Photo of the week – November week #3: Table Mountain hiking from the Saddle

Nov 20, 2014

The Saddle is the neck that connects Devil’s Peak to Table Mountain. It’s often through this gap that the Tablecloth cloud-formation first makes it appearance: dense cloud would boil up the back and spill into the city bowl, billowing like smoke, giving rise to the legend of the devil and Van Hunk waging their never-ending smoking contest, from which Devil’s Peak takes it name. On a less legendary note, the Saddle drains water from both Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak, most of which runs off the city side and which played an important role in serving the water needs of Cape Town in the 1700s and 1800s, when it was known as Capel Sluit.

Several routes lead up the Saddle from the Newlands side, the easiest being Newlands Ravine. From the city side, one can contour in from Devil’s Peak along the middle Contour Path or more directly via the Saddle Path. From the Saddle, the summit of Devil’s Peak is an hour’s slog away along a well-defined path. Hiking Table Mountain from the Saddle is more complicated: from the top of Newlands Ravine, a vague trail leads up across a conspicuous ridge known as the Knife Edge and continues up the steep slopes beyond, threading past sheer rock bands and involving scrambling at times. Route-finding is tricky, so not recommended if you’re inexperienced. Known as Ledges, it’s one of the more challenging Table Mountain hiking routes that dates back to the earliest days of mountaineering at the Cape. It used to be an old favourite among Mountain Club members in the early 1900s.

At the base of the topmost cliffs, the route joins the Ledges-Silverstream Traverse, an exciting high-level traverse that leads around to the front of the mountain and terminating in Silverstream Ravine. Ledges, however, traverses left at this level and sneaks up a break in the line of cliffs just before Fir Tree Ravine. This is the crux of the route; a rope is recommended, the scrambling being C-grade and exposed. It tops out at Fir Tree Camp, an old camping spot used as a base by hikers and cragsmen in mostly the first half of the 1900s, the headwaters of Fir Tree Ravine proving a perennial water supply. Nowadays, the area is rarely visited: the pines once planted for shade and wind-shelter have long-since been felled, and the summit vegetation has reclaimed the bare patch of ground where the tents stood. It’s a beautiful place, peaceful and pristine, with sculpted outcrops and boulders punctuating the landscape. After a long day of hiking Table Mountain, it serves as a restful refuge to brew tea and reflect on the day’s adventures. Three Table Mountain hikes across the summit plateau radiate out from Fir Tree Camp: one to the front edge of the mountain, the second to Maclear’s Beacon and the third towards the eastern edge of the tabletop. All three are indistinct trails, and care should be taken in following them lest you trample the protected and rare summit vegetation in your search for the right way.


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