on October 2, 2011
We had planned to climb Table Mountain a few days into our holiday but this was always weather dependant. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to climb it when there was a perfectly adequate cable car willing to take me but I am never one to shy away from a challenge. On the morning in question it was very overcast and cloudy and we thought we wouldn’t be able to climb it, and even going up in the cable car could be off, if the winds were too high and the clouds too low. The mountain is 1085m (3559 feet) at its highest point, so it is no Kilimanjaro, and there are a variety of walks up if you are so inclined. GETTING TO THE MOUNTAINWe were fortunate to have private transport. You can get a public bus but this stops a bit further down the hill, so you will still need to walk up to the lower Cable Car station. Alternatively, the Red Route City Sightseeing bus stops here if you have a ticket for it, otherwise a taxi may be the best way to get here. At the Lower Cable Car station there are public toilets, and places to buy gifts or postcards and some light refreshments. Here you can buy your tickets for the cable car, either a single or return. HIKING PLATTEKLIP GORGEPlatteklip Gorge is one of the most popular and accessible hikes of the mountain. It starts quite a bit further on from the Lower Cable Car Station, so you may want to get a lift to that point if you can. The hike is about 3km but it is virtually all vertical and it is estimated to take on average 2 hours. We had checked at the Cable Car station for the latest updates and the clouds had lifted and our guide thought it was safe to hike. It is recommended to hike as a group, but I did see some locals hiking it on their own, as part of some fitness training or with their dog. I started out wearing my fleece jacket which was soon removed as you soon warm up with the steep hike; my lighter weight sweater also was removed so I was climbing in T shirt, jeans, and trainer type walking shoes. Good footwear is a must for this walk as the route is uneven. There is no paved route here; you are climbing up on rocks, sometimes over light streams so you need to watch where you are putting your feet. The rocks are obviously uneven, and of different heights and sizes. Sometimes you would be stepping onto a pile of smaller loose rocks, another time you may have to take large steps to get up onto a bigger one. At only 5’ tall I found the latter very challenging but fortunately these really large ones were minimal. As I mentioned the ‘path’ inclines nearly the whole way, but there are often spots to rest if you need to, however at other times the path is quite narrow with a sheer drop down onside. Parts of it have been secured to make it safer, but I don’t recommend this climb if you have a fear of heights. I climbed in winter and in the morning. The gorge gets the sun in the morning and I was warmed by the heat of the sun (in addition to the heat caused by the exertion). If you are climbing in the summer you may want to climb later in the day when it is in the shade, but ensure you allow enough time to get down before dark or before the cable car station closes if you want to try that. However the clouds later came down and obscured the sun a bit later and it got chillier. I persevered in my T shirt, mainly because it was soaked with sweat (not helped by my backpack) and I didn’t want to put my sweater over it. The route is clearly marked and there are only two places where it splits and the route is signposted, however you could miss the second sign if you were looking at your feet. Both signs are near the beginning and you would probably see them in the first half hour, otherwise it is near impossible to get lost until the top of the mountain. For the last third the ‘path’ zig zags across (and up) the mountain, every time you think you are close you will round the corner to see another incline and your legs will be a dead weight that you have to keep lifting. I’m not going to lie – this is a challenging walk and you would need to have a good level of fitness to even attempt it. Our guide has seen people turn back in tears because they found it too hard. However, the challenge is part of the appeal to some, and I felt an amazing sense of achievement. Our party of ten split into three groups: The first chap reached the two-hour marker in an hour and twenty minutes, (I think he was a gazelle in a previous life), the next five did it in just about the two hours, and my group of three plus our guide took about two hours and 20 minutes. It is worth noting that the two-hour mark isn’t actually at the top, you have a further climb of 10-15 minutes to the next level and the walk to the Cable Car station where you will find toilets and refreshments. This time included lots of stops for water/snacks and photos. You can, of course, climb down again if you so wish but I think it would be very hard on the knees and risky for your ankles where stones may be uneven. The Cableway is a unique experience and a worthy reward. When we got to the top the clouds were obscuring our view so some of us went to the ladies’ loos to dry our T-Shirts under the hand dryer. I was too de-hydrated to need it for anything else. There is a self service café at the top and you can buy alcohol if you wish to celebrate your achievement. They also do full meals, as well as sandwiches and nibbles like crisps or chocolate. It wasn’t the cheapest café I had ever visited but wasn’t extortionate in the circumstances – my diet coke and chocolate was just under £3. But I deserved them. Don’t be fooled by all the people in the café dressed like they climbed the mountain. They are frauds and can be spotted easily as they are not dishevelled enough. Beside they can get up from their chairs in one swift movement whilst we had all promptly seized up and had to drag ourselves upright. There is also a gift shop at the top; there are many gifts that you will see throughout the region, but also a range of attractive T shirts and sweatshirts with the Table Mountain branding. After our rest the clouds had lifted and we now had a lovely view of the city. Our cable car down was ZAR95 (£8.25/$12.70) which is quite pricey but it is rather special (well, if you like heights/cable cars…). The journey only takes three minutes or so but the car revolves. You just stand on the round platform (don’t hold the sides) and the platform revolves allowing you a 360 degree view during your journey. It is not fast enough to make you feel dizzy, but you can view the mountain and the bay whilst snapping photos without worrying that you are missing anything. If you are planning on hiking the gorge to the top of Table Mountain, here are some tips based on my own experience:-Take more water than you think you’ll need. We all finished our water before we got to the top (and that was on a day that was overcast) due to the exertion being more than we had anticipated. -Take a sweater and waterproofs as the weather is changeable as you climb-Take a hat, sunglasses and sun cream especially if hiking in the morning when the gorge gets the sun. -Take a camera with batteries and memory cards. Take the pictures when you see a good view, don’t wait thinking there will be a better vantage point further up. On an overcast day the clouds could have obscured you view by the time you have got there.-Take a few nibbles for sustenance – energy bars, nuts, chocolate etc. Take any rubbish with you to dispose of at the top. -If you wish to get the cableway down then check it is open; and allow enough time to come down by foot should it close.
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