Hiking Table Mountain via the Grotto-Fountain-Cairn Traverse – 16 January 2015

Table Mountain hikes vary greatly in terms of views, topography, flora, difficulty and mood or atmosphere. The easiest route involves nothing more than rock steps, the hardest anything but rock steps: scree, bush, scrambling, exposure to heights and any combination of these. Weighing in as arguably the most challenging Table Mountain hiking route, the Grotto-Fountain-Cairn (GFC) Traverse offers all kinds of terrain, much of it rough and broken. Throw in ample exposure to heights (i.e. tiptoeing along narrow ledges on the edge of a sheer drop), imposing topography and pristine nature, and you have a route fit for the likes of India Jones.

Despite its challenges, you don’t need any experience to do this route, just a solid sense of adventure, a good head for heights and a good fitness level – and ideally a competent leader or mountain guide. The GFC is a composite route (not unlike many Table Mountain hiking routes), as it uses parts of three different routes to gain the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain. The first section follows Grotto Ravine, passing through a delightful patch of indigenous forest along the way – a rarity on that side of the mountain – to a level about two-thirds up, where a long traverse commences, linking Grotto Ravine with Fountain and eventually Cairn Ravine, giving the route its name. The traverse is the meat-in-the-sandwich part of the route, involving some tricky scrambling along with lots of vertiginous heights.

The traverse runs across a forbidding part of the mountain, picking its way ingeniously across great cliffs that seem impenetrable from below, before terminating above Cairn Ravine, from where an exposed scramble leads to the top of Kloof Corner Ridge. From here, Fountain Ledge – top section of India Venster – takes you to the summit. If you’re up for a challenge and enjoy pristine nature off-the-beaten track, then hiking Table Mountain via GFC will forever change the way you look at the mountain. Table Mountain hikes does not get wilder than this. But be warned: you need a solid head for heights and a good fitness level; and you need to be up for a challenge. None of the scrambles is very technical, so you don’t need climbing experience.

Best to tackle this route with someone who knows the mountain very well and can provide safety on steep ground, or make use of a competent mountain guide. This route is not to be trifled with, so make sure you’re in good company when attempting it. It’s not really feasible in winter, especially directly after heavy rain, when the traverse is wet and slippery, and an unavoidable scramble gushes with water.

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