Lion’s Head is the prominent little peak to the right of Table Mountain as you look up from the city center. About two-thirds the height of Table Mountain, it’s not considered part of the Table Mountain range, but an isolated peak with its own ‘foothill’, Signal Hill, also known as the Lion’s Rump.
Lion’s Head is the most-climbed peak in the country. Locals flock up there in droves on full moon nights to watch the sunset and moonrise from the summit, and hang around for some drinks and socializing. Scores tackle the peak before or after work as part of an exercise regime, while weekends see all manner of hikers descend en masse on the little peak for their outdoor fix. So as a visitior to Cape Town, does a hike up Lion’s Head warrant the time and effort required to get to the summit?
Dwarfed in size and fame by Table Mountain, Lion’s Head offers a few unique selling points worth considering, and then to weigh them up against the downsides. Of course, you could always do both if you have the time and energy – the views are very different – but for most it’s either one or the other. Hiking Table Mountain ranks high up on many visitors’ bucketlist, and deservedly so, but the Lion has a few cards up its sleeve that might convince you to shelf your Table Mountain hiking plans…
Firstly, there are the views. Lion’s Head offers not only panoramic views, but also views back onto Table Mountain. Because Table Mountain’s summit is a plateau, you have to do a bit of walking to get views in different directions. On Lion’s Head, all you have to do is rotate your body and watch the views change. You can see in all directions from a single position.
Then there’s the sunrise / sunset option. Lion’s Head is a legendary vantage point from which to watch sunrise or sunset. Sunrise is better because you don’t have to hike down in the dark (tricky), and it’s less crowded – a 4am start in summer might be a contributing factor.
Cape Town’s prevailing summer wind, the Southeaster, and its trusty sidekick, the Tablecloth (a dense bank of cloud that engulfs Table Mountain when the Southeaster blows) also makes Lion’s Head a more attractive option over summer, November to February. Lion’s Head is less buffeted by the Southeaster and almost never gets the Tablecloth, so you’re ensured views and pleasant conditions. Table Mountain hiking in heavy Southeasterly conditions is really only attractive to masochists and those desperate to get body to their hair.
But before you roar with enthusiasm for wanting to hike up Lion’s Head, consider the crowds it gets. The past 5 years have seen an exponential growth in the popularity of this hike, thanks to social media and good old word-of-mouth. Even an obscure cave midway up has become a not-to-be-missed attraction: once off-the-beaten track, Wally’s Cave shot to fame after a striking photo went viral on social media. December is particularly crowded. Ladders and scrambles become bottlenecks heaving with hikers and verging on full-on chaos. So if you’re a nature lover looking for peace and solitude, forgeddaboutit.
But not entirely. Hike Table Mountain knows of a obscure route-variation that almost entirely bypasses the rank and file, giving you a much more enjoyable, rewarding, authentic and adventurous experience of Lion’s Head. If you’re set on hiking Table Mountain, you might still end up on Lion’d Head, as it’s often used as a plan-B hike when Table Mountain is covered in cloud and shredded by gale-force wind.