At its best, a route name hints at the nature of the route, or encapsulates the story of its opening ascent, or makes reference to a prominent feature found along the way; at its worst, it describes the route’s principal physical feature in unflattering or prosaic terms. An example of the former is Desperation Corner, a climbing route opened in 1938: the name evokes images of anxious cragsmen battling up forbidding cliffs. An example of the latter is Pimple Ridge, an old climbing route on the Twelve Apostles that tops out on a prominent little peak named Pimple Peak – which happens to be one of the most beautiful places on Table Mountain.
Early route names were matter-of-fact, stating the name of the buttress on which the route was opened, followed by the dominant feature of the climb (sometimes random); so you get Grootkop Wall, Fernwood Gully, Platteklip Face, Africa Nose, India Waterfall, Ascension Ravine, Cairn Ridge, Fountain Crack, Blinkwater Cleft, Porcupine Arete, Spring Needle, Barrier Edge, Corridor Rib, Kleinkop Recess, etc. In the 1910s, when Table Mountain’s most prominent buttresses became the focal point of climbing activity, route names simply took the name of the buttress; examples include Fountain Buttress, Jubilee Buttress, Fernwood Buttress, etc. The name of the first route on a buttress – usually up its center, as was the way in the early days of mountaineering – would typically be appended with ‘Frontal’: some of the more well-known ones include Slangolie Frontal, Barrier Frontal and Corridor Frontal.
Let’s look at how some of the hiking and climbing routes on Table Mountain got to be named:
Platteklip Gorge: The most popular hiking route on Table Mountain. Formerly Platklip Gorge, of Dutch origin, translates to Flat Rock Gorge. Named after an embedded slab of granite low down in the gorge.
India Venster: The route crosses India Ravine (shaped like the country India). ‘Venster’ is Afrikaans and Dutch for ‘window’, and refers to a gap along the route formed by a chockstone that resembles a window.
Kasteelspoort: The most popular hiking route on the Twelve Apostles, up the west side of Table Mountain. Of Dutch origin, translates to Castle’s Portal, a broad, open ravine that offers easy access up the Twelve Apostles, formerly known by the Dutch settlers as the Kasteelberge – Castle Mountains.
Slangolie Ravine: Afrikaans word that translates to Snake Oil Ravine, but not the intended meaning. Actually derived from Slang (Snake) Gully, pronounced by Welshmen in the late 1800s as Slang Goolie, and eventually stuck as Slangolie. Not used as a route anymore, after a rockslide in the 1950s left the ravine bed dangerously unstable.
Nursery Ravine: named after a 1880s tree nursery on the mountain above the ravine.
Skeleton Gorge: The most popular hiking route up the east side of Table Mountain. Origin unknown, but one can only assume that a human skeleton was found in the ravine sometime after the 1850s, when routes names for routes other than Platteklip Gorge became popular.
Left Face ‘B’: Platteklip Gorge, a deep gash up the front of Table Mountain, divides the face of the mountain into two sections: the Left Face and the Right Face. This route is one of the first routes up the Left Face and therefore takes the name from its location on the mountain. To distinguish it from another very old climb in the vicinity known simply as Left Face (a climbing route), the route’s grade, ‘B’, was added to the name. Nowadays, some refer to it as ‘Mystery B’ because of a secluded gully that is a key feature of the route.
Cairn Ravine: Takes its name from a cairn (small rock pile that serves as a beacon to indicate a route) that was built near the top of the ravine to mark the spot where the bones of a missing climber was found in the early 1900s.
Kloof Buttress Arete: A route name consisting of three nouns, each describing a mountain feature. The route – a very obscure one rarely done nowadays – follows an arête (a narrow, sharp-crested ridge or corner) along the side of Kloof Buttress. ‘Kloof’ is Afrikaans and old Dutch for ‘gorge’ or ‘ravine’. The buttress takes its name from its location above the ‘kloof’ that separates Lion’s Head and Table Mountain.
Deception Face: A climbing route opened in 1925, apparently named so after the pioneering party anticipated greater difficulties than those which they encountered.
New climbing routes are still added to the Table Mountain route list, which now includes more than 900 routes (climbing and hiking routes combined; and depending on your definition of a route – a contentious issue). Nowadays, route names often spring from witticism and humour, as most of the prominent features of the mountain have been climbed.
Whichever route you take to hike or climb Table Mountain, it adds something to the experience to know the origin of the route’s name. Hiking and climbing on Table Mountain is steeped in history, and forms an integral part of knowing Table Mountain.