The vast majority of visitors to Cape Town take the cable car up Table Mountain – perhaps as much as 99.5%. Of the remaining 0.5% who hike up, more or less 80% gain the summit via Platteklip Gorge and another 15% via Skeleton Gorge. These two routes are without doubt the most popular Table Mountain hiking routes, with Platteklip Gorge getting first place by a considerable margin. But popular is not always better. Let’s briefly look at the pros and cons of these two Table Mountain hikes.
Platteklip Gorge is the oldest, quickest and easiest route to the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain, but also the least scenic and exciting. As far as hiking goes, it doesn’t do Table Mountain justice. There are about 38 Table Mountain hiking routes, so no shortage of choice. The route leads up a deep ravine along rock steps on the formidable front of the mountain. The path is well-defined and involves no scrambling or exposure to heights. The lower bit follows a stream (a trickle in summer; a torrent after rains in winter) that makes for pretty hiking. The middle sections are tedious and offers little distraction. Further up, the route enters the gorge proper, the imposing sidewalls closing in as you approach the head of the gorge – all of it quite impressive. If you’re not much into nature, or not in good shape, or have little interest in experiencing more of Table Mountain that what’s required to reach the summit on foot, or you’re short on time, then Platteklip Gorge is the way to go. Everyone else, consider the next option…
Skeleton Gorge – a perennial favourite among locals – starts at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and leads up the jungled eastern slopes of the mountain. The gorge itself takes you just under two-thirds up the mountain, from where you follow the Smuts Track to eventually gain Maclear’s Beacon, highest point on Table Mountain. A level walk across the length of the “Table” leads to the upper cable station. Skeleton Gorge, or as a German companion of mine once said, Skeletal George, takes in all the floral zones and offers a variety of views, which makes it a lot more attractive than Platteklip. But it’s more strenuous, involving about 30% more distance as well as elevation gain. Also, some bits involves rugged terrain, clambering over and around boulders (sometimes slippery) and climbing a series of wooden ladders (mildly exposed). The route scores low on the adventure scale, and offers a jungle setting along the first half (no views) – worth considering when making your route selection.
Hiking Table Mountain offers diverse experiences. The above routes scratches the surface of what the mountain has to offer. Platteklip’s popularity comes from being the easiest and quickest route to the summit, not by virtue of its visual offerings and engaging hiking. Skeleton Gorge has become synonymous to Table Mountain hiking due to its starting point in the renowned Kirstenbosch Gardens, and perhaps also features like passing through all the floral zones, topping out at the highest point on the mountain and traversing the length of the famous tabletop summit. But there are many more Table Mountain hiking routes to choose from, all bringing different features to the table and showcasing different aspect of the mountain.