Alden Boon

Eric McLaren: From Print to Footprints

28/12/2016

Cruising past Cape Town’s landmarks like Vredehoek and Three Anchor Bay always brings to 53-year-old Eric McLaren’s mind fond childhood memories of playing “Cowboys & Indians”, “Hide & Seek” and even “Spin the Bottle” along the streets. “We used to pick fruits from the trees as well as collect tadpoles and silkworms. Exploring the underground street tunnels was a favourite pastime as well. My primary school used to organise a yearly outing to SOS – School in the Wilds, Villiersdorp, where we learnt about the local flora and fauna. We would seek out and eradicate plants not indigenous to our hometown.”

Eric’s proclivity for the outdoors is innate, and Cape Town lavished with picturesque landscapes provides the tapestry of life he so desires. Devil’s Peak, which is connected to Table Mountain, was his second home, and as a kid he explored the lower regions and spent innumerable hours on its slopes. The dark yawning entrance of Vredehoek Quarry beckoned, luring curious kids to it with spooky stories and sightings of witches. “In those days, there were still fishes in the water, and the environment was safe enough for us to run around and play freely. Quite often I would get disciplined for coming home late, but well, kids will be kids.”

Today, Eric is a hiking guide, and Table Mountain is one of his meccas. A gruelling clamber it takes to reach the mountaintop, as twisting paths like India Venster have hikers on all fours scrambling and pulling their own weight up with chains and staples. “But when you reach Tranquillity Cracks, one of my favourite peaks, you’ll get to imbibe the magnificence of it all.  Once you’ve squeezed through the initial crack in the rocks, you’ll encounter a labyrinth of corridors filled with indigenous yellowwood trees. The area is absolutely pristine, and here you can enjoy a peaceful, well-deserved respite.”

I want my guests to feel that sense of accomplishment, having hiked the iconic Table Mountain and facing challenges they thought were insurmountable.

An avid hiker himself, Eric pays annual pilgrimage to the rugged 88-kilometre Fish River Canyon, Namibia. The largest in Africa, the canyon is not for the faint-hearted, and it takes five days to conquer it. During the day, temperatures can soar well to 40 degrees Celsius. “Here, all forms of communication with the outside world are cut off, and you have to carry your own food and equipment. Given its vast expanse, there’s not much time for you to muck around if you intend to reach the next stop before nightfall.”

In April 2016, Eric took on what he describes as one of his toughest treks to date: the off-trail Triple Peaks Challenge set in the Matroosberg mountain range. This trek was a personal challenge, and one that nobody has yet conquered, least not to Eric’s knowledge. He and his posse of four first camped at Erfdeel farm before treading the paths to Ski Club Hut and Conical Peak. Their off-the-beaten track took them through winding and tricky sections lush with fynbos, which hindered their movements. Strong and icy winds they had to suffer as well.

“We descended the saddle between Conical Peak and Rooiberg, and then traversed the south face of Rooiberg. On the saddle between Rooiberg and Groothoekpiek was set our tents. The next day, we scaled Groothoekpiek before returning to our tents. Finally, we beelined for the Rooiberg summit, continued the shortcut along Spekrivierskloof, and back to our cars at Erfdeel.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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