The iconic Table Mountain stands proud over the city of Cape Town. It is an instantly recognisable sight and together with its scenic beauty and floral and animal diversity, is one of the reasons why Cape Town is voted as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The mountain itself has also been voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature of the world. It seems to have a life and spirit all of its own, at times standing harsh and stark against the bright blue of a summer afternoon, to shrouded in misty cloud and the purple hues of sunset.
Tourists in Cape Town flock to Table Mountain and a trip up to the top is a must on all holiday itineraries. Although the cableway is the most popular route to the top, there are a number of hiking trails for those who have a little more time on their hands or who are up for an adventure. Three of the best routes are the Platteklip Gorge (north face), Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge (the latter two of which depart from Kirstenbosch Gardens), each of which are fairly strenuous options.
A trail run race up Table Mountain
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During our visit to Cape Town, Bevan and I decided to tackle the Platteklip Gorge hiking trail. To make it a little more interesting, Bevan decided to race professional trail runner Meg Mackenzie to the top of Table Mountain. I’m not too sure what he was thinking when he issued that challenge? Perhaps he was fooled by Meg’s small stature; Bevan’s legs are close to twice as long as hers. Possibly it was just male pride that couldn’t accept that it might be possible that he’d be beaten by a girl? In any case, let’s just say that the race itself was a humbling experience for Bevan. To give him some credit though, I’m not sure that there are many people who can compete with an athlete who is able to run the entire trail in roughly half an hour… Meg you are a machine!
Table Mountain’s Platteklip Gorge hiking trail
Platteklip Gorge was the route of the first recorded ascent of Table Mountain by António de Saldanha in 1503. It is the most popular of the mountain’s hiking trails, with hikers commonly choosing to hike up and take the cableway back down. It leaves from Tafelberg Road just further on from the cableway station, and ascends the mountain via a steep gorge on the north face. This gorge provides welcome shade for hikers but also channels the wind that blows over the slope and is not passable in windy or cloudy conditions.
I have previously missed out on opportunities to attempt the Platteklip Gorge hiking trail, so during our most recent stay in Cape Town I made sure to give it a go! This was my first time hiking up Table Mountain and I was as excited to take it on as any other unsuspecting tourist. I have to make that point because anyone who has done the hike before knows what is in store; the Platteklip Gorge trail is steep! It felt like a natural stone staircase straight to the top of Table Mountain, with almost no level sections to stop and catch your breath! The route up was tough but for me, the descent was even tougher as already-tired legs had to brake to fight the pull of gravity the whole way down.
The views were breathtaking though. Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill form a natural amphitheater around Cape Town. The northern slope of Table Mountain faces Cape Town city and the Atlantic seabord, with Robben Island visible just offshore. It is always fun to try to identify the city’s landmarks from your elevated vantage point, or even to spot your house or hotel. The best part for me was that all of these panoramic views were framed by mountain scenery and fynbos, the unique vegetation type that makes up the Cape Floristic region, and there was always some interesting vegetation to look at.
Despite its strenuous nature, hiking up Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge is something to try at least once. Because of the option of taking the cableway back down, once you have reached the top the hard part is over and all that is left is to enjoy the reward of being on the top of Table Mountain. The sense of achievement of summiting makes those panoramic views from the top of the mountain so much sweeter… if you don’t mind a few sweaty selfies from your earlier exertion!
Our tip: If you plan on taking the cableway back down Table Mountain, check weather conditions before you go. For safety reasons, the cableway doesn’t operate in high winds. Check online for up-to-date operating conditions.