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Visiting Cape Town and planning on heading up Table Mountain? The Cableway is great, but the best way to experience the incredible views over the Mother City and to really get to know this iconic mountain is by tackling a Table Mountain hike!
There are a number of routes up the mountain, but without a doubt the one that we would recommend is via Platteklip Gorge, a rocky gully on the northeastern face that forms a natural staircase right to the top of Table Mountain. Here's why it's our route of choice for a Table Mountain hike:
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1. Be rewarded with incredible views over the city
Any route up Table Mountain offers spectacular views over picturesque Cape Town, and Platteklip Gorge is no exception. Facing the city bowl and with views extending up the west coast, you'll find yourself wanting to pause your Table Mountain hike often to take in the changing views, which are especially beautiful in the afternoon. The trail offers the perfect vantage point to pick out some of the city's landmarks and get an interesting birds' eye view of one of the world's most beautiful cities.
2. It leaves plenty of time for exploration on the summit
Platteklip Gorge can be completed in under an hour by the fit hiker, leaving plenty of time to explore the summit. When you get to the top and take in the panoramic views of Cape Town and surrounds, you'll understand why maximizing time at the top is something you'll want to factor in. Don't forget to look out for the friendly dassies, too.
3. Hikers get early warning about bad weather at the top
Somehow, being surrounded by a city seems to detract from fact that at 1 085 m, Table Mountain is, well, a mountain! As with any mountain, the weather at the top can change quickly and what might have started out as a clear sunny day can quickly become miserable, and even dangerous, for hikers. When the wind changes, the temperature can drop rapidly and cloud cover, the famous "table cloth", quickly shrouds the summit and upper reaches in swirling mist. Hikers that get caught off guard by the changing conditions can lose the path or quickly find themselves in serious difficulty.
Unlike the other Table Mountain hikes, Platteklip Gorge is sheltered and hikers have protection from the hot sunshine as well as wind. More importantly, with a clear view up the gully to the top, hikers also get early warning about a change in weather conditions on the summit, leaving plenty of time to turn around and head back down instead of getting caught by surprise when weather conditions change.
4. This Table Mountain hike is suitable for all levels of experience
Sadly, Table Mountain has been the site of a number of hiking tragedies, particularly on alternative routes up more exposed faces that require hikers to have higher levels of technical experience. India Venster, for example, includes areas of scrambling, and sections of Kloof Corner can only be completed with the help of permanent chains and staples. In contrast, the Platteklip Gorge trail is wide and well-marked with much less chance of hikers stumbling off the path. It is a great trail for everyone to attempt, and with some perseverance (you are walking up a mountain, after all!), anyone can get to the top.
5. Make some friends on the way
Being one of the more popular Table Mountain hikes, unless you choose to hike at sunrise it is unlikely you'll have Platteklip Gorge to yourself. While we'd recommend avoiding peak holiday periods if possible, having company on the trail is great from a safety perspective, and there's always someone around to snap that group shot. It also provides plenty of entertainment and some epic bonding opportunities - share a grimace with your fellow hikers also on their way up, or offer some encouragement to those still on the ascent while you head back down.
How to complete the Platteklip Gorge trail
The Platteklip Gorge hiking trail begins on Tafelberg Road, approximately 1.5 km past the Lower Cablecar Station. With the chaos of the Cableway behind you, there is plenty of parking along this quieter stretch. Proceed to the beginning of the trail, marked with a beacon.
The Platteklip Gorge trail is well-maintained and very clear, with little chance of hikers getting lost. Simply follow the rocky trail all the way to the top, stopping frequently to catch your breath and to appreciate the scenery.
Keep an eye on the top of the gorge, as this is where you will note any changes in the weather. If you see clouds close in, we would strongly recommend abandoning the hike and attempting it again on another day. The clouds reduce visibility and mean cold temperatures and strong winds, all of which represent treacherous conditions for hiking.
Tip: It is possible to check ahead for weather conditions before setting off on your Table Mountain hike. Cape Town's Table Mountain Aerial Cableway updates current weather conditions on the mountain throughout the day via their Twitter and Facebook feeds, and on their website.
We would also recommend taking the trail slowly if you are not that fit, or have health conditions that might put you at risk. Although the easiest of the Table Mountain hikes, it is still a strenuous route and should be treated with respect. Fit hikers can complete it in under an hour, and slower hikers can expect to spend up to three hours getting to the top.
Our turn on Platteklip Gorge
January is Cape Town's hottest month. It is also one of the area's driest, and so at least the heat on the day that we decided to tackle Platteklip Gorge was offset by the clear blue skies and little chance of rain. Although Bevan had completed a few Table Mountain hikes before (and even had fun racing a professional trail runner to the top!), I had been cheated of my only previous chance to hike Platteklip Gorge by needing to escort a weaker hiker back down the slope. Which meant of course that my incredible excitement at this new chance meant that the gradient of the Platteklip Gorge route was absolutely no deterrent!
To be honest, Platteklip Gorge is a tough trail, not because it is technically challenging but simply because it is a natural stone staircase that just. won't. end. When you stop to think about it, at 1 085 m hiking to the top of Table Mountain is like climbing up the staircase of a building that is over 300 storeys high!... Luckily the beautiful views back over Cape Town city bowl and the northern suburbs provided plenty of excuse to stop for a rest when the fire in my legs became too much.
If hiking up Platteklip Gorge brings on burning legs, expect to have a serious case of jelly legs on the way back down! The repeated motion as you descend is a killer, and we reached the bottom feeling like we could be very proud of our day's exertions. I was very happy to have completed the round trip, but I definitely understand why a popular choice is to hike up and catch the cableway back down.
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What to pack for your Table Mountain hike
- A jersey or jacket.
- Water and snacks.
- Sunblock, a hat and sunglasses.
- Comfortable hiking shoes.
- A cellphone with full battery.
- A power bank.
The Mountain Club of South Africa lists the following emergency contact numbers:
- For emergencies on Table Mountain: 021 937 0300
- For mountain security or crime-related incidents: 086 110 6417
Check ahead for current weather conditions on Table Mountain before planning your hike. Cape Town's Table Mountain Aerial Cableway updates current weather conditions on the mountain throughout the day via their Twitter and Facebook feeds, and on their website.