A few thousand Table Mountain hikes under my belt and there I stood, enthralled by my surroundings – by the hiss and splatter of cascading water, the grandeur of sheer rock faces, the mystery of jungle, the meditative presence of solitude. The place: Dark Gorge on Table Mountain, a deep ravine that slices up the eastern side of the Saddle (the neck linking Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak). I had been up there perhaps half a dozen times, but my familiarity with the route did nothing to dampen my exhilaration and exuberance. For all I knew, I could’ve been a character in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’, searching for dinosaurs on a remote mountain in the Amazon Jungle. Surrounded by pristine and exquisite nature, I had trouble believing that a mere 45-minute walk would take me back to my car, parked in a parking lot on the side of a busy highway. I spend most of my waking hours hiking Table Mountain, yet the sense impressions I got in the gloomy recesses of Dark Gorge mesmerized me. It wasn’t exactly ideal conditions to be tackling a ravine route on the eastern side of the mountain, after recent rain, but if you’re prepared to put up with wet feet and slippery rock, and you have a sense of adventure, then water adds to the experience rather than detracts from it. And that certainly turned out to be the case.
Dark Gorge doesn’t get you to the summit of Table Mountain, but hiking Table Mountain is not only about reaching the summit – far from it. The route is engaging and stimulating to the extent that you don’t feel robbed of a summit experience when you top out on the Saddle. Perfect for a hot summer’s afternoon, when the route gets deep shade, and perfect after heavy rains, when the ravine comes alive with water, Dark Gorge serves up unique flavours to the banquet that is Table Mountain hiking.