Caving the in western cape was first actively recorded by a fellow called John Meyer who with his caving friends between 1924 to 1950 began the active recording of the history of cave exploration in the Cape Peninsula and especially the `Kalk Bay’ Caves. They were amongst the pioneers that proceeded ‘formal’ caving in the region, which was initiated with the establishment of the Cape Section of the South African Spelaeological Association in 1954.
A number of articles on or references to John Meyer are found in newspaper articles, the Mountain Club journal, Guide to the Kalk Bay Caves and Muizenberg Mountains, and SASA bulletin. These sources do not, however, tell the full story about John Meyer and the ‘Moles’. Their activities were revealed when Meyer’s Mountain Diaries were rediscovered in the 1980s. This article focuses on the caving exploits of John Meyer and ‘The Moles’ and the effect that they had on Kalk Bay Mountains and its caves. The diaries are a valuable source of information as they reveal much of the unpublished history of caving in the area.
Who was John Meyer?
John Gustav Meyer was born on the 30th May 1873. Not a great deal is known about his early years. He was a schoolteacher who was trained in the classics and mathematics. He was keen on classical mythology, which clearly influenced his choice of names for caves. He also had an ordered mathematical mind and was known to solve problems purely for the pleasure of the mental exercise.
Meyer believed in keeping fit and spent much of his time walking. He used to holiday at Kalk Bay and it was his walks on the mountain behind this picturesque fishing village that brought him into contact with the caves. His diary suggests that he began walking on Kalk Bay Mountain in early 1924 making several discoveries that year.
Owing to ill health he retired in 1932 and moved to Kalk Bay where he stayed with his sister, Annie, in a cottage called ‘Bellevue’ opposite the harbour gates. John Meyer’s brother had bought the cottage in 1910/11. After his sister died, he stayed with the Prattens in High Level Road and caved with A.W. Pratten who became one of the `Moles’.
For the next twenty years Meyer spent most of his time exploring the Kalk Bay Mountains. He was meticulous about everything he did and would type a detailed record of each trip at the end of the day. He was shy, but appeared to be friendly, as he would often take groups up the mountains and to the caves. He forged good friendships and walked and caved regularly with a number of people. Some of his friends helped him explore caves and opened the secrets of newly discovered caves.
The Diaries of John Meyer
The mountain diaries of John Meyer are records of each of his trips on the mountain or in the caves. With over 1400 entries recording a range of his activities in detail over a period of twenty-six years it is rather difficult to extract and mould the relevant information into a concise readable account. This information has therefore been put under headings that deal with different aspects of his work on the mountain.
Meyer kept a mountain diary from 1924 until 1950. His diaries are neatly hand-bound and covered with thick brown paper. Each entry is numbered and includes the date and short description of the trip. The early records from 1924 until the beginning of 1933 are sketchy and limited to a few entries each year. This is probably because he was still teaching and only went up the mountain when on holiday at Kalk Bay. From the time of his retirement in 1933 until 1951 his trips up the mountain became far more frequent amounting to about two or three a week.
It was during this period where he took many people to the caves and when he issued Mole Certificates. He also listed all the people or parties that accompanied him on the mountain at the back of each diary. Their names are grouped under each year and next to the number of his climb.
What do his diaries tell us about his discoveries on Kalk Bay Mountain?
His first visited the caves in 1924. Despite infrequent trips during the intervening years he managed to find and explore 50 caves over the period 1924 – 1933.
In 1924 he visited and named 25 caves of which about 15 were probably new discoveries. In 1933 he recorded a further 25 discoveries of which 20 were probably new discoveries.In 1934 he records 8 discoveries of which 7 were new. Ystervark cave was known to the farmers in the valley below who blocked the entrance with boulders to prevent porcupines from breeding in the cave.In 1935 he records 5 discoveries of which 4 were new. In 1936 he finds 4 new caves. In 1937 he finds 8 new caves. In 1938 he finds 2 new caves. In 1940 he finds 1 new cave. In 1941 he finds 3 new caves including Oread Halls, which appears to be his last discovery.
So the record shows that 64 of a total of 83 caves were found by John Meyer, which indicates what an impact he had on caving in the area.
Meyer called his various caving companions ‘Moles’ once they had visited the twelve principal caves on Kalk Bay Mountain. He recognized this achievement by presenting them with a ‘Mole Certificate’, which he prepared on his typewriter. The various articles on the Kalk Bay caves give the impression that John Meyer and the ‘Moles’ formed a cohesive band, almost a club, of explorers. This was certainly not the case.
John Meyer referred to himself as the First Mole. The first surviving Mole Certificates in our possession are dated 30th November 1935. Three certificates were issued on this date to Colin and Edward McCracken and Kenneth Williams after their visit to a cave, which was given the celebratory name,’ Six Moles Cave’. These certificates point to the existence of six Moles at that time.
Meyer typed each certificate, which included a list of all the caves and some place names on the mountain. Records in his diary show that Mole certificates were issued over the next 13 years. The last mention of these is certificates number 27 and 28 given to Denis and Gwyneth Paine on the 25/02/48. It is clear form Meyer’s diary that the Moles were caving companions of his that had visited the dozen principle caves determined by him. Few of the Moles caved together and therefore were not a caving group as we have been led to believe. It must also be noted that least 50 of the approximately 80 caves on Kalk Bay Mountain had already been found and named before the era of the Moles.
The Twelve Principle Caves
The caves that had to be visited in order to receive a Mole certificate are some of the major systems or better-known caves on Kalk Bay Mountain.
The Twelve Principle Caves according to John Meyer
|Clovelly cave||Picnic cave||Vier Grotte|
|Boomslang cave||Ronan’s Well||Tartarus|
|Devil’s Pit||Egyptian cave||Kliphuis (Muizenberg cave)|
|Leap Year Grottoes||Johalvin cave||The Labyrinth|
Meyer the Path Builder
Few of us know that Meyer had another major influence on the area – that of path-builder. He records in his diary in great detail his path building activities. Many of his paths and place names are still used today. From April 1935 on he developed a network of paths primarily to get access to the caves and his rest areas. His records suggest that even the main routes up the mountain were needing attention. He mentions, for example, that he worked on Main Track in 1936. To illustrate this I quote from his diary entry 213 dated 26th November 1936. ‘Worked on the track. It is finished at the lower end, and nearly so at the upper. I painted the words “Main Track” just beyond the point where the new track leaves the old.’
Meyer also built new paths, the routes of which, were largely determined by cave locations and gaining easy access to them. So in April 1936 he began building Excelsior Track. His diary entry 167 states the following; ‘Went up the mountain in the morning and started (at half past ten) clearing a new track (Excelsior Track). I commenced on the ridge near Devil’s Head and worked in the direction of Ronan’s Well’. Entry 170 continues, ‘Went up the mountain and worked on the footpath, joining it up with Pratwil Track. Then I worked at the other end. I painted the name “Excelsior Track”.’ He then built Pratwil Track from the forest, ‘Kroon se Bos’; in the main valley and through the Amphitheatre past a number of caves (Egyptian cave, Blue Disa, Edward’s Limit and Squeezes cave) on its way up to Rock Town.
He started work on Jojulu Track in June 1936. It was built from just above Hungry Harry’s Halt over Cave Peak for access to the south entrance of Boomslang cave and the caves beyond. The track was named after Joyce Logan, June and Lulu Fourie who accompanied him on one of his trips.
In December 1936 he built Bellevue Track from the Main Track past Echo Halt and Step Aside. This track was named after the cottage in Kalk Bay where he stayed for a while.
In March 1938 he began work on a new track through the forest in the next valley. He called this ‘Klein Kroon se Bos’. For the next few months he concentrated on this project and built a track right up the valley through the forest, ‘Klein Kroon se Bos’, later to be called Spes Bona Forest. He called the lower path ‘Lower Spes Bona Track’. At the same time he built ‘Upper Spes Bona Track’ from the forest past Tartarus cave and eventually linking it to North Track. Each entry he made in his diary records how long he worked and how many paces he cleared during that time.
His record of work done when building North Track from Oukraal to Muizenberg cave will give you some idea of the detailed records he kept of all his path building exploits. Entry 494 of 4th December 1939 reads as follows: ‘Left at 8.38 a.m. Did 1¾ hrs. (33 yds.) Joined on the existing track below Dolly’s Doorway. … After lunch painted the name, “North Track” at the end of the track, and, returning, repainted the name “North Track” at the beginning of the track: also cleared the first 7 yards. North Track is 1643 yards long. In all, I worked on it 65 ½ hours (29 days). Average, 25 yards per hour. I started on the 17th April.’
This is a short account of some of the path development work that John Meyer undertook on Kalk Bay and Muizenberg Mountains. It is however clear from this abbreviated account that he was largely responsible for developing the network of pathways that we use today. In building these pathways he was responsible for opening up and popularizing the area for generations after him.
This text is an extract of the article written by Anthony Hitchcock and his full article can be read by clicking the link here