Table Mountain hiking: weather woes and vagaries – 29 August 2017

Aug 29, 2017

One of the most important things to bear in mind when hiking Table Mountain is that the weather might adversely effect your hike. Despite its location in sunny South Africa’s most beautiful city, Table Mountain gets its fair share of foul weather. Expecting the mountain to be cloud- and windless with balmy temperatures is setting yourself up for disappointment. Perfect weather days are not that common: if it’s not too hot, it’s windy, or cloudy, rainy. Heat makes the hike tougher; clouds takes away the views; wind closes the cableway, necessitating a hike down – tough and unpleasant. The highest frequency of days that offers perfect hiking weather occurs in March to May and the month of September. Summer (November to February) is characterized by a consistent, galeforece wind know as the Southeaster, which makes for unpleasant hiking conditions. And if the wind and cloud doesn’t complicate things, then the heat makes the hike tough. So, with that rather grim picture of Table Mountain weather in mind, here are a few ways to optimize your chances of getting the best conditions to enjoy your Table Mountain hike.

Firstly, book your hike early in your stay to allow for spare days in the event of bad weather. Don’t assume the weather will be good for the duration of your stay, even if you’re visiting mid summer! If the weather turns out bad on the day of your hike, we simply roll over to the next day, or the day after. Secondly, if you’re visiting in the hotter months – October to April – best to start early to beat the heat. And often also the wind, which tends to freshen around noon and eventually reaching gale-force strength late afternoon. Why is wind such a big deal? It’s unpleasant to hike in wind; it throws you off balance; it makes converstation tough; it closes the cableway for the descent; it usually brings heavy cloud over the mountain that obliterates the views; it’s cold and often damp; it ruins your hair-do. Thirdly, go into hiking Table Mountain expecting that the weather is quite likely to be less than perfect in some way. Rough weather is part of the deal, like queues and bustle are part of the shopping or airport experience. Table Mountain is a real mountain that generates a micro-climate, called orographic rain and cloud and wind. The summit gets 4 times more precipitation than the city! It’s the way mountains work.

While Table Mountain hiking can be enjoyed in less-than-ideal weather, we don’t hike in gale-force wind or driving rain – unless you’re a masochist and preapred to spend more on a private hike. Some Table Mountain hikes offer some reprieve from wind and rain due to their location on the mountain; but when bad weather’is around, the views are usually limited or non-existant. We at Hike Table Mountain do out utmost to pair you up with good-weather days while managing expectations at the same time and providing a memorable and safe hike. It’s tricky, especially with Table Mountain’s capricious weather compounded by the effect of global warming on established weather patterns and climatic conditions. We make a call on the weather through drawing on our own extensive experience of Table Mountain weather combined with cross-checking several weather sites. Four-seasons-in-a-day characterizes Cape Town’s weather, so the weather gurus have a tough time getting right their predictions. On top of this, Table Mountain weather has a mind of its own; and on top of this, each side of the mountain very often generates different weather (micro-climates). Further complicating the endeavor of pairing you up with hiking Table Mountain in great weather is your own weather background. Example: I once suggested postponement to a Scottish couple due to cloud and wind, but they dismissed my suggestion with a wry smile and explained that the weather was a splendid spring weather from where they came from. So ‘bad weather’ means different things to different people. I’ve hiked with people who enjoyed a viewless hike in dense cloud as much as they would’ve enjoyed it in clear conditions; while I’ve had people cancel a hike only because they wouldn’t have views due to cloud on the mountain.

If you find yourself hiking Table Mountain in balmy temepratures with no wind or cloud, consider yourself lucky. Don’t take it for granted. If the weather should take a turn for the worse midway up the mountain, roll with it. Cloud and mist creates atmosheric and surreal surroundings that amply compensates for a lack of views. Coming from a cold part of the world after enduring months of gloom and sleet, you no doubt crave sun and heat, but you don’t want too much of it on your hike up Table Mountain. In summer, we start early (at sunrise, around 5.30am) to beat the heat. This makes the hike much more pleasant, while minimizing the chances of having to hike down due to wind closing the cableway.

Rain or shine, hiking Table Mountain is a singular experience that you will remember in years to come for all the right reasons.