August 11 – Hiking Cape Town’s Table Mountain

Today was a simple day dedicated to hiking…and sleeping in.

After breakfast, I loaded up my kit for the day and headed for the hills. My plan was to hike up, across, and down the other side of Table Mountain. Table Mountain is perhaps Cape Town’s most famous landmark and is really a series of smallish mountain peaks between 750 and 800 meters that are connected and appear largely flat across the top (it’s certainly a postcard favourite). Unfortunately (or fortunately if you like a challenge) it’s rather steep and, though there are a couple of trails with the odd ladder or pseudo stairs (the kind you find from time to time on many mountains near Vancouver), the direct route I wanted to take was going to take some luck since I couldn’t find much information online. After walking up and out of the Camps Bay subdivision my hotel is in, I was pleased to see some trail signs and grew more optimistic about finding my way across.

A morning fog rolls in quickly over Camps Bay © James Palmer

When I arrived at the turn off for my preferred route, there was even a sign for it: Kasteelspoort. I started gaining altitude quickly on the steep climb, but after no more than about half a kilometre, I reached a sign that said “Dangerous. No entry.” Having heard about weekly helicopter rescues, I decided I’d better turn back and tried for the next possible path up the cliff. Eventually I reached it (Diagonal Trail) and started climbing again. I was worried this one wasn’t going to be any fun, but I needn’t have been concerned.

Well, drat © James Palmer

As I rapidly gained elevation, I was consistently surrounded by stunning birds. In particular, Orange-breasted Sunbirds and Cape Sugarbirds were all over and, though today was reserved for hiking, I made a note to come back in the next few days to photograph these gorgeous and obliging birds.

Looking up toward Diagonal Trail © James Palmer
A breathtaking view looking south along the cape © James Palmer

Soon the trail became even steeper and hands and feet, as well as some small 10-15ft free climbs were required. The cliff fell away steeply behind me now as I looked down on a Rock Kestrel out hunting with my heart kicking up a notch. As I got closer to the top, the temperature dropped and the wind suddenly kicked up. I had read about this climate shift, but it was pretty impressive: it went from hot and calm to almost cold and enough wind to mess with your footing. I leaned against the cliff face as I skirted around it and soon enough was up onto the “table.” The trail was definitely safe if you’re very careful, but I don’t think I could really recommend it to anyone except very experienced hikers, given the climbing, narrow ledges, and wind (it was much easier that Mt. Fuji though). Fortunately, I would not be coming back this way.

Looking down on Camps Bay © James Palmer

Once onto the “table,” I had a nice stroll through the Valley of the Red Gods and past the two huge reservoirs (there’s even a tiny waterworks museum with an old steam crane on display). I also happened across some Cape Spurfowl and a couple of mongeese (as a birder, this is my preferred plural)!

Looking beyond the Valley of the Red Gods on Table Mountain © James Palmer
Here I am! © James Palmer
Beautiful golden flowers on Table Mountain © James Palmer
Looking toward a reservoir and past an old steam crane from the waterworks museum © James Palmer
One of the two large reservoirs on Table Mountain © James Palmer

Since I saw a few people on the top head down a trail called “Nursery Ravine” and it was one of my options to get down to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, I followed them. It was either “Nursery Ravine” or “Skeleton Gorge” and there were a lot more people on the former from what I could see.

Nursery Ravine turned out to be a friendly trail with some pseudo stairs like those found on hikes around Vancouver. It was clear that this was the most popular trail (I saw many hikers here, but none on the trail I came up on). In particular, it was a lot like the first peak of The Chief in Squamish, BC: lots of rock and wood “stairs,” descending almost to sea level, and Table Mountain is only 200m higher than The Chief.

IMG_2945 (1).jpg
Looking southeast from Table Mountain before heading down © James Palmer
Heading down Nursery Ravine with Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens below © James Palmer

I exited through Kirstenbosch Gardens after what turned out to be only about 11km of hiking and hopped in a cab to head home. On the cab ride back I enjoyed a complete history of Cape Town from a barely intelligible–but incredibly informative and kind–old Polish man, whose GPS was my responsibility and who insisted on finishing the cultural history of Cape Town for about 15 minutes after we arrived at my hotel. A very entertaining encounter to be sure!


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