OverviewTable Mountain is the central and most prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town.
There are many ways to get to the top ranging from the gruelling cable car ride to an abundance of walks, scrambles and rock climbs. This entry focuses on the latter.
Table Mountain offers superb climbing on compact Table Mountain sandstone and the views from the climbing routes are breathtaking. Contrary to what one would expect from sandstone the quartzitic rock is in fact very hard and offers good friction.
On Table Mountain there are routes to satisfy climbers of all skill levels, and many of the classics are graded between (French) 5a and 6b. Most routes are between 3 and 5 pitches long and the hardest route right now is Clinton Martinengo's creation "Mary Poppins and Her Great Umbrella" at around 8b / 32.
The climbing on Table Mountain is exclusively trad and bolting is prohibited.
For those who prefer to clip bolts, or who are scared of heights, there are plenty of sport climbing and bouldering opportunities elsewhere in Cape Town and the surrounding regions.
HistoryThe first recorded ascent of Table Mountain was by the Portugese explorer Admiral Antonio de Saldanha who put into Table Bay with his fleet in 1503 and then climbed to the top of Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge in an attempt to figure out where he was.
The indigenous Khoi-San population almost certainly beat him to the summit by a couple of centuries though!
Rock climbing on Table Mountain only began in the late 19th century with one George F. Travers-Jackson being particularly active and opening many routes. Since then development has continued at a steady pace with Mike Mamacos opening many of the current day classics in the 50's and 60's.
There has been something of a renaissance in recent years, and new-route activity has been filling in some superb new hard lines between the existing routes. You'd better be comfortable trad-climbing around 6c+ to 7b to take advantage of these though.
Getting ThereMost of the good climbing on TM is concentrated in the following 3 areas:
1. Africa Ledge
2. Fountain Ledge
3. Lower Buttresses
The first two are high on the mountain in the immediate vicinity of the upper cable station and overlook downtown Cape Town and Camps Bay respectively. The Lower Buttresses are (clearly!) lower down and are crossed on the way up to Africa Ledge.
For all three of these the best starting point is to get to the lower cable station on Tafelberg Road. The nearest road junction is Kloof Nek, which can be reached by:
1. Car - clearly the best way if one is available. Park on Tafelberg Road at the cable station.
2. Public transport - is not very reliable in Cape Town and doesn't really get you close to the mountain in any case. Some public buses have been known to heave their way over Kloof Nek at times (?).
3. Meter taxi - dingy and not recommended.
4. Minibus taxi - for the adventurous! This is an experience in itself and the adrenalin rush will probably rival anything you'll get climbing.
5. Shuttle bus or Tuk-tuk - available from the Waterfront and some of the guest lodges.
6. Bicycle - the hill up Kloof Nek is very steep!
7. Foot - see point 6. Extra points are scored to the aspirant hardman / hardwoman for this method of approach, though.
Once at the lower cable station you have a choice between walking up to the crags or joining the lard-ass tourists and taking the cable car to the top of the mountain.
The best route for walking up to Africa and Fountain ledges is called "India-Fenster". The path starts immediately behind the lower cable station (on the right hand side) and then follows a fairly direct line up underneath the cable car. It involves a few sections of easy scrambling and can be done comfortably in an hour. The lower buttresses are accessed by the same path, but the walk is much shorter.
For those taking the soft option of approaching the climbing by cable car, the areas of Fountain and Africa ledges are reached by walking down the back of the mountain from the upper cable station. The path down starts in a southerly direction from where the Platteklip gorge path tops out. Alternatively, for those who know where to find them, there are several points to absail down from, but walking down takes roughly the same amount of time in any case.
Note that the cable car also costs money, but the vagaries of the South African currency make it difficult to give a precise figure.
There are literally hundreds of other routes on the mountain (e.g. on the Apostles, Nursery Buttress) but for various reasons these are less popular than those in the area's mentioned above. Access to these other routes is specific to the area.
Routes OverviewThis is a list of some of the routes on Table Mountain. All are multipitch trad climbs on rock.
Classics: (Route name, SA grade / French grade.)
1. Arrow Final, 11 / 4-.
2. Africa Crag, 14 / 4+
3. Jacob's Ladder, 16 / 5b.
4. Bombay Duck, 17 / 5c.
5. Escalator, 17 / 5c.
6. Atlantic Crag, 18 / 6a.
7. Last Laugh, 19 / 6a.
8. Magnetic Wall, 19 / 6a.
9. Touch and Go, 20 / 6a+.
10. Manouvers by Moonlight, 20 / 6a+.
11. Triple Indirect, 21 / 6b.
11. Roulette, 21 / 6b.
12. Oddshouter's Outing, 22 / 6b+.
For the hard men (and women!):
1. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, 29 / 7c+.
2. Jeopardy, 29 / 7c+.
3. Double Jeopardy, 30 / 8a.
4. Mary Poppins and Her Great Umbrella, 32 / 8b.
1. Africa Lunch, 23 / 6c.
2. REM, 23 / 6c.
3. Quake, 23 / 6c.
4. Africa Arete, 25 / 7a.
5. No Longer at Ease, 25 / 7a.
6. Synapase, 27 / 7b.
For the "adventure" tourist:
1. Abseil Africa.
For a description of South African grades see SACIN.
Guide Books1. "The Ledge - Table Mountain",by Leonhard Rust, Blue Mountain Publishers, 2001, ISBN: 0-620-28352-1.
- the definitive guide to rock climbing on Table Mountain, including newest routes.
2. "Cape Rock", by Julian Fisher, Nomad Mountain Publications, 3rd edition, 1999.
- general guide covering sport and trad climbing in the whole of the Western Cape, but including a good section on the best lines on Table Mountain.
3. "Table Mountain Classics", by Tony Lourens, Blue Mountain Publishers.
- guide to the classic walks, scrambles and easy rock climbs.
MapsThe following maps covering the Table Mountain area are available:
1. "Approved Paths on Table Mountain", 1 : 12500, published by The Mountain Club of South Africa, Cape Town Section, 1st edition, December 1993.
- Available from: MSCA, most hiking stores and some book stores. There may be later editions available too.
2. "Table Mountain - The Map" by Peter Slingsby. 1 : 20000. Published by Baardskeerder cc., PO Box 292, Muizenberg, 7950. 5th edition, September 2002.
- Available from most book stores. This map is number one in a series of six maps covering the whole Cape Peninsula.
3. The following maps are available from the Chief Directorate of Surveys and Mapping, Rhodes Avenue, Mowbray, 7700, South Africa; (phone) +27 21 685 4070.
Red TapeAlthough Table Mountain is within the Cape Peninsula National Park there are no permit requirements right now. These would be difficult ever to implement in any case, since the mountain forms such an integral part of the city. A couple of easy to follow rules do however apply, and these mostly boil down to respecting the environment and not trashing it for the rest of us (e.g. no picking of flowers, no littering, etc).
Table Mountain is a trad climbing venue and bolting is expressly prohibited.
Several routes cross through perennial bird nesting sites (a notable example being the popular "Bombay Duck" on the lower buttresses) and climbers are requested to stay off these routes while birds are in residence. Redwing starlings are renowned for their bad-tempered attitude towards any climbers coming near their nest, and you probably don?t want to mess with them anyway.
When To ClimbSpring and autumn are generally better than mid-summer and mid-winter, but it is possible to climb all year round depending on the weather of the day.
Summer is characterised by mainly by hot weather, which necessitates finding the shady side of the mountain to climb on (Fountain Ledge in the mornings; Africa Ledge and lower buttresses in the afternoon).
Summer in Cape Town is also renowned for frequent days of howling south-east trade winds, which cause the well known "table cloth" of clouds to roar over the mountain. Unless you like climbing in zero-visibility and 30knots of breeze, it?s better to stay off Table Mountain on these days. For the determined trad climber the sandstone cliffs on Lion?s Head are a good alternative on windy days, since they are almost completely in the wind-shadow of Table Mountain. Otherwise, it?s probably better to go sport climbing elsewhere on the peninsula.
Webcam #1 - view of table mountain from across the bay.
Webcam #2 - view of table mountain from the city.
iafrica.com Cape Town Metrocast
South African Weather service homepage
Cape Town Weather Service - Telephonic bulletin: +27 82 231 1640
Real Time Weather Watch - Weather right now.
CampingCamping is not allowed on the mountain. There is no real reason to camp in any case, since access to the climbing is easy and none of the routes are that long. Accomodation in the city is plentiful in a selection of backpacker lodges, guest houses and B&B's. There are many other distractions in Cape Town to tempt even the most hard-core moutaineer off the mountain.
See SafariNow.com to find accomodation in Cape Town, or elsewhere in South Africa.
Tourists seem get lost on the mountain with regular monotony and then spend unplanned night out, only to realize that the temperature can drop close to freezing up there at any time of the year. Several people have died of exposure over the years.
SA Climbing News and InformationNews and information about South African Climbing:
- Parks Board: Cape Peninsula National Park
- Cape Peninsula National Park
- The Mountain Club of South Africa
- SA Climbing Info Network
Great site for an overview of South African climbing, news, routes, etc.
- SA gradings and conventions
Great site for finding accomodation in Cape Town, or anywhere in Southern Africa for that matter.
- Directorate of Surveys and Mapping
Government office which publishes and sells 1:50000 topograph maps and many other mapping products relevant to mountaineering in South Africa.
- Gordo's Cape Town photo and weather home page
A very comprehensive site with more than 2000 photos showing Table Mountain as well as the Cape Peninsula and Western Cape in every possible permutation and combinating of viewing angle, time of day, season, etc. Well worth visiting!
- Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company Ltd.
Runs the cable car up to the top of the mountain.
- Cape Town
Cape Town Tourism website.
- Bouldering in South Africa
- Cape Runners Against Gravity
Group of Table Mountain trail runners.
South African climbing e-zine.
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