After 7 days, the final Saturday of my trip to the Western Cape had arrived. The plan for the day was simple – Cape Town has one of the most famous mountain skylines, with three distinct peaks. So naturally one has to start on the outer ridge of one peak, hike across all three and end on the other side.
When I was in the area back in 2003, I caught the cable car up Table Mountain and hiked across to Maclear’s Beacon. This is, at best, a successful summit with an asterisk next to it, and exactly zero for style points!
The day started with some drama. The accommodation I had booked didn’t provide a gate remote, and only opened the gate at 7. I had communicated with the caretaker that I needed to leave by 6, and he agreed to open the gate early for me. However, he was not available when I got to the gate, and wasn’t answering his phone. After 20 frustrating minutes, he eventually came and opened up – apparently he had been in the shower.
The drama of the start continued when some vague Google Maps instructions resulted me taking a wrong turn and thus taking a scenic tour of somewhere near the Rhodes Memorial. Luckily Arno was also running late, and we arrived at roughly the same time – so no harm done.
We set off from the Rhodes Memorial in the mist, but were soon out in the hot sun.
The plan was to head up Mowbray Ridge, a route notorious for robberies and even occasional murders. We thus made a point of getting through the lower section as quickly as possible.
Once we were above the contour path, we were through the danger zone and could start breathing a bit easier.
The route gets very steep very quickly, and despite my two rest days immediately before this, fatigue was a definite factor.
The route also become rather scrambly fairly quickly. I had expected this. But the heat was resulting in a lot of sweating, which didn’t help.
This route is steep, and definitely not for those who are uncomfortable around big drops. Good grippy shoes are also advisable.
The route briefly relents before the final assault on Minor Peak, the subsidiary summit of Devils Peak.
The contrast between the Drakensberg and Table Mountain is huge – a route like Mowbray Ridge would probably get a single ascent every 5 years in the Drakensberg, yet there were a few other groups heading up it at the same time as us.
Before reaching the summit of Minor Peak, one has to cross the infamous Knife Ridge. It is the highlight of the route – with a large dropoff on either side. Luckily the ridge is wide enough and very stable, so anyone being careful on it should be fine.
We decided to head up Minor Peak – mostly because we were about 20m from the summit, so no reason not to. We had an early lunch break up on top. It was a beautiful day, and the breeze was at least cooling us a bit.
From Minor Peak, you start the final assault on Devils Peak. There is a sketchy section, where we seemed to have taken the wrong line and ended up too high. Another group had made the same mistake. Luckily Arno had a rope and some cams, and rigged a safety system for us to down-climb this section, along with the other group.
Once we were through the hairy descent, the route took an exposed ledge to get into a gully, and from there to the summit was straightforward.
From there we dropped down to the saddle to begin the climb up Ledges – a notoriously exposed and tricky route.
The route starts with a brief climb up some grassy ground, but becomes very cliffy very quickly.
A lot of the route was in the “DFU” zone (don’t stuff up). At one point, I was supposed to go left and went right instead, only to have to backtrack a short awkward move above about a 20m drop. Not ideal!
The route eventually culminated in a short climb. Arno set up the rope for me, but I picked my line badly and ended up getting a bit stuck. Perhaps not being used to the rock and not being in climbing shoes was part of the problem, or more likely the fact that I had done almost no climbing in a year was the issue. Nonetheless, I was very happy to be on a rope, and was very relieved to get up.
We filled up our bottles in the stream above this, before proceeding to MacLear’s Beacon.
After my questionable ascent in 2003, it was nice to pick up a proper ascent in 2020.
We made our way to the Upper Cableway Station for some lunch before starting down a route I had wanted to do for years – India Venster.
Unfortunately some mist had come in, so a lot of the epic views I had wanted were obscured, but such is life. After a week of mostly great weather, I really can’t complain.
The route traverses below the main crags of Table Mountain. There were a number of people climbing on the day.
I stood under the cable car for a few minutes. I was surprised how close it gets to the route, you can hear people talking on it. Naturally they all get excited and wave at the crazy person who decides to walk.
Luckily the mist cleared up on our way down, affording us the usual spectacular views of the city.
We soon reached the notorious cliffy sections. Staples and chains had been installed some time back after a few fatalities. I am not a huge fan of via ferratas in general, but on such a popular route, they make sense.
We soon found ourselves on easier ground, hitting the route just before the saddle between Table Mountain and Lions Head. We had kept the easiest for last.
The mist progressively got worse as we made our way up. I guess if I have to repeat one of them in better weather, Lions Head is by far the easiest and quickest.
The route was surprisingly crowded, but very easy ground.
We went up the staples route. This is probably the more popular line, although the difference between the staples and the ridge is minor in terms of difficulty, so I was happy to go down the less crowded route.
We tagged the summit, and got back down fairly quickly – after all, it isn’t very far.
We got a team selfie at the bottom – 3 mountains in a day is always a solid day out!
We caught an Uber back to Rhodes Memorial, and I proceeded to go and pick up a pizza at Century City to round off a great day of hiking.
My Inov8 Rocklites had been completely trashed by the days of hiking through rough fynbos. The were thus left behind, broken beyond likely use by anyone else. They were a faithful pair of shoes, and will be missed – but I definitely got my value out of them!
The following morning, I got up, managed to get out before 7 – I had confirmed with the caretaker a few times that he would be ready for me – and made it to the airport in good time.
OR Tambo Airport proved rather chaotic, though. With all exits closed, baring one, and that was for entrance only, I ended up stuck in a parking structure trying to find my way out. My mother had come to collect me and had a similarly difficult time getting to me. After more than an hour of walking and waiting, we eventually managed to meet up.
Overall a great trip. I will definitely be back soon – there are far too many mountains in the area that I still need to climb!