Why bother with a mountain guide to hike Table Mountain? The two short answers: to ensure your safety and to maximize your experience. Let’s take a closer look at these.
Safety: An experienced, attentive and competent mountain guide will minimize the risks associated with hiking and climbing a mountain. Table Mountain is still very much a mountain, despite its proximity to a city and the presence of a cable car. The rugged terrain and changeable weather have ruined the day of many an unwary and ignorant hiker. For those wanting to get off the beaten track or attempt a challenging route that involves scrambling up steep and exposed terrain, a mountain guide worth his salt is invaluable.
Experience: The second advantage of making use of a guide is that you learn about the environment as well as see the best there is to see, which enriches your experience of the mountain. With Table Mountain being an iconic landmark, it makes sense to get the most out of your hike. Picking the right route is paramount to one’s enjoyment of the mountain. Learning nothing about the mountain on the wrong route is not going to be memorable experience; gaining an appreciation of the environment on a well-chosen route optimizes your experience of the mountain.
On the subject of a mountain guide, it goes without saying that there are good ones and not-so-good ones. So what qualities should a good mountain guide possess? Three things: personality, knowledge and skill – in no particular order. Some routes demand more skill, others more personality; some clients demand more knowledge, others more skill. But a good guide should have all three – and in abundance. By personality I mean attributes such as patience, attentiveness, empathy, passion, ability to listen, ability to impart confidence and calm, decency, genuine friendliness, decisiveness, composure, flexibility, pleasant to spend time with. Knowledge: a good guide knows his stuff – the many routes on Table Mountain, the weather, the geology, the topography, the fauna & flora, the history of the mountain, etc. – and a really good guide knows how much and when to share that knowledge. Skill / competence: having an understanding of the mountain and a keen awareness of its dangers, gained from thousands of hikes and climbs; knowing the nuances of mountain safety; having the ability to motivate, assess and empathize with people; competent in providing safety and assurance on difficult and dangerous terrain; knowing what to do should things go wrong.
As far as competency goes, mountain guides enter the guiding arena at the bottom tier, unconsciously incompetent. A bit of experience takes them to the next level, consciously competent (he now knows how incompetent he is); then, with more experience, advances to the third level, consciously competent, before reaching the top tier where he / she is unconsciously competent – ideally where you want your mountain guide to be.
Expert mountain-guiding is not simply about leading / showing the way. Far from it. It involves a rare set of qualities that can make all the difference in your experience of hiking Table Mountain with a guide.