25 Sep 2017

Hiking up Table Mountain - without a guide

From the summit, the active Cableway is visible at the far left.

Table Mountain is one of the must-go places for any trip to Cape Town. Towering over the city and visible from almost anywhere in Cape Town, it has long been an inviting lookout point. When my Great Grandparents visited in 1959, they took the old cableway up to the summit. Today there’s a much newer cableway actively running when weather permits, and that’s how most folks get up to the top to snap photos.

We decided it sounded like much more fun to hike up the mountain, feel some accomplishment, and then take the cableway back down toward the city. After some research, I settled on a ~4 hour hike beginning in Camps Bay, coming up the ridge along the back of Table Mountain, and arriving at the cableway summit from the southeast.

We had an absolutely amazing time, with interesting foliage and amazing views throughout, including sides of the mountain hidden from view at the cableway summit.

Departure Timing

This route begins on what is the shady side of the mountain during morning hours, but we still opted to start right at sunrise so we’d do all of our primary climbing before reaching direct sunlight. We had the trail completely to ourselves from trailhead to summit, which was pretty amazing. Along the way we took plenty of water and photo breaks, so an experienced hiker moving purposefully could easily do the full hike in 3 hours.

It’s also important to check out the weather forecast in detail before leaving. It’s a strenuous but engaging hike up to the summit–we would not have been happy if the wind picked up (shutting down the cableway) and we had to make the hike back down as well. YR’s hour-by-hour Table Mountain forecast was the best I found, and to have the best view at the top try to pick a day when the wind is not coming from the southeast. The wind from the southeast brings the tablecloth of clouds that blanketed the mountain for about half our stay here.

Starting Point

The trailhead is at the southeast edge of Camps Bay just off Theresa Avenue, at the Theresa Ave Jeep Trail. -33.963075, 18.384278

After taking the initial trail for 15-20 minutes, you walk briefly on the Pipe Track trail, and then turn onto the Kasteelsport trail for the steep climb up the ravine. Once on Kasteelsport, it’s more like rocky stairs than a trail, and only fit hikers comfortable with a bit of scrambling should attempt the trek.

The Old Cableway

When my Great Grandparents went up Table Mountain in 1959, it was via a now-dismantled cableway. The ruins of the upper platform of that system are still notable, and are just off the west side of the main trail after turning right at the top of Kasteelsport. I wonder how many fewer houses they looked out upon from this spot nearly 60 years ago.

The trail to the summit

After reaching the top of Kasteelsport turn right, and then turn left. This avoids the most trying part of the more direct trail, while taking you closer to the beautiful reservoirs atop the mountain. There are useful maps and trail markers on small pillars at every trail intersection, so it’s difficult to get too lost. There are also painted yellow footsteps at a number of false trails showing the correct way to keep moving.

From the trail, a view of the two reservoirs atop Table Mountain, which aren't visible from the main summit.

At the top

We knew we’d reached the top by how crowded the rocks suddenly became. There are more (and more flat) trails around the top to different photo opportunities, as well as a café with free wifi and a cafeteria-style restaurant. The wifi at the café atop the cableway itself was the fastest we experienced in all of Cape Town, and they had some lovely internal windows to see the workings of the cableway through.

We started our hike at 6:51am, made it to the top at about 10:30am, and were down the mountain via the cableway by 11:15am, where we caught the free shuttle down to the public bus back to our Airbnb. Definitely our best morning in Cape Town, and enough activity to give us an excuse to start happy hour early.