Hiking Table Mountain: Managing expectations – 5 March 2020

Hiking Table Mountain involves several variables not present in your average tour, each of which can impact on your overall enjoyment of the experience To manage your expectations, you would do well to keep the following variables in mind:

Weather

As an outdoor activity exposed to the elements, and playing out on a mountain known for micro-climates and idiosyncratic weather phenomena, Table Mountain hiking requires a mindset that takes the rough with the smooth. Thick cloud driven by gale-force winds often engulf the mountain even in high summer. Table Mountain gets a lot of cloud and wind, regardless the season – and its location in sunny South Africa – so do not take it for granted that the weather will be perfect. In fact, count yourself lucky if you get not wind and cloud. To optimize your chances of getting good weather, book your hike for early in your stay to allow for spare days in event of bad weather.

Fitness

Another facet of Table Mountain hiking that involves variables. To over-simplify: most people, with enough determination, can hike up the quickest and easiest Table Mountain route (Platteklip Gorge). But since it’s the least scenic and exciting route, you might want to gather resolve for a nicer and as a result more challenging route. While you might make it to the summit on foot, the definitive question is whether you will enjoy it. For some, enjoyment is not foremost; their primary motivation is conquering the mountain on foot and afterwards enjoying the sense of achievement. They view the experience of hiking Table Mountain as a retrospective pleasure. Others insist on having fun along the way, which is a reasonable expectation. But ask yourself in which group do you fall. While determination, motivation, enthusiasm and stubbornness make up for what you might lack in fitness, you need to address the issue of why exactly do you want to hike Table Mountain (as opposed to taking the cable car up, along with the approximately 99% of visitors to Cape Town).

Terrain

Table Mountain hiking involves rugged terrain for the most part, so don’t expect manicured trails, especially on the more challenging and off-the-beaten track routes. Routes like India Venster and Skeleton Gorge involve a fair amount of loose rock and scrambling, the former packing some narrow ledges, too. If it’s your first time on a mountain, you need to be prepared for some rocky terrain, certainly on routes other than Platteklip Gorge. Table Mountain might have a flat summit, but its slopes are rough and broken.

In addition to the above, it’s worth noting that if you want to experience the better routes – more scenery, more excitement, more nature, more peace and quiet, less crowds – then you either have to be up for a more strenuous route or a route that involves scrambling and narrow ledges (nothing extreme). Lots of diversity exists between the various Table Mountain hikes, but they all require a measure of fitness and determination in order to enjoy.

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