Cape Trip day 4: Tafelberg (Cederberg)

Sunday had been the reserve day for Sneeuberg, but with the summit completed on Saturday, my first bonus peak of the trip would be Tafelberg.

At 1969m, it is generally listed as the second highest summit of the Cederberg – a statistic that my data is in consensus with. And with approximately 950m topographic prominence, it wasn’t that far off making the list of peaks for my 1km prominence either.

We started a bit later than planned – we had to pack up our camp and complete the drive across as well, which took longer than anticipated. We were walking just after 7AM.

With a number of cars parked at the starting point, we knew we wouldn’t have the mountain to ourselves. The hike starts by following an old jeep track, before heading up the Welbedacht River. The initial ascent is fairly steep, but on a good trail, it is easy to keep a fairly good pace going.

Rain had been forecast for Sunday morning, and there was some cloud around, but it was mostly on the western ridge, with the eastern ridge (where Tafelberg is found) being clear.

The route up the Welbedacht River includes various interesting rock formations. The rock is generally red sandstone, which looks great in early morning light.

We made good progress through this spectacular ground. This is very different from what I’m used to in the mountains, but what the Cederberg is most famous for – fascinating rock formations.

As we got higher up, the clouds began to clear and the morning became a bit hotter. We expected to find water fairly high up on the route, so we weren’t too worried about keeping our bottles full. As it turned out, there wasn’t much water above Welbedacht Cave.

The route description we had read suggested that we should look out for a cairn marking a turnoff to the right – which would take us past Welbedacht Cave, and would cut a bit of distance off the route. We stopped for a break at the junction, before making our way to the cave.

The cave itself looked fairly decent. I’m not sure if sleeping in it is allowed, but it is a great location.

We briefly lost the trail above the cave, but were back on it just before it joined the old Jeep Track.

The route follows the Jeep Track for about 300m before a trail to the left continues up the slope. It was getting warm, so we were happy to find the trail in the shade of Consolation Peak. Consolation Peak is a subsidiary summit of Tafelberg.

Sneeuberg sticking its head up above the cloud.

We soon found ourselves on a surprisingly flat plateau with Tafelberg towering above us. The summit of the mountain is approximately 700m across and is surrounded by a cliff that varies between 100m and 200m in height. It always looks far smaller on photos, and is surprisingly difficult to fit into a single photo from below. The morning sun also happened to be on the wrong side of the mountain to get decent photos of it.

The route soon took us up the rocky field between Tafelberg and the Spout. Both are home to numerous climbing routes – being a relatively easy spot to access with good quality rock. According to the website, The Crag, there 63 trad routes on The Spout and 197 on Tafelberg itself. The area is strictly trad only, so there are no bolts. All climbing routes to the summit of Tafelberg are multi-pitch.

There was a trail through the boulder field, with the odd rocky section requiring some easy rock-hopping. It was steep, but not particularly difficult ground.

At the base of the main cliffs, there are a number of annex caves. The main cave is called Spout Cave, and is found in The Spout itself, at the saddle between the peaks. The cave itself is very large, with a substantial wall to keep the wind out. The annex caves look really good as well. (to clarify – the photos that follow are of the annex caves, not Spout Cave – for photos of Spout Cave, see photos from the way down).

The Spout, with Spout Cave clearly visible

We continued across the boulder-strewn saddle between Tafelberg and The Spout. There were cairns, although there were clearly multiple lines that people use through this section – with at least three different cairned lines.

The route known as the descent gully (seeing as it is used by climbers as the easy way down the mountain) is found on the east side of the mountain, so you have to walk a fair way around. There is a rock formation called The Pillar Box just below the gully.

You have to ascend a mostly-stable boulder field on this section. This is one of my favourite types of terrain – especially when it is actually stable like this. It makes for quick ascents, but does require a bit of planning and care to ensure you end up where you are trying to go.

Being between two large cliffs is spectacular. This gully is exactly the type of position I enjoy most in the mountains.

Soon the route hits a chockstone – there is a tunnel on the right that you have to crawl through.

This leads to a scramble and the notorious 2m jump. I’ve heard this called “The Leap of Faith” or the “Deer Leap”. Since this route is mostly used by climbers, it is probably more commonly known as “oh, that. Don’t worry, its nothing”.

From below it looked fine, but upon reaching the jump itself – you find yourself on a ledge just wide enough to fit one foot parallel to the cliff. To jump across would be fairly easy, as you are jumping to a large ledge, but my first thought was “I will have to jump back later”. Jumping to a large ledge from a small ledge is intimidating, but jumping from a large ledge to a small one will be much harder. It is too wide to simply step across and does require an actual jump.

I had not researched the route in detail beforehand – there isn’t much information on this route online, so I didn’t know this was coming. Rudi and Flip had told me about it the day before, but I wasn’t expecting anything too hard, seeing as I assume anything significant would have been mentioned in the writeups. If I had known it was coming, I would have prepared my mind for it and likely would have been fine. We also could have brought two micronuts and used the gear I had brought up to have a bit of safety gear – but such is life.

It was day 4 of my trip, I had 8 days to go – and a minor injury could mean the end of the trip for me. I wasn’t up for taking chances. We stayed at this spot for a good half an hour deciding, but none of us were willing to risk it without a rope. This spot is 30m vertically below the summit.

The chasm to be jumped over

No doubt some will read this as “Ghaznavid chickens out on yet another peak” – and seeing as I have turned back just below the summit of both Molar and Outer Mnweni Needle this year, it would be an understandable reaction. But at the end of the day, I would rather turn back in questionable situations and miss some summits along the way than push too hard and end up with a permanent injury, or worse. It is easy to judge the actions of others while reading their accounts, but at the end of the day, I would have to deal with the consequences if it didn’t go well and I do stand by my decision.

Flip scrambling back down from the jump

I knew I would regret not doing the jump, so I filmed a 1m30 video at the jump explaining why I didn’t do it. Its a video I have rewatched about 30 times already. I have made similar videos in similar situations – the first of which being when I turned back 40m below the summit of Pieter Both Mountain in Mauritius. Naturally I will be back to climb Tafelberg some time – hopefully along with the Wolfberg Cracks and Wolfberg Arch. The approach hike is worthwhile, so I don’t need an excuse to go back!

The jump as seen from below

We began backtracking down the gully. I had to appreciate the location I was in – I could very easily just sit in that gully on Tafelberg and stare at the view.

The Pillarbox

We took an easier line back around the saddle, with a stop at Spout Cave on the way.

Spout Cave

We bumped into a large group on the way down. One of the members was Nick, who I had hiked with in the Hex Mountains on my previous Cape trip.

The hike down went well, with no major issues.

On reaching the car, we prepared to go our separate ways. Rudi and Flip would be heading home, while I would be heading to Tulbagh for my next hike.

The drive back to the N7 was spectacular once again, with the views from Uitkyk Pass being really something.

To be honest – the hikes up Tafelberg and Sneeuberg are not in the same league as each other. Sneeuberg was a decent hike, and is naturally well ahead of any of the hiking routes in places like Gauteng; but Tafelberg was far more dramatic and the route itself was considerably more interesting. The challenges of Tafelberg were enjoyable (well, clearly aside from the jump) – and were more sustained than those of Sneeuberg. Tafelberg is one of the best Cape hikes I’ve done. I wouldn’t suggest traveling from Gauteng to the Cape just to do Sneeuberg, but Tafelberg would definitely justify the trip.

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