Hiking Table Mountain in winter – 18 May 2015

With the Cape winter fast approaching, a few facts about Table Mountain hiking bear reminding. About 70% of Cape Town’s rainfall occurs in winter – June to August – so be sure to pack a good-quality rain-jacket along with a fleece / soft-shell. Gloves and beanie come in handy, too. The mountain attracts more cloud, gets more rain, experiences more wind and colder temperatures (at height, due to elevation), so while Cape Town is Africa, Table Mountain gets bitterly cold in winter, especially high up and in windy conditions. While Cape Town winters are pretty rainy and chilly (daytime temperature averages 17 degrees Celsius), it also gets some sublime balmy days: crisp air, cobalt-blue skies, not a breath of wind (quite a big thing in Cape Town and especially on the mountain). Ideally, you want to time your hike to get these kind of conditions. Some Table Mountain hikes are tricky and / or dangerous in winter: routes that lead up ravines and involves exposed scrambling, especially on the wet eastern side of the mountain. An intermediate route like India Venster becomes more difficult to negotiate in wet, cold and windy conditions. A non-technical route like Skeleton Gorge becomes treacherous in winter, when sections of the trail gushes with rain water and the moss-covered boulders offer minimal grip. Hiking Table Mountain directly after heavy rain might be slippery and wet, but offers the chance to see waterfalls and cascades. Ravines on the eastern side of the mountain all carry torrents of water, so even a walk along the Contour Path makes for a fun and engaging hike. If you’re prepared to get your feet, or even legs, wet, heading into Disa Gorge after rains will reward you with some impressive cataracts. As for maximizing your chances of hiking up in the clear so that you get views, plan your hike for early in your stay to allow for spare days in the event of bad weather. Try keep at least one half-day (morning or afternoon) free to fall back on. While hiking Table Mountain in cloud and even rain remains a memorable and thrilling experience, views are important if it’s your first and only Table Mountain hike. Be flexible by being prepared to shift around activities on your itinerary. Trips to Cape Point and the Winelands can be enjoyed in cloud and wind more than Table Mountain hikes. Refrain from visiting the Waterfront, museums and galleries on good-weather days; best leave them for when the weather is bad. The prevailing wind in winter is the rain-bearing Northwester. While not as consistent as its summer equivalent, the Southeaster, it blows gale-force ahead of heavy rain, closing the cable car, which necessitates a walk-down – tougher than you think and not very enjoyable. While three straight days of sunshine (sublime balmy weather) are not unusual in winter, it’s of rainy and overcast for 3 to 5 days at a time, during which the mountain is not visible and hiking not ideal. Hiking Table Mountain on a clear, crisp winter’s day is arguably the best conditions for experiencing the mountain. Starting out in time to see sunrise is a lot easier than in summer, and the debilitating and enervating summer heat does not detract from the experience. (c) www.hiketablemountain.co.za