Kasteelspoort: Need to know – 4 April 2021

Kasteelspoort is a route up the Twelve Apostles. The Twelve Apostles is a chain of seaboard peaks extending behind the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain. They are considered part of Table Mountain.

Kasteelspoort means Castle’s Portal in Afrikaans – aptly named considering it offers the easiest access up what was formerly known as the Castle Mountains. Its claim to dubious fame is the Diving Board, a rock projection at the head of the ravine that offers sensational photo opportunities. But KP (as the locals affectionately refer to it) offers far more than just a viewpoint. Here’s what you need to know about this Table Mountain hiking route.

Many routes lead up the Twelve Apostles. KP is the easiest. This combined with the appeal of the Diving Board account for its popularity. Let’s first look at how it compares to other Apostles routes before getting perspective on its overall place as a Table Mountain hiking route. In the process, we will discuss its merits as a route.

Kasteelspoort
The Diving Board on Kasteelspoort.

As the easiest Apostles route, it involves the least amount of scrambling, exposure to heights (narrow ledges) and rugged terrain (bush / loose rock). This means the route is suitable for those who don’t have a head for heights and / or who are not very adventurous. The exposure to heights being very mild, and the scrambling minimal as well as easy, it scores low on the adventure scale.

The type of hiker who most enjoys KP does not need adventure and adrenaline to be at the core of the experience, rather pristine nature. Peace and quiet. Compared to routes like India Venster and Platteklip Gorge, KP is strenuous, involving about 30% more distance as well as elevation gain (if followed through to Table Mountain’s summit). In light of this, a moderate fitness level at the very least is required for an optimal experience. The route offers superb sea views along more or less the first half, then inland, Back Table and Cape Peninsula views further up.

All other Apostle routes are more challenging, either physically, technically (scrambling / narrow ledges) or more rugged terrain (overgrown / loose rock). Whether you want more adventure, challenge or wilderness, there is an Apostle route that will meet your needs. Woody Ravine, Porcupine Ravine, Blind Gully, Kasteels Buttress and Woody Buttress are a few non-standard options for the more experienced or adventurous hiker.

Being the easiest route up the Apostles also makes it the most popular, so you can expect to meet other groups along the way on weekends when the weather is good. Not droves, but a fair trickle of local hikers and trail-runners. On weekdays, you pretty much have the trail to yourself.

Kasteelspoort leads up to the Back Table (or lower plateau), a vast undulating plateau located behind the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain and about two-thirds its height. From the top of Kasteelspoort (the actual ravine that leads up the 12 Apostles), it’s still 1.5 to 2 hours to Table Mountain’s summit (also known as the summit plateau). The overall elevation gain on Kasteelspoort is about 900 meters (3000 feet). At the point where you top out on the lower plateau – at the head of Kasteelspoort Ravine – you will have gained almost two-thirds the overall height gain. The distance to the upper cable station is about 6 km (3.8 miles). The trail consists of rock-steps but is well-defined. An early start in summer (5.30am) provides welcome shade up to the lower plateau.

As a guided hike, we extend Kasteelspoort to finish on the famous tabletop summit of Table Mountain. A choice of two routes lead from the lower to the upper plateau, each offering unique features and attractions. The Back Table offers many hidden gems worth exploring. There are the historic Table Mountain reservoirs, rock-labyrinths, Blinkwater Peak (a superb viewpoint), a subterranean stream, the old cableway terminus (c. 1893) and of course the Diving Board. The area is steeped in history as well as solitude. Depending on your fitness and the weather conditions, we visit these sights en route to the summit.

Let’s look at how Kasteelspoort compare with two other popular Table Mountain hiking routes.

India Venster is less strenuous, but more technical, involving scrambling and narrow ledges about 15% of the way (nothing extreme). Offers city and partial sea views along the first three quarters, then sea views to the summit. Busier on weekends. More dramatic rock-formations, less peace and quiet.

Skeleton Gorge is technically the same when dry (more when wet, often the case) and a bit more strenuous – more so in summer with a compulsory late start from the Kirstenbosch Gardens. Offers jungle setting along the first 1 to 1.5 hours, with inland and Peninsula views further up. No sea views on the ascent. Busier on weekends.

Through a slight modification of the famous safari catchphrase Big Five to Big Four, and applying it to Table Mountain hiking routes, I would select Platteklip Gorge, Skeleton Gorge, India Venster, Kasteelspoort. Big, because they are popular, either because they’re easier than other options, or they offer more beauty and excitement, or a combination of those things in some indeterminate ratio to each other. If you’re in pretty good shape, love nature and dislike heights, go for Kasteelspoort or Skeleton Gorge. To decide between the two: if you prefer jungle setting and inland views on the ascent, Skeleton Gorge. If you prefer sea views on the ascent, Kasteelspoort.

Kasteelspoort offers great views, exciting viewpoints and lots of nature. It does a good job showcasing Table Mountain’s diversity, while passing through an area of the mountain steeped in history. Furthermore, it offers various side attractions that, if you have the time, energy and interest, enhances the experience while providing a deeper appreciation for the mountain.

To conclude, a hypothetical ideal KP-hiker profile:

  • Possesses at least a moderate fitness level
  • Appreciates nature, peace and quiet, solitude
  • Keen for a deeper experience of Table Mountain
  • Up for a longer, more strenuous hike
  • Averse to crowds
  • Not overly adventurous / doesn’t need adventure to enjoy a hike
  • Not good with narrow ledges

I would rate the first three as most important.

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