Route choice is of paramount importance in optimizing your Table Mountain hiking experience. Many routes lead up Table Mountain of varying difficulty and offering different views, terrain, topography, views, adventure levels and even mood or atmosphere. Factors to consider when deciding on a route include fitness level, sense of adventure, love for nature, ability to cope with sheer drops, preferences in terms of views and / or terrain and your timeframe. Because all people are different, the same route can be perceived in many different ways. What one person finds tedious and uninspiring, another would find challenging and exhilarating. While most people simply want a route with great views and not too much danger, challenge and exertion, even these preferences can be tricky to meet. It takes many years of experience for a guide to match a person with the perfect route, not just a good route.
Having spent thousands of days hiking Table Mountain with people with all manner of interests, fitness levels and abilities, I can confidently say that the India Venster route, in the company of a competent mountain-guide, ranks in my books as the best half-day route to the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain providing you have at least a fairly good head for heights and a sense of adventure. If you’re not good with heights, then you need a solid sense of adventure and a preparedness to step outside your comfort zone.
So what makes India Venster stand out from other Table Mountain hikes? First and foremost, the actual location of the route: it leads up a imposing part of the mountain and takes in three sides of the mountain, so lots of dramatic rock-formations and ever-changing views. The route is not strenuous (compared to well-known routes like Kasteelspoort and Skeleton Gorge), so suitable for people with a less-than-average fitness level. Because of the scrambles (elementary climbing), the hiking is varied and engaging. If you hit the trail early in summer, you get shade about 80% of the way – a huge bonus. The route takes only about 3.5 hours, so you don’t need to allocate a full day in your itinerary towards hiking Table Mountain; an early start in summer means you’re usually back down by 10am, in time for breakfast. The views are sensational and diverse, both outward over the landscape and back onto the mountain. While the route has seen growing popularity among local hikers, it’s still far from a ‘highway’ up the mountain; the route sees a dribble of hikers on weekdays. The scrambling enhances your experience of the mountain in that it makes you feel like you’re really climbing the mountain. Getting your hands on the rock and experiencing the heights create intimacy with the mountain. The start and finish are the same, so no time and energy spent travelling back and forth between these points.
Having sung the praises of India Venster, it behoves me to say that the route is not for everyone. While I’ve guided from 6-year-old girls to 79-year-old couples up there (both of which thoroughly enjoyed it) I’ve witnessed muscle-bound rugby players experience a meltdown on the exposed sections. I’ve also seen masochists (loosely defined as people with an extreme sense of adventure and / or a hell-bent attitude to improve themselves and face up to their fears) terrified of heights tackle the route with a fiendish glee, only to summit with whoops of exhilaration.