Table Mountain is what’s known as a massif – a mountain mass consisting of several peaks – the highest part being a very un-summit-like feature know as the ‘Table’ – Table Mountain’s famous and iconic tabletop, a plateau measuring about 2.6 kilometers in length and 800 meters across at its widest point. Extending behind and on the east side of the ‘Table’ (also known as the summit plateau or upper plateau) are the Eastern buttresses, a prosaic name for an impressive line of buttresses that tower above the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Each possess a summit in the form of a peak – some pointed, others an inconspicuous bulge. Extending behind the ‘Table’ on the west side are the 12 Apostles, a chain of 17-odd prominent peaks. And in between, in an area known as the lower plateau and Back Table, more or less a dozen peaks jut out from the rolling landscape. All of this is considered part of Table Mountain and it can cause confusion when talking about ‘hiking to the top’.
Most people visiting Cape Town from abroad and hiking Table Mountain for the first time aspire to top out on the most famous and highest part, the ‘Table’. Popular routes like Skeleton Gorge, Constantia Corner and Kasteelspoort lead to the ‘top’ of the mountain, but not to the tabletop – the true summit of Table Mountain. This is an important distinction to understand when planning your hike. The ‘Table’ only makes up about 10% of the overall surface area of the Table Mountain massif; the rest of the mountain lies at around 700 meters elevation, about two-thirds the height of the tabletop. Although Table Mountain hiking offers far more than just the sense of achievement and views gained from topping out on the summit plateau, for many it constitutes the primary reason why they hike the mountain in the first place.