We have always been impressed by mighty mountains. When in our hometown, escaping to the Himalayan regions whenever possible is something we love. So it was no wonder a Table Mountain hike was in the plans while visiting the South African legislative capital of Cape Town. We were there for the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual conference, Wikimania, and four of us planned to hike the mountain. One of us had the plan of doing it both ways and the rest decided to hike up and come down by the cable car.
Tip: If you, like us, want to come down by the cable car, make sure it is running before starting your hike. Although doing both ways is absolutely achievable, it won’t be a good idea to make the plans after you reach the top, thinking you would go down luxuriously using the cable car. Like we had to prepone our plans as they were closing down for annual maintenance for two weeks.
The first thing we had to decide on was which route we would be taking. There is the India Venster and Kloof Corner routes, both of which needs scrambling for a part of the hike and also use chains to negotiate rock walls. These need guides, and, as we were not sure of the schedule, these were not appropriate for us. Also there is the Skeleton Gorge route, which unfortunately takes more time. The long and challenging Hiddingh Ascension was also not possible for us. So it had to be the oldest and most direct route to the summit via the Platteklip Gorge. 2.5 to 3 hours was perfect for us.
We wanted to start early, but the group started to grow and finally we started the ascent as a team of 14 around 11 AM. For most of us it was the first hike for a summit and we were continuously encouraging each other. A short walk from the Lower Cable Car Station brought us to the start of the Platteklip Gorge route. There is a visitor information centre and a board with all the details written, where the route starts.
The whole route is full of steps made with rocks. So its like climbing the stairs to the top of a really tall building. Like almost to the top of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the World with a height of 828 meters (You will climb approximately 704 meters which is the height between the lower and the upper cable car stations. If you want to cover the topmost part of the Table Mountain it would be 20 meters more). We started the ascent with loads of enthusiasm and within 10 minutes most of us were panting badly. Some even wanted to go back. Thankfully in the end all but one decided to continue. So we kept on climbing stairs after stairs, some normal, some steep and some even as high as our waist or chest. But there were smaller rocks and footholds around, so with a bit of help from both our hands those were managed easily.
We read this route is not the most scenic one and also less adventurous as there are no exposure to heights. But as a first timer on the Table Mountain we loved the view. Both looking up to the steep walls or down to see where we began gave us goosebumps.
I, being not someone to be called very fit, like many others, was panting badly, but managed somehow to climb higher and higher. Occasionally there would be people coming down, cheering, “You are already half way through!” (Only!!!) or “Almost there mate!” (Didn’t I hear something like that 10 minutes ago? And also half an hour ago before that???). All these took me to the starting of the gorge where the path meanders between two steep walls. And it is there, where I realised the problem of bringing less water. We started from our hotel rooms with water for four people as planned. But forgot to ask everybody else to take water when the group increased. The two bottles I was carrying were shared and long finished. I have a problem of getting dehydrated easily, and it was a real hot day. I suddenly felt a pain in my left cuff muscles and almost fell on a rock. The painful cramp made me nervous. I looked up to the top of the mountain and down to where we started. Both looked equally challenging at this stage. If only I didn’t forget to remind everyone about the water.
I sat there for almost five minutes, rubbing the cramp. Finally it seemed ok and I decided to continue. But with the very first step I realised it will still be hard to take normal steps. I literally have to drag my left foot up. Thankfully after 5-6 minutes it started to become normal. Also around that time a really really kind lady gave me some water to drink. She is a real angel. That helped me a lot and I continued, albeit slowly, towards the top.
This part of the hike had no direct sunlight, as the two walls guard the trail. Also it was cooler with the winds coming from top through the narrow gorge. This is the most photogenic part of the hike too. With Few boulders and big rocks and the view below.
The last part is a narrow stair to reach the flat top of the table mountain. From here you can go either left or right. Continuing left is Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain. It is only 20 meters higher and 2kms away. So its a pretty flat walk. But as we had less time, we went right towards the cable car station. There is a steep and smooth rock here without steps. But there are chains for holding, to climb it easily. I met Bodhi from our team here, who was going down. Got a bottle of cold water from him and started to walk slowly, enjoying the beauty around, towards the cable car station. I, initially, thought it might take me about 4 hours. But was able to reach the top in little under 3 hours.
Tip: Make sure you have enough water. Start early and pace the trek as per your ability. It will be an enjoyable and easy trek.