Tackling the Table head-on – 16 November 2020

Here’s a Table Mountain hiking route with a difference…

Back in the early days of mountaineering at the Cape, it was the norm for climbers to aspire to a frontal ascent of a buttress or mountain. A frontal ascent tackled a peak or buttress head-on, with little deviation and no circumvention of difficulties, thereby giving testimony to man’s perceived superiority over mountains and emphasizing the sense of conquest pursued by pioneers and explorers. It also bore testimony to the climbers’ boldness and prowess, and their defiance of seemingly unsurmountable odds. The full-frontal ascent – the holy grail of early climbers – lost its lustre as climbers ran out of frontal lines.

Table Mountain’s famous front face lacks a frontal ridge that projects beyond the rest of the mountain, usually the sought-after line of early climbers. Climbers therefore decided on simply picking a line up the middle of the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain, keeping it as straight as possible. This line was pioneered in 1894 – the first climbing route up the iconic façade of Table Mountain – and became known as Left Face. In the years that followed, a hiking route evolved around that part of the mountain, and to this day remains the only hiking route up the middle and the front face of Table Mountain. Known as Left Face ‘B’, it picks an ingenious line past impregnable cliffs.

You won’t find much on Google about Left Face ‘B’. It’s a rather obscure route, challenging and off the beaten track, yet offering sensational hiking for the adventurous and more experienced hiker. If you’re a purist and wish for an authentic frontal ascent of Table Mountain, you can’t do better than tackling the mountain via Left Face ‘B’. The route meanders up the sheer cliffs to the left of the famous Platteklip Gorge, involving scrambling and exposure to heights along several sections – none of it severe, but a head for heights comes in handy.

Left Face ‘B’ is vintage Table Mountain hiking. Paying homage to the mountain through a frontal ascent provides much gratification. Add an ample dollop of adventure, pristine nature, a wilderness feel and imposing surroundings, and you end up with a route that really does justice to the mountain. None of the other 60-odd Table Mountain hiking routes offers the distinction of tackling the mountain head-on.

Midway up the route, threading through dramatic terrain.

You most definitely need a competent and experienced guide for Left Face ‘B’. Route-finding is very tricky, and there is considerable exposure to heights that require extreme caution. No experienced required, just a decent head for heights and a sense of adventure. The route is moderately strenuous and takes 3 to 3.5 hours.

Another distinction the route brings to the table (pun intended) is that it finishes with a vertical scramble that tops out on a perfectly flat part of the summit. This gives a singular summit experience not obtainable on any of the other Table Mountain hikes. This vertical-to-horizontal finish adds much sense of achievement to the experience. In fact, it is one of my favorite bits on the entire mountain, having done all 60-odd Table Mountain hiking routes.

Fancy a frontal ascent of Table Mountain? Up for an adventure and keen to get off the beaten track? Keen for a vintage experience of Table Mountain? Look no further than Left Face ‘B’. It will forever change the way you look at the mountain.

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