The different faces of hiking Table Mountain – 26 May 2020

If there is one thing about Table Mountain hiking that never ceases to amaze me, it must be the diversity. Unlike the average mountain, Table Mountain, as the name suggests, does not rise to a pointed peak. Rather, it is a rambling plateau that covers an area of about 58 square kilometers. This gives rise to micro-climates: different sides of the mountain get different rainfall and sunlight. The south and east sides receive about three times more rain than the north and west faces, and less direct sunlight in summer.

These two factors – more rain, less sun – create an environment conducive to the growth of Afro-montane forest, a type of forest resembling a tropical jungle (falls short of 200mm precipitation per annum of official classification as a rainforest). Therefore, hiking Table Mountain from the east or the south leads through lush forest along the first hour or so. A world apart from the dry and hot north side, where the mountain rises sheer from the city in a series of cliffs bristling with overhangs. The mood, vegetation and views on the north side are very different to the east. Table Mountain hikes on that side calls for a pre-dawn start in summer to avoid getting baked.

Moving over to the west face, the vegetation is mostly indigenous shrub with riverine forest hunkering down in some of the deep ravines. This part of the mountain comprises a chain of seaboard peaks extending behind the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain called the 12 Apostles. Hiking Table Mountain from this sides affords sea views and more peace and quiet, as you do not see or hear the city. Again, the mood, views and topography are vastly different from the other sides.

Then there is the summit plateau – the famous tabletop of Table Mountain – marshy and rocky. Behind this, on a lower level, sprawls the undulating lower plateau, or Back Table, a vast area of pristine mountain liberally sprinkled with caves, rock labyrinths, pretty peaks and secluded valleys, all of which begs exploration. Hiking up Table Mountain is just part of the fun; there is also hiking across it. Capricious summit weather adds to the diversity: the whole area is unrecognizable in cloud, when it takes on a mystical, otherworldly appearance.

Rarely do I hike Table Mountain without at some point standing spellbound by the trenchant diversity. One moment, in the mysterious gloom of jungle, creepers trailing down from the canopy, ferns sprouting between moss-covered rocks in deep shades of green, the clack and screech of birds; the next moment, cresting a saddle, greeted by sea views, rocky slopes that fall away into the ocean, cliffs towering overhead, sun-splashed boulder fields. And because the mountain is so dissected, the topography varies greatly, so that even neighbouring Table Mountain hiking routes differ from the other in many ways.

Table Mountain’s rich diversity lies at the core of my abiding passion for the mountain. Bar snow and ice, Table Mountain is a microcosm of every type of mountainscape out there. Ascending different routes feels like you’re on a different mountain every time. There’s something for every taste and preference. And with so many Table Mountain hiking routes to choose from, each with their own ‘personality’, hiking Table Mountain remains engaging and stimulating, no matter how many times you tackle its slopes.

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