Hiking Table Mountain in the Tablecloth – 3 October 2014

The Tablecloth is a famous cloud-formation on Table Mountain, occurring from around mid October to late January, usually when the Southeaster is blowing, Cape Town’s prevailing summer wind. Moisture-laden air, forced to rise when blown against the mountain, cools and condenses, forming a bank of cloud that engulfs the mountain. The Tablecloth varies in size, sometimes resembling a veil that creeps over the mountain, other times a shapeless mass with cloud piled high up above the summit and the frontal edge scudding down the sheer front face of the mountain. It often sits on the mountain for days, giving the summit vegetation double the precipitation in the form of condensation than it gets from rainfall.

Hiking Table Mountain when covered with the Tablecloth can be dangerous. Visibility is restricted to a few meters, so route-finding becomes even more of a challenge than usual. Cloud envelops the mountain within minutes, complication navigation. Also, it’s cold and wet, and the wind speed almost gale force. The cable car doesn’t run, necessitating a walk-down, if you know the way… Certain parts of the mountain are sheltered, so best to pick your route accordingly. Forget about views. Dress warmly and make sure you’re hiking with someone who knows the way well and that you have enough left in the tank for the descent. Well prepared and equipped, hiking in a raging Southeaster, with cloud sweeping across sculpted rock-formations and swirling around pinnacles and eddying into ravines, can be a sobering and memorable experience, despite the absence of views. It can’t be described as pleasant, but the sound of the wind and scudding of the clouds charges the air with a raw energy that invigorates and exhilarates.

Cape Town hiking in summer often involves wind, so resign yourself to it and feel blessed if you do get a windless day. Lion’s Head is often wind- and cloud-free in Southeasterly conditions, offering a good alternative to hiking Table Mountain. Or tackle one of several Table Mountain hikes sheltered from the brunt of the wind.

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