Table Mountain National Park covers an area of about 220 square km (54000 acres). The Table Mountain chain is a spine of peaks, ridges and valleys that stretch approximately 80 km from the well known ‘flat’ Western & Central Tables above the city centre of Cape Town, to Cape Point at the end of the Cape Peninsula in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Except for the 7 700 hectare fenced Nature Reserve it is an open access park with an estimated 200 km of hiking paths. Local hikers who know the Mountain and hike the area regularly, usually hike in groups and with a hike leader who knows the paths and routes, as well as the weather variations and dangers. There are various hiking clubs and private groups that put on hikes on a regular basis in all parts of the Mountain, mostly on weekends but sometimes during the week.
The most commonly recognised area and the hike that most people want to do at some stage, is to walk up to the flat areas known as the Western Table, where the Upper Cable Station is situated, and the Eastern Table where the highest point on the Mountain is located at Maclear’s Beacon. The Western and Eastern Tables are divided by Platteklip Gorge, where there is a small valley, with the walk from the Cable Station to Maclears Beacon being approximately 2.5 km. Behind the ‘flat’ section of the Mountain is a series of peaks and valleys, cliff faces, ledges and clefts that require good knowledge and understanding of the Mountain to negotiate on a hike.
Warning: Table Mountain is not all flat, there are serious climbs and drops that may be obvious to those familiar with the Mountain and it’s paths, but which can be extremely dangerous for someone not on familiar territory. The main paths are marked at major intersections only and in misty, cloudy or rainy weather, obvious paths can disappear and minor paths and paths to view points can be mistaken for main paths.
There were over 270 rescues in Table Mountain in 2017, very often in poor weather conditions, putting the safety of rescuers and support personnel at risk.
There are numerous routes to the top of Table Mountain (Western Table). The only route that we recommend should be taken without someone who knows the Mountain well, is the Platteklip Gorge Route and even this should be only be done following the safety guidelines below. Point numbers 1, 5, 8 and 14 are the most frequently ignored and lead to the most problems.
Safety Tips for hikers
- Never hike alone, no matter what route. A minimum of 4 people and have at least one person who knows the route, how long you expect to take, where you are leaving from and when you expect to finish. Make sure they have your cell phone number.
- Have a good map and description of the route even if the leader knows the way – something can happen to a leader. Slingsby maps are the only recommended commercially available maps. There are also various guide books with route descriptions.
- Log on to @safetymountain tracking system (see hikernetwork.co.za/safetymountian or SafetyMountain Tracking on Facebook for details) – or similar (it is necessary to register with admin of this site before you can use it.) Inform your contacts when you starting and when you finish.
- If you are paying someone to guide you, they must be a qualified and registered Adventure Guide with the appropriate Mountain walking qualifications and experience to do the route they are guiding.
- Make sure you have the correct emergency numbers:
- City of Cape Town Emergency Management Centre – 021 4807700.
- Wilderness Search & Rescue (WSAR) – 021 9370300;
- Have a fully charged cell phone.
- Have good hiking footwear with good grip and comfortable socks. This may vary according to length of hike, but leather soled shoes, soft sneakers and slip slops are not appropriate.
- Have warm clothing even on a hot day – it is colder on top of the Mountain than in the city and wind, cloud, mist or rain can make it colder. Weather can change very quickly on the Mountain.
- Take a rain jacket / windcheater.
- Take a wide brimmed hat / cap with chin strap in summer and / or beanie in cold weather.
- Have an appropriate day pack for clothing, water, snacks and other equipment.
- Hike in appropriate hiking gear – jeans are heavy, can be tight and can be very uncomfortable when you get hot and particularly when wet.
- Take weather conditions in to account – do not start hiking when rainy / stormy or even high winds are likely, unless you are very sure of the required level of competence, equipment and leadership.
- If you are planning to use the cableway to come down, take weather conditions into account, the cableway is frequently closed in high winds or other adverse weather conditions.
- Take enough water – this will vary according to route & distance but a 2 lit is a recommended minimum. Do not rely on water on the Mountain at any time of the year. Drink regularly & keep yourself hydrated during the hike.
- Take snacks for short hikes and sufficient food / lunch for longer ones.
- Inform the leader / group of any medical conditions – diabetic, asthma or required medication. Assess any injuries you may have had according to the routes.
- Make sure that you have the appropriate level of fitness for the route you are tackling.
- If you are the leader, make sure you know the route and brief the group before departure.
- If the route requires an element of scrambling or has height exposure, make sure that you have a competent, experienced leader who knows the route and the skills required and all in the party are competent to handle the level of difficulty.
- There should be at least one appropriate mountain first aid kit with the group.
Security precautions and strategies
There have been incidents of crime and muggings in the greater Table Mountain area, while these are usually limited to certain known ‘hotspots’, due care should be taken in all parts of the mountain. For visitors not familiar with the area, consultation with local experts is advisable. Table Mountain Watch on Facebook or Table Mountain Security Action Group (TMSAG) on WhatsApp. Below is the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) advice to members:
- Hike in a group. While this does not preclude being attacked, it may serve as a deterrent.
- Be aware of potential threats. The suddenness of an attack leads to panic, which may exacerbate the situation. An alert, obviously aware group, poses a harder target.
- If attacked, it is advisable NOT to resist. Handing over your "valuables" decreases the chances of being harmed (although unfortunately, this is not always the case).
- In the event that you can see that an attack is imminent, hide your cellphone in the vegetation or rocks, so that you are able to summon help much faster afterwards.
- Keep the emergency contact numbers on your phones. Check that all members of the party have these numbers. Also keep those numbers somewhere on your person.
- Keep a look out on social media for the various 'Safe Hikes' and 'Take Back Our Mountain' initiatives, in which the MCSA is an active participant, and lend your support. These are proving to be highly successful.
Behaviour & hiking protocol:
- Be respectful of other mountain users – no loud music, over robust behaviour, running on steep paths etc.
- Cell phones should be on silent and not used while hiking, except for photographs and in emergencies.
- Take all rubbish with you, including biodegradable peels, cores, skins, tissues etc. Follow the wilderness maxim of ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’. Take a small bag for litter.
- Chipping of rocks or defacing of rock and other surfaces with graffiti is a punishable offence and disrespectful of nature and can lead to arrest and a considerable fine.
- Preferably no smoking on the Mountain – if you have to, make sure cigarettes are extinguished and please take your cigarette butts away with you.
- The Fynbos biome has a high fire danger, do not make any fires or use gas stoves. Fire is a risk to all hikers and mountain users.
- Stick to the clear paths, do not take short cuts.
- Obey the instructions of the hike leader.
- Keep within sight of your group, if you need to answer the call of nature, inform the hike leader.
- Do not burn toilet paper in the Fynbos environment, take a zip bag and remove it from the mountain.
- The lighting of fires or use of gas burners is forbidden in Table Mountain, except in designated accommodation areas.