Here in Cape Town, the towering presence of Table Mountain creates a kind of special energy in everyday activities. It also can provide a respite from the rigors of city life, and the honking cars below give way to pure, clean air and solitude up top.
Towards the end of the 18th century, one American sailor named Joshua Penny heard the call of the mountain too, and decided to desert his ship, the HMS Sceptre, which was anchored in Table Bay at the time. Evidently he had had enough of the sailing life, and decided to rough it in one of the numerous caves that dot the mountain flanks.
Penny chose a particularly difficult cave to access. Located about 150m below the difficult Grotto-Fountain-Cairn Traverse route, its accessible only by tricky rock climbing with a sheer drop to navigate. During winter it is very wet and slippery. Penny spent 14 months in this cave, hiding from his crew members and living the Cape Town “life au naturel”. He relates here how he hunted for food:
“My whole stock of provisions nearly exhausted, I thought it time to recruit. I sallied out with a stone in my hand and had not advanced a great distance when I espied an antelope on the brow of a precipice. I threw the stone at the back of his head and tumbled him to the bottom. I cut the meat into strips and hung it on sticks put into crevices in my habitation.”
He also recounts being surrounded by wolves:
“One day I crept out of some cragged rocks and came inadverntently into a large concourse of wolves in their season of making love. They soon surrounded me, some within 20 feet. I stood ready with my knife to defend myself, when at last one turned off, another followed, till they all had sneaked off apparently ashamed of themselves, and left me alone.”
Anyone who has been to Table Mountain knows that tales of wolves and antelope on the mountain are quite fantastic, although Cape Town at the time was a wild place. There are stories of lions taking guards outside of the Castle in downtown Cape Town in the early 1700s!
Penny finally got tired of his sojourn alone and ventured out into the bay to board a new vessel, a passing Danish ship. There he learned his original ship, the HMS Sceptre, had been lost in rough seas just weeks after he deserted her.
You can see Penny’s Cave if you are an intrepid hiker, not afraid of heights, by following a narrow footpath branching out from the top of Kloof Corner. Join Johnny on a hiking club mission and he will point out Penny’s Cave and other assorted Table Mountain trivia, including rare sightings of the elusive Table Mountain tahr and the various cracks and caves on top of the mountain.
Get out and explore – Cape Town is waiting for you! Apply to become a VACorps intern today!
Check out a link to photos from Johnny’s Hiking Club, where interns managed to get up close and personal on Grotto-Fountain-Cairn traverse, just above Penny’s Cave!