Hiking Table Mountain at the first suggestion of light greatly enhances the experience, especially during the hot summer months, when a late start – after 7am in high summer – makes the hike a lot harder, even unpleasant. Fresh from a freezing winter climate, tramping uphill under the blazing African sun is not exactly conducive to a memorable experience. The summer heat in Cape Town can be debilitating, especially if you’re coming straight from a cold climate. Streaming with sweat, and weak with fatigue, you don’t appreciate the views or take in the surroundings so much. Better to endure the fleeting discomfort of getting up early than the prolonged discomfort of hiking in the heat.
But the advantages of setting out early goes beyond that. Photos come out best in the early-morning light. Known as the ‘golden hour’ by professional photographers, dawn is the best time to get the most out of the landscape. Watching the colors change as the first rays of the sun strike the upper cliffs of the mountain highlights contours of the mountain not seen in the midday glare, while tinging the landscape in shades of pastel orange and pink. An eerie silence prevails over the city at that hour, and the air retains a cool freshness from the night. All these impressions work in synergy to optimize the beauty of your surroundings. Add a bit of cloud or fog, and you have a light show that will remain etched in your mind. Table Mountain hikes starting from the city side of the mountain benefit from this as much as those starting on the Atlantic side, which gets morning shade. The lush eastern aspect of the mountain faces sunrise, so much to see on that side, too.
Table Mountain hiking offers much in the way of natural beauty, but by heading out at dawn you maximize the experience in different ways. In my opinion, it’s the golden hour of hiking – and in summer, it spares you from having your shirt plastered to you with sweat.