Table Mountain trails less travelled

Posted on 29 June 2020

When hiking on Table Mountain most of us stick to favourite, well-trodden paths, little realizing the beauty and adventure just around the corner. These four off-the-beaten routes will expand your horizons – literally.

Sick of Skeleton Gorge? Try CONSTANTIA CORNER
Let’s be honest, hike-aholics: there are only so many times you can slog up Skeleton from Kirstenbosch before it feels like a commute. Constantia Corner is an equally quick and easy hike, with some fun scrambles and a jungle gym of boulders at the top. It also offers fabulous views over the Peninsula, much less foot traffic and is an ideal route for cold or windy days, as it’s well-protected from all but the worst southeasters.

THE ROUTE:
Start from the parking lot at Constantia Nek, walk up the short stretch of road to reach the Bridle Path (dirt road), but instead of following it to the right, go straight up the steps that lead to Eagle’s Nest. From there, follow the path slightly right through the trees and up the ridge line of Constantia Corner.

It’s a fairly steep climb, with a couple of short scrambles, but a talented dog can manage it. At the top, the path takes you through gently undulating fynbos and beautifully sculpted sandstone boulders, one of which looks exactly like a camel. (Yes, it’s called Camel Rock. And yes, it’s #instaworthy). The path pops out rather suddenly beside the De Villiers reservoir and back onto the bridle path. From here, you can either carry on exploring the mountaintop (what you should do), or stroll straight back down the road.

DISTANCE 6km

DURATION 3 hours return

EFFORT Easy, with a few non-technical scrambles

SKILL LEVEL Beginner hikers with some knowledge of Table Mountain

PARKING Constantia Nek

RETURN ROUTE The bridle path

Done Kasteelpoort too often? Change to WOODY BUTTRESS
Instead of a plod up the inside of a ravine, Woody Buttress is a delightful hop, skip and jump up the spine of one of the Twelve Apostles.

THE ROUTE
From the parking spot on Theresa Avenue, Camps Bay, follow the gravel road up and around to the right, until you reach a small stone water tank. Just behind it, turn left onto a steep, narrow path. Follow this up to the first band of rock and skirt around it to the left.

Start scrambling up the ridge, taking care to follow the cairns as they lead back and forth across the buttress along the line of least resistance. The route will eventually take you left around a corner to some bright orange and black-streaked rock walls. Locate a short chimney pitch over a step in the ledge, which is the most technical part of the route, and ascend it carefully.

Continue following the path and cairns along the crest of the buttress. At the top, the path joins up with the main Twelve Apostles path. Turn right along it and then right again shortly afterwards to descend the steep and shady Woody Ravine.

DISTANCE 7km

DURATION 3 hours return

EFFORT Easy, with lots of moderate scrambles and one short chimney pitch

SKILL LEVEL Reasonably experienced hikers with decent route-finding and scrambling skills

PARKING Theresa Avenue, Camps Bay

RETURN ROUTE Woody Ravine

Newlands Ravine too tame? Step up to KNIFE EDGE
Knife Edge is truly one of the most breathtaking spots on the mountain. It is unrelentingly steep on the way up, and if you don’t like heights, the sheer drops will make you very uncomfortable. Which, for some, is part of what makes it so much fun!

THE ROUTE
From Rhodes Memorial car park, take the path leading to the upper gravel road and follow it to King’s Blockhouse. Behind the blockhouse, a path leads up to the Fire Lookout. From here, carry on up Mowbray Ridge, keeping to the trail on the left. This will bring you to Knife Edge. Make your way carefully over the spectacular ridge across to Minor Peak.

From Minor Peak, you can continue across and up Devil’s Peak, but it’s a vague and sometimes tricky path. Otherwise, locate the very overgrown trail behind Minor Peak that zigzags down to the Upper Traverse through dense protea forest. Turn right to follow the Upper Traverse back to Mowbray Ridge and retrace your steps from there.
For a slightly longer and more circular hike, turn left on the Upper Traverse and find the path that leads down again to the Middle Traverse. Turning right here will take you past the Woodstock Cave and back to the King’s Blockhouse.

DISTANCE 8km

DURATION 4–5 hours return

EFFORT Fairly strenuous with a few easy scrambles

SKILL LEVEL You need to be reasonably fit, with a good head for heights

PARKING Rhodes Memorial

RETURN ROUTE Either via the Upper Traverse or the Middle Traverse and Woodstock Cave

NOTE Due to the extreme exposure on Knife Edge, avoid hiking on a windy day

Over India Venster? Now try RIGHT FACE–ARROW FACE TRAVERSE
It’s sad that the slog up Platteklip Gorge is the most walked route on Table Mountain because, just to the right of it, is a glorious trail that takes you across the whole right face of the mountain. Like India Venster, Right Face–Arrow Face offers thrilling scrambles and glorious views, but it’s wilder and less frequented, and includes the bucket-list bonus of the Amphitheatre traverse and tunnels.

THE ROUTE
Start up the Platteklip path, but turn right onto the upper contour path and follow it for about 10 minutes. Just before a metal signpost, find the small path heading up. Follow it around the left of Union Cave, then keep right towards Yellowstone Gully and on up Right Face Buttress. (The path also splits left to Union Ravine after the cave, so keep right.) Scramble up Right Face Buttress, and when you reach the cliffs of the upper rock band, turn right around the corner to find the traverse. Be cautious on the narrow ledge and climb carefully up the rock step to reach the tunnels, two of which have tight exits – remove backpacks to squeeze through. The traverse joins up with the top of India Venster to reach the upper cable-car station.

DISTANCE 8km

DURATION 4–5 hours (up only)

EFFORT Strenuous, and one very unprotected step

SKILL LEVEL Experienced hikers

PARKING Tafelberg Road

RETURN ROUTE The cable car

NOTE Very large people may have trouble fitting through the tunnel exits

For the first-timers

Never climbed Table Mountain before? Then try these first:
1. & 2. Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge
Both routes start from Kirstenbosch and are steep but shady. Most people go up Skeleton and down Nursery, but the reverse takes strain off your knees. At the top, you can go round the back of Nursery Buttress past the dams, or follow the Smuts Trail around the front.

3. Kasteelpoort
Branching off the Pipe Track above Camps Bay, Kasteelpoort is the most popular route on the Apostles side. At the top, turn left to amble through the beautiful Valley of the Red Gods and reach the start of Diagonal (signposted). A fun variation is to leave a car in Kirstenbosch, then walk across the back table past the dams and down Nursery or Skeleton.

4. Newlands Ravine
This is a good hike for a hot day as it’s in deep shade all the way up. From the Newlands Forest parking, walk up to the Contour Path, turn right and stroll along the boardwalks until you reach the signpost for Newlands Ravine. The route tops out on the saddle between Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain, so you can carry on to the summit of Devil’s Peak. If you leave a car on Tafelberg Road, you can descend via the Saddle Path on the city side.

5. India Venster
Starting at the lower cable-car station, India Venster takes you up dramatic scrambles and ladders while the poor mugs packed into the cable car gape down at you. But don’t gloat too much, as you’ll probably want to catch a ride back with them. (If you do walk down, it’s safer to descend via Platteklip Gorge.)

Images and words: Allison Westwood






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