The most challenging Table Mountain hiking route – 12 February 2021

There’s no shortage of hiking routes on Table Mountain. More than 90 distinct lines of ascent have been opened since the first recorded ascent in 1503. Many of these have never gained popularity and now languish on the brink of oblivion. Routes vary greatly in character – and difficulty. While few would contest Platteklip Gorge as being the easiest Table Mountain hiking route, the verdict is still out on the most challenging. Let’s look at a few contenders and why they rank as some of the meanest Table Mountain hikes.

But first, let’s contextually define vague terms such as ‘hard’ and ‘challenging’. Three factors contribute towards a route’s difficulty: technicality, terrain and exposure to heights. Technicality describes the severity of the scrambling (elementary climbing). The terrain refers to the surface you’re hiking across, or sometimes climbing up: loose rock, defined trail, overgrown slope, boot-sucking mud, etc. Exposure to heights describes the proximity to sheer drop-offs. It follows then that a route may be regarded as hard or challenging if it involves any or a combination of these factors. Therefore, the most challenging Table Mountain hikes should include all three these factors to some degree and proportion. Having these constituents at measurements, let’s look at a few Table Mountain hikes that qualify for the title.

  1. Kloof Corner Pinnacle: This stellar route packs some serious technicality and exposure to heights, with, mercifully, slightly less severe terrain. Leads up one of the most striking ridgelines on Table Mountain, offering ample scrambling and sensational situations.
  2. Grotto-Fountain-Cairn Traverse: A composite route with a sensational and ingenious traverse as the main event. Narrow ledges galore. Rugged terrain liberally sprinkled with nifty scrambling the rest of the way.
  3. Wood-Spring Traverse: Another composite route replete with narrow ledges and tricky scrambling. In comparison, the moderate terrain feels like a garden path. Of all Table Mountain hiking routes, I would nominate this route as involving the hardest move over the biggest drop.
  4. Ferny Dell: The kind of route Indiana Jones would’ve frequented. Leads up a wild and dramatic part of Table Mountain, traversing primeval forests and gaping ravines. No shortage of challenge in any of the three forms outlined above. Vintage Table Mountain hiking, this route showcases the grandeur of the mountain with a dollop of enchantment.
  5. Venster Buttress: Likely the most technical on our list, Venster Buttress sometimes feels more like rock-climbing than hiking or even scrambling. When you’re not hanging off your fingertips or grunting in the execution of contortionist moves, the route, mercifully, offers gentle terrain – ideal opportunities to shake off anxiety of the preceding pitch and gather your wits for the next.

The above list is open to debate. But few would partake, as almost no one has ever done all Table Mountain hiking routes. And what exhilarates one hiker, terrifies another – so consensus will remain elusive. Selecting a definitive winner is hard. For the sheer severity of its technicality, I’m tempted to nominate Venster Buttress. But Wood-Spring Traverse and Kloof Corner Pinnacle would be snapping at its heels.

Whatever the route, hiking Table Mountain allows you to truly experience the grandeur and pristine nature of the mountain. From its singular flora to sculpted rock-formations, tackling the mountain by foot optimizes your experience of this world-famous landmark.

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