Photo of the week – June week #1: Traverses on Table Mountain hikes

An airy and slippery traverse on Left Face Buttress.

An airy and slippery traverse on Left Face Buttress.

It’s rare that you can climb a mountain without traversing – moving horizontally as opposed to vertically – and it’s no different when it comes to Table Mountain hiking. Traverses occur where a usually sheer rock band has to be bypassed; if the way ahead in line with the lower sections of the route is barred, then a traverse leads off left or right to an easier break that allows uncomplicated passage. Routes can be likened to rivers, who pick the line of least resistance to eventually reach the sea, meandering much of the way to circumvent obstructions. Hiking routes thread their way up mountains, dodging difficulty.

Most Table Mountain hikes involve traverses at some point along the way, some leading along a broad ledge with minimal or no exposure to heights, others picking an ingenious line along an expanse of sheer rock; some short, others lengthy and spanning from one ravine to another. Technically speaking, most Table Mountain hiking traverses are straightforward, but they can be intimidating and require care, experience and a good head for heights. Traverses have also come into existence as escape routes off the primary route of ascent as well as a link between routes. Some exist purely for the thrill of edging your way across an imposing cliff, usually the domain of rock-climbers.

Traverses allows one to move sideways along a mountain as opposed to upwards; They are an integral part of ascending or descending a mountain, often proving indispensable in gaining the summit. But they’re not always obvious; and they often seem to lead nowhere – a ledge, broad and bushy at first, dwindles to a narrow rocky shelf before pinching out against a sheer rock face at the end of space.  Ingenious and sensational traverses – the ones that appear unlikely, that bisect the hostile environment of sheer expanses or rock, and that lead out over a big drop and that narrows to barely allow sufficient purchase for the feet – always add spice to a Table Mountain hiking route. It is not unusual to have a sensational traverse as the objective for the day’s hiking rather than topping out. Notable Table Mountain traverses include Right Face-Arrow Face, Wood-Spring, Grotto-Fountain-Cairn, Silverstream and Carrel’s Ledge.

If you have a head for heights and a sense of adventure, then including one of these as part of your Table Mountain hike adds a lot of fun to the experience while providing a different dimension and perspective on hiking Table Mountain. Note, however, that you should only attempt an exposed traverse in the company of a mountain guide or someone who knows it well and can provide safety on steep ground. Exposed traverses are not to be trifled with. But done with the necessary prudence and competence, they enhance any mountain experience.

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