Climb that goddam mountain.
One of his most quoted lines and slightly overused by now, but you can’t help loving Jack Kerouac for this inspiration and trying to get us up the mountain. I loved a total of two minutes of hiking Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge. Then I cursed him and my cousin who actually made me do it (she is even more persuasive than Jack, and a lot fitter than me). Keen to climb that goddam mountain too? Come along, I share my tips how…
Hiking up Table Mountain is a rite of passage in Cape Town. Tourists take the cable car or do Lion's Head; real travelers hike up Table Mountain. What is on the to-do list for many visitors and locals alike, I managed to avoid while I living there for seven years and on many subsequential visits. Not because I don't like hiking but because I realized over the last few years I have gotten increasingly unfit. While I wrote an extensive post on how to stay fit while traveling, I haven’t practice what I preached.
This time around I decided that had to change and so I was grateful to be staying with the very outdoorsy part of my family who works out a lot and didn't mind me tagging along, albeit panting: walks on the beach, spinning classes, Biskop stairs (don't ask, it is torturous!), and finally a hike up Table Mountain.
The irony was that I had recently written about the different hiking Table Mountain routes and what they entailed. I promptly forgot all about my research because if I had remembered, I might have stayed in bed. As it was, I found myself climbing up neverending rock steps, wheezing, and sweating profusely.
Platteklip Gorge is the shortest (about 3km long) and most direct ascent up Table Mountain. Somehow this translates to many calling it the easiest but I think they are lying. With it being the shortest it also means it is the steepest (at least as far as non-rockclimbing routes are concerned).
You start with a pretty vertical trek up for about 200m. Some may call it taking steps, I call it scrambling, and 200m will be a lot longer than you think it is at this point. Then you have the choice to turn right and return to the bottom cable car station or continue left. From here a little path will sometimes meander straight but for the most part, it goes uphill albeit not quite as steeply as to start with.
Eventually, my family sprinted along, which I didn't mind because this way I could take my time and have enough breaks to take pictures/ catch my breath. As Platteklip Gorge is the shortest and one of the most popular routes, it means it gets quite busy. Something I also didn't mind because it meant I felt safe hiking on my own and in case should anything happen (it does get quite rocky at times). It also gave me an added motivation - if those people could do it, so could I!
The last part was the most challenging and the meaning of mind over matter became a whole new ... well, matter. I ran into a group taking a break, and a girl told me I had almost made it. That was 40 minutes before I actually made it, something I luckily didn't know yet. Once in while you need a little white lie to keep you going or the wishful thinking of a stranger. My crappy knees also helped as they kept me from going back down as did my stubborn mind. If I do put it to something, get my ego involved just a bit, I get shit done.
And so I made it eventually. Just know that once you think you are all the way up, you aren't quite there yet. A short stretch of rockface and some chains to pull yourself up, now you are all the way on top of Table Mountain! On top, the infamous dassies (a rock badger which closest living relative today is an elephant) await as well as the best views over Falsebay, the Atlantic, the Cape Town city, and Lion’s Head. By now you will feel probably a little bit exhausted but even more proud. So proud you might be tempted to high five some strangers or even take a wohooo I made it! victory picture - go ahead, you deserve it!
Was it worth it? Absolutely! Am I lying? Maybe. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. Sometimes you just have to climb that goddamn mountain and prove just how stubborn you really are.
Tips on Hiking Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge
- Who can hike Platteklip Gorge? You have to be surefooted and should be reasonably fit but then again look at me - I am neither, and I managed. But seriously, you will struggle a little, it goes up and only up but except for one big bolder where you need to use a rope there is no real climbing involved.
- Drive up Table Mountain Road like going to the cable car station (there are signs on Kloof Nek Road and Camps Bay Drive which you cannot miss). Just go beyond the cableway station until you see a green sign on the right saying Platteklip Gorge - this way you can park your car directly at the beginning of the hike. Note that you will need to walk back to your car from the cableway station once you are back down - an extra 10 minutes walk.
- Alternatively, take the Hop On Hop Off bus that stops in front of the cableway station or take an Uber/taxi to drop and fetch you after.
- If hiking Table Mountain without a guide, Platteklip Gorge is the ideal route because you cannot get lost. There is only one point when you can go left or right, and there are clear signs which way will lead you to where. Other than that - the only way is up.
- There have been reported muggings on Table Mountain but when we came it was positively crowded, so I wouldn’t be scared of going solo. That is if the weather is nice and there are other people around. In general, it is, of course, more fun to go in a little group. Make sure the slowest person sets the pace!
- Take enough water. I took a 0,75-litre bottle which was empty before I made it to the summit.
- There is no shade at all. Make sure to wear sunscreen and bring a hat. Get there early - we started at 8.30am, definitely too late on a beautiful sunny day. Do take a jersey as it can get chilly on top.
- Check the weather forecast - you don’t want to be caught on the mountain when the wind is howling. Too much wind also means the cablecar won't take you down.
- While my nephew hikes up Table Mountain barefoot, I recommend good trainers. You don't need hiking boots, but you want to wear something you are surefooted in.
- On the top, you will find a little cafe, and you can buy your cableway ticket to get down. Bring cash or your credit card, the tickets are ZAR 150, and in most cases, you will not need to buy your ticket in advance.
- For those who aren't too keen on cableways, yours truly included, note that the inside rotates so everyone can enjoy the view. Take a friend to hold on to if needed.
- Take a camera or cell phone - while it isn't the most scenic route there are some beautiful views over Devil's Peak, Signal Hill, and Lion's Head, and you will need to take at least one selfie once you've made it to the top.
- Guidebooks will tell you the hike takes 3-4 hours. I managed it in just over two hours while it took my cousin and niece an hour. I also met a lady in her 60s who does the hike every day and manages in thirty minutes. Now that is impressive!
- For an alternative route that is not quite as steep and has prettier views check Skeleton Gorge.
- I recommend a cooling swim in the Atlantic or a celebratory breakfast on Kloof Street afterward. Don’t worry about being sweaty and exhausted, Cape Town is used to hikers, bikers, and people walking around in workout clothes.
Have you hiked up Table Mountain before?