How Not to Climb Table Mountain

My mother and I had just arrived in Cape Town – it was 11 a.m. on a Friday.  The shuttle dropped us off at our guest house, a tiny, no-frills place called Lionscape in the shabby-chic neighborhood of Tamboerskloof. Paul, the proprietor, helped carry our bags upstairs.

Lionscape. This place flies below the radar — we had trouble finding it because there is no sign. It’s a great deal though — R300 (about $45) per person per night during Cape Town’s high season. Nothing fancy, but adequate and with amazing views of both Cape Town and Table Mountain.

“What should we do now?” Mom asked Paul.

“Go up the mountain,” Paul said.

It was hot and sunny with a light breeze. Paul told us that the weather can change at any moment so we should get up Table Mountain while the going is good.

Our next question was how do we go up. Paul suggested the easy route: Take a taxi to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway and ride the cable car up from there.

We looked out the window. The mountain was right there. We looked at the map and saw we could walk straight up Kloofnek Road for a couple of kilometers to the cableway. Mom and I are always looking for a good workout. So we smeared on some sunscreen and started up the road on foot.

The road was steep and the sun was hot. Cars whizzed past at breakneck speed; no one else was walking. We climbed and panted. A couple of minibus taxis honked at us as they drove by but we waved them off. We’re very stubborn.

About an hour later, we turned off the road into Table Mountain National Park. It was a relief to be away from the traffic and we figured we were almost to the cable car.

As you can see, Mom was ecstatic to make it this far.

We figured wrong. We walked another half-hour up a switch-backed road. At one point we attempted a short-cut up some stairs in between two of the switch-backs. But the stairs were too tall for our short legs and we almost tumbled back down. No more short-cuts.

One of the many switch-backs.

Finally we reached the bottom of the cableway, where everyone else was hopping out of buses and taxis looking cool and and not out of breath.

We bought drinks and a Cape Malay chicken salad sandwich from the snack bar and sat at a picnic table. After eating and drinking we felt fortified. We sauntered over to the ticket window and learned that the cable car costs R170 per person for a round trip. $25!

“Let’s walk,” Mom said. “I think we can do it.” I enthusiastically agreed.

The next part of the story can be told in pictures.

This is the path up the mountain from the cable car ticket office. It was flatter at the beginning — this is where it started to get steep.

The cable car kept going up and down above our heads. I know that all the people in there were laughing at us.

It was around this time that we began doubting our ability to accomplish the mission.

We’d been going straight up the rock path for an hour or so, when a sign came into view in the distance. Mom stopped to rest and I climbed up to check out the sign. Two hours to the top, it said. I called down to Mom and told her the news. We decided to throw in the towel.

We climbed back down and sheepishly returned to the ticket office. If the cable car operator recognized us when we boarded, he was nice enough to pretend he didn’t.

When we reached the top, we forgot all about how hard it was to get there.

The view from the top, looking toward the Cape of Good Hope.

I was surprised by how much there was on the mountaintop. There’s a restaurant and a shop and miles of hiking paths.

Awesome.

We strolled around for 15 minutes or so, and then the weather began to turn before our eyes. Thick clouds started rolling over the mountain from the southeast and the wind picked up.

You can see the clouds creeping in from behind the overlook.

Sun, wind, and mist.

We stayed up there for an hour or so and took the cable car back down. This time we took a taxi to the guest house.

This is how the mountain looked from the window of our room when we got back — clouds tumbling endlessly over the mountain, carrying strong, gusty winds.

The clouds on the mountain were a harbinger for the weather in Cape Town that weekend. We didn’t get the actual cloud cover, but the winds picked up that evening and didn’t stop for the rest of our time in Cape Town. Paul’s advice was spot-on. It’s too bad we didn’t listen to what he said about the taxi, but in the end it really didn’t matter.

A full moon rises over the city, as seen from the balcony at Lionscape. You can see the wind bending that tall tree to the left of the yellow house.

Next up: Fishing towns, penguins, and biking the Cape of Good Hope.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Jen January 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Glad you and your mom make it up — sounds like it was well worth it. P.S. Your arms look amazing. Michelle Obama-worthy.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm

      Well, thanks! They aren’t what they were six months ago but I’m glad they still look impressive from a distance.

  • Reply Francis January 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Wonderful post so full of great pictures. A great view from the top but i get tired just looking at the walk up, it would take me the week to get there at best. Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm

      Thanks Francis. There are actually many nice, easier ways to climb the mountain but unfortunately we didn’t do enough research. Oh well, it was fun anyway.

  • Reply Tilly Bud January 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    We had our honeymoon in Cape Town and ate lunch in front of a roaring fire in the restaurant. Happy times! I never saw the table cloth either time I went up (in the cable car – I’m not daft!); you are so lucky to have seen it while you were up there.

    Lovely post.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Ha! My mom and I are a bit daft when it comes to things like that. I didn’t go into the restaurant but it looked really nice from outside. I had to have Joe explain to me what the tablecloth is — that is exactly what it looked like.

  • Reply Historic District January 30, 2011 at 12:07 am

    I admire your chutzpah – and can’t believe you walked all the way from your guesthouse. The distance is definitely deceiving! I rode up there with a friend in his crazy, broken-down Volkswagon from the 70s, and he ran out of gas at the top. It was quite the adventure getting back down to the nearest gas station, and then retrieving the car. The views though were totally worth it, as you discovered…

    • Reply 2summers January 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

      Yeah, we actually should have done what Joe advised, which was take a taxi to Platteklip Gorge and hike from there. Oh well, next time. Hope you’re enjoying NYC!

  • Reply amblerangel January 30, 2011 at 8:30 am

    What an amazing picture of the weather blowing in!!

    • Reply 2summers January 30, 2011 at 11:39 am

      Yeah, we were really lucky to have seen that. If we hadn’t had that false start trying to hike up the mountain we might have missed it!

  • Reply Rebecca January 31, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Looks like you had the perfect day for it! I climbed up Table Mountain – the Plattesklip route – and it was hard work! But I cannot believe that you walked all the way from town to the cable car, that is an intense, uphill walk! Good work!

  • Reply Greg February 1, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Wonderful series of photos and thank you for including information about the bus tours and trams. My wife and I will arrive there with our tour around April 2nd and plan 2 additional nights. I’m glad you included photos of the penguins – I am an avid birder and looking forward to seeing the jackass penguins.

    • Reply 2summers February 1, 2011 at 8:09 am

      Hi Greg, I’m really glad you’re finding the posts helpful. You’ll be in birding heaven here. Are you visiting Joburg at all during your trip? There are TONS of amazing birds here — more than in CT actually. I’ll be writing a post shortly about the Melville Koppies that you’ll be interested in.

  • Reply Marcelle February 2, 2011 at 3:05 am

    I am a Cape Townian living in NYC – firstly, your pics are awesome and made me yearn with longing…secondly, the route you tried is for only the most practiced climbers and people who are prepared for the sheer face climb just before the upper cable car station – if you had gone a little further along the road past the cable station – there is a path up called the Plattekloof Gorge – a lovely gradient 2 hour walk/climb to the top…and then a half hour to 45 min walk to the upper cable station…well worth your energy when you are next in Cape Town. Thank you for sharing your wonderful pics!

    • Reply 2summers February 2, 2011 at 8:44 am

      Thanks Marcelle. Yes, we saw the sign to Platteklip Gorge but by the time we got there we were too tired to do it — too bad! Will definitely do it next time. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply AJ February 7, 2011 at 1:35 am

    Great description and blog thank you. Also enjoyed your Cape of Good Hope trip description, so to the point. We were there last September but took the cable-car right away. An astonishing view and like you experienced, Cape Town can offer many season’s in a 24hours time span. The nice thing I remember when the clouds cover the top of Table Mountain is one of the interpretation that the Capetonians give to this phenomenon: “The tablecloth is set on the Table Mountain” I found this so charming. see also: http://www.theafricatravelblog.com/tips-advice/amazing-stories-of-cape-towns-table-mountain/comment-page-1/

    • Reply 2summers February 7, 2011 at 9:23 am

      I know, I’d never heard of the ‘tablecloth’ until someone wrote about it in one of the comments to this blog. Perfect description! Thanks for reading.

  • Reply Majuba October 11, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Hi 2summers
    On your next adventure up Table Mountain can I suggest the following;
    Pack a picnic lunch and take a car/taxi/bus to Kirstenbosch and climb up the back of the mountain via Skeleton Gorge. You are in the shade all the way and emerge on the eastern end of the mountain with views over the Southern Suburbs and False Bay. Chill out at the reservoir you will find at the top. Before they chopped all the pine trees down it was like being at a lake in the Canadian Rockies. Then follow the signs to McClears Beacon which is the eastern buttress behind Devils Peak. Then head west along the flat top for the cable station where you will start meeting the “arm chair” / cable car tourists. Take the cable car down and then a bus to your destination. We used to get off at the station and train home to Rosebank. Allow at least 5 hours for a great day out. As always check the weather report before you go. Don’t set out if the South Easter / Cape Doctor is blowing or if you see a cold front coming in off the Atlantic. Each year the mountain claims a few climbers through hyperthermia. A hat, wind breaker and good sneakers – preferably hiking boots – are essential. This hike is manageable for all levels of fitness. I lead a party with my 70 year old Mom, 7 month pregnant wife, and friends with a 3 year old daughter.
    Very leisurely and we all made it. Water in the reservoir is drinkable but carry your own and a gas cooker if you want to brew some tea. Another option is to climb up the Newlands Ravine. We did this at night and camped in the open on top. The QE2 was in the harbour and with the city lights looked spectacular.
    Have a nice day!

    • Reply 2summers October 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Wow, thank you so much for this informative comment! I am actually going to CT for a very short visit in two weeks. I’m not sure if we’ll have time for Table Mountain or not, but if we do we will surely try this.

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