The India Venster Route article, is written by Riaan Vorster, an accredited mountain-guide and Table Mountain expert with 12 years consistent guiding experience on Table Mountain. Riaan has guided thousands of groups up more than 40 different Table Mountain routes. He heads up Hike Table Mountain, a Cape Town mountain-guiding company specializing in hikes and scrambles on Table Mountain. They are the only company that offers guided hikes up all Table Mountain’s hiking and scramble routes.
1. Introduction to the India Venster Route
Having guided thousands of groups of every increment of ability up India Venster Route, in all weather conditions, I have experienced the route in a thousand different ways. Few Table Mountain routes (if any) meet hikers’ expectations as consistently as India Venster. The route has soared in popularity over the past 5 years, deservedly so. It ticks all the boxes of what many people look for in a hike: superb views, diverse hiking, dramatic landscapes, not too strenuous, all spiced with a healthy dose of adventure. The India Venster route takes in three sides of the mountain – remarkable for a 3-hour hike – providing a real sense of what Table Mountain is all about. It picks an ingenious line up the famous front of Table Mountain, threading through sheer sections to gain a hidden ledge high up that leads round to the back of the mountain.
2. What is scrambling?
Scrambling can be defined as elementary climbing. It is the grey area between walking and climbing. Shades of grey exist: some consider easy scrambling as steep hiking; others consider hard scrambling as easy rock-climbing. The scrambling on India Venster is intermediate. Moderate. You don’t need experience and you don’t need to be strong. With timely assistance from the guide, the scrambling is very doable. If you are nervous of heights, the scrambling will feel harder, as fear inhibits free movement. We don’t use ropes on India Venster, as the pitches are short enough to allow for instruction and assistance from below.
3. Is the India Venster Route Difficult?
The India Venster hike involves scrambling and exposure to heights – nothing extreme, but you need a decent head for heights. If you’re not good with heights, you need determination, enthusiasm and a sense of adventure. If terrified of heights, the route is not for you. The scrambling will only be scary to the degree that you lack balance and coordination. If you suspect you have bad balance or coordination, making use of a competent and experienced guide is essential.
In terms of physicality, India Venster is the least strenuous Table Mountain route after Platteklip Gorge (the easiest route to the summit). This does not mean the route is not strenuous, only that it is less strenuous than other popular routes like Kasteelspoort and Skeleton Gorge. Some perceive Platteklip Gorge more strenuous for being so monotonous and without distractions. Even a below-average fitness level coupled with determination and enthusiasm will see you finish the route without vows to never set foot on a mountain again.
4. Elevation gain, Distance and Duration
The India Venster trail gains 700 meters (2300 feet) or a distance of about 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles). The average person completes the route in 2.5 to 3 hours. If you are unfit and / or struggle with the scrambles, bargain on 3.5 to 4 hours.
5. Table Mountain Terrain
The route follows a well-defined trail, rocky and mostly uneven, with big rock steps on the steep sections. In addition, it involves scrambling and narrow ledges about 15% of the way. The narrow ledges are not extreme – you don’t shuffle sideways over a stupendous drop with your body plastered to a bulging rock face – but those with height issues will find it challenging to some degree. No experience needed for the scrambling.
6. Scenery on India Venster Route
The India Venster trail offers sensational views, enhanced by the dramatic setting and striking rock-formations. City views along the first two hours give way to sea views on the upper section. The route leads up an imposing part of Table Mountain, threading through steep and dramatic terrain that seems unclimbable from below. It offers exciting hiking and diverse views without being too strenuous.
7. Safety and Security on the India Venster route
To the average hiker – average head for heights, fitness, experience and ability – India Venster without a guide is challenging. And highly enjoyable with a guide. For optimal enjoyment and safety, make use of a competent and experienced guide. Adverse weather conditions (often the case on Table Mountain) make the route even more challenging. Nervous or below average hikers should not hesitate making use of a guide. The route has seen accidents and fatalities, all involving hikers unaccompanied by a guide. If you are nervous of heights but up for an adventure, making use of a competent and experienced mountain-guide will give you more confidence and reassurance on the spicy sections, allowing you to enjoy the route.
As far as security goes, at the time of writing (October 2021), the route is very safe. Solo hikers, especially females, should avoid starting out or finishing in the dark. Car break-ins have occurred at the lower cable station parking, so if driving to the trail head, be sure to stash all belongings in the trunk, leaving nothing inside the car.
On weekdays outside December and public holidays, you often have the India Venster trail to yourself. The route has experienced a surge in popularity over the past few years, so expect to meet several groups on weekends. The route gets busy over December and the first half of January.
TIP: Resist the temptation to attempt the route unguided if you are nervous of heights, bargaining on other hikers to help you up the tricky sections. Non-expert assistance can complicate matters for you.
9. Do you need a guide?
It depends on your fitness, experience, general health and willingness to take on risk. Making use of a guide optimizes the experience in the following ways:
- It takes the guesswork and stress out of weather-prediction and hiking logistics.
- You learn about the mountain, which brings your surroundings to life and allows you to appreciate the environment. Guided hikes are educational and provides you with fascinating insights into the fauna, flora, history and geology.
- You hike with someone who’s motivational and enthusiastic – and committed to getting you up the mountain and providing you with the best possible experience of the mountain.
- A guide provides thorough assistance if you become ill or injured along the way.
- It solves all route-finding issues.
- You won’t miss any hidden viewpoints or hidden topographical gems along the way.
- An attentive and competent guide provides expert assistance on the scrambles while sharing valuable scrambling tips and techniques.
- If you are nervous of heights, a competent and experienced guide provides insights and techniques in managing your fears, ensuring your safety no matter your level of fear.
- You can relax knowing that you will be safe.
While some people need a guide and others don’t, everyone benefits from one to some degree. Certainly, anyone with height issues should not hesitate to make use of a guide. Lack of mountain experience and / or below-average fitness increases your need for a guide.
10. I’m not good with heights. Will I be able to do it?
With a competent and experienced guide, an emphatic yes. Will you enjoy it? Depends on exactly how bad you are with heights. It also depends on your enthusiasm and sense of adventure. Will you be able to do it without a guide? Again, it depends on how bad you are with heights. Most people don’t know, because they have never been in that situation. The solution: go with a guide.
If you have height issues and have wisely opted to make use of a guide, the following three factors will determine your experience:
- Your sense of adventure
- Severity of your fear of heights
- Your enthusiasm and determination.
Sense of adventure: A sense of adventure means you are prepared to step outside your comfort zone. You enjoy a challenge. You’re up for facing your fears and you revel in overcoming them. Maybe you’ve skydived or bungeed before. You love the adrenalin rush and thrive on the psychological challenge. Adventurous hikers deal better with their height issues than unadventurous hikers. They regard the fear as an integral part of the experience. As a result, they cope better with it. They look it squarely in the eye and even wink at it. If you have non-severe height issues, then a sense of adventure will ensure that you enjoy a route like India Venster, if only in retrospect.
Severity of your fear of heights: (For the purpose of this discussion, I will conflate fear of heights with fear of falling. The two have different causes.) There are degrees to fear of heights. Some people have no idea how good or bad they are with heights until you perch them on the edge of a cliff. It’s not a case of being either afraid or unafraid of heights: there are shades of grey. You might only be mildly nervous of heights, or have a healthy respect for it. You might be okay with heights but don’t enjoy them. Or you have an all-consuming dread for any situation where a fall could result in injury. If you suffer from a severe fear of heights, the India Venster route is not for you – unless you’re a masochist or you are hell-bent in conquering your fears (I have had those on India Venster). It is impossible to address every permutation and gradation of fear in this article. As a point of reference, people with a slight to mild fear of heights, and a sense of adventure as well as resolve, usually end up enjoying the route. If you know yourself to have an aversion for heights, and you’re really keen to hike India Venster, contact us for a detailed assessment and accurate opinion on whether you should do it.
Enthusiasm and determination: If you’re not good with heights and you really want to do India Venster, you need to bring determination to the table. Dutifully tagging along with a friend or partner with little or no motivation or enthusiasm is a recipe for an unpleasant experience. Conversely, motivated and determined hikers override whatever (mild) issues they might have with heights and finish the route bursting with exuberance and a sense of achievement.
There’s a fourth issue, chronically overlooked by both hikers and inattentive guides – a subtle but significant distinction. In a word: enjoyment. A guide worth his or her salt can get virtually anyone up India Venster, but how many of them will actually enjoy the experience? It’s not merely a question of whether you could manage the India Venster route, but more whether you will enjoy the hike. Enjoyment can be hard to predict when participating in an activity that requires you to step outside your comfort zone – certainly, when it triggers a complex condition like fear of heights. Therefore, bear in mind the enjoyment factor when considering India Venster, not just whether you could pull it off.
A moderate fitness level along with a decent head for heights combined with a competent mountain guide is the optimal combination for India Venster. Having said that, I have had people terrified of heights but enthusiastic and adventurous, who reached the summit swearing it to be the best thing they’ve ever done. Same applies to unfit people. Your personal psychology – motivation, determination, sense of adventure, willingness to step outside your comfort zone – plays a huge role.
To conclude, you need a decent head for heights to enjoy India Venster. Anything less calls for either enthusiasm or a sense of adventure (or both) to ensure enjoyment. Anything much less calls for masochism or inordinate resolve, or simply a different route. It’s not like there’s a lack of choice when it comes to hiking Table Mountain.
11. Is the India Venster route dangerous?
With a competent and experienced guide, no. You might perceive it as being dangerous, just as people who suffer from fear of flying perceive take-offs and landings to be dangerous, but the reality is that a competent guide provides all the safety you need. Competence minimizes the risk, and it is the responsibility of the guide to make up for any competence or ability (physical or psychological) you might lack.
Is India Venster dangerous without a guide? Depends on your experience, agility, fitness and head for heights. If you have height issues, or you are unfit, unstable on your feet or clumsy, attempting the route without a guide is dangerous.
Some people simply don’t know if they are good or bad with heights. They might suspect they’re bad, but unsure exactly how bad. They don’t know where they rank in the scheme of things – compared to other people – because they’ve never been exposed to heights on a mountain. This is one advantage of making use of a (competent and experienced) mountain guide. Based on your answers to a few telling questions, we will be able to advise whether you will enjoy India Venster or not. If not, we will make route suggestions. If unsure about your abilities, consult us for a pre-hike assessment that will put your mind at ease.
When considering India Venster as a Table Mountain route, remember to extend your consideration beyond yourself to your partner, your friend, your family members – whoever will be joining you on the hike. Just because you’re up for the route, and perfectly capable of enjoying the scrambling and heights, doesn’t mean others will. This prevents frustration and disgruntlement along the route.
Finally, refrain from evaluating India Venster based solely on photos or videos. Certain angles make positions on the mountain appear scarier than they really are. Conversely, scary positions often show up on photos as pedestrian. Don’t base your decision on what route to take on an image or even a video. They can be very deceptive. Mountainous terrain creates many opportunities for optical illusions.
12. Pros and Cons
- Sensational and diverse views
- Takes in three sides of the mountain
- Leads up a dramatic part of Table Mountain
- Less strenuous than other classics like Kasteelspoort and Skeleton Gorge
- Starting early in summer (highly recommended to beat the heat) sees you back at your hotel in time for breakfast (if the cableway is open for the descent), leaving the rest of the day for sightseeing
- Intermediate adventure in the form of scrambling and exposure to heights
- Engaging hiking and surroundings
- No onerous logistics: a cable car descent brings you back to the start
- An early start in summer ensures shade for 80% of the way – a massive advantage
- Kids usually love the adventure component, preferring it to mere uphill slogging
- Gets busy on weekends and holidays, so best aim to hike midweek if you enjoy peace and quiet on your hikes
- Not ideal for unadventurous hikers with height issues
- Not suitable for people with bad balance and / or coordination
- Leads up under the cables of the cableway, and overlooks the city for much of the way, so not ideal for those nature lovers who want solitude and wilderness. There are other route options available for this
Compared to Platteklip Gorge, India Venster offers far better views and more exciting hiking. About the same level of physicality.
Compared to Skeleton Gorge, India Venster is more adventurous and about 30% less strenuous. It offers city and sea views as opposed to jungle setting and inland views. More dramatic surroundings on India Venster.
Compared to Kasteelspoort, India Venster is more adventurous and about 25% less strenuous. It offers less nature and solitude (but still lots of nature) and more dramatic surroundings.
14. Ideal hiker profile
A great route to anyone with a decent head for heights and at least a moderate sense of adventure.
Table Mountain hiking is as much about experiencing the mountain as enjoying the views. The India Venster route offers both superb views and moderate adventure amidst striking topography. The hiking is engaging due to the scrambling, and provides a solid sense of achievement on reaching the summit. It provides an authentic and rewarding experience of Table Mountain often in the same amount of time you would queue for the cable car. There is no need to allocate an entire day, or even morning, towards hiking Table Mountain. To optimize your experience of this stellar route, best to make use of a competent, knowledgeable and experienced guide.
For more information, or to book a hike up Kasteelspoort, contact Riaan on 060 539 9340. Or check out SANPARKS Table Mountain guide
(c) Riaan Vorster