7 Stages of hiking Table Mountain

Until January 22, 2017, I was an unofficial Capetonian.

Before this day, though I’ve lived in Cape Town for my whole almost-23 years of existence, I’d never been to the top of Table Mountain – not by hike, not by cable, nothing. This is embarrassing because are you really a Capetonian if you haven’t done just that? Even if you (like me) go to the organic market every Saturday and drink almond milk cappuccinos (despite being neither vegan nor lactose-intolerant) and take personal offence when someone doesn’t like the same brand of artisan coffee bean as you, the answer is still no.

In Cape Town we are highly possessive over our mountains. They are the beacons around which we can pinpoint and successfully (sort of) navigate the segregated suburbs of the city, our markers of fitness as we trudge up and down their slopes every weekend (and also during the week because I swear Cape Town is the capital of freelancing and flexi-hours). Their summits are our preferred viewpoints from which to watch the sun rise and set, or the full moon cast its irridescent glow on the ocean down below. They are often the subjects of our photographic endeavours, whose model beauty shots we boastfully post on social media for all to see. We mourn the damage when they are set ablaze and ripped apart by fires, the flames fuelled by the roaring winds that are as synonymous with a Cape Town summer as the mountains.

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A typical view of the flat-topped silhouette that is Table Mountain, as seen from Sunset Beach.

To put it quite nicely, if you haven’t summited these mountains (either by cable car or hiking trail), you are basically just altogether failing at being Capetonian (and a human, generally speaking).

I must admit, I did attempt to do the thing a few days ago. However, as the hiking squad and I started the rocky, unrelenting ascent that is the Platteklip Gorge route, it started drizzling. The drizzle soon became as unrelenting as the ascent, and the path far too slippery for a safe hike. To lighten the mood (and because food is life), Plan B could only be “Let’s go eat”. Sipping on a steaming flat white from Jason’s Bakery on Bree Street, I was thinking that while we’d failed at hiking, we were definitely still winning at breakfast.

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Textures of Table Mountain – look out for proteas on your way up.
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Bomb flat whites at Jason’s Bakery on Bree, to make one feel that one is winning at breakfast, and at life in general.
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One of my favourite breakfasts – poached eggs, avo, tomato, rocket and fresh, fresh, fresh sourdough bread.

Anyway. Back to the point. On the momentous day of January 22, I did the thing, hiked the hike, and found myself on the top of the Mother City’s most symbolic piece of rock – Table Mountain. I make it sound easy (as if I just woke up one morning, rolled out of bed, Bob’s your uncle, and I was on a mountain in my hiking gear) but it really wasn’t like that. We hiked via Platteklip Gorge (supposedly the easier route) and I wasn’t nearly mentally prepared for that non-stop uphill slog. These are the 7 stages I went through – well, 7 of the million thoughts that passed through my overactive imagination – during the morning’s expedition:

Stage 1: “This is going to be a walk in the park.”

Okay, maybe not a walk in the park, but the sun was shining, the birds were chirping and, even though one of my hiking partners had previously found the hike to be so extreme, she had promised herself never to do it again, I wasn’t going to be deterred. Besides, I was too excited and that excitement was going to be my fuel. Famous last words.

Stage 2: “OMFG is this uphill slog ever going to end?”

The answer to that is no. Some advice: the only time it ends is when you get to the top. Or when you take breaks (which will probably be often). And then you’ll have to get up and keep going up, up, up and then just when you feel like your legs are going to collapse, you’ll have to hike up some more. Really, I should be a motivational speaker.

Stage 3: “MUST. UNITE. AGAINST. COMMON. ENEMY.”

Originally, these words were uttered by a friend with reference to a bunch of school girls who were trailing behind us, their over dramatic high school banter so loud it was catching up with us before they did. While they took longer breaks than us, their breaks were less frequent and they (and their rowdiness) were soon biting at our ankles – much to everyone’s irritation. Before long, it appeared that everyone on the mountain who wasn’t a high school girl, was trying to speed up their pace to get away from said high school girls/common enemy, and motivating each other to keep going. But, at that point the only enemy I wanted to unite against was the mountain. “Unite” as in “Could-someone-be-so-kind-as-to-carry-me-up-the-rest-of-this-bloody-mountain”?

Stage 4: “Okay no, very dizzy, must sit down and eat banana and contemplate life decisions”

Some of these very poor, very questionable life decisions include not having breakfast before embarking on a hideous hike. Or, more importantly, the decision to embark on a hideous hike in the first place, instead of being a normal person and taking the cable car. These are the things that went running through my mind as I sat on the edge of the mountain looking over the city, waiting for my blood sugar levels to return to normal and the dizziness to subside while my Med-student of a friend berated me for being irresponsible about breakfast. Okay thanks mom bye.

Stage 5: “YOU ARE KWEEN EMMA, GREATEST HUMAN EVER! LOOK AT YOU ACHIEVING YOUR GOALS, HAVING SUCH A GOOD YEAR SO FAR AND DOING THE THINGS!”

I’m really not one to gloat (“Sure, Emma”) but, as I emerged through the gorge and popped out on the top of the mountain (where, thank the hiking gods, the terrain was flat), I couldn’t help but feel super proud of myself – at one point I didn’t actually think I was going to successfully finish the hike, that’s how dizzy and defeated I felt (see Stage 4). And, secondly, I’d promised myself at the beginning of this year (my accidental gap year) that, among other things, I would be doing more hikes – routes that I haven’t taken before in particular. Hiking Table Mountain was the ultimate choice and at the top of my list, so I was happy to have stuck to my guns. Anyway, having gotten over the initial shock and awe of the views of the 12 Apostles mountain range and Cape Town sprawled below at Table Mountain’s base, I ran around like a child, snapping photos, making Boomerangs and just having the best time – all thoughts of exhaustion and hunger long forgotten.

Stage 6: “Give me food now before I actually become a gremlin and bite someone’s head off.”

What was I saying? While the view from the top of the mountain is nothing short of spectacular and I was so elated to finally be there, I started to wilt very quickly. Along with forgetting breakfast, I’d also under-packed on the snacks and water, and the dizziness (and general lack-of-food induced grumpiness) soon returned with a vengeance. A bottle of water and one-way cable car ticket (there was no way we were hiking back down the mountain in 30-degree heat) were both purchased in a daze. At that point, everything just got to me (the exhaustion, the excitement, the heat and the hunger), and I just wanted to get home, eat and take a nap.

Stage 7: “WOOOOOHOOOO! Cable car, wooooooooo!!”

Okay so I got a slight second wind of energy on the way down because the cable car ride was (roughly) four-and-a-half minutes of poor joy and exhilaration.

Anyway. In spite of my over dramatic running commentary, I really had the best day ever.

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These beautiful, spindly trees are referred to as umbrella pines, and are found all along the lower slopes of Table Mountain.

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You see that little gap waaaaay up there between the two mountain peaks ? That’s Platteklip Gorge, the slightly shadier point where this hike is headed.
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When you stop for breaks, don’t forget to look up and over your shoulder, to take in the ludicrously beautiful views. That’s the Cape Town harbour straight ahead, and the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak to the right (which, together with Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, makes up Cape Town’s three peaks).
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Just when you think your legs are going to collapse, you’ll hop up some steps (spurred on by the adrenaline-fuelled thought at completing the hike), emerge between the beautiful cliffs…
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…and find yourself on the (heavenly) flat top of Table Mountain, which is an achievement worth celebrating by taking a bunch of photos (and also eating more snacks).
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While hiking up Table Mountain is an achievement in itself, the views of Cape Town from that elevated position are another note-worthy reward for your efforts (that little peak to the left is Lion’s Head, another inner-city favourite for hikers and gym freaks alike).

Not only am I officially Capetonian now (having successfully summited, Instagrammed and blogged about my slog up Table Mountain), but I’m also back home in Cape Town after a lengthy summer holiday spent in Plettenberg Bay. I’ll be here for the time being, working to fund future travel plans, volunteering with the penguins at SANCCOB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), blogging and – of course – being a tourist in my own city. Follow me for posts featuring all things “Cape Town-and-surrounds” (like I said, very adept at pretending I’m on holiday), including plenty hiking, eating, mini-getaways, beach excursions and maybe even some furry feathered penguin friends.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Until next time. xx

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Hello, it’s me, being a professional tourist-in-my-own-city as usual.


 

 

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