Platteklip Gorge is Table Mountain’s most famous route. In this article, we will explore why. We will also discuss the route’s merits and gain perspective on its difficulty. A quagmire of information exists on the route, depicting it from boring to exhilarating, easy to gruelling. We will cut through the clutter and take an objective view of a route many consider synonymous to Table Mountain hiking.
Platteklip Gorge must be the Table Mountain route with the most superlatives: oldest, quickest, easiest, shortest, most popular and, as mentioned above, most famous. In the context of Table Mountain hiking, it has been referred to as the Highway, the Coca-Cola route, the Via Normale, the Standard route – and, incorrectly, the Easy route. You get the picture.
On that note, let’s start with an important distinction: 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 involves around 650 meters (about 2200 feet) elevation gain. If unfit, you will take lots of strain. Add the folly of starting late in summer and you’re in for a gruelling experience. Therefore, for some, especially in summer, there’s absolutely nothing “easy” about Platteklip Gorge.
Something to consider: Platteklip Gorge sees far more rescues than any other Table Mountain route. No doubt because it sees far more hikers, but still something to bear in mind. If it was so easy, why would there be rescues in the first place?
Platteklip Gorge is the most popular route not because it’s the best (most beautiful and exciting), but the easiest. Most local hikers agree Platties (as we affectionately refer to it) to be the least scenic and exciting route up Table Mountain. It makes for a convenient descent on days when strong wind closes the cableway and you have to hike back down. But as a route up, 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. The gorge in its upper reaches is dramatic, with the vertical sidewalls closing in on the boulder-strewn corridor up which the route winds. 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.
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. Which brings us to another common question…
Do you need a guide for Platteklip Gorge? Some people do, others don’t. It depends on your fitness, agility and general health. But whether you need one or not, 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. 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 along the way or hurt yourself (like twisting an ankle).
Since Table Mountain is such an iconic landmark, it makes sense to maximize your experience of it. Contrary to the prevailing perception, mountain guiding goes way beyond mere route-finding. We at Hike Table Mountain are passionate about Table Mountain. We have an intimate knowledge of the mountain, gained through years of hiking and climbing all over the mountain. We specialize in Table Mountain and offer a definitive and in-depth experience of this singular landmark.
What exactly makes Platteklip Gorge less attractive than other routes? It lacks diversity. The views remain the same throughout and the hiking is monotonous. Also, it can get crowded in summer and on weekends, so if you’re averse to crowds when hiking and keen to experience peace and quiet in nature, the route is likely to disappoint.
Any redeeming qualities? Sure. During the winter months, a strong stream gushes down the lower section (reduced to a trickle in summer). Imposing cliffs hem in the upper section of the trail, creating a measure of grandeur. Platteklip Gorge carries significance insofar it’s the oldest route up Table Mountain, ascended in 1503.
Since all other Table Mountain hiking routes offer better views and more exciting hiking, why bother with Platteklip Gorge in the first place? Here’s a list of conditions that suggest it’s likely 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 hiking Table Mountain off 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
- 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 default descent route on days when the cableway is closed due to strong wind, necessitating a hike down. It takes about 2 hours down at a medium pace. Hiking down Platteklip Gorge cannot be described as a memorable experience, so if you opt to make use of a guide, best to book your hike for early in your stay to allow for spare days in event of bad or blustery weather.
As a mountain guide dedicated towards giving people the best possible experience of Table Mountain, I always steer people away from Platties when I’m convinced they’re up for a better route, even though it may be more challenging physically and / or technically. 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.
For those who lack the motivation, fitness, health or ability for the likes of Skeleton Gorge, India Venster or Twelve Apostles, hiking Platteklip Gorge with a knowledgeable, fun, competent, attentive and experienced guide still ranks as one of the best Cape Town experiences. The route is steeped in history, the rock-formations along the upper sections are dramatic and imposing, and the plant life along the trail, fascinating. Learning about the mountain brings your surroundings to life and allows you to appreciate the environment.