Synopsis: In his familiar "Our Town" tone, Scott writes for readers back home about his adventure on  "the steepest single-span cableway in existence"  which carried him up to the summit of Cape Town's Table Mountain.

Our Town 

High on a Thread

Vancouver Sun

– Jack Scott, April 17, 1953

CAPE TOWN, South Africa. – I was about to say that the view from the summit of Cape Town's Table Mountain is almost as spectacular as the view from the top of Hollyburn or Grouse, but one can carry loyalty too far. In fact, the view is better. 

Stand here with me among the crags and boulders of this so aptly-named flat-headed peak 3500 feet straight up, your back to the stiff breeze, and let's look down and around. 

It is a cloudless day, an autumn day to those who live here, but a wonderful August day by Canadian standards. You'll have long ago eased out of that tweed jacket. 

At the foot of the mountain the land slopes easily down to Table Bay harbour. There at our feet are the sun-bleached turrets of the city centre. 

Cape Town has a flavour all its own. Yet it seems made up of many far-flung places. Off to the south, now, beyond the smaller mountain they call the Lion's Head you will see where the rich live along the shore. 

It reminds you vividly of the Spanish-style homes on California's Monterey Peninsula. Beyond them, again, there are homes lining to the cliffs above the surf, homes with garages as their top floor, very much as you see out along Marine Drive beyond West Bay. 

There to the North on the edge of the business district are the crowded slum areas, pale burnt orange and a washed-out lemon, often with red tile roofs. Your memory flashes back to San Antonio in Texas or to New Orleans, although little of the New Orleans charm is to be found at closer range. 

Beyond these cluttered, pleasant, lower slopes, quiet except for the line of the surf, is the blue Atlantic stretching away forever. 

And now your eye swings South again to follow the long heavy arm of the Cape Peninsula, which is somewhat like looking upon an upside-down relief map of North America. 

Since the day is clear and bright you can see, 30 miles away, the sharp little point that is the Cape of Good Hope. If you look really hard with your eyes shut maybe you'll see 10 sailing ships beating their way around that fabled finger of land. 

And now, having pivoted about to face due south, you are gazing at the Indian Ocean with the sun glinting on it and, even from here, obviously at least 10 degrees warming (which, as it happens, it is). 

The breeze sighs down momentarily to a zephyr and faintly you hear the trumpets of a brass band parading on some unseen square down below and the thin whistle of the Blue Train coming in from Johannesburg after its long trip across the desolate Karoo veld–and it, when you flew over the other day, reminded you of Arizona and New Mexico and parts of the Cariboo country in a dry mid-summer. 

The view itself is no more spectacular than the means of getting to it, which brings us to the Table Mountain Cableway. Admission 10 shillings return (or about $1.40). 

This, too, tries my loyalty to the North Shore chair lifts for the cable ride is like nothing I've ever experienced. 

There are two cars, each with a capacity of 19 persons including the bored attendants who ride along with you. The sides of the cars are about waist high, the rest being open so that you may lean over and contemplate a drop below of anywhere up to 200 feet. So far none of the cars has dropped. 

You get aboard in a concrete building and, looking up you can see the two parallel cables, 4000 feet in length. For perhaps two-thirds of the way they follow the slope of the mountain.  Then there is a sheer cliff and you are hanging by a silly thread above a shattering void. 

As you swing into the bright blue sky the attendant warns you that the south-easterly is expected to come up this afternoon and not to stay too far from the upper station. You must listen for "the hooter" that sounds when a speedy evacuation of the summit is required. 

On one occasion, he tells you, 20 people were stranded up there for three days and apparently had the time of their life. 

Exactly mid-way you pass the other car coming down and realize that you are going at a fast clip. It is only seven minutes from top to bottom, the attendant explains and adds, as he must have added a hundred thousand times, that it is the steepest single span cableway in existence. 

Then you are there and there is that beautiful view and it is the best 10 shillings you have ever spent in your life. 

Using Format