Hiking down Table Mountain – 14 June 2014

What goes up must come down. Reaching the summit of a mountain is only the halfway mark. People often forget this, or discount the descent as negligible in the scheme of things. When it comes to Table Mountain hiking, you have the luxury of a cable car to whisk you back down – but not always. The cable car often closes due to strong wind, necessitating a walk-down. If you hike up on a windy day, or on a day when wind is forecast later in the day, it’s important to be prepared for the walk-down: mentally, physically as well as timing and taking enough water.

Walking down is tougher than most people think. It’s less taxing than walking uphill, but it’s more technical. If you don’t have a good sense of balance, then you’re bound to find the descend awkward, resulting in a snail’s pace and lots of bum-slides to safely negotiate big rock-steps. It’s also tough on the ankles and knees; so if you have bad / weak knees or ankles, then reconsider. It’s a lot easier hurting yourself going down – tripping and slipping and losing your balance. Your legs are tired from the walk up, so your foot placement is not as precise always as it should be, resulting in a slip or ankle-roll. Walking down is also tough mentally: you’ve conquered the mountain and seen the views from the summit, and now you just want to get off the mountain and chill.

Most people don’t enjoy hiking down. Some are actually slower down than up, and finds it more challenging. To enjoy hiking down, you need to be in good shape. The usual route down, Platteklip Gorge, is not very exciting, so a good fitness level allows descent via a more scenic and stimulating route (all of them longer than Platteklip Gorge) and enables you to hike down more safely with less risk of injury due to fatigue or overworked muscles. Table Mountain hikes that top out near Constantia Corner and on the southern Apostles typically involves walking down (less strenuous than walking across to the upper cable station).

Hiking Table Mountain safely involves due diligence towards the descent. Take into account the following when the cable car is closed or it is likely to close later in the day due to wind: take extra water; be prepared for hotter conditions than on the ascent; take ankle- or knee-guards if you have weak ankles or knees; know your descend route; allow for enough time to make it back down before dark; ensure you have the ‘legs’ to walk down (consider turning back if you have wobbly, shaky legs midway on the ascent).

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