The best and worst about Skeleton Gorge

I have already expressed my sentiments on Skeleton Gorge in a blog post titled Skeleton Gorge: To do or not to do (published April 2012), but feel that it deserves a bit more elaboration, especially in light of its popularity as a hiking route up Table Mountain. And since the choice of a route can make or break one’s experience of the mountain, I will also rehash some aspects of the route.

Let me kick off by saying that Skeleton Gorge is a good route. To some it offers all they want and expect from a hike up Table Mountain; to others it fails to impress, fails to live up to their expectation of a Table Mountain hike. This highlights one of the vital responsibilities of a mountain guide: route-selection. And while Skeleton Gorge is enjoyed by hundreds of hikers each year, it might not be the best route for you. So let’s look at some of the pros and cons of this Table Mountain classic:

– The first half of the route (time-wise) leads through indigenous forest. Which means no views; not a huge drawback, since views can be had further along the route, but something to bear in mind. And if you don’t appreciate forest settings, then this section of the route is going to leave you yawning (in between heavy breathing). The forest is classified Afro-Montane, a type found on African mountains and reminiscent of a rain-forest; so exotic and enchanting, but not everyone’s cup of tea.

– The route offers little in the way of dramatic rock-formations and imposing geology, because it sneaks up the back of Table Mountain, where the terrain mostly consists of rolling hills and gentle gradients. For the most part the landscape fails to instill a sense of awe and grandeur and falls short in providing a true mountain experience. If you are more botanically-minded, the route’s floral diversity certainly will make up for its middling geography. But if you couldn’t really be bothered by plants and flowers, then Skeleton Gorge will not thrill.

– The route carries a fair amount of traffic on weekends over summer (November to March), so if you want solitude in nature, then best you opt for a different route. However, on weekdays (and weekends outside summer) the route gets only a sprinkling of hikers, and quite often you won’t meet a single person the entire way.

– If you are adventurous, then you’re bound to nod off at some point along the way. Skeleton Gorge offers little in the way of adventure. There is a few bits of scrambling (one section involves a series of wooden ladders with some exposure to heights), but these won’t be enough to satisfy an adventurous hiker looking for a challenge. Different story in winter, though, when rainwater gushes down the gorge! The middle sections of the route can get tedious, especially when low cloud blots out the view. If you’re averse to heights and couldn’t be bothered with adventure, then you will be delighted to know that the route involves only minimal scrambling and exposure to heights.

– It’s a fairly long excursion, if you want to top out on the summit plateau (the ‘Table’) of Table Mountain, which for most people is very important. You gain more elevation than on most other routes and you cover a considerable distance, starting at about 160 meters above sea level on the southeast flank of the Table Mountain massif and climbing to 1088 meters, then traversing the summit plateau to the upper cable station on the northwest tip. Add to that the traveling time between the start and finish, and you’re looking at about 6 hours – 2 hours more if you have to walk down due to cable car closure in windy conditions. If you have the time and energy, great; if you don’t, reconsider.

– One of the best things about the route is that it gives you a pretty good idea as to the layout of the Table Mountain massif. You see a lot of the mountain (although not so much its dramatic side) and come away with an accurate picture as to how the different peaks and sections of the mountain fit together. You reach the end of the route (upper cable station) having had views in all directions; achievable on other routes with a bit of detouring.

Making the most of your Table Mountain hike starts with choosing the right route. If you’re visiting from overseas, you usually only have once chance to get it right, so it makes sense to give it some thought.