“Being thus alone I strolled in solitude on the flat top of the Table Mountain until 8 in the evening, the moon and stars shining very brightly, and then lay down to rest in some scrub between the rocks; but little sleep could I get, especially when I thought of the height of the hill, and the dangerous solitude of the same, where dwelt so many man-eating lions and evil tigers, and where, should anything happen to me, I could be heard by no one, and far less helped. But God shielded and protected me… I heard no roar or howl of any wild beast nor any noise but from some small frogs dwelling in the scrub and marshes there, who sang all night in their fashion.”
The first account of a night spent on the summit of Table Mountain, by Nicolaus de Graaff, March 1679.
The last lion on Table Mountain was shot in 1802, with ‘tigers’ (leopards) sharing the same fate sometime in the 1870s, but the frogs, marshes, scrub and solitude remain. And while sleeping out on the mountain is not allowed anymore – not since Table Mountain was declared a National Monument in 1963 – one can still sit down in communion with nature on the summit’s outlaying corners.
Measuring about 2.6 kilometers in length, Table Mountain’s summit (also known as the summit plateau, tabletop and upper plateau) is as flat as it looks from below, offering great walking possibilities for those averse to uphill slogging. The summit runs east-west, with the upper cable station located on the western tip and the highest point (Maclear’ Beacon) near the eastern extremity. While the Western Table offers great views, the area has been stripped of its mountain / wilderness feel by man-made structures and by the presence of people – often crowds of them. But solitude and pristine nature, as well as weird rock-formations and stupendous views, can still be found on the Eastern Table, about a 45-minute walk from the upper cable station across mostly level terrain.
Recently, I detoured to the eastern rim of the summit and found myself in the very same environment De Graaff described back in 1679, just without the fear of falling prey to a lion or leopard. The silence was intense, broken only by the clicking of frogs and the burble of a stream. Passing a jumble of oddly-shaped boulders, I spotted a klipspringer (indigenous antelope) perched on an outcrop, ears pricked and eyes fixated on me. In such moments it’s easy to feel like the only person on the entire mountain; and meanwhile back at the upper cable station, people were thronging down concrete walkways and in between buildings… some in high heels.
For a complete experience of Table Mountain, join Hike Table Mountain on a walk across the summit to the highest point on the mountain and beyond.