Table Mountain sheltered the original Cape explorers in the 16th century, the first European settlers and the many following generations of slaves, immigrants and Capetonians who helped to build and develop our special city.
Your first impression of Table Mountain from the city bowl and beyond from Blouberg beach, is almost misleading. You are confronted with a two dimensional image of a solid flat topped behemoth, sometimes draped in swirling cloud, trapped between two attendants - Devil's Peak and Lion's Head.
Driving towards the city from Cape Town airport you get a different perspective, as you are confronted with Devil's Peak and the rugged Eastern buttresses of the Table Mountain range stretching towards Kirstenbosch Gardens and the coastal towns of Muizenberg and FishHoek.
Head towards the cable station and over Kloof Nek towards Camps Bay, and you'll see the peaks of the Twelve Apostles flanking the winding road to Hout Bay.
Table Mountain in fact stands at the head of an extensive chain of mountains extending south along the backbone of the Cape Peninsula towards Cape Point. It is the direction from whence the well known and respected Cape South Easterly wind originates, from faraway over the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the region now known as the Table Mountain National Park.
The Table Mountain range originated some 500 million years ago when Africa was part of the original Gondwanaland continent. The Earth was in a turmoil of earth quakes and volcanic activity. The gigantic tectonic plates within the mantle, many kilometres below the surface of the seas, shifted, and molten lava was forced upwards through seabed shale to cool and form granite.
The quartzite/sandstone Cape mountains we know today developed from sediment deposited by ancient rivers, which covered the subsiding granite over millions of years. Rocky remnants of those ancient times can still be seen in the form of huge granite boulders which dot our coastline and flank many Cape Town beaches.
These days Table Mountain is a magnet for photographers, tourists and hikers, and a visit to Cape Town is not complete without a cable car ride or hike to the summit. The upper cable station is at 1067 metres, and the highest point Maclears Beacon, stands at 1085 metres.
About the Table Mountain cableway:
A funicular railway to the summit was originally proposed before the 1st world war, but after much deliberation a cableway system was eventually financed by a group of prominent businessmen, and opened in 1929.
The cableway was upgraded in 1997 to the highest safety standards and two large revolving cars now transport passengers up and down the mountain simultaneously while offering a panoramic view in all directions.
At peak times during the summer months long queues snake back from the lower cable station. Cable way tickets cannot be prebooked.
Public parking is provided along Tafelberg road. Self employed parking marshalls wearing printed bibs watch the cars while you ascend the mountain, in return for a few coins. It is advisable to arrive early to obtain parking nearby at busy times, otherwise expect to walk some distance along the road.
People with disabilities are provided with dedicated bays at the lower cable station. The cablecars, facilities and pathways on the summit are wheel chair friendly.
The cableway usually runs continuously till late into the evening in peak season Nov-Feb unless strong winds or poor visibility prohibit its use. When it is time for the last cable car to descend the mountain, a loud hooter sounds in advance to warn stragglers. In the event of adverse weather, leave yourself with enough time to walk down should the cableway be forced to close. Table Mountain cable way
The facilities on the summit of Table Mountain in the vicinity of the upper cable station have also been upgraded to make them more tourist friendly - unfortunately to the extent where concrete modifications are clearly visible from below.
Boardwalks lead to lookout points and telescopes, paths have been laid and signposting indicates points of interest. There is a self service restaurant and a cocktail bar, and souvenirs can be purchased.
If you intend to ascend by means of the cable car remember that the temperature is generally cooler on top, so bring a coat or windbreaker along. When you reach the summit don't wander too far from the cable station unless you have a good knowledge of the area, or unless you are accompanied by an experienced hiker. There are steep pathways and dangerous cliffs nearby.
Signposting on the various paths are minimal so if you don't know the mountain it is advisable to hike with someone who does. Alternatively, walking maps are available in stationary stores and at the lower cable station. There are many routes on Table Mountain which vary in levels of difficulty and exposure. If you do not know the mountain well then stick with the most well used one.
The most obvious and direct route on the north face of the mountain which is easily accessible from the lower cable station, ascends via Platteklip Gorge. Walking time is 1-3 hours from Tafelberg road depending on your pace and level of fitness.
Routes to the summit are to be found all around the Table Mountain range, some more strenuous than others. The easiest way up is via the jeep track from Constantia Nek to the Back Table. It's a longish walk.
Whichever route you decide to take, make sure you are prepared and know where you are going. A hike up Table Mountain especially in hot weather should not be taken lightly. Give yourself plenty of time. Leave early and don't walk alone. Carry a cell phone if possible, a route map, warm clothing, sufficient water and food, use sunblock and wear a hat. All members of your party should be equally fit to avoid stragglers.
Ed Berry is the author of the website http://www.capetown-traveladviser.com He has been a resident of Cape Town South Africa for many years, enjoys hiking in the mountains and takes pride in sharing his knowledge of Cape Town's history, its many cultures and magnificent natural scenery with the many visitors to his travel website.
Copyright: Ed Berry http://www.capetown-traveladviser.com