When it comes to Table Mountain hiking, the ambiguity of the word ‘difficult’ often lands people on a less-desired route, to put it mildly. Difficult takes many forms on Table Mountain, and knowing what they are can mean the difference between an experience of a lifetime and a disaster. Table Mountain hikes offer endless permutations of difficulties and challenges, all of which people experience differently.
Most people associate a difficult hike with being strenuous, ignorant to other factors such as exposure to heights and scrambling as well as terrain. Exposure to heights is an insidious element of hiking that the average hiker pays scant regard to. Fitness, stamina, experience and determination does not come into play; rather, a good head for heights with some skill and some composure. Some Table Mountain hiking routes are short and leads along gentle terrain, offering little challenge in the way of physicality, but leading along sheer drops in places. The route might be described as easy in terms of how strenuous it is, but not easy overall, as exposure to heights are mentally strenuous if you’re not good with heights, and can cause you to sweat, and your heart to race, as much as a steep slope.
Most Table Mountain hikes involve scrambling, some light, others severe, bordering on climbing. Some involve heights, too, adding to the adventure and challenge level. Scrambling is generally less taxing on the body, but can be mentally taxing on hikers suffering from bad balance, bad co-ordination, bad head for heights or general clumsiness / awkwardness. I’ve hiked with many unfit people who much rather prefer scrambling to slope-slogging, finding it more fun and less strenuous. And I’ve hiked with fit people who would much rather face the challenge of a long and winding trail than the intimidating terrain found on scramble routes. It takes experience to assess a route and convey the level of difficulty accurately to another person, typically someone you know very little about. People tend to be subjective in their assessment of a route, exaggerating aspects that tested their weaknesses and discounting aspects that played to their strengths.
Another key ingredient to difficulty on Table Mountain hikes is terrain. Many trails involve rugged terrain, i.e. bush and loose rock. Hiking across rugged terrain are much more strenuous than along a well-defined trail. Some people deal well with bush and loose rock; most don’t. Make sure you factor in terrain when assessing the level of difficulty of a route.
A route is not only difficult because it is strenuous. And it is not only strenuous because it is long or involve lots of uphill. With so many Table Mountain hiking routes to choose from, it can be bewildering to decide on the best. The usefulness of getting a Table Mountain guide starts here: it helps you to pick the right route.