Hiking Table Mountain: with or without a guide? – 25 May 2015

“Do I really need a guide to hike up Table Mountain.” The short answer is No. The long answer: No, but making use of a guide maximizes the experience and minimizes the risk.

Minimizes the risk – what risk? The risk of getting lost, of falling victim to the changeable weather and unforgiving terrain. Despite its location next to a city and the existence of a cableway to the summit, Table Mountain is still a mountain with all the inherent dangers associated with mountains. Every year, many people lose their way, fall and get caught out by the weather, resulting in unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening situations. More people die in Table Mountain than on Everest. It’s easy to underestimate the mountain due to its proximity to the city; but the rugged terrain combined with the capricious weather are not to be trifled with. Trails crisscross the mountain, and many involve scrambling and sheer drops. If you’re not good with heights, then blindly latching onto a trail, or getting side-tracked on a more difficult route, could spell disaster. Hiking Table Mountain in ideal conditions can be tricky: add wind, cloud and rain, and you better know your way and be well equipped. Cloud sometimes boil up out of nowhere, engulfing the mountain and restricting visibility to a few feet.

Most Table Mountain hikes start out with a gentle gradient and well-defined trail, but rarely do they remain like that all the way to the summit. Trails often become vague – overgrown with loose rock – and throw up barriers and complications in the way of exposure to heights (sheer drops) and steep terrain that necessitate scrambling (elementary climbing). You as the leader of your group might be okay with heights, but what about your partner, spouse, friend or family? Making the decision to hike Table Mountain without a guide means that you take on the responsibility of ensuring others’ wellbeing on the mountain. Why shoulder unnecessary risk on your holiday, in a foreign country, in Africa, and on a mountain you know next to nothing about? Table Mountain is much bigger than most people think, the topography more complex, the summit higher and the terrain more broken and difficult to negotiate. The heat is more intense in summer than most assume, the winds stronger and the cold in winter more severe. The weather changes faster than most people expect, too. Table Mountain hiking is more than just route-finding: what point is there in knowing exactly where the route leads, but you – or a member in your party – are physically or mentally unable to do it, whether from fear of heights, lack of fitness, lack of water, injury, adverse weather or lack of ability?

The second part of the answer to why hike Table Mountain with a guide is that it optimizes the experience. It allows you to get the most out of the mountain by enabling you to do the best route within your abilities , see the best viewpoints and learn about the fascinating flora, history and geology of the mountain. Risk aside, hiking Table Mountain on your own means that you arrive on the summit without having learned a thing about the mountain. Most people who hike up on their own do so via Platteklip Gorge, the quickest and easiest route to the summit, but also the least scenic and exciting. It’s better than taking the cable car up, but as far as hiking goes, it doesn’t do the mountain justice. All the other routes are more strenuous, technical and / or tricky to find. With a guide, you don’t fret along the way whether you’re on the right route or not, and you don’t spend valuable time looking for the right route: you can relax in the knowledge that you’re on a scenic and exciting route and that you won’t miss out on hidden viewpoints. The latter point is important: many trails pass close by spectacular viewpoints that appear nondescript from the trail, and that requires a short detour to reveal their full grandeur.

Hiking Table Mountain is hands-down the best way to experience this iconic landmark. Why compromise on the experience, and your safety, by attempting to hike it without the guidance of a professional mountain-guide? Table Mountain hikes can be customized to suit your fitness and experience level as well as your sense of adventure and personal preferences. There are about 38 hiking routes up Table Mountain, some with variations; Hike Table Mountain is the only mountain-guiding outfit offering guided hikes up all these routes, giving you access to all parts of the mountain, all types of terrain and vegetation, all difficulty levels as well as adventure levels.

(c) www.hiketablemountain.co.za