Skeleton Gorge Route : to do or not to do?

Jul 28, 2023

The Skeleton Gorge route is an institution. I’m often amazed at how many people, even non-hikers, know about the existence of Skeleton Gorge. In some ways, it has achieved brand status when it comes to hiking Table Mountain. Certainly, most literature and websites featuring an article remotely related to Table Mountain hasten to sing its praises. This might explain why the words ‘Skeleton Gorge’ would ring a bell to even the most inveterate mall rat or sofa slug; and who then claims to have done it at some point in the distant past.

What is the Skeleton Gorge Route?

Let me first qualify what exactly constitutes the Skeleton Gorge route: Skeleton Gorge is a ravine on Table Mountain, the top located distant from the actual tabletop summit. From the head of the ravine, the hiker follows the Smuts Track to Maclear’s Beacon, highest point on the mountain. From there, you traverse the length of the famous Table to the upper cable station.

For the purposes of this article, ‘Skeleton Gorge’ includes all three segments mentioned above: the actual ravine, the Smuts Track and the traverse across the summit. Many people assume the route name ‘Skeleton Gorge’ to include all three segments, as they are often strung together to form a single route. Nothing wrong with that; one just need to be aware of the distinction.

Rivalled only by Platteklip Gorge in renown, Skeleton Gorge ranks as one of the most popular routes up Table Mountain. In this article, intended to be definitive in its assessment of the route, I will cut through the clutter and noise surrounding the route, from rose-tinted reviews to slapdash articles written by hiking neophytes and those professing to know Table Mountain, and give you an objective take on this perennial classic.
How long is the Skeleton Gorge Hike?

Skeleton Gorge is like a good book in that you’ll find those who wax lyrical about it, while others dismiss it as so-so. But overall, it’s a ‘good book’. Not for everyone, but a good read – a readable tale. The route has merit, no doubt about that, but it still might not be the best route for you. To gain some perspective, let’s take a closer look at some aspects of the route and how they can be a determining factor in your overall enjoyment.

Information about the Skeleton Gorge route

Length: Skeleton Gorge is a strenuous route. Starting out on the southeast slopes of the mountain and meandering across to the northwest corner, it covers about 7 km (4 miles) and gains around 1000 meters (3300 feet) in elevation. If your fitness is below average, you will take strain, possibly a lot. Even hikers of average fitness need to be prepared to push physically. But if you have a leisurely walk in mind without breaking much of a sweat, then you’re in for a rude awakening.

Vegetation: The first 1.5 hours of the route follows a forested ravine. If you’re not a forest person, or you’re from a forested area and don’t care much for them while on holiday, or you prefer views all the way, then a sizeable chunk of the route will disappoint. But if you enjoy forests, or perhaps want to experience Table Mountain’s unique Afromontane Forest (reminiscent of the Amazon rainforest), then you will enjoy the route. Some people love forests, others find them claustrophobic and monotonous. If you’re the latter type, choose another route. A veritable buffet of Table Mountain routes means that you have options.

Character: Skeleton Gorge takes in all the floral zones on the mountain. And by the time you reach the upper cable station, you will have had views in all directions. It also leads through some of the less-visited parts of the mountain and offers interesting asides like the Table Mountain dams.

What type of Hiker are you?

If you’re a peak-bagger (obsessed with summitting), or you don’t want to hike more than 3 hours, or you don’t care much about nature, then Skeleton Gorge will fail to impress. Furthermore, the route offers little in the way of scrambling and exposure to heights (scores low on the adventure scale), so if you’re an adrenalin junky or adventurer, then Skeleton Gorge will likely leave you dissatisfied. Rather opt for one of the spicier routes like India Venster, Left Face ‘B’, Blind Gully, Kasteel’s Buttress, Kloof Corner or Woody Buttress.

But like Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code (not everyone’s definition of a good read), Skeleton Gorge has mass appeal. It ticks most boxes of what the majority of hikers want out of a route. It’s a deservedly popular route that does justice to the beauty and diversity of Table Mountain. And the route’s positives (full range of views, all floral zones, lots of nature) measures up well against the negatives (no views along first section, strenuous, and somewhat monotonous along the middle stretches).

Do I need a guide to hike Skeleton Gorge?

Not sure if Skeleton Gorge is for you? Allow us to match your interests and abilities with the perfect route. We realize the importance of route-selection in the overall experience of hiking Table Mountain and therefore make the effort to learn more about you – your fitness level, experience, preferences, interests, sense of adventure, expectations, etc. – before suggesting a route. As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks, and we wholeheartedly subscribe to that when it comes to Table Mountain hiking.