Hiking Table Mountain at the crack of dawn – 12 November 2014

I have extolled the advantages of an early start when hiking Table Mountain in summer, but with the days become longer and hotter, I feel the issue needs another round of emphasis. The main reason for rising at, what some would deem, an ungodly hour to climb Table Mountain is simply to enhance the experience; to maximize the enjoyment thereof. Early bird gets the worm, when on safari – more chance of spotting elusive game – and also when hiking Table Mountain: more chance of enjoying yourself in the cool conditions and taking better photos in the soft light.

Summer in Cape Town gets hot, and when you’re slogging up a mountain across rugged terrain under the blazing African sun, perhaps recently arrived from sub-zero conditions, with sweat dripping down your face and plastering your shirt to your back, it’s hard to enjoy the views and appreciate the surroundings. You go into survival mode. “Let’s get this over and done with.” You don’t hear the birds, smell the flowers, bother to take photos or admire the mountain’s majestic topography. All you care about is getting to the summit as quick as possible and sitting down to a cold beer or Coke at the café on the summit. Which of course defeats the purpose of hiking Table Mountain in the first place. I say, better to endure the fleeting discomfort of having to get up early than the prolonged agony of slogging up in the heat. In most cases, starting late on a hot day practically ruins the experience. Sunrise in Cape Town during summer is around 5.30am, so by 6.30am it’s already hot. Start early and you get blessed shade much of the way up, allowing you to fully savour the experience and the views. Not every day in summer is brutally hot, and some people have a greater tolerance to excessive heat, or are more used to it (like Australians), but for the most part an early start is a great way to ensure a memorable and enjoyable hike. Heat is enervating; it makes the hike harder.

If you’re not in good shape, then you most certainly want to make it easier for yourself by avoiding the heat. Starting half-day Table Mountain hikes at sunrise also means that you get back down by around 10am, in time for breakfast with almost a full day at your disposal. Furthermore, the dawn light is best for taking photos; the air tends to get hazy and the colors washed out later in the day. Yet another advantage of hiking Table Mountain early morning is that you minimize your chances of having to hike back down due to cable car closure. In summer, the wind tends to freshen in the afternoon, often resulting in cable car closure.

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