Braving the wind when hiking Table Mountain – 11 March 2014

I know few people who enjoy being out and about in the wind. There are those who prefer hiking Table Mountain in the driving rain rather than the raging Southeaster – Cape Town’s prevailing summer wind – and sensible hikers they are. Cape Town is a pretty wind-swept city and towering Table Mountain catches the brunt of it. Buffeted by the rain-bearing Northwest in winter and blasted by the incessant Southeaster in summer, Table Mountain hiking often involves making headway with the reeling gait of a Saturday-night drunk and with your hair-do something of the past. Conversation between group members dwindle to the point of silence with the occasional wind-blown expletive catching your ears, typically after a furious gust.

I’m going out on a serious limb when I say that hiking Table Mountain in the wind can be fun. All the fresh air is good for your brain, and the roar of the wind drowns out the ramblings of loud-mouthed group members. Buffoonery aside, the wind keeps the crowds off the mountain (not that the mountain ever gets crowded), so you have the whole place i.e. 58 square kilometers of pristine nature and dramatic mountainscapes to yourself. Some Table Mountain hiking routes are sheltered, so no excuse to stay indoors when the trees are swaying outside your window. More than anything, the wind unleashes a raw energy from the mountain not experienced in benevolent conditions. Cloud often builds up around the peaks and scuds down precipices. The shrub-clad landscape seems to come alive. The wind tears around cliffside shrubs, moans around rock-formations and thunders down ravines. Hiking Table Mountain in blustery conditions, the mood is very different: wilder, more desolate and charged with a sense of impending action. The wind can get so strong that it forces you to grovel along the trail lest you get swept off your feet. Condensation pearls your hair and face, and the mountain seems to creak under the onslaught. Battling to stay on your feet, you duck into an alcove of rock, behind an outcrop or around a corner and find a pocket of calm in which you could light a match.

Hiking Table Mountain in the wind is unpleasant in some ways, but rewarding in others. It shows a different face of the mountain and allows you to experience the mountain more intimately. Some of my most memorable Table Mountain hikes have been in conditions of extreme wind. And one of the most spectacular cloud formations  – the Tablecloth – occurs only when the Southeaster is blowing.

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