Table Mountain hikes: Skeleton Gorge – 2 November 2015

No discussion about Table Mountain hiking is complete without reference to that evergreen route with the intriguing name, Skeleton Gorge – or as a German once referred to it, in all seriousness, Skeletal George. Deservedly popular, it offers a more exciting and engaging ascent of Table Mountain than the stock-standard Platteklip Gorge. Due to the range and diversity of Table Mountain hiking routes, each route possesses unique features and elements with varying appeal to hikers. Since the enjoyment of hiking Table Mountain starts with route choice, let’s briefly look at the pros and cons of this classic Table Mountain hike.

Starting out from one of Cape Town’s main attractions, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, certainly contributes to the appeal and renown of Skeleton Gorge. Passing through all Table Mountain’s floral zones, it tops out at Maclear’s Beacon, highest point on Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula, from where a traverse of the famous and iconic tabletop summit brings you to the upper capper station for a well-earned cable car descent (weather permitting). All these features – diverse flora, reaching the highest point and traversing the famous “Table” – greatly account for the route’s popularity. Most Table Mountain hikes do not offer these features, so they count in favour of Skeleton Gorge.

So what’s there not to like? The cons are rather subjective, but noteworthy. The route covers a lot of distance and elevation gain, both making it strenuous. If you’re not in good shape, you will take strain physically. While the route involves minimal technicality, the gorge section of the trail traverses some rugged terrain that becomes treacherous after heavy or prolonged rain. A series of short wooden ladders requires care and constitutes the only bit of exposure to heights. A major consideration is the jungle setting that occurs on more or less the first half of the route: if you don’t like jungle settings, then you won’t particularly enjoy this stretch. Remember, there are no views in jungles, other than the short-range view of your immediate surroundings. The views further up are inland, with eventual city views on the walk across the summit and sea views at the upper cable station. Another consideration is the adventure level of the route: while the changing views and surroundings make the route stimulating, it offers little in the way of adventure, so not ideal for adventurous hikers looking for a challenge or a ‘rush’. Furthermore, the route sneaks up the less-steep back of the mountain, offering little in the way of dramatic mountainscapes and rock-formations – again, rather subjective, but worthy of consideration.

Hiking Table Mountain is an unforgettable experience any which way you decide on. But to optimize the experience, it’s worth considering route options and how compatible they are to your preferences and abilities. As for the story behind Skeleton Gorge’s grim name, no one knows. One can only assume that a skeleton – human or animal – was found in there by early climbers. Perhaps the skeleton belonging to Skeletal George…

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