Table Mountain hiking: what’s with the weather – 30 July 2015

Cape Town enjoys a Mediterranean climate, which means wet, cool winters and dry, hot summers. But Table Mountain makes it less predictable than that. The presence of a mountain, along with its proximity to the coast, creates micro-climates that are notoriously difficult to predict. Cape Town, and certainly Table Mountain, are known to experience four seasons in a day. The weather changes quickly and often drastically. Weather affects the enjoyment and safety of a hike, and perfect weather days on Table Mountain are quite rare. If it’s not too hot, then it’s too cold, or too windy, or to cloudy (cloud on the mountain means limited or no views), or the rock is wet and slippery. Clear, windless, balmy days are the exception, usually occurring in Spring and Autumn. Summers are typically hot and / or windy. Heat makes the hike tougher, so an early start in summer is essential. Wind often brings cloud on the mountain, blotting out views. Wind also closes the cable car, necessitating a walk-down.

Table Mountain gives rise to micro-climates. Some parts are more rainy or windy than others. The weather on the summit is often windier and more cloudy than in the city – and always colder. And if the mountain is clear at the outset of a hike, it doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way for the duration of the hike. The weather changes very quickly: cloud often boils up out of nowhere and the wind picks up to reach gale-force speeds. Lots of people hiking Table Mountain get caught out by the adverse weather conditions. Heat, cloud and wind are major factors impacting on safety. Table Mountain hikes that are fairly straight-forward in perfect weather becomes challenging and often dangerous when the weather turns bad. So what can you do to ensure your safety and optimize your enjoyment when planning to hike Table Mountain?

– Consider using a competent mountain-guide, who knows the local weather conditions.

– Always pack a warm layer and rain-jacket. In winter, add a beanie and gloves to your packing list; in summer, sunscreen, hat and lots of water.

– To maximize your chances of getting a good-weather day, plan your hike for early in your Cape Town stay to allow for spare days in the event of bad weather.

– Be flexible in terms of route choice and available days to hike.

– Keep in mind that Table Mountain is a proper mountain, and that mountains tend to generate harsher weather than lower altitudes.

– Wind and cloud are part of Table Mountain, so don’t curse the elements if you find yourself hiking Table Mountain with no views and / or in strong wind that throws you off-balance. Accept it as a mood of the mountain, as an inherent facet of the mountain, not as bad luck. Allow it to enrich your Table Mountain hiking experience rather than detract from it.