigational tools: map, compass, and my wristwatch. At the beginning of the journey, I made a lot of route-finding errors, but I got better along the way as I learned to use the position of the sun to help me determine my direction–in addition to the information I gained from my map and compass.

The most important thing to remember when using the sun to help you find direction is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Of course…there’s a bit of seasonal variation, and we’re not talking exact direction here, but the east-west rule is a general truth. Since I walked for many, many, many miles through fields in Northern France, I saw lots of wheat and hay, and I looked at how the sun hit the bales:

Since I knew the east-west rule, I knew that the side of the bales that was lit up by the sun at first light was the east-facing side.

Another general truism is that the sun is due south in the sky at midday. Notice where the sun is hitting these bales–photographed at midday–in comparison to the other bales photographed at first light.

Knowing how to use a map and a compass–your basic navigational necessities–is the best way to go about navigating through unknown terrain, but you can also use the east-west rule to help you move more confidently in your desired direction.

Want more daytime navigation tips?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills site:
“Daytime Tips for Finding North in the Northern Hemisphere”
Figuring out which way is north can help you find your way through unknown terrain. Here are a few tips for finding north during the daytime in the Northern Hemisphere.

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Summer Snow Survival

Title: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail // Author: Cheryl Strayed // Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf // 315 p. // 2012

I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and loved how Strayed tells her story of a life-changing adventure hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s funny and honest and real. Strayed sets off to hike the PCT in the midst of grieving over her mother’s death and a recent divorce. She’s able to tell a balanced story that offers the details of an exciting adventure and reveals the emotional depth that underlies it. Strayed does most of the hike alone, but along the way, she encounters rattlesnakes, endures excruciating blisters, and pushes herself to achieve new mental and physical limits. She meets a host of interesting characters along the way, but she emerges as the most interesting one of all.

The Pacific Crest Trail begins in Mexico and ends in Canada, crossing through California, Oregon, and Washington along the way. It crosses through both the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade mountain ranges, so Strayed covers a lot of high ground on her journey. She tells about hiking across snow slopes and learning how to use an ice axe to self-arrest in case she falls. Even though she bypasses a particularly snowy area in the Sierra Nevada, she encounters snow in many other areas and has to cross the snow slopes that she fears.

Crossing a snow slopes is a challenge that many hikers will face in the mountains during the summer, even if it hasn’t snowed for months. If you plan to go into an area where you might encounter snow this summer, check out these two articles I recently wrote on the About.com Survival Skills website. First of all, get some snow slope basics by reading “Summer Hiking and Snow-Covered Terrain.” For more on a related skill, read “How to Self-Arrest With an Ice Axe.”

I’ve also created a YouTube video demonstration of how to self-arrest with an ice axe:

Enjoy Wild–and get out there for some good mountain adventures this summer while you’ve still got a few months left!

Photo © Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times; Jacket: Alfred A. Knopf.

Further Reading on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Summer Hiking and Snow-Covered Terrain”
Hiking across snow-covered slopes in the summer requires a specialized set of skills and techniques. Learn how to survive this challenging terrain by knowing what to do when you encounter it.

“How to Self-Arrest With an Ice Axe”
These step-by-step descriptions and photos demonstrate how to stop yourself from sliding down a snow-covered slope.