Many routes lead up Table Mountain: about 38 hiking routes and more than a thousand climbing routes. No one can say exactly how many, because some routes haven’t been repeated in decades and it’s questionable whether they can still be considered official routes. Also, no definitive definition exists for what constitutes a route; climbers have been debating the issue since the late 1800s. Some routes terminate on an outlaying part of the mountain, distant from the famous and iconic tabletop summit, and require more hiking to extend to reach the highest part of the mountain.
Most people who hike up Table Mountain – perhaps 80% – ascend via Platteklip Gorge, the quickest, easiest and oldest route, but also the least scenic and exciting. If you’re unfit or you want to reach the summit with a minimal expenditure of energy, or don’t have much time available, or you don’t care much about nature and only want to tick off hiking Table Mountain, then this is the route for you. While it ranks as the least scenic and exciting route, it doesn’t mean that it offers no scenery or excitement. The upper reaches of the gorge offer dramatic rock-formations, and the views over the city should reward your exertions.
All other Table Mountain hiking routes fall in broadly two categories: strenuous and adventurous. Strenuous routes involve considerable distance and elevation gain (uphill). They start low down on the mountain and at the back of the mountain, so they’re pretty long. Adventurous routes involve difficult terrain – or more difficult terrain – in the form of scrambling (east climbing – no experience required), loose rock, bush and / or exposure to heights (sheer drops). Kasteelspoort and Skeleton Gorge are two examples of strenuous routes, involving only light scrambling and minimal exposure to heights. India Venster and Kloof Corner are examples of adventure routes, involving scrambling and heights, with less distance and uphill. Of course, there are routes that are both strenuous and adventurous.
While physical and mental ability typically dictate route choice, it shouldn’t be the decisive factor. I’ve seen hikers terrified of heights perform well on adventure routes purely because of their sense of adventure and preparedness to step outside their comfort zone. Table Mountain hikes are extremely diverse in terms of adventure level, topography, vegetation, views and mood / atmosphere, so personal preferences also play a role in route selection. This is the first and major advantage of making use of a competent mountain-guide: route selection. Based on your timeframe, preferences, interests and abilities, a guide will make route suggestions.
Route choice is vital in ensuring a memorable and enjoyable Table Mountain hiking experience. Choosing the right route allows you to optimize your experience of the mountain. Different routes offer different challenges and environments as well as views, so make an informed choice before you set out on your Table Mountain hiking adventure.