Table Mountain hiking: A nutshell of need to know – 25 February 2021

Hiking Table Mountain is the ultimate way to experience this iconic landmark. You get a true idea of its size and wildness, diversity and grandeur. Despite its proximity to a city and the presence of a cableway, Table Mountain is still very much a mountain. There might be a shop and café on its summit, and a city at its base, but much of the mountain remains pristine. And pristine cuts both ways: beautiful, but also unforgiving.

The first thing you should know about hiking Table Mountain is that it is strenuous. Less strenuous if you are fit; more strenuous (gruelling) if you are not. And that is up the quickest and easiest route, Platteklip Gorge. More on Platties (as locals often refer to it) later. So, it is not for everyone. If you are unfit but determined and motivated, you will likely manage and still derive enjoyment from the experience. If you are of at least average fitness, and motivated and enthusiastic, you will love it. And if in addition you appreciate nature, have an inquisitive mind or if you are adventurous, then it will likely end up your favourite experience in Cape Town.

The next thing you should know is that there are many routes, all of them unique in terms of character and difficulty. This is where making use of a mountain guide begins to pay off. Route selection is a vital component to optimizing your Table Mountain hike. Be wary of what travellers say about a particular route: they lack perspective from not having done some of the other routes, and they often reflect subjective fitness levels and abilities. Route write-ups can be deceiving. There really is no ‘The Best Table Mountain hiking route’. Just like there is no ‘The Best’ movie or book or food. It is a personal matter. Sure, some routes offer more appeal and merit to more people, but not to all.

Which brings us to Platteklip Gorge, Table Mountain’s oldest and easiest route. Any Google search on Table Mountain hiking will bring up results about primarily three routes: Skeleton Gorge, India Venster and Platteklip Gorge. A glut of information makes it bewildering to decide which is best for you. There is no short answer. Each route has merit, depending on your fitness, abilities and preferences. To the average person – average abilities, average sense of adventure, average fitness level, average interest in nature, average mountain experience – Platteklip Gorge ranks as the least scenic and exciting route up Table Mountain.

As a mountain guide committed to providing the best possible experience of Table Mountain, I rarely suggest Platteklip Gorge. It does not do the mountain justice. However, if you have never hiked a mountain, and you are unfit and have more interest in ticking off Table Mountain on your bucket list than having an adventure or communion with nature, then it is the best route for you. You will likely end up thoroughly enjoying the experience. Platteklip Gorge is the most popular Table Mountain hiking route, not because it is the best, but the easiest. All the other routes offer a far more engaging experience of Table Mountain, with better views and more nature.

Further to the above, bear in mind Table Mountain’s erratic weather. Starting early in summer is essential to ensure an enjoyable experience. Plan your hike for early in your Cape Town stay to allow for spare days in event of bad weather. Table Mountain gets a lot of cloud and strong wind, even in summer. Micro-climates make weather prediction challenging. The weather is changeable and unpredictable. For the sake of safety and enjoyment, be very mindful of the weather. Unless you are Scottish – then bad weather is merely weather.

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