I’m often amused, sometimes mildly annoyed, at hikers’ attempts to assess India Venster’s difficulty. Some dismiss it as a short and sweet way to the summit; others swear it to be the scariest thing they’ve ever attempted. So where on the danger and difficulty scale does the route really fall? There’s no short answer, as it depends on a number of factors. To the person with average agility, average head for heights and average sense of adventure, India Venster makes for a fun, mildly-challenging hike IF the weather cooperates. Excessive heat or cold, wet rock and strong wind all make the route more dangerous.
Who you’re hiking with also impacts greatly on the route’s danger level. Terrified companions, blasé companions, companions brimming with bravado, reckless and ignorant companions – all less-than-ideal on a route like India Venster. Peer pressure constitutes a massive danger: everyone in your group might not have a problem with heights and scrambling – even the delicate, soft-spoken and timid ones – and so the person afraid of heights feel under pressure not to be the weakest link and end up extending himself way beyond his comfort zone in an attempt to stay with the group, and in doing so, exposes himself to massive risk. I’d rather put someone who’s terrified of heights and with no athletic ability or sense of adventure on India Venster with a competent guide than someone of average ability with a group of maniacs replete with bravado and ignorance.
It’s nigh on impossible to say exactly how someone will fare on India Venster. They don’t even know themselves well enough to tell, let alone for someone else to judge. But going with a competent and experienced mountain guide provides you with a margin to be afraid and weak without mortal exposure to danger. You can then afford to be scared. Being scared with incompetence or fear around you is dangerous.
People also forget about the enjoyment factor. Just about anyone is able to complete India Venster, but not all will enjoy the experience. Some people enjoy the adrenalin, the fear and challenge. If you suspect yourself of being afraid of heights, you need to ask yourself some crucial questions: am I prepared to step outside my comfort zone (in the presence of a guide)? Am I prepared to push myself? Am I up for a challenge? If not, and you’re averse to heights, then it’s very likely that you won’t enjoy the route. Though you might enjoy it afterwards – a sort of retrospective pleasure – and for some that’s fine.
Table Mountain hiking is often dangerous because of incorrect and inaccurate information given by people who know very little about the mountain (but profess to know a lot), or by people with zero capacity to understand ability and fear levels. The well-intentioned concierge at the hotel, the outspoken traveller at the bar, the omniscient taxi-driver. Even a good friend! Just because your friend, your colleague, your pastor or your sibling or spouse, or your boyfriend’s dog, found the route easy doesn’t mean you will. But with a competent mountain-guide, you will be able to negotiate the tricky sections with more confidence and skill, thereby making it safer.
India Venster is just one of many Table Mountain hiking routes that requires care and a measure of competence. But because of its location directly above the lower cable station, and being only moderately strenuous, and offering varied hiking with superb views, it’s the more popular of the ‘tricky’ routes. It’s incredibly deceptive how your surroundings change from tame and safe at the lower cable station – people bustling in excitement to get up the mountain, kids eating ice-creams, lovers taking selfies, tour groups jostling for souvenirs – to forbidding and menacing just an hour and a half up the route, where imposing cliffs tower overhead and the rugged terrain falls away precipitously for hundreds of meters. It’s a different realm, and one that is not very forgiving – even when the weather’s good. Add wind and cloud to the mix, and you find yourself in a hostile environment in which the lower cable station – a mere 500 meters away – seems like a different planet. Which is part of the appeal of climbing the mountain in the first place – escaping the hustle and bustle of the city – but you want to be with someone who can ensure your safety, more so on a route like India Venster.
Don’t listen to a layman’s assessment of India Venster. It’s likely to lead you astray and give you either false fear or false security. If you’re okay with heights and have at least an average sense of adventure, then you are very likely to enjoy the route. If you’re less than okay with heights – to whatever degree – get a competent and experienced guide to assess the route for you or, better still, guide you.