- Table Mountain Day Walk -

Platteklip Gorge to Kasteelspoort

via Echo Valley

27th December 2011


  Turning off at Kasteelspoort, on the Pipe Track.


Cape Town City Bowl and Table Bay

In the four long years since the last visit to my beloved homeland and country of my birth, South Africa, I had dreamed of renewed walks up Table Mountain. Having clocked up a 3-day Boland Trail hike, I was well in the mood for an excursion up Cape Town's lofty fortress. A date set for just after Christmas, it presented an opportunity of working off the excesses of the festive period. I had long since done Echo Valley, which is just one route hikers use to cross from the flat plateau visible from the Cape Town city bowl, to the central areas of the mountain. The idea of climbing from the front via Platteklip Gorge ("Flat Stone Gorge") and descending via Kasteelspoort on the Atlantic Ocean side of the mountain seemed an attractive option, weather permitting. The summer months in Cape Town, though not the rain-bearing season, poses particular threats, particularly when the south-easterly wind blows, resulting in very strong winds at the summit. The flat top of the mountain is often covered by orographic clouds, formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain's slopes into colder air, where the moisture condenses to form the so-called "table cloth" of cloud. Legend attributes this phenomenon to a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. When the table cloth is seen, it symbolizes the contest.

Most people choose the lazy way of exploring the mountain, by taking the cable car from the lower cable station on Tafelberg Road near Kloof Nek. It lies at an altitude of 302 metres. The upper cable station lies on the westernmost end of the Table Mountain plateau, at an altitude of 1067 metres. The upper cable station offers views over Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north, and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south. Realising that we ran the risk of running into hordes of tourists in an attempt to find parking at the base of the Platteklip Gorge path along Tafelberg Road, I proposed setting out from Kloof Nek Road car park (too far from the lower cable station for your average tourist), the advantage being that the final stretch along the pipe track would see us complete the walk on relatively flat terrain, at the end of a long day's walk.


Fynbos in abundance, on the lower slopes of Table Mountain below Tafelberg Road


Pin cushion flower


View of Lions Head along the old dirt road below Tafelberg Road


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The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately 3 kilometres from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and by Lion's Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town. This broad sweep of mountainous heights, together with Signal Hill, forms the natural amphitheatre of the City Bowl and Table Bay harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is marked by Maclear's Beacon, a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for  trigonometrical survey. It is 1,086 metres above sea level, about 19 metres higher than the cable station at the western end of the plateau. The cliffs of the main plateau are split by Platteklip Gorge ("Flat Stone Gorge"), which provides an easy and direct ascent to the summit and was the route taken by António de Saldanha on the first recorded ascent of the mountain in 1503. The flat top of the mountain is often covered by orographic clouds, formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain's slopes into colder air, where the moisture condenses to form the so-called "table cloth" of cloud. Legend attributes this phenomenon to a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks.[4] When the table cloth is seen, it symbolizes the contest. Table Mountain is at the northern end of a sandstone mountain range that forms the spine of the Cape Peninsula. To the south of the main plateau is a lower part of the range called the Back Table. On the Atlantic coast of the peninsula, the range is known as the Twelve Apostles. The range continues southwards to Cape Point.

The Table Mountain National Park, previously known as the Cape Peninsula National Park, was proclaimed on May 29, 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation. The park is managed by South African National Parks. The park runs approximately north-south along the range of mountains that make up the mountainous spine of the Cape Peninsula, from Signal Hill in the north, through Lion's Head, Table Mountain, Constantiaberg, Silvermine, the mountains of the southern Peninsula, terminating at Cape Point.

These panoramic photos by wikipedia clearly show the extent of the route we were to undertake. The first photograph above depicts the level plateau at the cable station end, Lions Head, the Cape Town City Bowl and Devils Peak to the right. The second, taken from Devils Peak, shows the Devil's Peak (shrouded in cloud), the Table Mountain plateau with Twelve Apostles over to the right, partially shrouded in cloud. Tafelberg Road can clearly be seen as it runs down to Kloof Nek in the centre of the photograph.


The GPS track mapping the entire route is shown here, courtesy of Ralph Pina.


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View of the City Bowl & Table Bay from Platteklip Gorge, just before ascending into the clouds.

An old road dirt, in all likelihood the original road prior to the construction of Tafelberg Road, leads off from Kloof Nek car park, emerging at Tafelberg Road near the Platteklip Gorge hiking path, not far from the lower cable station. Two paths provide a route up, before they merge higher up the face of the mountain. It was surprising to find the path quite busy, with a significant stream of people heading in both directions. Foreign accents, notably Dutch, French and German, hinted at the presence of tourists.  Encouraging too was the number of local folk from different ethic groups willing to take up the challenge, a sure sign that the hiking demographic has changed over the years. Somewhat annoying was the geek who figured he had to share his great need for a rap soundtrack as an accompaniment to his hiking experience, courtesy of his mobile phone.

View of Table Bay towards Milnerton, from Platteklip Gorge.


On Table Mountain's plateau, in the mist - the junction at Echo Valley; The ascent into the clouds on Platteklip Gorge.


On Cape Town's plateau - footpaths designed to protect the environment; Descending the steel ladders towards Echo Valley.


An All Black does the hakka on Table Mountain!

Impersonating the rugby World Champions - doing the hakka!

We ascended into the cloud base, which showed no signs of clearing, some distance below the summit. Ralph is obviously the fitter of the two of us. Despite five weeks of hotel accommodation in Chennai whilst succumbing to the dreaded Delhi Belly in the process began to take its toll in my case, I reached the summit in a shorter time than most. After a momentary respite, we continued on towards the edge of Echo Valley, which involves descending a few ladders en route, until one reaches a crossroads, with optional routes to either Maclears Beacon (the highest trig point on the mountain) via Smuts Track, or Kasteelspoort. With nothing to see as a result of the low cloud, the former route held no interest for me at this stage, so we continued the climb out of the Valley of Isolation and into the Valley of the Red Gods, emerging with a view of Kasteelsberg, which lies at the head of Kasteelspoort, on the Atlantic. The path is well maintained and on one or two sections of the route, wooden platform walkways have been erected to protect the reed fynbos beneath. I found myself immersed in the splendour of this garden of Eden and the need to capture it on camera, rudely interrupted when Ralph came back wondering what the hell had happened to me!


Approaching Kasteelspoort & Kasteelsberg from Valley of the Red Gods.



Examples of Table Mountain's fynbos.



Indigenous Yellowwood tree.

We decided to park off for lunch at Woodhead Reservoir, as the mist had lifted and the sun had emerged. Al of a sudden a group estimated at some 50 Koreans were seen heading over towards us, crossing the dam wall in single file. The tourists had arrived! This was fine with me, until one in particular felt the urge to scream ferociously in the direction of Disa Gorge, as if somehow compelled, encouraged further by the echo it created. Soon they were gone and tranquillity was restored. In 1870, the growth of Cape Town led to shortages of drinking water. It was decided to build a reservoir on Table Mountain to provide water to the city. Scottish hydraulic engineer Thomas Stewart was engaged to design and build Woodhead Reservoir. The Woodhead Tunnel was built between 1888 and 1891. It was used to divert the Disa Stream, a tributary of the Hout Bay River, westward to provide water for the reservoir.

View towards Vlakkenberg.

By the 1870s, Capetonians had proposed a railway to the top of Table Mountain, but plans were halted by the Anglo-Boer War. The City Council began investigating the options again in 1912, but this was in turn halted by the First World War. Despite initial cost estimates considered excessive at the time, the city's population was supportive of the project and in a referendum overwhelmingly voted in support of the project. A Norwegian engineer, Trygve Stromsoe, presented plans for a cableway in 1926, and construction began soon after with the formation of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC). Construction of was completed in 1929 and the cableway was opened on October 4, 1929 by the Mayor of Cape Town. The cableway has been upgraded three times since then.



A landscape of fynbos with Vlakkenberg as the backdrop.




[Home Page]

Table Mountain Walk Dec Plateau 2011 [1] [2]

Table Mountain Walk Tokai Dec 2011

Table Mountain Walk Hout Bay Jan 2012 [1] [2]

[South African adventures]

Table Mountain Walks - webpage

The hike - Ralph's perspective

The History of Table Mountain Aerial Cable - website

The Mountain Club of South Africa - website

The Scout Mountain Club Hut - webpage

Hoerikwaggo Trail - Table Mountain National Park brochure

Hoerikwaggo Trail - tour website & map


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