Hiking Table Mountain: do you have what it takes to enjoy it – 13 October 2015

Most people are able to hike up Table Mountain (along the easiest route; fewer along the other routes), but not all of those people will necessarily enjoy the experience. And for some, that’s acceptable: they resign themselves to the delayed gratification of enjoying the sense of achievement once they reach the summit. Or they have a competitive streak that compels them to push themselves physically and mentally, deriving a masochistic pleasure from the experience.

But most people expect more from hiking Table Mountain than a retrospective or masochistic enjoyment. To enjoy Table Mountain hiking in the moment, you ideally need a measure of fitness. If you lack fitness, then you need stamina. I’ve seen unfit people, given regular stops to catch their breath, steam up a trail for hours with nary a drop of sweat to the brow. If you don’t have fitness or stamina, then you need a passion for nature or adventure to stimulate your enthusiasm to the extent that it will override your physical strain. Table Mountain hikes vary greatly in character, so there’s a route for every combination of preferences, fitness and ability.

I recently guided an unfit girl with short legs, no climbing experience, weak head for heights and average athletic ability up the most challenging Table Mountain hiking route. Not only did she finish strongly, but she enjoyed the hike every step of the way thanks to good stamina, a blazing sense of adventure, a preparedness to step outside her comfort zone and rugged determination and grit. Marathon-runner fitness is not what ultimately determines your enjoyment of hiking Table Mountain: determination, enthusiasm, sense of adventure, stamina (staying power) and resolve will ensure that you enjoy the experience, even with a below average fitness level. A masochistic streak also comes in handy on more challenging routes.

A lot also depends on who you’re hiking with – the person at the head of the pack. If the leader of the group sets an express pace with scant regard to members’ weaknesses or preferences, then you’re going to have a hard time enjoying yourself. If you’re on an adventure route that involves scrambling and heights, and the leader of the group lacks the competence and experience to safely assist group members, then you’re going to have an equally hard time enjoying the experience, even if you’re in great shape. Leaders who lack empathy and patience can ruin it for weaker members. So before you head up the mountain with someone, make sure he’s going to enhance the experience rather than take away from it.

A last word on the enjoyment hiking Table Mountain. Table Mountain might be next to a city, and there might be a cable car to the summit, and there might be a café and souvenir shop on the summit, but it’s still a mountain, and mountains require effort and determination to climb. If you expect it to be a walk in the park, then visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Table Mountain is steep and the terrain is rugged. It’s very different hiking the 4-odd kilometres to the summit than sauntering down 4 kilometres of sidewalk. A sure-fire way to maximize your enjoyment of hiking Table Mountain is to anticipate it to be strenuous and challenging. Like that, it’s more likely that your expectations will be met.

(c) www.hiketablemountain.co.za