What is the tablecloth on Table Mountain?

Jul 27, 2023

Of all the cloud formations occurring on Table Mountain, the famous Tablecloth must rank as the most dramatic. In its perfect form it resembles an immense waterfall pouring slow-motion over the tabular summit. Sometimes it is distorted, appearing as a shapeless bank of cloud stacked up over the summit, dark and forbidding. At other times it drapes over the summit edge like a ghostly veil.

How does the Tablecloth form?

This was the subject of much debate among the early European inhabitants at the Cape. They had no way of explaining the phenomenon unfolding in their backyard at least once a week during the summer months. All they knew was that the Southeaster had to blow – and blow hard, as it usually does – for the Tablecloth to form. Also known as the Cape Doctor (in former times believed to clear the air of the bubonic plague), the Southeaster sweeps across the Cape Peninsula from around October to March.

  1. As the prevailing summer wind, it never brings rain, rather clear skies and usually the Tablecloth.
  2. additionally the Tablecloth is so heavy and dense that it precipitates rain, which is then blown onto the lower slopes of the mountain.
  3. On such days, the Southeaster is referred to as a black Southeaster.
  4. The Tablecloth has its beginnings as moisture-laden air blown in from the Atlantic against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain.
  5. Forced to rise, the air also condenses as it cools, forming cloud.
  6. The cloud is blown over the mountain. Plummeting down the famous front face of Table Mountain, it dissipates on contact with warmer air at lower elevations.

Why is the Table Mountain Cloth Important?

The Tablecloth plays a vital role in sustaining the flora of the summit plateau. Additionally In any given year, cloud precipitation on the summit is nearly double the precipitation from rainfall. The many plant species thriving on the summit owe their survival to the tablecloth, which provides them with moisture during summer. The leaves and stems of some adapt uniquely in shape and arrangement to capture the maximum amount of moisture.

Is hiking safe with the table cloth?

With regards to hiking Table Mountain, the tablecloth presents a few challenges and opportunities. The main challenges are

  1. lack of visibility (which could get you lost) and drop of temperature
  2. hypothermia form temperature drops – a potentially fatal condition.
  3. Getting lost on the mountain is easy enough in clear conditions, so when the Tablecloth boils up out of nowhere and restricts visibility to a few meters, you better know the way like the back of your hand.

Route-finding in the cloud is virtually impossible if you don’t know the mountain well.  Many unwary hikers have fall victim to clouds blotting out the landscape in the time it takes to snap a few photos. But the complications do not end there for the unwary hiker. While the city bakes in the summer heat under serene skies, the temperature on the dripping, windswept and fogbound summit of Table Mountain approaches freezing. Suffice to say that the Tablecloth is a weather phenomenon that does not suffer fools gladly.

The Tablecloth can provide the guided hiker with surreal and dramatic sights whilst hiking.

  • One of the best experience while hiking is also seeing the leading edge of the Tablecloth race towards you as you perch on the front edge of the summit and then watching it plunge down the cliffs in a graceful arc.
  • You need perfect timing; and even then, the Tablecloth might show up in clumps of clouds scudding helter-skelter across the summit.
  • Additionally When it blows in textbook and trim, it makes for a sight that will stay with you for years to come.

With Hike Table Mountain, you can experience the beauty and raw energy of the Tablecloth up close and in safety. Adding fast-moving cloud to the mountain’s grandeur creates otherworldly scenes that amply compensate for whatever you might miss out on in the way of distant views.

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