New sides of an icon exposed


City couple’s book on exploring the Cape Peninsula’s mountain chain is memorable, writes VIVIEN HORLER

WHEN you want to get up high in cities like London, Paris, New York or Sydney, you have to climb up some man-made structure like the London Eye or Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building or the Harbour Bridge.

Impressive though they might be, they’re pretty puny compared with the mass and majesty of our mountain. It is 1 088m high, and geologists believe it may have once been twice that height. It’s the universally recognized icon of the Mother City, our playground, our breathing space, our ever-present view.

And now it is the subject of a splendid new book called Mountains in the Sea, by John Yeld and his wife, Martine Barker. Yeld, environment writer with the Cape Argus, is also a photographer and many of his pictures appear in the book. Barker, managing editor of Independent Newspapers, Cape, was the designer.
It’s a glossy, large-format coffee table book that grew out of a much smaller pocket guide to the Table Mountain chain produced by the couple six years ago.

Table Mountain from Robben Island

“We were commissioned by the Table Mountain National Park to do the guidebook, in a format which could be popped into a rucksack” says Yeld. “The idea was for a detailed guide that could be used by hikers, by the mountain guides who were being trained by the park at the time, and by anyone who wanted to get to know the mountain.”

That little book, also called Mountains in the Sea, is full of detail on the mountain’s flora and fauna, as well as the trails and routes that can be taken.

But the format meant the pictures were necessarily small, and Yeld and Barker wanted to produce a companion volume in which the pictures would dominate, the sort of book you could pore over after you had been hiking, or perhaps to inspire you to go.


It took a while, but with South African National Parks and Africa Geographic as co-publishers and the sponsorship of the French Global Environment Facility, the big book is now a reality.

Capetonians tend to talk about “the mountain” when they mean any one or all of a series of peaks that make up the Table Mountain chain, the series of mountains that runs for about 40km along the spine of the Cape Peninsula. It is the chain, rather than just the front table of Table Mountain, that is the subject of the book.

The mountain chain is part of the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site, and has the richest floral diversity anywhere in the world. Yeld’s introductory text sets the scene, emphasis the biological significance of the park, goes into its history and describes the often acrimonious struggle that led to the establishment of the park.

But, as planned, it is the magnificent pictures that are the heart of this book. About two thirds of them were taken by Yeld, but others were found in a variety of sources, including the Cape Archives.


You might think it’s hard to get a new angle on such a well-photographed icon as Table Mountain, but Yeld and the other contributing photographers have succeeded. Even regular hikers will find vistas here that are new to them. Check out the wonderful pictures of the “tablecloth”, or the family of baboons all perched on a single burnt-out tree, or the relatively rarely visited Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine above Hout Bay with its remnant of indigenous forest.

And then there are the fire pictures, as well as the spectacular rock-climbing pictures by Mike Scott, and the underwater pictures by Geoff Spidby.

Table Mountain might be a very public icon, but it is full of hidden spaces, and they are reproduced in this book in glorious abundance.

HORLER, Vivien; New sides of an icon exposed in Weekend Argus; 10.07.2010


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