“Col. Gordon proposed our taking a view of the summit of Table Mountain, premising that it would be attended with considerable fatigue. The next morning he called to desire we would walk out with him, ‘the tablecloth being laid’. Following him clear of the town, we observed upon the flat of the hill a thick white cloud entirely stationary, the sky above it and the land below being perfectly clear. This he told us was what the Cape people called ‘the tablecloth being laid’.”
– Extract from the memoirs of William Hickey, describing his ascent of Table Mountain in July 1777 –
For those who don’t know, the Tablecloth is a veil of cloud that engulfs Table Mountain, always in conjunction with a strong southeasterly winds known as the Southeaster. Moisture-laden air rises as it is blown against the side of the mountain, condensing as it cools to form a bank of cloud that is blown down the precipitous front of the mountain, where it takes on the appearance of a waterfall.
Hiking Table Mountain in Tablecloth conditions can complicate route-finding, but if you know your way around – or you’re with a mountain-guide – and you don’t mind your hair-do rearranged, the you’re in for a treat. The sight of cloud swirling and eddying across serrated ridges and jagged landscapes amply compensates for the lack of views. The mountain seems to come alive as the wind whips across the shrubs and moans around stacked boulders, with cloud scudding past to where it plunges down as if into an abyss as it clears the front edge of the ‘Table’ , only to disintegrate as it loses altitude and eventually dissipates altogether.
At times when the Tablecloth’s formation is textbook in its formation, and you happen to be on the front edge of the ‘Table’, you will enjoy one of the most spectacular sights on the mountain: watching the leading edge of the Tablecloth advance from across the summit plateau like a ghostly wall and then arch downwards as it spills over the edge. The few times I have been privileged to witness this spectacle ranks as my most special moments in the many years I’ve been hiking Table Mountain.