The Platteklip Gorge Hike 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. Platteklip Gorge Hike – Introduction
Platteklip Gorge leads up a deep ravine that cuts into the iconic front face of Table Mountain. No route possesses more superlatives: oldest, quickest, easiest, shortest, most popular and most famous. It has been referred to as the Highway, the Coca-Cola route, the Via Normale, the Standard route – and, incorrectly, the “easy” way to the summit. Generally regarded as the least scenic and exciting route, Platties (as locals often refer to it) offers a straightforward ascent for those ticking boxes and with no interest in a deeper experience of the mountain.
The Platteklip Gorge hike is technically easy, meaning there is minimal use of hands (scrambling) and minimal exposure to heights (narrow ledges). It is thus suitable for those suffering from fear of heights. Not suitable if you suffer from severe fear of heights. The route is strenuous if you have a moderate fitness level, and very strenuous to grueling if you are unfit. You need a decent level of fitness to enjoy the route. If unfit, you need to be motivated and determined, as you will likely take strain, possibly a lot. A lot depends on the attitude you bring to the experience: an enthusiastic approach complemented with resolve makes up, to some extent, what you might lack in fitness or ability.
Platteklip Gorge is the easiest route to the summit, not the easy route. There’s a huge difference. A lot of people conflate easy and easiest, to their detriment. In the scheme of Table Mountain hiking, compared to other routes, Platteklip Gorge involves the shortest distance, the least amount of elevation gain, the least degree of exposure to heights and the least technicality. But it still leads up a mountain, and that entails lots of uphill.
Let’s say you consider yourself out of shape. You rarely work out and you don’t do any active sport. Will you be able to get up it? With determination, chances are good. The less fit you are, the more grit and enthusiasm you need to bring to the hike. You need to be prepared to push physically. The people who find the route hardest are those expecting a walk in the park. The hiking itself is not engaging, so there’s little to distract you from the exertion. Unless you go with a guide, who can regale you with stories of the mountain and share fascinating information about the fauna, flora and geology, and who provides motivation and support.
3. Elevation gain, Distance and Duration
The Platteklip Gorge route gains 650 meters (2100 feet) over a distance of approximately 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles). A person of average fitness completes the ascent in about 2 hours.
The route follows a well-defined trail, rocky and mostly uneven, with big rock steps on the steep sections. Minimal loose rock, scrambling and exposure to heights (narrow ledges). The trail zigzags up the bed of the gorge, lessening the gradient through repeated switchbacks.
5. Scenery on the Platteklip Gorge Hike
The lower section leads up beside a stream, reduced to a trickle in summer (October to March), but gushing in winter (June to August). Further up, the gorge narrows between imposing cliffs. The setting gets more dramatic as the sidewalls close in, almost converging at the head of the gorge and barely allowing access to the summit through a two-meter-wide corridor. The route offers city and harbour views, restricted in the upper section by the sheer sidewalls. Vegetation is mostly shrubland, with a patch of indigenous Afro-montane forest about a quarter of the way up.
As a route it doesn’t quite do Table Mountain justice. Again, this is a subjective matter: if you’ve never hiked mountains and therefore have nothing to compare it with, Platteklip Gorge will impress. But if you’ve hiked mountains before, and you’re in at least average shape, and keen for more than a skin-deep experience of Table Mountain, then one of several other options will suit you better. What exactly makes Platteklip Gorge less attractive than other routes? It lacks diversity. The views remain the same throughout, and the hiking is monotonous.
6. Hiking Platteklip Gorge Safety and Security
The Platteklip Gorge trail involves minimal narrow ledges and there are no treacherous sections. Despite the benign terrain, the route sees far more rescues than any other Table Mountain route. No doubt because it gets more traffic, but still something to bear in mind. If it was so easy, why would there be rescues in the first place?
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 Platteklip Gorge parking, so if driving to the trail head, be sure to stash all belongings in the trunk, leaving nothing inside the car.
The route gets busy on weekends and crowded over the December holidays. If you are averse to crowds and keen to experience peace and quiet in nature, avoid the route during those times.
8. Do you need a guide?
It depends on your fitness, experience, general health and interests. Making use of a guide optimizes the experience in the following ways:
- It takes the guesswork 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.
Platteklip Gorge might be the easiest route, and many do it unguided, but there is still an element of environmental risk, primarily Table Mountain’s changeable weather. Beyond safety, the educational component along with insights and observations offered by a competent and experienced mountain-guide ensure an optimal experience.
To help you decide whether you would benefit from a guide, consider where you rank on the following scale: on one end of the scale, those who would benefit most: no hiking experience, low fitness and keen to learn about the mountain; on the other end, those who would benefit least: ample hiking experience, high fitness and no interest in learning about the mountain.
9. Pros and Cons
- Quick way to the summit if you are short on time
- Possible to do safely in bad weather
- Best route for those who have below average fitness, balance or stamina
- Suitable for those who suffer from fear of heights
- Impressive scenery in its upper reaches
- Can get crowded
- Hiking is monotonous
- Views are limited to one direction
- Takes in very little of Table Mountain
- Offers the least nature of all the routes
Compared to India Venster, Platteklip Gorge is slightly less strenuous, much less adventurous, less views, more crowded.
Compared to Skeleton Gorge, Platteklip Gorge is about 30% less strenuous, less interesting, less views, more crowded.
Compared to Kasteelspoort, Platteklip Gorge is about 25% less strenuous, less interesting, less views, more crowded.
11. Ideal hiker profile
Since all other Table Mountain hiking routes offer better views and more exciting hiking, why bother with Platteklip Gorge? Here is a list of conditions that suggest it is the best option for you:
- You’re unfit and lack motivation to hike the mountain
- You have balance issues or some other impairment that affects your coordination and movement
- You don’t care much about nature and merely want to tick off hiking Table Mountain from your bucket list
- You simply want to be able to say you conquered the mountain by foot, thereby distinguishing yourself from the vast majority who take the cable car up
- You’re nursing an injury; or some health issue affects your usual vitality and / or movement
- You’re short on time
If you can say ‘that’s me’ to any of the above, or it applies to someone in your group, then Platteklip Gorge is likely the best route for you.
Platteklip Gorge is the quickest and easiest route to the summit of Table Mountain, but also the least scenic and exciting. This statement does not mean it is easy, or ugly; it means that in the scheme of Table Mountain hiking routes, it is the easiest of the lot, and the least scenic and exciting of the lot. While the hiking is rather tedious, it still offers dramatic surroundings, great views and, on reaching the summit, a sense of achievement. But on all other routes, the hiking is more diverse and engaging, the surroundings more stimulating, the views better and more varied and nature more pristine.
Since Table Mountain is such an iconic landmark, it makes sense to maximize your experience of it. As a mountain-guide dedicated towards giving people the ultimate experience, I steer them away from the Platteklip Gorge route when I’m convinced they’re up for a better route. I do so while remaining acutely aware of the fact that to some people, Platteklip Gorge is the best route.
For more information, or to book a hike up Platteklip Gorge, contact Riaan on 060 539 9340. Or check out the website.
For more information on Table Mountain National Park visit the SANPARKS guide.
(c) Riaan Vorster