Table Mountain hiking: what is scrambling – 29 May 2016

Table Mountain rises sheer above Cape Town’s city center. Lined with cliffs, it seems impregnable to the hiker, scalable only to climbers. But hiking routes exist, threading through the cliffs and around overhangs, ingeniously outflanking impassable terrain. It should come then as no surprise that most Table Mountain hiking routes involve elementary climbing, commonly referred to as scrambling, at some points along the way.

When it comes to Table Mountain hikes, scrambling can be defined as the grey area between hiking and climbing. It’s not a precise science; there are many shades of grey. For those not averse to a bit of adventure, sometimes accompanied by exposure to heights, scrambling offers a fun, exciting and rewarding way of gaining elevation when hiking Table Mountain.

Different Table Mountain hikes offer different levels of scrambling, ranging from light scrambling with no exposure to severe scrambles that verges on proper rock-climbing, necessitating the use of a rope. So what makes a scramble difficult? First and foremost, technicality: the awkwardness and trickiness of moves you need to execute. Secondly, exposure to heights: the proximity of sheer drops. Thirdly, the rock quality: loose and brittle rock makes for dangerous scrambling. And last but not least, the degree to which the scrambling is sustained: how many consecutive awkward moves are encountered.

Some Table Mountain hiking routes involve only minimal scrambling, perhaps as little as 5% of the way, while others involve up to 50% scrambling. Route-finding on scramble sections are typically tricky, as there is no path to follow. Also, assessing steep terrain from below is deceptive: what appears easy often becomes difficult when you’re midway up; and what appears hard often turns out easier than you expected. It follows that attempting scramble routes without a competent mountain-guide can be risky, despite others’ assurances that you will be fine on your owpeople differ greatly in agility, balance and ability to deal with heights.

Hiking Table Mountain almost always involves some degree and amount of scrambling. In the right amounts and severity, and in the company of a competent guide, it enhances your experience of the mountain.