Once known as the Gable Mountains, and also the Castle Mountains, the Twelve Apostles extend behind the famous and iconic tabletop summit of Table Mountain. This chain of peaks – most with their own buttresses – are considered part of Table Mountain and offers some of the best hiking on the Cape Peninsula. No less than eighteen peaks comprise the Apostles, though some count only sixteen or seventeen peaks, omitting the less salient ones. Some are more prominent than others, forming a tall and sharp peak or featuring a well-defined buttress. Arguably the most prominent of the lot is Grootkop (Afrikaans / Dutch for ‘big hill’), a prosaic name that belies the peak’s intriguing topography and spectacular views.
Located towards the furthest end of the Apostles, reaching it requires a stiff hike, either from the north via Woody Ravine, Oudekraal Ravine or Kasteelspoort, or the south via Llandudno Ravine. Because of its relative remoteness, few people bother with it; you could have the summit to yourself for days without human interference. Table Mountain hiking should not only be about reaching the tabletop summit, and Grootkop stands as one of many reasons why. Pristine nature, glorious views, striking angles onto the mountain, exciting topography and lots of solitude combines to make this peak one of the most charming and delightful features on Table Mountain.
From the Apostles plateau, three routes lead to the summit of Grootkop: an easy way from the east, a more difficult but exciting way from the north and a challenging way from the southwest. A sensational traverse skirts the sheer west side of the peak, leading past several caves and through an enchanting little indigenous forest. Know as the Yellowood Traverse (also Atlantic Traverse), it rates as my favourite Table Mountain traverse. In a way, it’s one of the most beautiful stretches of trail I know on the mountain. If you’re into caving, Grootkop offers caves galore. The summit of Grootkop is one of those places where peace and quiet seem undisturbed since the beginning of time; where loud talk constitutes sacrilege. Needless to say, the views are panoramic and breath-taking.
While some Table Mountain hikes are best done in summer, when the mountain is bone-dry, Grootkop lends itself to winter hiking, when springs are running and it’s cool enough to bask in the afternoon sun on one of the many rock terraces scattered around the peak. Combine Grootkop with an adventurous route to the Apostles plateau and you’re in for quite possibly the best hiking Table Mountain has to offer, and can be aptly described as ‘Table Mountain unplugged’. It’s an experience of the essence of the mountain, undefiled by civilization.