Friday, November 22, 2013

Poison Mountain, and Another Fat Dog

The last time the Kaartmans visited there was January 2009. That was a mistake; it was 43 degrees when we arrived, and we spent the night outside, lying on a mattress in our underclothes. In the morning it was still 36 degrees; we drove away with the aircon on level five and promptly got bogged down to the axles of our small Bantam bakkie in a lonely drift, miles from anywhere.
We were rescued by a pleasant young man from Wiedouw, the farm at the bottom of the pass, and hence lived to tell the tale, but I digress. A few weeks ago we returned to Gifberg, in delightfully cool weather, in a rather larger vehicle, and we had a ball.
We went to explore possibilities for a map of the Gifberg paths for our host, Jansu Huisamen. Jansu tells us that the popular season at Gifberg is more or less from Easter until October, with a brief Christmas peak. Gifberg’s spring flowers are great, but even though our November visit was too late for those, the fynbos was full of eye-catching beauties.
Jansu handed us over to Spook for the first morning. Spook is a sort-of terrier who closely resembles the late Minnie, of Fat Dog fame, except that Spook is much fatter. Spook in turn introduced us to Putty, a cool young Weimeraner, who barked twice and produced Jacques Tredoux. Jacques is a fully-qualified field guide, born and bred in the Cederberg, one of those ouens with a scary, encyclopedic knowledge of tracks and dung and stones and most, if not all, of the floral beauties of the Poison Mountain. With or without Spook or Putty we can strongly recommend him as a guide. Ou toppies go slowly up hills and get ridiculously cantankerous when hot; Jacques managed us ou toppies and our even older Professor friend with skill, if not aplomb. 
Pics of a gifboom, its flowers and fruits from Plantzafrica
Gifberg is named, of course, for the presence there of the gifboom. Try to google ‘gifboom’ and you’ll get about nine million entries for a phone app called ‘gifboom’ which has something to do with swopping pictures and making movies about twerking. It’s a pity the Gifberg Bushmen didn’t register ‘gifboom’ as a cultural name, like champagne, sherry and rooibos tea, but there it is. Lost to the nation, you could say. Nevertheless, from Google I eventually dug up three plants called ‘gifboom’: a Namibian euphorbia, a Southern Cape shrubby tree, and the real thing, Hyaenanche globosa, which you can read all about at an excellent web page,
The page’s author, the esteemed Ernst van Jaarsveld, says (amongst lots of other equally interesting stuff), “The local common name gifboom (gif = poison, and boom = tree) pertains to its toxic attributes and the name Gifberg is derived from the common name of this plant. The gifboom ... was first documented by a number of prominent European botanists visiting the Cape during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first to come across this plant was the Van der Stel expedition, en route to the Koperberg, Namaqualand in 1685 ... Aylmer Lambert (1761–1842), a British botanist, created the genus name Hyaenanche (after its use by farmers to kill hyenas) in 1799.
Other Gifberg beauties: clockwise from top left, a Cotyledon or gwi; a daisy with a beetle; Leucospermum praemorsum; firesticks [koenakam] in berry (Diospyros austro-africanus)
“According to Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk (1962) the seed of Hyaenanche was used both by Bushmen for their arrows, and well as farmers to poison carcasses with the purpose of destroying hyenas. In 1797 Lambert wrote: ‘This shrub grows about two hundred miles from the Cape, in a rocky soil, in a single spot, on Wind-Hook Mountain near the Elephants River. A farmer lives there who collects the fruit, by which he makes profit of about 20 pounds per annum, selling it for the purpose of poisoning hyenas. The fruit is pounded into a powder and administered in the same manner as Nux Vomica. The powder is put into the carcasses of lambs, which are laid where the hyenas are known to come. By eating its flesh they are infallibly destroyed ...’”
Clockwise from top left: Spook leading us home; Rock painting of people in karosses – the men have arrows in their hats; youths frolicking around in a rather Grecian manner; the iconic Gifberg ladies
Don’t season your mutton braai tjops with ground gifboom: your destruction will infallibly follow. We avoided the November-flowering gifboom and set off with Jacques to see the rock paintings, for which the Gifberg Resort is justifiably famous. There are several sites strung alone the sides of the impressive Gifberg River Canyon, and in some of them the paintings are so well-preserved that your initial impression might be (wrongly) that someone has repainted them.
As the day got hotter chubby old Spook led us home, and while the rest of the Cape prepared itself for some pretty devastating floods we snoozed away a sunny afternoon (’strue).
Left: Jacques sorts his artefacts while Putty matches the cave décor; the Professor takes a photo [yes, he did cut the figure’s head off!]
Early the next morning Spook arrived, panting, to wake us up. The poor fellow seemed devastated, however, when we all climbed into Jansu’s 4 x 4 and left him behind. Several kilometres of plaas-pad later, through the healthiest-looking rooibos tea lands you ever saw, we all climbed out to begin our walk; Spook was already there waiting for us, panting.
I don’t know how he did that. I didn’t want to ask. I don’t normally believe in spooks, but ... well, enough said.
Jansu and Jacques, with Jansu’s kleintjie Luca, led us down a valley to spy on a black eagle’s nest. And to see some more great rock art. And baboons. That was the only problematical part of our trip. Not the baboons, but the member of our party who persisted in shouting and waving sticks and throwing stones at them.
I like seeing baboons. They’re as much a part of the wilderness as leopards and ants and black eagles and the gifboom. They’re never a threat to humans, except for the ones ruined by stupid human behaviour at Cape Point. They’re comical and fun to watch, especially their gymnastics up and down cliff faces where us humans would infallibly just die.
‘Hey, you down there! Wait for me!’
We moved on, Spook in the lead, to some truly spectacular paintings and through some truly spectacular pincushions, Leucospermum praemorsum to the botanical boffs. Jansu kindly lifted Spook into the back of the 4x4: he’d done enough panting for the day.
If you have never been there before, it’s time you visited Gifberg. There are very comfortable cottages and four walking trails, from a 2km ramble to the amazing potholes to the long, 21 km trek down into the spectacular Doring River canyon. There are incredible flowers, wonderful rock paintings and, to boot, for a very small fee the expert Jacques will be your guide. 
If you know any young people looking for a great future career, Jacques and Nadia Tredoux are also the proud owner/organisers of the Cederberg Wilderness Academy, where a six month all-found course will leave you qualified to lead parties on wilderness experiences everywhere. Overseas students wanting to fill a gap year after school take note, too! This place is real Africa, where the leopard dung on the paths is pretty darn fresh and quite smelly, and you will never forget the experience.
Just don’t eat the seeds of the gifboom, that’s all. They’re infallible; you’re not.

– Kaartman, 22 November 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Go Google yourself

Kaartman recently wrote a brief bit for BotSoc’s ‘Veld & Flora’ (to be published in the December issue). I was sent the proofs by the estimable editor, Caroline Voget, and found that the article was headed by a photo of my dogs. And myself. On Muizenberg Beach.
Mike Dexter’s pic
Hmm, I thought. A brilliant photographer by name of Mike Dexter took that pic – it’s his copyright. I better find him before there’s a bloop here.
So I googled myself, trying to track down Dexter. Well, my ‘Images’, anyway.
There’s a thing about googling yourself which you need to know. If your name is ‘Kaartman’ you’ll be able to find yourself quite quickly, because there are only a handful of Kaartmanne in the whole wide world. If your name is John Smith you’ve got problems. Try googling ‘Dexter’ and you get 28 million entries about an American sitcom. Finding Mike was gonna be tough.
There’s not too many of me, though, and the ‘Images’ only had three or four portraits that I recognised. There were hundreds of bits of maps of course – they help us to weed out all those sneaky people who have pinched our maps for their websites, without permission.
But I digress. The other funny thing about googling yourself (but not if you are John Smith) is discovering that around the world there are several imposters pretending to be you.
Peter Slingsby checking
the Queensland sewers
For example, I found that in Queensland, Australia, there’s a Peter Slingsby who got an award for developing a CCTV camera that can be used to inspect sewers. Peter is quoted in a thing called ‘Trenchless Australasia’: “You can go through a pipe and find something wrong. You can monitor it and say ‘okay, matey, let’s monitor and see how it deteriorates’. But really the best thing to do, Bruce, is if you see something wrong or you see something going wrong, fix it now. Because if you leave it, the more it deteriorates, the harder it is to fix.”
Perceptive guy, hey. He’s no relation of mine.
Then I found a very sad pic of Peter R Slingsby, aged 8, with his parents. The pic was taken in 1864; poor Pete died fifty years later with a pickled liver. Not surprising the poor fella liked his pots, with a fearsome-looking poppa like that! He’s no relation of mine, either.
There was a Peter Slingsby Hubbard who died in Mexico some years ago. Seems to have been a Zorba-the-Greek type of guy; he’s no relation whatsoever.
Tom Slingsby, Ozzie Yottie
There were others who share my surname, but they are all imposters. There was Minor H. Slingsby of Seattle (Minor? Yeah, that’s what it says). There is Tom Slingsby, an Ozzie Yottie who does great things in small boats, but he’s not as good looking as my son Thomas. 

The other Tom Slingsby I found was the schoolmaster in ‘Bracebridge Hall’ by Washington Irving. Mr Irving describes him thus: ‘Among the worthies of the village ... is one who has struck my fancy so much that I have thought him worthy of a separate notice. It is Slingsby, the
schoolmaster, a thin, elderly man, rather threadbare and slovenly, somewhat indolent in manner, and with an easy, good-humoured look, not often met with in his craft.’
No relation, either.
Zane Slingsby is a disgraced former police officer from Darwin Australia who imposed himself in unsuitable ways upon a female prisoner or two. He’s absolutely definitely never ever any relation ever. Never.
So who were the real Slingsbys? Well, in historical order, there was Knight Slingsby, 1250; his mouldering bones lie in a church somewhere.
Sir Henry wondering
what it’s going to be
like to be an angel
Later some of my lot distinguished themselves at another level. Sir Henry Slingsby’s pic pops up in my ‘Images’; he was an enthusiastic fan of King Charles I, but, like so many in his time, found that he was supporting the losing team, and lost his head in the Tower of London. His daughter Barbara also makes the Images cut; she looks just like my Great Aunt Agnes.
Sir Henry’s son Sir Robert kept his head, and became Comptroller of the Navy; he was a colonel and even rated a mention by Samuel Pepys in his famous diary: ‘25 Sept 1660: To the office, where Sir W. Batten, Collonell Slingsby and I sat a while .... and afterwards did send for a cupp of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before ...’
These rather more toffee Slingsbys had in earlier times linked up with some upper class twits known as Scrivens, and this resulted in the establishment of a dorpie called Slingsby. Baine’s 1823 Directory of the County of York says: 
SLINGSBY, a parish in the wapentake of Rydale; 6 miles WNW. of Malton; is situated on an extensive beautiful plain, and on an ancient Roman road, formerly a Roman station ... the castle was partly re-built by Sir C. Cavendish, in 1603, but not finished.’
My friend Amida Johns expressed scepticism about the existence of such a place; I rest my case with these two pics, one of a grotty old barn that is currently for sale in Slingsby, and the other is a puppet of Peter Rabbit at the Slingsby Primary School.

Which set me in mind to google Amida. Good heavens! She has over 1 million Google entries to my potty little 260 thousand ... amongst her ‘images’ was this early ancestor of hers, but more importantly I found these wonderful paintings by Amida – she really is a very accomplished botanical artist!

There are a couple of other claims to fame. Fred Slingsby founded Slingsby Sailplanes, in Kirbymoorside, Yorkshire, manufacturers of some of the most famous gliders in the world; but the Slingsbys I really like most are the last two.
First of these is William Cecil Slingsby. Bill was a notable climber of Norwegian peaks, he even has a glacier named after him (Slingsbybreen). He’s the guy who introduced skiing to Switzerland (’strue!); ‘Mountain environment’ writes of him: ‘... he visited the country (Norway) over twenty times in the period 1872 to 1921. His first visit was at the age of 23. At a time when few mountains had been climbed, he proved to be a mountaineering pioneer and opened new passages through the mountains and made many first ascents. Slingsby’s first ascent of Store Skagatølstind or Storen in 1876 is probably his finest achievement. Today the route, which Slingsby, Mohn and Knut Lykken made from Vetti Gard, is very challenging because of its length and glacial approach to Mohns Skar as the glacier “Slingsbybreen” has receded from the upper reaches of the skar (col). The final section is an exposed final grade 2 scramble to the summit of Norway's third highest summit - a section which Slingsby made alone.’
Above, looking west through Rauddalen with the snow covered summits of Mjølkedalstinden (left) and Rauddalstind (right). Slingsby made the first ascent of Mjølkedalstinden in 1881.
Second is Arthur Morris Slingsby, who sadly lost his life in WWI. The Yorkshire Rambler’s Club writes:
‘In 1909 he ... explored the unknown maze of the Eastern Karakoram. They crossed the main range in June by the Saltoro Pass (18 200 ft), and discovered the immense Siachen Glacier, 48 miles long, and to their astonishment piercing the main range, and a feeder of the Indus basin. The problem of escape from the Saltoro valleys was solved by Slingsby, who discovered the Chulung La (18 300 ft). Longstaff (his companion) writes –  “... The glacier soon degenerated into a maze of crevasses concealed by a deceptive covering of new snow, through which the heavily laden coolies were constantly breaking. I quite expected we should have to spend the night on the Korisa Glacier, but just as it got dark Slingsby found a way off through difficult séracs.”
In 1911 Slingsby set off to conquer Gahrwal (25 400 feet: 7742m).  He lead his party up 1 500 ft of especial difficulty during 11½ hours. For five hours he, unaided, hacked coal-scuttle steps in hard ice, hauling up heavily laden coolies, and all this herculean work was done in the thin air of 20 000 ft above sea level. Thanks to Mr. C. F. Meade, the col (21 000 ft) up which he dragged his men will always be known as the “Slingsby Pass”.’
So there you are, Amida. Not only a village and a castle, but a glacier and a 21 000ft high pass, too!
And I found Mike Dexter’s startlingly beautiful website. You should visit it, too.

Kaartman, 3 November 2013