When it comes to Table Mountain hiking, ignoring these two weather-related factors is a sure way to spoil your hike. The first is the heat. Cape Town gets hot in summer, and if you’re coming from a cold climate, then the heat is going to feel even more intense. Sunrise is around 5.30am, and by as early as 7.30am the heat is uncomfortable, quite often stifling. It’s easy to slight the heat when you’re sitting in the shade sipping an ice-cold drink, cool air wafting off the ocean fronting your cafe or from the overhead aircon. Out on the mountain, it’s a very different environment. Hiking steep uphill across rugged terrain under the blazing African is not very unpleasant. Dripping with sweat and weak from exhaustion, it’s tough to enjoy yourself. Many Table Mountain hikes get early sun, and that’s why we start early, at sunrise: to optimize the experience, and to make the hike as pleasant as possible without subjecting you to harsh conditions that could’ve been avoided and that greatly detracts from the enjoyment of the hike. Better to endure the fleeting discomfort of having to get up early than the prolonged discomfort, sometimes suffering, of toiling up in the heat. Starting early offers other advsantages, too: you’re off the mountain by around 10.30am (depending on the route), leaving much of the day open for other stuff; and you start your “hike what photographers refer to as the “golden hour”, the time of day best for taking photos due to the optimal light quality. For many, hiking Table Mountain ranks as their top and most anticipated Cape Town activity, so it makes sense to do what it takes to maximize the experience. Shark-cage diving operators schedule pick-up around 5am, and game rangers typically get you out of bed before sunrise, in both case to get the most out of the experience, and starting at sunrise for hiking Table Mountain is no different. Occasional cool days allow for a later start, but best to plan for hot condiitons.
The second factor that impacts on your enjoyment of hiking Table Mountain is the wind. Cape Town gets lots of wind in summer. The prevailing Southeaster, which buffets the Cape Peninsula from November to January, is to many local hikers the scourge of Table Mountain hiking. It often blows for days on end at gale-force stength, grounding the cable car and blanketing the mountain with a dense bank of cloud aptly called the Tablecloth. So what can be so terrible about wind that it has the potential to spoil your hike? It’s one advsantage is that it takes the edge of the heat, but there are two disadvantages that you want to avoid, if possible. The first is the cablway doesn’t run in windy condiitons, necessitating a hike back down – tough, unpleasant and anticlimactic. The second is the accompanying Tablecloth: while it looks surreal and beautiful from below, hiking Table Mountain when the Tablecloth is laid means little to no views, unpleasant conditions, sometimes slippery rock caused by precipitation and always bad hair. Quite often, the Southeaster only puts in an appearance around noon, usually accompanied by its vaporous sidekick, the Tablecloth, so starting out early on your Table Mountain hike minimizes the chances of having to hike back down while maximizing the chances of getting views. As mentioned, the Southeaster often lasts for days, keeping Table Mountain shrouded in cloud, so unless you have lots of spare days available during your stay, you just have to brazen it out with the wind in cloud, both of which have esoteric charms, but that’s for another time.