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A brief history of Cape Province Mountain Club (CPMC)

Cape Province Mountain Club was established on 16 December 1931 by Carl Fisher, C “Binder” Petersen, Bill Steyn and Cecil Townsend. Some of these members have features of Table Mountain named after them, e.g. Binders Rest, Townsend Cave, Other members who made-up the first executive members were Carl Fisher (Climbing Leader), Mr C Petersen (Chairman), Mrs K Petersen, Henry Flowers and J Kannemeyer. Binder's Rest, near the start of the Kasteel’s Poort path is named after Mr Petersen who was a book-binder by trade while Townsend cave is named after Cecil Townsend who for some part of his life lived as a hermit on the back table of Table Mountain. Their main reason for forming the club was firstly their love for the outdoors, having work for the council and being vibrantly involved in mountain rescue activities.

Not much evidence of the previous history of the club is available but after the Second World War substantial evidence is available to prove that CPMC has been very active in the mountains of the Western Cape and other parts of the country. The first expedition was undertaken by three members N Galliet, A George and J Thomas who ventured to Mount Kilimanjaro in 1951 driving to Tanzania in a Morris Minor of which the engine gave up en-route. Since then the activities of the club increased steadily in the Western Cape and other regions. The bulk of the club membership was drawn from the working classes and funding for longer, foreign expeditions was not available to members during those early years. It was only from the mid-seventies that younger members became mobile and affluent enough to venture on climbing holidays to England, Scotland, Europe and the Americas.

The club was also heavily involved in search and rescue efforts in the 1950's. In 1951 the Club was donated a rescue stretcher and established its own search and rescue team. This stretcher now forms part of the artefacts exhibited in the Water Works Museum on Table Mountain. W Crump of MCSA assisted in instructing rescue techniques to members of the club. The mid fifties, especially 1955-56, saw the club heavily involved in search and rescue activities, often in conjunction with the Mountain Club of South Africa. The home of Mr and Mrs Henry Mead was used as a co-ordination headquarters for these activities. Mrs Mary Mead was later awarded a Gold badge and Honorary Life Membership for services rendered to the Club on these and other occasions. Henry Mead also received Honorary Life Membership.  

The Club also forged strong links with foreign mountain clubs during the fifties. Links were established with The Alpine Club (Europe) and CPMC hosted members of the Japanese Alpine Club when they passed through Cape Town with the Japanese Antarctic Expedition of 1957.

During the fifties the tradition of providing a service to the community was established. There are many records of mountain activities organised specifically for school, church and youth groups. An emphasis was placed on providing opportunities and outdoor experiences for the underprivileged. This tradition was carried on through the sixties, seventies and is still high on the current agenda of the club.

In 1955 "The Carl Fisher Memorial Building Fund" was started and by 1961 plans for a Club House had been drawn up and the Club was negotiating to lease land from the City Council. The negotiations were however unsuccessful and the project was eventually shelved. The imposition of the Group Areas Act had no small part in this decision. The development and growth of the Club has suffered from the lack of a fixed venue for meetings and social functions and which could act as a focal point for members and their friends. Members who could no longer be actively involved in climbing programs, and particularly older members, soon lost contact with the club because of the lack of facilities. Younger members have thus not benefited from the experiences and support that these members could have provided.

The Club has, however always had a hut on Table Mountain and this has at least provided a focal point for active members. The hut was built during the construction of the Woodhead Dam on the Back Table at the end of the last century. The late City Councillor Dr Abduraman was instrumental in acquiring a lease from the City Council. The building was originally divided into two sections and CPMC shared it with the labourers of the City Council Waterworks Department until their new quarters were built in the late 1960's.
The hut stands on the open plateau at the top of Kasteel’s Poort and is continually exposed to harsh weather conditions.  By the early seventies the wood and iron used for the construction had all but rotted away and was in need of urgent replacement. The Club decided to rebuild the wood and iron sections with brick and mortar and reconstruction started during the Easter Weekend of 1975. For the rest of that year a loyal and dedicated group of members spent almost every weekend rebuilding the hut. The new hut was officially opened on the Club's 44th anniversary on 16 December 1975.

After the major effort to rebuild the hut the members decided to take a well deserved climbing break. That break stretched for almost nine years before the renovations were completed and a new roof was added to the hut. Ten days later during the night of 15-16 May 1984 a tremendous storm hit Cape Town. The new roof was completely torn from the building and a good portion of the upper walls were destroyed too. It was a catastrophic disaster and the situation was worse than before renovations had begun.  Accommodation was reduced to a very small lean-to kitchen which, at a very tight squeeze, could accommodate six people. The Club immediately embarked on a major fund raising drive to raise the funds to restore and re-roof the building. The reconstruction and re-roofing was started within a year and completed in an intense six week period. Furnishing and refitting the interior has continued at a more leisurely pace ever since.

1985 to 1988 saw a general decline in the membership of the Club.  Toward the end of this period the decline was so dramatic that it was feared that the Club would be forced into dissolution.  Fortunately the tide has turned and the years that followed the club has seen an even more dramatic increase in membership and activities. A similar decline and almost dissolution was experienced toward the end of the late 1990’s, but since we have experienced dynamic growth within the club. 

Currently the club has 49 registered members on its books with regular mountaineering events arranged on a monthly basis. Many schools, churches, community and youth based organizations interact with the activities of the club or are simply users of the club’s hut on Table Mountain facilitated by our members. Many young people (and older folk) experience their first mountaineering encounter with CPMC. We have recently developed an outreach policy together with an intense outreach programme to reach out to those less fortunate of enjoying and respecting the outdoors. Here we closely with SEEP (Schools Environmental Education Programme) reaching out to learners from schools such as South Peninsula High, Crestway High, Lotus High, Mitchell’s Plain School of Skills, Glendale High, Ocean View High, Beacon Hill High just to mention a few.

It remains the goals of CPMC to encourage positive lifestyles through enjoying and preserving our natural heritage, the mountains. It is our mission to share this kind of lifestyle with others who could be persuaded from engaging in negative social behaviour which impacts negatively on society. CPMC continues to maintain an active membership base who are able to work with all interested parties to promote environmental awareness and education.

December 2011