Table Mountain hiking: weather and safety – 25 August 2016

Table Mountain rises proudly out of the Atlantic Ocean at the south-western tip of the African continent. For this reason it catches every bit of weather around, and can even change it before your eyes. It’s best to be prepared!

If you aim to hike Table Mountain, having a basic understanding of the usual weather conditions is a very good idea. Cape Town is known for having four seasons in a day, and this is even more likely while on a Table Mountain hike. A gentle walk on a balmy summer’s day can easily turn into an epic survival hike as you battle the raw elements of nature.

Summer in Cape Town is dominated by high pressure weather systems, which bring clear skies and strong South East winds. This wind was known as the “Cape Doctor” in the early colonial days, as it was believed to blow away the plague! What it definitely does do is keep the air fresh and clean, but it can also create hazardous conditions during Table Mountain walks.

An important safety precaution to remember is to always pack a warm layer of clothing, as well as a waterproof jacket when undertaking a hike up Table Mountain. Even a beanie and gloves may be needed on the odd occasion in summer! This is due to the fact that the South Easter wind creates a cloud effect known as “The Tablecloth”. Cool air is pushed over from the southern side of Table Mountain, which meets warm air rising up from the Cape Town City Bowl, resulting in a very dense, moist and cold cloud pouring over the northern face of Table Mountain. One can start a hike on a hot summer’s morning, and later the same day be shivering in a dense grey fog, wondering where the way down is!

Arriving on the Table Mountain summit plateau all hot and sweaty from the way up, one needs to be ready to change into a dry shirt, and pack on a few warm layers to avoid sudden body-heat loss. This can lead to hypothermia, even in mid-summer. A heat reflective and insulating space-blanket can be a vital piece of equipment at this stage.

The best Table Mountain hiking days however, are the cool winter days in between the stormy cold fronts. After the low-pressure systems have passed the wind stays mild, and the sun is warm but not harsh. This makes hiking Table Mountain an absolute pleasure, allowing one to cover long distances as you explore the hidden marvels tucked away in all the corners of the mountain. On very hot days one can make use of shady spots at the base of rocky crags, often near deep cracks which bring cool air from deep inside the cliffs. This is nature’s own air-conditioning system. Areas such as Fountain ledge on the India Venster hike are ideal for this.

The other essential safety precaution for Table Mountain hikes is of course to pack a good supply of water. Hikers should carry at least 1.5 L of water each in order to stay hydrated on a half-day hike such as India Venster, Skeleton Gorge or Kasteelspoort. Even a relatively short hike such as Platteklip Gorge can get brutally hot in the summer months. Hikers should start early, and be well prepared for hot and cold conditions. Then one can head out confidently for a fantastic hiking experience on the majestic Table Mountain.

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