In Camps Bay the South Easter wind can sand blast people off the beach and a 5 min drive around the corner to Sea Point you would be hard pressed to believe there was any wind at all.
You can drive past the University of Cape Town situated on the back slopes of Table Mountain in Rondebosch and on approaching the next suburb of Newlands where Kirstenbosch National Botanical gardens are located you sometimes need to apply your windscreen wipers, drive into the heart of Newlands and apply the faster speed to the windscreen wipers and as you exit the suburb and enter the neighbouring suburb of Bishopscourt you can switch off the windscreen wipers and be asking yourself where did that rain materialise from?
I recall phoning a friend to confirm a game of golf, his retort was if I was mad as it was raining hard in Hout Bay and he was surprised when I said it was fantastic sunshine on the City side.
My point being is, if these climatic conditions change so quickly on the ground then what can one experience 1067metres (3500ft) above sea level whilst walking or hiking on Table Mountain?
Table Mountain recently received the accolade of being included as one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature in the world. It’s majestic, spell-bounding appeal and being located in the heart of the City makes for extremely easy access and offers some fantastic hiking and climbing. The perils I would like to express, start with the complacency people tend to have thinking Table Mountain is void of any dangers as it’s in the City. Countless times I can personally recall people looking more prepared for the trip up the mountain in the Cable Car than hiking a mountain, dressed as though they plan to go to the beach afterwards only to find out their intentions were to hike up the mountain!
This is where it all starts to unravel badly, before the amateur hiker has even started out. People with the best intentions often are so ill-prepared not taking Table Mountain as seriously as a mountain hike in a wilderness area. I have personally seen people starting out in T-shirt, shorts, running shoes or less and a 250ml bottle of water. This I’m afraid is a disaster waiting to happen. The arrogance and looks of disgust I get from both tourist and local’s, when I say to them their water will be finished before they reach the start of the trail astounds me.
There are fatalities every year on Table Mountain and many rescues to boot. To highlight two of the main causes of rescue are a lack of water and changes in conditions. Platteklip Gorge is one of the commonly used trails up the mountain however with its East facing angle receiving full morning son in summer months where temperatures can reach over 30deg C and with the heat reflecting off the bare rock, temperatures can soar up to 10 degrees higher whilst in the gorge. With insufficient water being carried and few mountain streams running in the summer this can result in de-hydration and unnecessary critical situations so if you intend using the mountain take a minimum of 2litres of water per person and a good hat and plenty sunscreen. Talking to an experienced veteran of the mountain, Brian Georgeson, a man who regularly leads Hiking publication journalists and personally helps to up-date Mike Lundy’s popular guide to mountain trails in The Cape says,” its annoying to see people not taking necessary precautions, the amount of times I have had to give parched hikers extra water, not only for themselves but they never think of their beloved dogs either”.
The other scenario which can play out and catch a hiker totally off guard even with being thoroughly prepared, is the change in the weather conditions. Cape Town has the cold Benguela current coming directly up from the cold Antarctic and southern Atlantic, together with soaring land and air temperatures in the summer can produce what is referred to as mini-coastal low pressures which on the clearest days can result in a thick blanketing fog which sprawls in and engulfs the mountain. Temperatures can suddenly drop and visibility decreases to virtually zero. So it’s essential to be prepared with warm clothing to counter wind and damp, emergency rations, a mobile phone and always inform somebody responsible on the ground of where you intend to hike and what time you are expected back. It’s important not to deviate off this course and it’s even more important to stay in one position if you are disorientated and have no clue in which direction to move in. If you take the necessary precautions the Mountain Club of South Africa under the auspices of the WSAR (Wilderness Search and Rescue) teams will be in a better position to help you.
Planning for a hike up Table Mountain is not only essential but will help you enjoy this natural wonder better and safely. There are good books and guides to be found in all book shops or even better for your first accent of the mountain, it is a good idea to join a professional guide to lead and educate you.
For further information you can make contact with the Mountain Club of SA Cape Town Section. www.mcsacapetown.co.za