The Platberg, the Free State’s own “Table Mountain”, overlooks the town of Harrismith. It literally means the flat-mountain; the 2377m high inselberg is a landmark & forms an imposing backdrop to the town. It is an extension of the eastern foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. Its western slopes & the summit of the mountain are a nature reserve with a number of endemic/near-endemic alpine plants that are unique to the region. The reserve is also home to eland, black wildebeest, blesbok & mountain reedbuck.
In October Harrismith welcomes outdoor sports enthusiasts to the town to participate in one of South Africa’s toughest running events: the Platberg Marathon also known as the Platberg Mountain Race. The history of the race is legendary. In 1922 local residents, incensed by a remark from a British Major who disparagingly referred to the Platberg as “that little hill of yours”, challenged a soldier to a race to the summit in less than one hour. Major Belcher accepted, won the challenge & challenge & to this day his floating trophy is awarded to the first person to reach the Platberg’s summit top in what has become a prestigious & grueling cross-country race and is known as the Platberg Mountain Marathon. This arguably is the ‘toughest in the world’ route as it climbs approximately 600m in 5 kilometers to the summit of Platberg (2377m) The race is the oldest in South Africa, older than the Comrades Marathon.
Platberg’s altitude ranges from 1900m to 2394m. The surface area covers approximately 3000ha. The slopes are steep with numerous vegetated gullies and boulder green slopes below vertical cliffs that are 20m to 45m high. Waterfalls cascade down the southern cliffs after rain. A permanent stream arising from the Gibson Dam on the undulating plateau flows off the escarpment and cascades as a waterfall.
From a distance, Platberg appears to have a distinct flat top. However, once on the summit the plateau is found to be undulating, with rolling grass-covered slopes.
Platberg was known “Mount D’Urban” till about 1850. The name then changed to Taba’Nchu (Tafelberg) but the name Platberg stuck.
Woody patches of Leucosidea, Budleia, Kiggelaria, Polygala, Heteromorpha and Rhus shrubs, as well as the indigenous Mountain Bamboo Thamnocalamus tessellates, grow along the base of the cliffs. The shrub land vegetation is concentrated on the cool side of Platberg on sandstone of the Clarens Formation, in gullies, on screen slopes, mobile boulder beds, and on rocky ridges, Shrubs and trees also occur in a riparian habitat in the south-facing cleft, in which the only road ascends steeply to the summit. An occasional Yellow wood, a sad relic of the many that once flourished here, can be found.
There are a number of passes running through the mountain.
The acting Governor, HF Wilson and his sister came to plant the first trees and suggested that the plantation should be called the Alexandra Forest after the Queen. The suggestion was adopted but the name was never in general use it was better known as the Government Forestry. On this occasion tea was served in the area set aside for the nursery and for many years afterwards townspeople were allowed to make fires there and have picnics and move freely about the whole area.
Seeds of the trees came from the Cape, Transvaal Europe and the United State of America, Australia and from Paris, France. 38 varieties were planted. Within 3 years the whole area had been divided into 12 acre blocks with wagon roads between, fences had been put up, pipes or drains laid down and a dam made. By 1920 a quarter of a million trees had been planted in the streets, the Park, the Golf course and the commonage, at the Old Homestead, to the Gymkhana and the polo clubs and to the SA Railways.
The Gibson Dam and the Water pans on Platberg
Blockhouse still stands guard over the Dams
Thanks to Biebie de Vos for his pictures of our beautiful mountain.
Thanks to Adam Truscott for the painting
Thanks to Dan Wessels for the beautiful fauna pictures.
Till next time
Hennie & Sandra