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Cape Town's Table Mountain makes for a great climbing experience

Climbing Table Mountain

By J.F. Klopper

Table Mountain is the most prominent landmark overlooking the South African city of Cape Town and it looms over simply everything.

There are many ways to get to the top ranging from the 'gruelling and expensive' cable car ride to an abundance of walks, scrambles and rock climbs.

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.

The 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.

Most of the good climbing on Table Mountain 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 - available from the Waterfront and some of the guest lodges.
6. Bicycle - the hill up Kloof Nek is very steep!

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.

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.

Camping 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. Accommodation 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 mountaineer off the mountain.

Tourists seem get lost on the mountain with regular monotony and then spend an 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.

So, make sure you have your maps with you at all times and make sure that you can read it. Buying a map in haste and discovering its in Chinese when you really need it for the first time does not help. (Seriously, it happens)

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