Photo of the week – March week #3: Hiking Table Mountain in the Tablecloth

What’s the connection between a tablecloth, a Cape Doctor and Table Mountain hiking? Simple: the Tablecloth forms when the Cape Doctor blows, impacting on Table Mountain hiking. The Tablecloth is a cloud formation often seen on Table Mountain during summer, typically when the Southeaster wind, or Cape Doctor, blows. And if you’re hiking Table Mountain in the Southeaster season, you need to know how it impacts on safety and conditions.

The Tablecloth generally resembles a mass of cloud that engulfs Table Mountain, pouring down its sheer front face like a waterfall. Sometimes streamlined and trim, other times a shapeless mass piled up high over the mountain, it’s occurrence always mesmerizes. It only forms when the Southeaster blows (while the Southeaster sometimes blows without the Tablecloth forming), so conditions inside the Tablecloth are cold and damp, with visibility restricted to only a few meters. Table Mountain hikes that appears benevolent in clear conditions can quickly turn challenging and forbidding when the cloud rolls in – and it often does so within minutes. The cable car closes in windy conditions, so bargain on walking down when the Southeaster is pumping.

Apart from the inconvenience of walking down, what dangers does hiking Table Mountain in the Tablecloth pose? First of all, it complicates route-finding, since you can’t discern your surrounding and have no way of telling where you’re heading and where you came from, unless of course you know the mountain well. The second danger is hypothermia. The Tablecloth carries a lot of moisture. Driven against you by the wind, this moisture condenses on your skin and clothes so that you become wet. Add wind-chill, and you soon loose heat, which can lead to serious hypothermia if you don’t have warm layers. Finding shelter from the wind is an option, but waiting for the Southeaster to abate can take days…

With adequate preparations (proper clothing and route-planning, or making use of a Table Mountain guide)), hiking Table Mountain in Southeasterly conditions can be a special experience. If your timing is right, few sights can compare with seeing the Tablecloth spill over the front edge of the mountain as it draws across the tabletop summit.