What goes up must come down and this also applies to tackling a mountain. Most of the time. Table Mountain is graced – or to some, defaced – with a cable car, the upper station of which does a good job of breaking the iconic profile of the mountain, so hikers have the luxury of gliding off the mountain after their trek to the summit. The cable car does not operate in windy conditions (often the case in summer), necessitating a walk-down. And at these times, hiking Table Mountain is on even foot with other mountains in that you’re only halfway when you reach the summit.
Hiking down is not fun. I have yet to meet a hiker who enjoyed walking down Table Mountain. So if the cable car is running, then that’s the way to get back down. Taking the cable car up and walking down? Forgettaboutit. It not much easier and you don’t get a sense of achievement. If you’re in great shape and you’re agile and adventurous, then descending via an adventure route on the opposite side of the mountain (different views) can be worthwhile, but the rest should step aboard and enjoy the ride down – all 4 minutes of it.
If you’re hiking Table Mountain on a windy day when the cable car is closed, what should you expect walking down: is it easier or harder? It’s both – easier on the legs and lungs, but harder on the knees and harder technically. It requires more balance, better foot-placement. It’s easier to hurt yourself hiking down – slipping and tripping and toppling over – so it requires more concentration. It’s also tougher mentally: you’ve seen the views and conquered the mountain, so walking down often feels like a mindless plod, anticlimactic and dutiful. It’s a good time to try convince yourself that you’re a purist at heart.
Few people enjoys hiking down Table Mountain, and those who do are usually pretty good at it. Some people are naturally good at descending; they have a sense of balance, good body-orientation and a confident stride. Others feel like they are going to keel over or slip every step of the way, or they have bad knees, or they are timid walkers. In my experience, most people find hiking down harder than expected – and less pleasant.
If you have the time, the knees, the balance and the energy, then a descent route can be structured to include different views or prominent topographical features (caves, waterfalls, unique rock-formations, etc.). But if you lack any of the aforementioned, then so much more reason for hiking Table Mountain – just make sure the cable car is running on the day!