Hiking Table Mountain in the cloud – 25 August 2015

Mountain generate more cloud than the adjacent low-lying areas, and Table Mountain is no different. In summer, the prevailing Southeaster wind brings cloud to the mountain in the form of the Tablecloth; in winter, rain-bearing north-westerly winds smothers the mountain in dark cloud. The mountain’s proximity to the sea doesn’t serve the atmospheric conditions favourably, but helps create micro-climates that makes the weather notoriously capricious. Hiking Table Mountain in clear conditions should be seen as lucking out; and in dense cloud, not as bad luck. Although cloud usually means no views, it lends an air of mystery and otherworldliness to the mountain not experienced in clear conditions. While we all would like to see views along the way, Table Mountain hikes pack enough distraction and diversity to compensate, in some degree, to the absence of views. Here’s what you can do if you find the mountain shrouded in cloud at the outset of your hike:

– Pick a route that involves scrambling. Loosely defined as the grey area between hiking and climbing, scrambling offers a much more engaging and stimulating way of gaining height than mere slope-slogging. Ideally, you want to have a decent sense of adventure and head for heights. Many Table Mountain hiking routes involve scrambling in varying degrees of difficulty and duration.

– Pick a route that offers dramatic topography. Hiking through a boulder field of wind-sculpted rock in the shifting mist is a surreal experience that beguiles and intrigues more than views. Rocks seem to come alive in atmospheric conditions. Watching the mist swirl over buttresses and up ravines focusses your attention on your immediate surrounding (as opposed to views that draws it away) and allows you to experience the mountain on a more intimate level.

– Pick a route that leads through Table Mountain’s unique Afro-montane forest. Reminiscent of the Amazon jungle, the mountain’s lower eastern and southern slopes are carpeted in indigenous forest. While on a clear day you might feel that forest gets in the way of seeing the views, they offer welcome stimulation, or eye candy, on days when visibility is restricted to 20 feet in any direction.

While cloud is a common occurrence on Table Mountain, it’s not always to the degree that blots out the views entirely, or from beginning to end. Sometimes, gaps in the cloud allow for tantalizing glimpses of your surroundings. Wispy cloud on the mountain creates wild and mystical conditions. With Table Mountain hikes already leading through dramatic terrain, the presence of patchy cloud enhances the views as well as the atmosphere of your location.

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