Exposure to heights is a phrase often used in route-descriptions of Table Mountain hikes. The majority of people I deal with only have a foggy idea what exactly it means. Most Table Mountain hiking routes involve exposure to heights, to some degree of severity, so it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with the meaning.
The first part of the phrase, ‘exposure’, means, as the word suggests, that you will be exposed to something. Exposure to cold; Exposure to ridicule; exposure to risk. The second part of the phrase, ‘heights’, means vertical drops – NOT elevation / altitude. And no, you will not be dropping down anything vertical. Heights in this context implies sheer cliffs, vertical cliffs, vertical edges, drop-offs, edge of drops, etc. Used together with ‘heights’, ‘exposure means that you will be in close proximity to a cliff edge.
As mentioned, all but a handful of Table Mountain hiking routes involve exposure to heights. On some routes, only 5% of the way is exposed to heights; on other routes, 40% of the way. On some routes, the exposure is not severe or extreme; on other routes, it is. So what determines how extreme heights are? Ask yourself the following questions: how close are you to the edge of the drop? How vertical is the drop? How high is the drop? There are other factors, too: what kind of terrain occurs near the edge of the drop: bush, loose rock, solid rock, earthy ledges, well-defined trail? And what will you be doing near the edge: scrambling, climbing a ladder or just hiking? Also, the tilt / gradient of the surrounding slope: some places feel more exposed to heights than they really are, creating a false impression.
Hiking Table Mountain leads across diverse terrain. Inherent to mountain terrain is cliffs, and Table Mountain has no shortage of these. They’re hard to avoid. Routes that involve considerable heights takes you off-the-beaten track, allows for a more intimate experience with the mountain and provides adventure – or if you’re not good with heights, terror. If you do opt for a route that involves heights, make sure you’re with someone who knows the way and who can offer you helpful assistance (not all assistance is helpful).
In my opinion, heights add spice to a hike and gives you a better appreciation of the mountain. It also ensures a greater sense of accomplishment once you reach the summit.