It was the winter solstice yesterday, and a beautiful sunny day, so Desi, Norbert and I (and Balu, of course) decided to tackle the Kasteelberg. It’s a really fabulous +-3-hour excursion – a fairly solid 2-hour climb up on a good path with only a few places where you need to scramble; and an equally exhilarating hour or so back down.
We could see evidence of baboons in plenty of scat from quite low on the mountain, and as we got higher, we could hear them too. We watched while a couple of big males in a large gathering of different-sized baboons had a tiff up on a ridge, with plenty of barking, pushing and pulling. The family had obviously seen us coming, and as we neared them, they made more and more noise.
Near the top of the climb there’s a big overhang that’s clearly a baboon hangout, and it was there that Desi and I had our close encounter. Norbert had gone on ahead (partly, I suspect, to get away from Desi’s and my nonstop chatter) and disappeared around a corner. The baboon family was perched on the ridge high above us, scolding us, which we were ignoring, but then we realised that a big male – probably a sentry – had detached itself from the group and was quickly climbing down towards us. (Norbert told us later that the baboon had passed him on the path – Norbert had thought it was Balu and had called, ‘Come, dog!’ and had got rather a surprise when instead a large baboon shot past him.)
The baboon posted itself on a rock about 20 metres to our right, and directly where we were heading. I quickly put Balu on her lead in case she was labouring under the severely erroneous impression that she might be a match for a full-grown adult male baboon. ‘Just ignore it,’ I said to Desi. ‘It’ll move away as we approach.’
It did no such thing. In fact, as we continued climbing the steep slope towards it, it suddenly rushed towards us, barking, then leapt into the tree above us, moving quickly as close to us as it could, ending up almost directly over our heads and way too close for comfort. It stared at us menacingly, and when it feinted at us, my courage deserted me.
The 60-degree slope that we’d been slowly inching up just moments before suddenly presented no obstacle. Like a panicked mountain goat I began bounding down the steep, slippery mountainside. Desi followed suit, slipping and sliding down behind me, shouting, ‘Don’t look it in the eye! Don’t show it your teeth!’
The only way I could have looked it in the eye would be to have my head on backwards; and I suppose anyone being chased by a giant baboon quickly learns to scream with their mouths closed. But I got her point, and continued moving as quickly as I could, glancing behind me to check whether we were going to have to engage in full-scale battle.
But the baboon was apparently satisfied with the galvanising effect it had had on us, and stayed sitting in the tree, smirking (I believe).
Norbert reappeared up on the corner and called down to find out what was holding us up. ‘We can’t get past this baboon!’ we shouted up.
Norbert – a no-nonsense septuagenarian who spent his working life as a wildlife vet – simply waved his walking poles at the baboon and shouted sternly at it. The baboon stared up at him, clearly debating whether to engage, but then thought the better of it and, moving casually so that it wouldn’t lose too much face, sauntered down out of the tree and climbed up the ridge towards the rest of its troop. Norbert waved us up.
Even though my legs were shivery from the after-effects of the baboon-induced adrenaline jolt, I managed to move pretty bloody smartly up the steep slope, keeping Balu as close to me as I could, until we’d passed the baboon overhang and rounded the ridge.
Desi and I sat on this rock outcrop, enjoying the view, while Norbert gamely continued climbing the ridge, determined to reach the very top of the Kasteelberg (which he didn’t on this occasion, but has sworn to do on his next climb).
* Here‘s the story of my last encounter with the baboons of the Kasteelberg.