Table Mountain’s easiest and oldest route, Platteklip Gorge leads up a deep ravine that cuts diagonally into the formidable front face of the mountain. Much has been written on the virtues and vices of Table Mountain’s most popular route, and there’s certainly no shortage in articles and reviews online discussing its pros and cons. For those feeling bewildered by the glut of information, and by the contrasting opinions, this short blog post aims to cut through the clutter and provide some objectivity on Platties, as local hikers often affectionately refer to it.
To put it succinctly, Platteklip Gorge is the quickest and easiest route to the summit but also the least scenic and exciting. It doesn’t really do the mountain justice. All other Table Mountain hiking routes – and there are many – are more strenuous and / or technical (involves scrambling and heights). Note that I say “easiest”, not “easy”: if you’re unfit and you start the route late (after 8am) in summer, you will have a torrid time on it, at best. If you’re in average shape and you start early, when it is cooler, you will find it very doable. But likely not very exciting. If it’s your first time ever on a mountain and you know yourself to be unadventurous, and you don’t care much about nature or experiencing more of Table Mountain, then you might actually enjoy the route to some extent. But if you appreciate nature and you want a more authentic and engaging / exciting experience of Table Mountain, then don’t bother with it.
The route involves rock steps all the way. It’s generally steep, winding up the bed of the gorge to lessen the gradient. Imposing cliffs close in on you as you approach the summit, showcasing some remarkable rock-formations, most of which goes unnoticed by weary hikers. The views are okay. If it’s your first day of your maiden visit to Cape Town, then the views will impress to a degree; but in the scheme of things, the views on Platteklip are not great. Ignore reviews that slight the route as a quick walk to the summit, or as the worst experience ever. Both are grossly subjective and deserves to be dismissed. No matter what your fitness level, the route is strenuous. If you’re out of shape and it’s a hot day, the route is grueling. On days when Southeaster cloud covers the mountain (common in summer), the wind blows gale-force down the gorge, the sheer sidewalls acting as a funnel. Visibility is restricted to a few meters and you’re battling to stay on your feet – and there is no cable car descent (closed in strong wind), so getting to the summit means you’re only halfway.
Despite being the easiest route, Platteklip Gorge sees more rescues than any other route. Sure, it gets more traffic than any other route, but if it was a walk in the park, then there wouldn’t have been rescues. Which begs the question of whether you need a guide. Some people do, others not. And for those who don’t, you learn nothing about the mountain and the fascinating environment when you go without a guide; and you potentially miss out on doing a more rewarding and exciting route that offers better views and more nature. To ensure that you don’t come away with a second-rate experience of Table Mountain, and to ensure your well-being, take a guide. Doing so allows you to maximize your experience of Table Mountain, whether on Platteklip or not.
Table Mountain hikes lead up all sides of the mountain, offering different views, vegetation, topography and levels of adventure. Platteklip’s fame and popularity stems from it being the easiest and quickest route, not being a quality route. Get an experienced mountain guide to assess your fitness and preferences before taking to the trail. This will avoid disappointment and ordeals alike.