Table Mountain Activity Guide. Going Up

Noordhoek Ridge.Photo: Shaen Adey ©
There are many beautiful walks, requiring varying levels of fitness, to the top of Table Mountain.

Words by Fiona McIntosh

Photographs by Shaen Adey

Siyabona Africa recommended book on Table Mountain:
Table Mountain Activities
Authors: Shaen Adey and Fiona McIntosh.
Copyright © 2004 Struik Publishers Cape Town.There are many beautiful walks, requiring varying levels of fitness, to the top of Table Mountain. Those mentioned in this chapter are the easiest ways to the top of the main table from each aspect. I also discuss some alternative routes that can be tackled by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and agility. These are still, however, serious mountain hikes that require a certain degree of stamina and should therefore not be considered easy walks.Almost all the trails discussed here have some steep and rocky sections and involve at least a three- to four-hour round trip. I have also included a few hikes to the summits of several other notable peaks in the Cape Peninsula, all of which are highly recommended for their outstanding views and magnificent examples of fynbos.The timings given for these walks to the top should be used as a rough indicator for a reasonably fit walker. Obviously the time you take to complete one of these hikes will depend on how fit you are, and how many rest and refreshment stops you choose to take along the way. What to take with you: Sturdy footwear (with a good grip), a fleece and rainproof jacket, sunscreen and a sun hat are essential items. Always carry plenty of water with you, as there is little to be had on the mountain. There is cellphone coverage on most of the front table and reasonable coverage on most of the peaks, so carrying a phone is a useful precaution.

Watching the weather

The Cape Peninsula enjoys a Mediterranean climate, which normally means wet winters and hot, dry summers. However, the weather on the mountain is extremely unpredictable and can change rapidly. Walkers planning on going to the top of the mountain should carry warm and wet weather clothing - even if the sky is a glorious blue and it is baking hot when you set out.

Water supply

Most of the routes to the top are completely dry. However there are taps near the Upper Cable Station overseers' houses at the main junction of paths near the Woodhead Reservoir and at the top of the Bridle Path near De Villiers Reservoir. The restaurant at the Upper Cable Station sells water and other refreshments. Water flows off the mountain down various perennial streams and many mountaineers drink this. However, there is always a risk of giardia or other infection so it is safer to carry sufficient liquid for your outing.

Guided walks

Free, guided walks from the Upper Cable Station around the plateau and across to Maclear's Beacon are run by volunteers. Contact the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway for details. You can take a guide to the top of the mountain from one of the various companies that advertise in the tourism bureaux. If you do, check that your guide is a qualified mountain guide, and not just a tour guide.

If the weather does turn bad a sound knowledge of navigation is necessary and even experienced tour guides have been known to get lost in the mist and poor conditions. The Mountain Club of South Africa holds a list of registered mountain guides.

First ascents

The first recorded ascent of Platteklip Gorge was that of Admiral Antonio de Saldanha, commander of the Portuguese fleet that sailed into Table Bay in 1503. According to one of the early descriptions of the ascent, the origin of the name, which translates as Flat Stone Gorge, seems to come from the noise of water falling from a huge, smooth declining rock on the path. In 1679 Nicolaus de Graaff decided to sleep out on the mountain.Despite his companions' concern that lions, bears, tigers and other wild beasts that dwelt amongst the crags would devour him, he survived the experience, encountering only a few roebuck and birds. When she heard that no woman had ever been to the top of Table Mountain, the formidable Lady Anne Barnard rose to the challenge. She claimed the first ascent of the mountain by a woman when, in July 1797, she, her maid, three gentlemen and several slaves carrying provisions made the ascent of Platteklip Gorge in around three hours.Lady Anne was clearly quite a character and, in keeping with the times, the party's banquet on the summit consisted of a selection of cold meats washed down with wine and port. A toast to the King and a joyful refrain preceded their descent, which Lady Anne accomplished in style by sliding down the more difficult sections on the seat of her long pants (which her husband had kindly lent her for the occasion).Lady Anne concluded that 'we reached home, not more tired than I expected and more than ever convinced that there are few things impossible where there is in women a decided wish of attainment'. (From: South Africa a Century ago: Letters and Journals, 1797-1801, Lady Anne Barnard. Maskew Miller.) If you find inconsistencies with the descriptions of these early adventures and the features you observe, don't worry too much.According to Jose Burman in Latest Walks in the Cape Peninsula (Human & Rousseau), these early climbs refer to a cave and waterfall that are not to be found on the current route up Platteklip Gorge. He suggests this is because 'the early travellers did not keep to the present route of ascent, but climbed about 400m (1 312ft) to the left, which would bring them to the Silverstream Waterfall and the big cave below it.'

Eastern side Skeleton Gorge

This shaded trail, which starts at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, is steep in places but otherwise fairly straightforward. There are, however, a couple of ladders over the very steep sections, which can become slippery when wet. This was the favourite ascent of Jan Smuts, so the route is also known as the Smuts Track.Pay your entrance fee to Kirstenbosch and follow the signs to Skeleton Gorge. After about half an hour you will reach the Contour Path where you will come across the first of several plaques to Smuts. Cross over the Contour Path and continue up the well-maintained track, largely following the streambed. The soothing sounds of running water and birdsong accompany you until you leave the forest. Once at the top of the gorge you will come across a huge boulder known as Breakfast Rock, a good place to take a breather and admire the view.The easiest circular route is to turn left at Breakfast Rock and descend the steep wooden steps of Nursery Ravine, a glorious route first through stands of proteas and then forest, which brings you back to Kirstenbosch. However, if you are heading for the top, the Smuts Track continues up to the right, bringing you to Maclear's Beacon in about 30 minutes. Alternatively, should you wish to descend on the Camps Bay side, continue straight in the direction of the Hely Hutchinson Reservoir and Kasteelspoort. (This route will take 2 hours 15 minutes one way.)

Nursery Ravine

This is a pleasant, if at times unrelentingly uphill, route, which starts from the Contour Path just to the left of Skeleton Gorge. Follow signs in Kirstenbosch up towards the Contour Path. You will be going up through the fynbos and protea gardens in the direction of the dam. Once on the Contour Path continue right for a short time until a sign directs you up through the forest. (If you end up at the Contour Path at the start of Skeleton Gorge, turn left until you reach the signpost to Nursery Ravine.)Alternatively, you can park at the Kirstenbosch top gate. To reach this, continue past the main Rhodes Avenue entrance in the direction of Hout Bay until you reach a T-junction. Turn right and drive up Canterbury Road until you come to a left-hand bend. The top gate is in front of you and you will find the car park just off Klassens Road on your left. As with Skeleton Gorge, the first section through the wooded gorge is wonderfully tranquil. The route follows the stream, passing pockets of indigenous forest.About halfway up, the path leaves the shade of the ravine and takes you up the right-hand slope in a series of zigzags. The views down the ravine are magnificent, with well-maintained wooden steps aiding your way. A final steep wooden staircase brings you out under the cliffs of the dramatic Castle Rocks. Turn left here and follow the easy path over the stream. Magnificent stands of Protea and fynbos flank the trail, which brings you to a four-way junction.A right turn will take you around Cleft Peak to Breakfast Rock and the Smuts Track where you can descend by Skeleton Gorge. But, if you head straight ahead at the junction, you will soon spy the Hely Hutchinson Reservoir and the Twelve Apostles. Follow signs for Kasteelspoort if you wish to descend on the Camps Bay side. A left turn at the junction will take you to the back table and eventually to the Bridle Path and Cecilia Forest. (This route takes about 2 hours one way.)

The Bridle Path

This is probably the easiest of the routes up the mountain, but also one of the longest. Start at the car park at Constantia Nek and walk up through the trees to a gate. If you want to go up a really gentle incline, follow the road, which starts here, and head up at any of the intersections. This is the old forestry road, which was built over a century ago when the Forestry Department established a nursery of trees high on the mountain above Nursery Ravine.It is not open to general vehicles but is still used as an access route. It was, and still is, as its name suggests, a horse trail. The last section of the road is concreted and affords great views over Cecilia Forest as it gradually gains the plateau at the De Villiers Reservoir. (There is a water tap just beyond this in front of the overseer's house.)From here you can continue straight along the path, which runs past the top of Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge to where it joins the Smuts Track. Otherwise, stay on the gravel road as it veers left across the back table, past the Alexandra and Victoria reservoirs to the Twelve Apostles path and the routes that lead down the Camps Bay side of the mountain. If you are feeling energetic and prefer footpaths to the rather monotonous road, take the log steps leading off the forestry road to the left just beyond the entrance gate.

These cut off the first big bend in the road. Where you meet the road again, head left up the hill for 150m (492ft) until you come to a hairpin bend. Follow the second set of log steps starting just beyond this. They will bring you out near the top of the Bridle Path. (It will take around 2 hours one way.)

Cecilia Forest

This trail winds through the cool shade of the Cecilia Plantation and up Spilhaus Ravine to the Bridle Path. From here you can continue to the De Villiers Reservoir and the back table. Alternatively, since the trails are poorly marked, you may end up rambling along the numerous plantation roads that meander gently through the forest. (You are never really going to get lost and if you are in doubt, head up.) These trails are also popular with horse-riders and dog-walkers.Park your car at the Cecilia Forest gate on Rhodes Drive (opposite the road that heads to Cellars Hohenort). Ignore the jeep track that goes straight ahead and head up through the pines on a well-trodden but poorly marked path, which soon brings you to a stream. Follow the stream upwards and after about 10 minutes you will cross a gravel road. Cross over and continue up the trail to a huge blue gum tree.

The path, which is often reinforced by wooden steps, continues up until you reach some concrete tanks, which are now used as impromptu rubbish bins. Ignore the jeep track going off to your left and continue up the log steps until you reach the tarred road of the Bridle Path, which will take you to the top. (This route will take 1 hour and 45 minutes one way to the De Villiers Reservoir.)

City (northern) side Platteklip Gorge

The deep nick in the flat top of Table Mountain, known as Platteklip Gorge, is visible from a considerable distance and this was the first route by which Table Mountain was climbed. The path - so popular that it is nicknamed Adderley Street by local residents, after the main street in the city - is incredibly steep and direct so don't underestimate it. Nevertheless the route is easy to follow and therefore provides a good, safe ascent or descent route, particularly in bad weather.Take water and be prepared for some knee jarring on the descent. If you find yourself  struggling, spare a thought for the nutcases who enter the Three Peaks Race every year. This section of the race, which involves returning to Green Market Square in between conquering Devil's Peak, Maclear's Beacon and Lion's Head, has seen off many a good runner. But back to the route.The easiest way is to park at the start of Platteklip Gorge, a few hundred metres past the Lower Cable Station. Once you reach the Contour Path, traverse left for about 50m (164ft) before making an assault on the steep uphill path on your right, which ascends, via a series of big rock steps and zigzags, to the gash in the mountain above you.Another option is to park at the Lower Cable Station and ascend to the Contour Path via the stone steps, which start just to the right of the station and head up more or less under the cable car.  Once on the Contour Path, follow it around left, until your reach the junction described on p164, which will take you about 30 minutes. (This route will take 1 hour 15 minutes one way.)

Devil's Peak via Saddle Path

If you have read the account of the scramble up Devil's Peak via Mowbray Ridge with some trepidation, fear not, for there is an easy way up this dramatic peak. Park on Tafelberg Road opposite the sign to 'Devil's Peak via the Saddle' and follow the trail to the Contour Path. Cross over the Contour Path, following the signs to Devil's Peak, and continue your ascent until reaching a junction at a big rock.Turn right and follow the stream that flows down from the saddle until you see the well-defined path leading straight up to the triangular peak on your left, which is marked by two beacons. Once on top you will enjoy one of the best views on the Peninsula. Return by the same route, taking care to turn right when you reach the Lower Contour Path in order to descend to your car. Or, if you have left a car on the other side, you can descend via Newlands Ravine. (2 hours one way.)

Camps Bay side Kasteelspoort

This easy, popular trail is unshaded but as a result affords incredible views. I thoroughly recommend this as a late afternoon hike when the sun sinks into the Atlantic and the Lion's Head and Twelve Apostles Park glow burnt orange in the evening light. Park at the top of Theresa Avenue on the Rontree Estate, enter the national park and follow the concrete jeep track up until it divides. Stay on the main track, which goes to the right, and continue up for about 100m (328ft) until you can see a green signpost on the Contour Path above you.Leave the jeep track and take the narrow path directly up the mountain to the signpost - you will see the cairn marking the way just after a big rock on the left. The signpost directs you over the Contour Path and on up. The path is easy to follow and winds around Kasteels Buttress into the gorge behind, which you follow to the top. A wide rock platform as you round the buttress makes a great viewpoint or sundowner spot. As you climb beyond this the path steepens and you spy the 'Castle's Gate' from which the trail takes its name.At the top you are spoilt for choice. Ahead of you are the Mountain Club and Scout huts, the little Waterworks Museum and the Woodhead and Hely Hutchinson reservoirs. Beyond these lie Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine and the other trails leading down the eastern side of the mountain. A right turn at the top of Kasteelspoort takes you along the top of the Twelve Apostles and eventually to Grootkop and the routes above Llandudno and Hout Bay. The first buttress that you come to, Postern Buttress, is worth a quick inspection.During the construction of Woodhead Reservoir in 1893 an aerial cable was erected in Kasteelspoort. Passengers and supplies were whisked over 700m (2 297ft) up to the top in a rather terrifying open skip to a little steam train (carried up the mountain in sections and now housed in the Waterworks Museum) which transported the goods to the dam. The route of this little railway line is still evident. A left turn at the top of Kasteelspoort leads you through the Valley of the Red Gods towards the cableway.In Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula Mike Lundy explains the origin of the name. An unnamed member of the Mountain Club who preferred the solitude of this valley to the company of his climbing friends at the club hut would quote an oft-repeated line from Kipling's poem, The Feet of the Young Men: 'For the Red Gods call me out and I must go' as the excuse for his departure.'Unfortunately people are no longer allowed to sleep out on Table Mountain, but if it were possible this beautiful amphitheatre would be the perfect place. (It is, however, a popular picnic spot.) The hike from the top of Kasteelspoort to the Upper Cable Station should take about an hour and a half, passing the top of Platteklip Gorge, an alternative, easy descent, though you will need to have made prior arrangements to get you back to your car. (1 hour 30 minutes one way.)

Wood/Woody Ravine

Park at the top of Theresa Avenue on the Rontree Estate and, on entering the park, head up the concrete road. This winds around to the right until it joins the Pipe Track (which comes in from the left). Continue up, past the old stone pump house until you reach the foot of Wood Ravine, which is marked by a signpost. (It should take about half an hour from the start to this point.) The route stays on the left side of the ravine for most of the way. It is steep and direct but there is shade on the lower section. Once at the top you can join the Twelve Apostles path, where you can continue left and descend Kasteelspoort,  and link up with any of the other routes described above. (1 hour 30 minutes one way.)

Hout Bay/Llandudno, Llandudno Ravine

Although none of the routes up the mountain from the Hout Bay end of the Twelve Apostles are easy, the rewards make the effort worthwhile. Llandudno Ravine is the easiest of the three main routes, but you still need to negotiate a couple of easy rock scrambles and some loose scree on the upper path. (The other routes are Llandudno Buttress, which follows a similar route to Llandudno Ravine for all but the top section, and the more difficult scramble up Hout Bay Corner.)As you start to head down to Hout Bay, take the Suikerbossie turn-off on your left and park your car at the rather grand entrance to the Ruyterplaats Estate. You'll spot a sign just outside the gate that indicates the 'Footpath to back table'. The trail starts to the left of the stone pillars and heads up through the trees, between the Suikerbossie Restaurant and the Ruyterplaats Estate, until you reach a jeep track. When this comes to an end you are faced with several paths.Take the one that heads off to the right, keeping the mountain on your left and the forest on your right. The path divides several times and the easiest method to follow is to keep left each time, meaning that you'll always take the higher path. The heavily vegetated mountain slopes are covered with cone-bushes and large stands of pincushions. You may see a large granite boulder with a cairn on top some way back from the path on your left, hidden in the pincushion bushes.Ignore this, and the faint track that heads up the mountain here, and push on until, after about ten minutes from leaving the jeep track, you see another, smaller, boulder and cairn. Head up on this path through the stumps of what used to be a grove of pine trees. The track continues up left from here, through a rather overgrown section to a flat rocky ridge beneath Hout Bay Corner. Turn right and follow the path up a few easy rock steps to reach a higher traverse beneath the steeper cliffs.Here the path divides again, with the main path going off left on a ledge beneath the cliffs. (If you continue straight up at this point you will come out at the rock bands that form part of the Hout Bay Corner scramble.) Keep traversing left, following the cairns, round to a wide, bushy ledge under steep cliffs. After about 15 minutes you round the edge of Bee Buttress and the path starts to ascend. Once over another rock band you will see a ravine heading up in front of the large buttress that now faces you.Continue up to this, ignoring a path up to the right (which leads up Llandudno Buttress, a slightly more difficult route). The path then zigzags up to reach a small stream which you can cross using the natural, often slippery, rock steps. From here the path heads up right and is fairly obvious, if rather steep and unstable at times. Once at the top of the plateau you can turn left towards Grootkop and along the Twelve Apostles path, descending by Kasteelspoort (if you have left a second car there).Otherwise admire the incredible views over the conical peak of Little Lion's Head to Hout Bay and Sandy Bay before retracing your steps. If you have the energy before the descent, proceed along the Twelve Apostles path a short way until a track  to your right leads you, in less than 15 minutes from the turn-off from the main path, to the beacon on the top of the hill in front of you. From this vantage point, atop Judas Peak, you can enjoy spectacular views over Hout Bay, Constantiaberg and Llandudno. There is no shade or water on this route so go before the heat of the day and carry full water bottles. (2 hours one way.)

Other great peaks, Lion's Head

There is no easy way to the top of Lion's Head, since the top section involves some scrambling. Nevertheless you can easily reach a good viewpoint at the foot of the rock bands or enjoy a stroll around the lower paths and over the Lion's Rump - Signal Hill. (1 hour one way.)

Little Lion's Head

Although the top section of this little route also involves some tricky scrambling, it makes a lovely evening outing. Follow the sign to Mount Rhodes off the M6 between Llandudno and Hout Bay. Take a left turn into Little Lionsheadweg and go left again into Valley View Road where you can leave your car. Go through the gate and hike up the road until the bend on the shoulder at the radio mast. A path heads off into the bushes on the left, basically following the ridge of the little peak. Even if you don't fancy the scramble at the top, the walk is worth it for the incredible views of Sandy Bay and over Hout Bay to Chapman's Peak. (40 minutes one way.)

The Sentinel

This steep, badly marked and sometimes rather scratchy route climbs up the back of the imposing, steep-faced Sentinel that guards the entrance to Hout Bay. If that doesn't sound inspiring, the vertiginous summit and view from the top should impress. The Sentinel is a popular spot from which to view the annual Red Bull Big Wave Africa Surfing event, which is held at Dungeons, just off Duiker Island, in July. You can also combine the walk with a visit to Duiker Island to see the seal colony. Bear in mind that, for safety reasons, this is definitely a walk that should be done in a group rather than alone. Head towards Hout Bay Harbour. Pass Mariner's Wharf on your left and turn right up the first road after Dirty Dick's Restaurant. Turn right again at the next stop street and continue straight up Karbonkelweg until it comes to an end at some houses. The path begins at the sandy bank at the end of this road. It is a rather scruffy and inauspicious start but don't worry: it soon gets better.Once over the sandy bank, head left and cross over a deep streambed. Then turn right and head up the path that heads towards the nek between the Sentinel and Karbonkelberg. Watch out for a path on your left that heads up in the direction of the obvious peak. Keep a careful lookout for cairns as you climb. It is a bit of a scramble at times but there is nothing serious to negotiate. Once you've reached the summit, return to the starting point by retracing your steps.An interesting detour can be made to view Duiker Island. Go up to the nek (in the direction of the ocean) and follow the steep, eroded path down to the grassy bank below. If you walk out onto the rock promontory you normally see flocks of cormorants and gulls as well as seals bathing in the sun. A narrow channel separates the main seal colony, Duiker Island, from the mainland and in calm weather you will see tourists admiring the seals from cruise boats that have come out from Hout Bay. Retrace your steps to the nek and then to your car. (1 hour 30 minutes one way.)

Elsie's Peak

This little peak is a very pleasant, easy walk affording wonderful views over Simon's Town and False Bay. There is no shade and you won't find water, so go prepared. Turn off the Glencairn Expressway into Birkenhead Road, then left into Clan Stewart Road and finally right into Golconda. Park here and head up the chained access road.The road swings to the left and you have the option of following this, for a gentle ascent via the dam, or continuing straight up the footpath ahead of you - the more direct route. If you plan to do a circular trail it is best to use the former as your ascent. Follow the gravel road up for about 500m (1 640ft) and then take a path to the right, marked by a large cairn, to the nek. Keep right at the nek and head for the telecommunications mast near the summit.The going is easy and your goal clearly visible, so relax and enjoy the wonderful surrounding views and fynbos. To complete the circular walk go back the way you came from the summit until you reach a small building and powerline pole. Look for a narrow, overgrown path. This rather bushy route takes you down to the footpath off the access road. Alternatively, if you miss this, return the way you came.It is obvious in good visibility, but be careful to head left off the plateau, as the route to the right leads down to Fish Hoek. (If you prefer to climb up from here, park on Berg Road, almost at the start of the road from Fish Hoek to Kommetjie, and then head straight up the Ravine Steps.) (This route will take you approximately 1 hour 30 minutes one way.)

Kalk Bay Mountain and the Amphitheatre

A climb up one of the beautiful valleys behind Kalk Bay will take you through an enchanting wonderland of indigenous forest to an unexpectedly beautiful natural amphitheatre at the top. Park your car at the cul de sac just before Boyes Drive begins to descend towards Kalk Bay Harbour. A short flight of steps takes you up to a path heading up right and in the direction of Muizenberg. Continue up this path for about half an hour until you reach a junction in a clearing next to a weir.This is Weary Willy's Pool, where you will regain the path on your descent, but for now you are heading towards the parallel Spes Bona Valley. Turn right, cross over the stream and bear left at the next fork and continue up until the path meets a jeep track. Walk up the jeep track for about 500m (1 640ft) until you see a clear path going up the ridge on the edge of a valley, the upper reaches of which are flanked by high cliffs. As the trail meanders up, look back and admire the views over False Bay.Near the top, the trail dives into a wonderful patch of indigenous yellowwood and milkwood forest, a welcome piece of shade on this steep trail. When you emerge from the forest, steep cliffs flank the narrow ravine. Continue up to a plateau at the top and you will see a beacon on your right. This marks the summit of Kalk Bay Mountain, at 516m (1 693ft). Once you have surveyed the scene from the summit, return to the junction at the head of the valley and carry straight on.You will be heading roughly south, with the sea on your left and Silvermine and Ou Kaapse Weg on your right. Keep left at the next fork and you will soon be looking down on a beautiful sandy amphitheatre - an ideal picnic spot. Scramble down and enjoy this tranquil place before continuing your walk by exiting from the other side. A left turn at the next fork will take you to the head of Echo Valley and your descent route. The cliffs to your right are riddled with caves but, unless you have come prepared for a caving outing, continue on down, through another wonderful stand of indigenous forest before you reach Weary Willy's Pool once again. From here onwards, you can retrace your steps to where your car is parked. (This route is about a 4-hour round trip.)

Chapman's Peak

This is one of the most rewarding and time-efficient climbs on the Peninsula and it is fitting that it was the first peak climbed by the Mountain Club of South Africa after its inauguration in 1893. If you are coming from the Hout Bay side, park your car at the picnic spot on the last big bend before the top of Chapman's Peak. The trail initially climbs up the left-hand side streambed and then crosses to the right-hand bank, to climb the ravine via a series of rock steps. Once on the plateau, turn right in the direction of Chapman's Peak. (If you were to continue walking straight at this junction you would end up on Noordhoek Peak, whilst a left turn would take you in the direction of the Manganese Mine.) Continue walking along this path as it winds past the first peak, Lower Chapman's Peak, and up through some magnificent stands of protea. In order to gain the summit of Chapman's Peak, you must negotiate a short rock scramble.

The 360-degree view from the top is truly magnificent but, if you don't feel up to this, relax just below the final heap of boulders and enjoy the impressive views over to Noordhoek beach and back towards Hout Bay. You can return by taking the same route. (This walk takes1 hour 30 minutes one way.)

Constantiaberg

There are various ways of walking to the top of Constantiaberg which, at 928m (3 045ft), is the highest peak on the Cape Peninsula south of the main table. A road runs all the way to the top from Tokai Manor, but a more interesting route is to follow the elephant signboards through the Tokai Arboretum, past the fire lookout, and then up to the peak. You should reach the lookout in less than an hour and a half.From here, a short detour takes you to Elephant's Eye Cave, clearly visible just around the corner. It is really only a big cavern, and less exciting to visit than it sounds, but you'll find that the views are very impressive. Return to the main trail and head up the rocky slope in the direction of the radio and television masts atop Constantiaberg. You will cross the road a couple of times before you arrive at the fenced-off area enclosing the masts. The true summit is just behind these, accessible by scrambling over the rocks to the beacon. (This route takes around 2 hours 30 minutes one way.)

Further reading

Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula, Mike Lundy, Struik. This book describes 26 trails on the Cape Peninsula and is a detailed, all-round guide for the average hiker. A large variety of trails is covered and routes that hikers of all abilities can enjoy are included. To aid your choice, routes are graded according to level of difficulty and the route descriptions are thorough and easy to follow. The maps are excellent, and black and white illustrations and photos help with the identification of flora, fauna and places of interest. In short, this is a mine of fascinating information about all aspects of Table Mountain.Table Mountain Classics, Tony Lourens, Blue Mountain Publishers. A Walking Guide for Table Mountain, author and publisher, Shirley Brossy. Although not as colourful as some of the other guides, this book covers a good range of hikes and scrambles. The maps show the contours and main topographical and vegetation features, so are easy to follow. Recommended for those who want a lightweight route guide rather than a description of the total experience. Unfortunately it has not been updated for some time and does not contain photographs.A Walking Guide for the Hout Bay to Simon's Town Mountains, author and publisher, Shirley Brossy. This inexpensive guide, with its carefully hand-drawn maps, has a charm about it and covers some Peninsula walks not covered in other guidebooks. The route descriptions are generally accurate and easy to follow but there is little in the way of background information or descriptions of general points of interest on the way. Beware that hikes are not graded and level of difficulty is not always apparent. Some of her selections - for example Myburgh's Waterfall Ravine and the descent  via Hout Bay Corner - are very definitely scrambles, which should only be attempted by those with mountaineering experience.

Maps

National Geographic Adventure MAP, Map Studio. As you would expect from National Geographic, this is a beautiful map. It is also waterproof, tear-resistant and durable. One side covers the whole of the Cape Peninsula (at 1:55 000) whilst the other has a detailed map of the main table (1:30 000), along with a Cape Town street map with key adventure and outdoor shops, information offices etc. on the other. (Contact details of these are also given.) Many, but not all of the main trails and access points for hiking and mountain-biking routes are shown, and the map includes the location of all the main adventure sites to be found on the mountain. Diving, surfing and sea kayaking sites are also indicated and briefly described.Cape Peninsula National Park Series, Peter Slingsby, Baardskeerder Three 1:20 000 maps cover Table Mountain (Map 1), Hout Bay (Map 2), and Silvermine (Map 3). Simon's Town (Map 4) and Cape Point (Map 5) are covered at the 1:25 000 scale. The maps, endorsed by the Table Mountain National Park, are colourful and well illustrated, with all the main topographical and man-made features clearly indicated. The main hiking and mountain biking trails and the paragliding sites are also marked and the flip side of the maps gives brief trail descriptions and other points of interest.Map of Table Mountain and Map of the Hout Bay to Simon's Town Mountains, Shirley Brossy (Scale: 1:20 000 and 3: 100 000 respectively.) These rather outdated, black-and-white, fold-out, wear- and tear-resistant hand-drawn maps are found in many of the Cape Peninsula's tourist offices. A wide range of hiking and scrambling routes is covered and route finding is aided by accurate portrayal of topographical and vegetation features, transport information and significant buildings.

Approved Paths on Table Mountain, Published by the Mountain Club of South Africa's. Cape Town section and sponsored by Sanlam. This simple, large-scale route map (1:12 500) is not widely available these days but is still a good choice for a hiker who wants to find his or her way around the walks and easy scrambles on the main table. The main topographical features are clearly marked on this map, as are water points, and a table of 'Approximate Walking Times' is also given.Cape Peninsula National Park Map, Map Studio EXPLORE series. This easy-to-read double-sided map is informative and often witty. One side features the whole Cape Peninsula on which major landmarks, routes and places of interest are marked. Other useful and informative snippets, such as a list of famous icons of the Cape and some suggested trails, are included.The flip side gives detailed maps and information on the six key areas that visitors to the national park are likely to explore in detail: Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point), Kirstenbosch, Boulders Beach, Silvermine, Oudekraal and the main table. As with most of the literature, it will need a name change on reprint. Websites www.hikecapetown.co.za Mike Lundy's website gives all the safety and much of the background information contained in his books as well as links to other relevant tourism sites. Each month you will find one of the entries from his Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula, and one of his Easy Walks in the Cape Peninsula posted on the site.

Contact details

Active Africa

Tel: 021-788-8750
info@activeafrica.co.za
www.active-africa.com

Blue Mountain Adventures

Cel: 082 550 6819
tonyblue@iafrica.com

Cape Town School of Mountaineering

Tel: 021-531-4290
climb@ctsm.co.za
www.ctsm.co.za

Mountain Club of South Africa

Tel: 021-465-3412.
mcsacapetown@iafrica.com

Weather forecasts

Cape Town International Airport Weather Bureau
Tel: 021-934-0450

The South African Weather Service

www.weathersa.co.za

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway information line

Tel: 021-424-5148

Rhodes Cottage Museum

Tel: 021-788-1816

Simon's Town Museum

Tel: 021-786-3046

The South African Museum

Tel: 021-481-3800
www.museums.org.za

Did you know?

Platteklip Gorge is the route taken by entrants in the annual Three Peaks Race, that starts, pre-dawn, in Green Market Square and takes in Devil's Peak, Maclear's Beacon and Lion's Head, with a return to Green Market Square between each peak. As you struggle up the steep route, be inspired by the fact that the top Three Peaks runners take fewer than two hours to reach the summit.

The Twelve Apostles

It is not clear when the buttresses along the western side of the mountain acquired the name the Twelve Apostles. Their original Dutch name was 'De Gevelbergen', Gable Mountains. A quick survey of a map reveals that there are more than 12 and that none bear any Biblical names. However, the peak at the end of the Twelve Apostles path is called Judas Peak! Starting from the main table end, the buttresses are: Porcupine, Jubilee, Barrier, Valken, Kasteels, Postern, Wood, Spring, Slangolie, Corridor, Grootkop, Separation, Grove and, finally, Llandudno.

Crouching Lion

Jan van Riebeeck noted on his arrival in 1652 that the Dutch East India Company fleet anchored 'near the tail of the Lion Mountain'. The view of Lion Mountain from Melkbos shows his 'tail'. The English renamed this classic peak Sugar Loaf, but the original name given by the Dutch, Leeuwenberg - from its  resemblance to a crouching lion - proved more lasting. The head and elongated body of the sleeping lion is clearly visible from Devil's Peak and De Waal Drive. In fact, if you really use your imagination, you will see his eyelashes - a couple of pine trees on the ridge - as you drive along De Waal Drive or up Kloof Nek. The two rocky islands off Clifton Fourth Beach are known as the Lion's Paws.

Elephant's Eye

When it is viewed from the M3 between Constantia Nek and Tokai, Constantiaberg resembles an elephant, with the mast protruding from its back, and, you guessed it, the gaping black hole of Elephant's Eye Cave as its eye. One of the ancient myths has it that Table Mountain - specifically Devil's Peak and Constantiaberg - resembles a sleeping giant.
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