Tackling Cape Town's Table Mountain

If you have heard of Cape Town you probably would have heard of its most famous tourist attraction, the imposing Table Mountain that looms high over this coastal city.

When I first visited Cape Town back in 2009 we spent a week trying to get up this famous mountain but where thwarted at every turn. Cape Town is known as a windy city for at least part of the year, and unfortunately the cable car that connects the road to the top of the mountain doesn’t run when it is too windy. We never did get to the top on that trip.

This time we made it our mission to make it up, so on our first available day we headed there.

Unfortunately the first day we had available happened to be Boxing Day. This meant that there were thousands of other people also making it their mission to get on top Table Mountain. The line was massive.

IMG_3323Trav and I had already decided that we wanted to hike to the top, while Trav’s parents and brother would take the cable car and meet us up there. We were told that the wait in line was about two hours which would give us enough time to hike up without them having to wait around for us at the top.

IMG_3147There are numerous hiking routes up Table Mountain but we decided on the popular Platteklip Gorge track, which began about 1km from the cable car and involved 3km of switchbacks to reach the top, followed by a short walk across to the cable car station.

IMG_3148I was excited about getting active after our lazy Christmas day where we stuffed our faces with rich food and drinks while watching the Beatles Anthology as it poured with rain outside.

The sun was beating down and I was feeling good as we walked along the flat section of road to begin the hike. Already half way up the mountain, and as far as you can reach by car, there were beautiful views down to Camps Bay and the CBD below.

IMG_3325IMG_3145As we started our brutal ascent we were unaware how steep the hike actually is. There were no flat or downhill sections, it was all upwards. And it was hot.

IMG_3162IMG_3153The path was rocky and uneven so I had to concentrate on where I was walking. Some steps I had to pull myself up onto, essentially crawling, as the step rise was so high.

My lungs burned and my thighs screamed. I was tempted to stop every couple of minutes but I pushed myself to keep walking as long as possible. When I did stop to catch my breath, I marvelled at the surrounding landscape. It was greener than I expected it to be with a lot of dense scrub.

IMG_3163 IMG_3176We saw beautiful green sunbirds with long dipped beaks and I caught sight of a striped mouse, similar to a chipmunk or ground squirrel. There were thin streams of water running off the surrounding cliffs as we rose higher.

I kept thinking we were nearly at the top but after walking for another twenty minutes and pushing through the pain, I would look up and somehow we seemed to be further away.

Mist flowed over the ‘table top’ as we were hiking the last stretch. The air was cooler which made it easier to hike. I was exhausted but ecstatic when we finally reached the top. It took us one hour and twenty minutes which I didn’t think was too bad. It took us one hour and forty minutes to hike the Grouse Grind in Vancouver back in 2009 and that was a shorter distance. We are definitely fitter than we were back then.

IMG_3172 IMG_3173The ten minute walk along the top of the mountain to reach the top cable car station was ridiculously easy compared to what we had just endured. The path was shrouded in mist but we would occasionally get a peek at the stunning views when it momentarily cleared. There were no trees at the top, just windswept bushes that grew close to the ground, and smooth grey rocks.

IMG_3189 IMG_3191The area around the cable car station was packed full of camera toting tourists (I was one of them). Trav’s family were still waiting to get on the cable car at the bottom so we headed to the buffet style restaurant to sate our out of control appetites. I am not usually a fan of buffets but we were so hungry that everything tasted so good. I didn’t care that it was overpriced; it was worth every bite.

It was freezing at the top and the wind cut straight through us. We ended up waiting for an hour for the others to join us and I felt numb with cold. After walking around in the wind for a while I found a picnic table that was in a sunny spot that was sheltered from the wind. We sat and thawed out there. A feeling of deep satisfaction washed over me. There’s nothing like relaxing in the sun after a strenuous hike with a full belly.

IMG_3198 IMG_3201Once Trav’s family reached the top we walked around a loop path where we had dramatic views over the surrounding mountains and coastline. Near the cable car station there were a family of dassies, including cute little babies, jumping between the rocks and scurrying around bushes.

IMG_3221 IMG_3222 IMG_3231 The dassie, also known as a rock hyrax, is a small rodent similar in size to a rabbit. They are strangely enough the closest living relative to the African Elephant, despite the difference in size and appearance, and are the only animal I have ever seen that appear to be smiling or frowning. They are goofy looking things and I could watch them for hours.

IMG_3241IMG_3275I must be the only person in the world who is more interested in seeing smaller animals like dassies and chipmunks rather than lions and bears. I just love cute animals.

We weren’t too keen to hike back down again so we caught the cable car back with Trav’s parents and brother. It was actually pretty cool as the inside platform rotated slowly on the way down, giving us a 360 degree view. I’m a little bit scared of heights but although it was a very steep descent, it went so slowly and steadily that it wasn’t scary at all.

IMG_3318 IMG_3320If you have a reasonable level of fitness I would definitely recommend hiking up Table Mountain then taking the cable car down. It gives you a sense of satisfaction that you conquered it and the trail is beautiful.

It was hard going but completely worth it.

Have you visited Table Mountain? Would you hike up it?


20 comments on “Tackling Cape Town’s Table Mountain”

  1. What a great post! I’m from Vancouver and know the Grouse Grind well. I will be visiting Cape Town in the next couple weeks and would love to hike Table Mountain. I don’t feel in great shape now and wanted to gauge the difficulty level. How would you compare the two hikes? Which was tougher? I’m hoping to meet some people to hike with. I’m looking forward to exploring this city!

    • Hi Leanne, I would say the Grind is tougher as the steps are so high that you feel like you are climbing a lot of the time. They are about the same length I think. You will be fine, just take it slow. Good luck!

  2. Every image I’ve seen of Table Mountain has been stunning but I’d never seen a post about actually climbing it! Fantastic guys! Thanks for sharing 🙂 Cheers

  3. What a hike and what a view! Looks spectacular. And by the way, I love seeing small animals too. When we were at Crater Lake in Oregon this summer I spent as much time taking pictures of cute ground squirrels as I did the lake.

  4. What a fantastic adventure. I’d love to hike up it, though I don’t know if the kids could manage it (probably not from your description!). It sounds and looks amazing – what views…..

  5. I felt tired just from reading this and looking at the pictures! I used to think that I like hiking (and I wish I were a hiking kinda person) but I’m not. I get tired really easily too and feel like I”m about to die! But waiting for 2 hours to go up on the cable car? No thanks! I’ll rather take the hike! The views are so gorgeous from up there and those little creatures are SO cute!! I like the smaller animals more too. 😀

  6. Katie that’s an intense hike but what a view! Well worth it. We had to hike up a 150 meter driveway with a 20% grade every day in Fiji for 4 months. After that – in late October of 2014 – we could hike just about anywhere. Horse leg’s lol. As for the rock hyrax, what a cutie! I do love the big animals but agree that little critters like these are so intriguing. I recall years ago I learned their closest relatives were elephants and I was floored. Neat.

    Thanks for the awesome share Katie. Keep on inspiring!


    • Thanks so much for your comment Ryan! Hiking definitely becomes easier the more you do it. It was a hard hike but my recovery time is pretty fast. Wow Fiji – what an amazing place to live! I visited for the first time last October and fell in love with the place. I will definitely return one day to see more 🙂

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