Cape Fold Belt
The Cape Fold Belt is the folded sedimentary sequence of rock layers in the southwestern corner of South Africa. It is related to the Ventana Mountains near Bahía Blanca in Argentina. The rocks are generally sandstones and shales, with shales forming the valleys and the erosion resistant sandstones forming the parallel ranges, the Cape Fold Mountains, reaching a maximum height of 2325 m at Seweweekspoortpiek (‘Seven Weeks Defile Peak’ in Afrikaans).
The rocks were laid down as sediments in a coastal delta environment upon the Malmesbury unconformity in the Ordovician Period (450 ma), with the folding subsequently occurring in the Carboniferous and Permian periods during the merging of the supercontinent Pangaea. Even though the mountains are very old by Andean and Alpine standards, they remain steep and rugged due to their quarzitic sandstone geology making them very resistant to weathering. The famous Table Mountain is made up of hard rocks of the Peninsula Formation of the Table Mountain Group.
The mountains, although only of moderate height, are majestic and dramatic. This is due in part to numerous geological factors; The ranges usually have few to no foothills and rise directly from valley floors. The mountain's base is usually at or near sea level.
The mountains are not particularly ancient, despite their old-looking appearance. They are considered middle-aged in geologic terms. They were created during continental collision when Pangaea, the supercontinent formed from the late Carboniferous to Permian periods. Their stature is mostly due to their weather-resistant rocks of quartzitic sandstone, with the shale formations generally forming the valleys, capped by alluvial deposits, which are generally Quaternary in age.
The mountains were folded during this period and were still buried beneath the Earth's surface. Due to the extreme temperatures and lithic pressure at these depths, folding was not a brittle process, as the rocks retained a "plastic" constituency, making the Cape Fold Mountains spectacular in their exposed folded, faulted and twisted sedimentary strata. A number of parallel faults still runs roughly parallel with the coast, having formed during the Gondwanaland rifting when South America separated from Africa. Patagonia was to the west of Cape Town and the Falkland Islands were to the south during the Jurassic Period prior to separation. This faulting has caused the Table Mountain Sandstone to be exposed closer to and above sea level close to the coast, but gradually becoming deeper embedded in the overlying strata further inland, excluding areas where folding has caused anticlines to expose the rocks higher up (e.g. Swartberg Mountains north of the Oudtshoorn Fault.
The opening of Pangaea and subsequently Gondwanaland also aided in their "conservation" as a range, as the Cape Supergroup of rocks were capped by the deposition of the Karoo Sequence of sedimentary deposits, including the Dwyka Formation, which is compacted glacial till deposited during the late Permian southern ice age.
The following is a list of the largest individual ranges within the Cape Fold Belt include from west to east. (Translations in brackets; berg is Afrikaans for mountain; its plural is berge.)
- Cederberg Mountains (Cedar)
- Olifants River Mountains (Elephant's)
- Piketberg (Picket)
- Winterhoek Mountains (Winter corner)
- Skurweberge (Rough or scaly)
- Hex River Mountains (Witch river)
- Du Toitskloof Mountains (Du Toit's canyon, from a French surname)
- Drakenstein Mountains (Dragon stone)
- Simonsberg (Simon's)
- Hottentots-Holland Mountains (Hottentot, an old name for the Khoi aboriginal inhabitants)
- Kogelberg (Bullet, or cone-shaped)
- Stettynsberge (probably a surname)
- Langeberg (Long)
- Riviersonderend Mountains (River without end)
- Kleinrivier Mountains (Small river)
- Witteberge (White)
- Swartberge (Black)
- Outeniqua Mountains (aboriginal: place of honey)
- Langkloof Mountains (Long valley)
- Kouga Mountains (aboriginal)
- Tsitsikamma Mountains (aboriginal: place of much water)
- Baviaanskloof Mountains (Valley of baboons)
- Zuurberge (Sour, acid or acidic)