The Southeaster season is upon us, heralding summer and bringing a breath of fresh sea air to Cape Town. This year it made landfall on the 4th of October, effectively ending a prolonged winter.
For those who don’t know, the Southeaster is a wind that blows, often gale-force, from the southeast, as the name suggests. As the prevailing wind in summer, it does a good job in taking the edge of the summer heat and at the same time clearing the city of smog (or pestilence, as believed in former days), hence also known as the Cape Doctor.
Hiking Table Mountain in the Southeaster has its joys and annoyances, dangers and delights. Foremost among these is the well-known Tablecloth, a veil of cloud that engulfs Table Mountain just about every time the Southeaster blows. Cloud on the mountain means no views, cold and wet conditions along with tricky route-finding. Furthermore, strong wind closes the cable car, necessitating a walk-down. It also wreaks havoc with your hair-do, makes it nigh impossible to have a decent conversation and reduces your forward movement to a staggering gait befitting a Saturday-night drunk.
So what are the joys and delights? Watching the Tablecloth plunge down the front edge of the ‘Table’ (impeccable timing required), watching cloud scudding across a boulder-strewn landscape, eddying in ravines and swirling over the buttresses. It creates a mystical atmosphere, energizes the surroundings and gives you a glimpse Table Mountain’s more hostile side. Some routes are sheltered from the wind, so that’s also an option if you don’t want to get your hair ruffled.
Don’t be entirely put off by the Southeaster when it’s blowing on the morning of your hike. The mountain often reveals itself more in adverse conditions than those benign days. Just like a stormy sea in a way offers more mental stimulation than a placid one, so it is with a mountain. Dress warmly, square your shoulders, make sure you know your route and enjoy the show.