A bewildering amount of information on Table Mountain hiking is available on the Internet. Tips, suggestions, advice, recommendations, warnings and all manner of articles. It’s hard to cut through the clutter and decide on the best route and, if you’ve made the wise decision to use a guide, which guiding company to use. Everyone who’s hiked Table Mountain at least once has something to say about what you should and shouldn’t do; and all mountain-guides profess to be the best. Even those who have never hiked the mountain – taxi drivers, concierges and owners of accommodation establishements – readily give their two-pence worth of advice. So let me attempt to cut through the noise and share a few vital facts about hiking Table Mountain that will allow you to make some informed decisions.
Firstly, Table Mountain is not to be trifled with, despite the cavalier reviews of some travellers. The terrain is rugged, the weather changeable, the mountain big. Yes, Platteklip Gorge is pretty straightforward (quickest and easiest Table Mountain hiking route) if you’re in decent shape and the weather is good and you don’t make the mistake of starting out late with little or no water, but it’s hardly representative of Table Mountain as a whole. All the other routes are considerably more strenuous and / or technical – and a whole lot nicer with better views – so if you’re looking to optimize your experience of the mountain, then it would involve a more challenging route, and this is where the mountain commands more respect, competence and fitness.
Hike up or cable car? Depends. If you’re in decent shape, hike up. If you’re not in decent shape but up for a challenge and prepared to push yourself physically and you’re enthused about the idea of tackling the mountain and earning your views, hike up. If you’re unfit and don’t care much about nature and you’re not the type who likes to challenge yourself, then cable car.
With or without a guide? If you want to optimize your experience of Table Mountain – i.e., if you want to get the most out of it, and you want to be safe, then go with a guide – ideally, a competent, knowledgeable, experienced one who is fun to be around. With a guide, you learn about the mountain, you get to see the best viewpoints, you get to do the best routes, you get to experience more adventure and nature, you get to experience the essence of Table Mountain, you get to explore off-the-beaten track. Table Mountain hikes vary greatly in level of challenge, in the views and topography as well as vegetation encountered along the way. A route like Skeleton Gorge differs in almost every way from India Venster: both offer superb views, but one will appeal more to a certain hiker than the other – and this illustrates the first major advantage of using a guide: route selection.
Many visitors rank hiking Table Mountain as their favorite, most memorable experience. Of all the thousands I have guided up the mountain, not one regretted it.