Hiking Table Mountain for the first time: My personal experience
**Important Disclaimer: Remember to keep in mind that this blog has EVERYTHING to do with MY personal experience of hiking Table Mountain for the first time and absolutely NOTHING to do with the tall-standing magnificence that is Table Mountain or any other person’s first-time Table Mountain hiking experience. AKA: THIS ONE IS ALL ON ME & ME ALONE! But hey, I own every single second of this experience – the good, the bad, the tired, the thirsty & everything in between – yes, even the complaining (unfortunately).
Oh, hold on! Before I go any further, I would just like to issue an official statement (for the sake of full disclosure of course): The answer to your burning question is a LOUD RESOUNDING NO!! NO, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I made the decision to hike to the top of Table Mountain for the very first time. In fact, I vividly remember thinking ‘Well, it’s just a mountain, how hard could it possibly be?’ What I clearly failed to think about is the fact that it is THE mountain of all mountains. The holy grail of mountains. It is TABLE MOUNTAIN! Yes, I know – what was I thinking? Well, I clearly wasn’t, that much is apparent.
Now, should I have at least researched or made some sort of an attempt or effort to find out more about what the best Table Mountain hiking trail was for a first-time hiker, or invested even the smallest amount of energy into properly preparing myself, my mind, and definitely my body for the hike and what I was about to endure – I mean, I am hiking to the summit of the all-mighty Table Mountain after all – ABSOLUTELY YES!! Did I? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Well, you know what they say, hindsight is 20/20 – and boy oh boy isn’t that the truth! But hey, cut me some slack, it was my first visit to Cape Town – which essentially means I knew nothing. I was completely oblivious. That combined with being utterly dead-set & beyond determined to tick as many Cape Town bucket list experiences off my list (hiking Table Mountain being one of them of course), means I went into it guns blazing and without any knowledge or foresight of what I was about to do – definitely not the ideal way to go about it I know.
Looking back now, knowing what I know, my lack of preparation may in fact have been my eventual downfall. Who knows. However, there is one thing that I am unequivocally certain about – I was extremely, immensely, and profoundly underprepared for everything that was about to come my way. But hey, you live & you learn right? Plus, now I have an epic story to tell. Although, come to think of it, it may be somewhat of a cautionary tale instead – but nonetheless, it’s certainly a memorable one!
Great. Now that we’ve got that all squared away, let’s dive in, or start climbing – Whichever analogy works for you – let’s go with it!
Okay. So, you’ve decided to take on and conquer the tall-standing mountainous giant of the Cape Town skyline by hiking up Table Mountain for the first time – Good on you!
But, as we’ve established above, not unlike me, you’re not entirely sure what to expect. Leaving you feeling somewhat uncertain, and maybe even a bit nervous and intimidated. But also kind of excited, intrigued, and super amped up in a way – am I right? Just a whole bundle of emotions! Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret – a secret known by many, but only shared by a select few – lucky for you, I’m one of them. Are you ready for it? Here it is – That is EXACTLY the way you should feel before hiking Table Mountain for the first time. There it is. I said it. It’s a big deal after all!
BUT, here’s the great news – despite all the ups & downs (literally & figuratively) you may experience when hiking the world-renowned Table Mountain – one of the New7Wonders of Nature – for the very first time – the experience as a whole will be nothing short of EPIC! Like REALLY epic! It’s a ‘high’ you will never want to come down from – trust me! Not to mention the fact that you will feel like a total bad-ass once you’ve done it. I DEFINITELY did. And guess what? I STILL do! Yes, I wear my imaginary ‘I hiked Table Mountain’ badge loudly and proudly everywhere I go. Don’t you dare judge me!
So, just to make sure you’re fully prepared I thought I’d give you a couple of tips from a seasoned professional like myself, okay, who am I kidding; I hiked Table Mountain once, but let’s just say I learnt some REALLY valuable lessons.
Here are a few tips & tricks (some of which I certainly learned the hard way) you need to know before hiking Table Mountain for the first time. If nothing else, I certainly hope you learn from my mistakes!
Happy first-time Table Mountain hiking!
#TAKE ENOUGH WATER!
This might seem obvious, I know. But believe me, once that backpack of yours starts getting a bit too heavy you may just be inclined to leave that extra bottle of water at home to lessen the load. Let me tell you something – DON’T! Yip, I’m not proud to say it but, we ran out of water just as we approached the mid-point mark to the summit. I still remember the moment we walked past a gentleman who was selling water right at the starting point of our hiking endeavour and him asking us if we’re sure we have enough water, ‘YES OF COURSE!’ we replied. But boy, oh boy were we wrong!
Our last bottle of water was suddenly the most cherished possession we’ve ever owned, we were like smeagol hanging onto our precious (quick Harry Potter reference for you there). EVERY tiny sip mattered! As you may imagine, waterfalls, water fountains, and all things water related were suddenly the only thing we could think about. So, YES, take water, take ALL the water!
From the very first second we started our hike up Table Mountain, we were like kids in a candy store, let loose for the first time, running up that mountain like there was a pool of Oreo McFlurry liquid heaven (or whatever your sweet treat fantasy may be) waiting for us at the top. And then we ran out of steam! Absolutely no surprise there! Here is a fact you should never EVER forget when hiking the magnificent Table Mountain – IT IS TABLE MOUNTAIN. It is 1, 086 meters above sea level. Hiking it is going to be HARD – regardless of how fit you think you are – especially if you’re hiking it for the very first time. Yes, we definitely learned that lesson the hard way!
I remember when we passed some lovely encouraging hikers on our way up and the discouraging moment when they told us ‘You guys are doing so well, you’re almost half way there’, SAY WHHHAAAATTTT!!!!! ALMOST HALF WAY?!! I have never wanted to punch someone (figuratively speaking OF COURSE) more in my life, not because they were rude in any way, in fact, they couldn’t have been kinder, but because how dare they crush my false illusion that I was almost at the top, or at least further than HALF WAY – and even if I wasn’t anywhere near the top (which I obviously wasn’t), the mere fact that I believed / convinced myself that I was, was one of the only things that kept me going & motivated to push through and not crumble and give up. Yes, I know exactly how dramatic I sound – but the mind is a powerful thing okay, so don’t judge me too harshly for my slight internal breakdown. You have to understand that at this point my quads were not only ‘on fire’, but shaking like a leaf, sweat was dripping, no flowing, out of every pore of my body like the Victoria Falls, plus, WE HAD NO MORE WATER! Which brings me to my next point…
#Your quads (along with all the muscles in your legs) are going to burn, LIKE A LOT!
**Disclaimer: To reach the summit of Table Mountain, we choose the Platteklip Gorge Hiking Trail. The infamous Platteklip Gorge is easily one of the most well-known and sought-after hiking trails in Cape Town, making it a popular choice for both hiking first timers and avid hiking enthusiasts. However, despite being one of Table Mountain’s less challenging hiking trails, it’s not all happy-hiking-days and easy-going ways as many might think. While it doesn’t require any expert mountaineering skills or challenging rock climbing or scrambling, it does demand A LOT, and we mean A LOT, of upward climbing. The fact that Platteklip Gorge is also one of Table Mountain’s shorter hiking trails means it’s pretty steep too! So, you better be prepared to climb a whole lot of steep steps to reach the top.
With that being said, you better believe that I was ‘on fire’, and not the ‘on fire’ I wanted to be! When we first had the idea to hike Table Mountain I thought to myself ‘YAY, finally putting in the hard graft at the gym and doing all those step-ups in Kayla Itsines’s BBG program was going to pay off (shout-out to all the BBG Girls out there) – This is going to be my time to shine!’ Weeeelll, unfortunately that was not the case! I obviously didn’t do enough, or didn’t use heavy enough dumbbells when doing them, I don’t know. That’s beside the point. The point is my quads were on fire, burning like a hot furnace, and shaking like you couldn’t believe – so much so that I was truly worried that they would give out on me at any second, and I’ll go tumbling down that mountain having to climb it all over again WITH NO WATER! Have I made my point about taking enough water clear enough yet?! I certainly hope so!
So, ladies and gents let me give you another tip – DO YOUR STEP-UPS! Step-up like it’s nobody’s business and when you’re done doing step-ups do some more step-ups! Do whatever you need to in order to ensure your quads are solid & strong because there is a whole lot of steep, never-ending, upward climbing that’s about to come your way (that is if you choose to hike to the top of Table Mountain via the Platteklip Gorge Hiking Trail of course). But, to be honest, regardless of which hiking trail you choose, tons of upward climbing will be required to reach the summit – that’s just the way it is!
But don’t let this scare you off in any way, even with burning quads, aching muscles, and everything that comes along with hiking the all-mighty Table Mountain, you will be pleasantly surprised and incredibly impressed with your body’s ability to push through and keep going, even under the toughest of circumstances. The body’s ability to endure truly is remarkable to say the least! This, paired with your sheer determination, willpower, and never-give-up attitude to conquer Table Mountain and reach the summit will get you to the top! Trust me, if I could do it, you most definitely can too – no doubt about it! Plus, the spectacular panoramic views you’ll get to witness right throughout the hike just makes it that much more incredible.
#Be prepared for anything!
This is Cape Town – which means the weather can turn on a dime, often without a single warning sign in sight. Capetonians lovingly refer to it as ‘lucky-packet weather’ because you never really know what you’re going to get. While a beautiful Cape Town day may be filled with sunshine, blue skies, and a clear view of Table Mountain, it can just as easily throw a strong South Eastern wind, dark clouds, and gloomy drizzle your way. It’s also perfectly normal to experience all four seasons in one day. That’s just part of the Cape Town weather charm. Now, if only I knew this before embarking on my first Table Mountain hiking adventure!
What started out as a beautiful, blue-skied, warm, and sunny day, perfect for hiking (well, so we thought), ended up turning into a freezing cold, incredibly windy, overcast mess in the matter of minutes – As someone from Johannesburg (at the time) who was visiting Cape Town for the very first time, it was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I now know better of course (as I live in Cape Town), but wow, at the time I remember being completely stunned & shocked at how quickly the weather just flipped – like a light switch!
As you can probably guess, we were completely unprepared for Cape Town’s wildly unpredictable weather ways. With not a single item of warm clothing or jacket packed, we had to endure the rest of the hike best we could, but once we reached the summit I rushed off to the gift shop, ultimately resulting in me having to buy a R900 hoody to avoid freezing to death. So, while I now own a really cool, kick-ass (and incredibly expensive) Table Mountain hoody, that’s beside the point!
When you decide to hike Table Mountain, it is essential that you are prepared for absolutely anything and everything. Regardless if it’s a cool or ridiculously hot day in Cape Town when embarking on your Table Mountain hike, make sure you pack something warm, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses (if needed) and anything else you can think of – this way you will be fully prepared for whatever comes your way! Trust me on this one, you definitely don’t want to be caught off-guard!
#Don’t be a chicken like me! AKA: if you’re up for it & still have some fuel left in your energy tank hike down!
Once we made it to the top of the glorious Table Mountain and had our triumphant moment of ‘YAY, WE ACTUALLY MADE IT!’ – Yes, this is DEFINITELY your time to celebrate and do a little happy dance – I mean you did just hike your way to the top of TABLE MOUNTAIN – and that deserves to be celebrated – IT’S A MUST! We chickened-out of hiking down and took the Aerial Cableway cable car down instead. I know, I know, looking back now, I definitely wish we hiked down instead and continued to enjoy the magnificent views as well as completed the FULL Table Mountain hiking adventure & experience.
However, in our defense it was incredibly overcast once we reached the summit which resulted in everything around us being wet and us slipping and sliding all over the place. Oh, and because my quads were in a state of constant spasm, I didn’t think hiking down was the best idea. Plus, I kinda needed my legs for walking and stuff the next day. But next time we’re definitely doing the down hike, I hear it’s pretty cool too!
So, while taking the cable car down is an amazing experience, if you’re up for it & still have some fuel left in your energy tank go ahead and hike down instead, you never know what hidden gems and Table Mountain secret spots you might discover – it is all about the adventure after all!
There is absolutely no denying that hiking to the top of the tall-standing mountainous giant & one of the New7Wonders of Nature, Table Mountain, is an extraordinary, exhilarating, and once-in-a-lifetime experience that should undoubtedly be on absolutely everyone’s Cape Town bucket list. There are few things that compare or even come close to standing on the summit of this magnificent natural wonder as you look out over the vast Atlantic Ocean, Lions Head, Signal Hill, Camps Bay, the glorious Mother City, and beyond – there truly is nothing quite like it! Not to mention the cool bragging rights you’ve earned having hiked Table Mountain! So, I guess, here’s the last tip I’ll give – if you haven’t hiked up Table Mountain yet – GO DO IT!