Summer in Cape Town sees the arrival of the Southeaster, a gale-force wind that tears across the Cape Peninsula from November to around February, often for days on end. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Cape Doctor’, the Southeaster affects Table Mountain hiking as much as your hair-do. The mountain gets the brunt of the wind, forcing the moisture-laden air to higher altitudes where it condenses to form a dense bank of cloud that engulfs the mountain, pouring down the famous front face like a titanic waterfall, earning its name as the Tablecloth. Hiking Table Mountain in Southeaster conditions is possible, but not pleasant, for 3 reasons:
- The cable car is closed, necessitating a hike-down, an extra 2 hours – tough and unpleasant.
- The Tablecloth typically forms, which means little or no views.
- The raging wind throws you off balance, so the hiking is awkward. Although reeling like a Saturday night drunk makes for an amusing sight… Also, conversation is reduced to muffled shouts.
Table Mountain hikes can be structured to an extent to dodge the wind, but the upper plateau – the famous ‘Table’ – is always going to be windswept. While the wind and cloud adds a raw and wild aspect to the mountain, it’s not what most people appreciate. What to do, then, on days when the mountain is beset by cloud and wind? I give you Plan B: Lion’s Head – the prominent, isolated peak to the immediate right of Table Mountain (as you see it from the city). About two-thirds the height of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head offers panoramic views as well as unique angles onto Table Mountain. Getting to the summit involves a bit of scrambling and exposure to heights, but nothing most people can’t comfortably handle. Also, the peak is rarely affected by the Southeaster, so no wind and cloud to detract from the enjoyment and quality of the hike. This is as good an alternative as you’ll get to Table Mountain hiking, ideal for those days when the wind is pumping on Table Mountain, with dense, dark cloud rolling down from the summit.
One drawback of Lion’s Head is that it gets quite crowded in summer. There are 2 ways to deal with this:
- Start very early (4am) and watch the sunrise from midway up or from the summit – an unforgettable experience.
- Join HIKE TABLE MOUNTAIN on their secret variation that avoids practically all the crowds. It’s a bit more challenging than the standard route, but if you’re averse to meeting lots of hikers along the way and you’re up for a bit more spice, then this option will impress.
Also, we can include a detour to Wally’s Cave – one of the most iconic viewpoints of Table Mountain on the Cape Peninsula, especially on days when the Tablecloth is pouring over the mountain.
So, if the Southeaster renders Table Mountain too wild and unpleasant to hike, and you don’t have any spare mornings to fall back on, then Lion’s Head will not disappoint. For many locals, it’s the best Cape Town hiking has to offer.