Table Mountain has been known by many names over the centuries. The indigenous Khoi called it Hoerikwaggo, meaning ‘mountain in the sea’. The first Europeans to arrive, the Portuguese, named it Table of the Cape (Taboa do Cabo) in 1503, from where its current name derived. The Dutch called it Tafelberg (Dutch for Table Mountain). Local climbers and hikers sometimes affectionately refer to the mountain as The Old Hill. There are records of some referring to it as the Grey Old Father in the late 1800ss. Abbe de la Caille, a French astronomer who arrived at the Cape in 1751 was so impressed with Table Mountain that he name a constellation after it, Mons Mensae, meaning Our Table.
The motley characters who have scaled Table Mountain over the years can fill volumes; and their motives make for fascinating reading. Some climbed it in the name of science, others out of curiosity. Hunters, fortune-seekers, flower-gatherers, wood-cutters, runaway slaves, recluses and poets are some who took to the mountain. Many others sought only to enjoy the views from the top, as is the case today with the masses, facilitated by the cable car. Table Mountain hikes exist for every kind of hiker, from the thrill-seeker to nature-lover, those seeking wilderness and those wanting the best possible views.
I like to think of hiking Table Mountain as more of an experience that a mere activity, sterile like running on a treadmill. The mountain with its varied landscapes, flora and moods meets every person on a different level. You often get more than you bargained for – seldom less. Whether you want to sweat out last night’s binge drinking or find inspiration or clear your mind from clutter or immerse yourself in nature or seek out rare orchids or experience the exhilaration of feeling the wind in your hair atop a pinnacle on a remote mountain spur, Table Mountain hiking gives far more than views to the distant horizon.