Hiking Table Mountain up and down – 30 August 2015

More often than not, hiking Table Mountain involves a cable car descent. Gliding down effortlessly after a strenuous hike is a luxury mountains don’t usually offer. A lot of people forget that, in the absence of a cableway, the summit is the halfway mark. And hiking down is harder than most people think. Here’s why:

– Your legs are usually wobbly and weak from the ascent. Down requires more balance, focus and co-ordination, and wobbly legs don’t help. Most injuries – sprains and joint pain – occur on the descent, so even though it’s downhill all the way, it’s not exactly downhill all the way.

– A lot of people are slower going down, and much prefer a steep uphill slog to bumbling down a mountain. If you are not sure-footed, don’t have good co-ordination or a good sense of balance, or if you have dormant ankle or knee injuries, then hiking down is going to present a challenge.

– Mentally, it’s tougher hiking down. You’ve seen the views, conquered the mountain and basked in the sense of achievement, so all you want is to get it over and done with. There’s no summit to spur you on; no prospect of glorious views. The hike becomes something of a mindless plod.

Despite the above, some bound down the mountain with the agility of a mountain goat, enjoying the wind in their hair as they eat up the elevation loss. You might be one of them, you might not. Best to expect the descent to be challenging, and it’s likely to be easier. Table Mountain hikes topping out on outlaying parts of the mountain, remote from the cable station usually involves hiking back down, as it’s easier than hiking across hill and dale to the upper station. Much depends on the route, the weather, fitness levels and other considerations.

Strong wind closes the cableway, necessitating a walk-down. Cape Town gets a lot of wind in summer (November to February), so hiking Table Mountain in this time quite often involves hiking back down due to cable car closure. Hikers sometimes get caught out by the wind: they start their hike in windless conditions, bargaining on a ride down, only for the wind to pick-up (as it often does) and the cableway to close. Making use of experienced Table Mountain guides takes the guesswork and risk out of tackling the mountain.

If you’re a purist who scoffs at the use of cable cars, and you have a decent fitness level, then you should enjoy hiking down more than most, who find it anti-climactic and tedious, not to mention strenuous and sometimes downright scary. I’ve yet to meet someone who enjoyed hiking down. If you’re adventurous and in good physical condition, then descending via an adventure route that involves scrambling and exciting terrain makes for a fun experience. The usual route down, Platteklip Gorge, is the quickest and easiest route down (and up) Table Mountain, but also the least scenic and exciting. For the majority of hikers, however, hiking Table Mountain bottom to top presents enough challenge and excitement.

(c) www.hiketablemountain.co.za