Hiking Up Table Mountain, Cape Town – the India Venster Route

Hiking up Table Mountain - the India Venster Route

I’m on a ledge 3 feet wide looking straight down over the edge of Table Mountain. I’ve just come up 10 feet from the last ledge, using metal rungs to pull myself up a sheer rock wall. I look up above and see another 15 feet or so of vertical rock, with a few more metal rungs and a chain at the top. I can feel my knees start to tremble and I know that if I wait too long to go up I might not be able to do it at all. What a shitty idea this was.

I’ll start at the beginning.

Hike Table Mountain is the highest rated outdoor activity in Cape Town on Trip Advisor. People rave about their hiking experience with this company. I had my doubts because some of their hikes include what they call ‘scrambling‘, which is defined as “the basic use of arms, in addition to legs, to negotiate steep terrain“. I might love  hiking (and heights) but I sometimes, surprisingly, get sudden and incredible bouts of vertigo when faced with sheer drops. “Routes that involve scrambling will require the use of arms to pull up, sometimes in proximity of sheer drops” says the site. Yeah, exactly what I don’t like. But I booked anyway.

Below: Meeting Riaan at the cable car station.

Hiking up Table Mountain, Cape Town - the India Venster trail (1)

The meetup was at 5:45 am at Table Mountain’s lower cable car station. I had brought the required 1.5 L of water, snacks, a hat and sunscreen. We were 10 people, plus two guides: Riian (the owner of the company) and Mike (his partner). After a quick briefing we started up the path.

Below: The first section up from the cable car station, easy but strenuous hiking.

Hiking up Table Mountain, Cape Town - the India Venster trail (2)

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India Venster is a 3.5 hr hike (one way) to the top of Table Mountain. It is categorized as a Grade B hike, which requires some scrambling (Grade A hikes are walking only, Grade C hikes require ‘demanding’ scrambling, with the use of ropes).

Below: Ok, that is not so comforting…

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Below: more walking, quite easy at this point. The views getting more and more impressive.

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Below: Posing for photos.

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At a certain point, which is basically when the photo below was taken, you realize that the next part will be more challenging. That’s because all you see in front of you is a sheer wall of rock stretching from one side of the mountain to another.

Below: Riian pointing out where we’ll be heading…

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Photos below: skirting the side of the mountain and looking back at some of the views.

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Hiking up Table Mountain, Cape Town - the India Venster trail (8)

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Walking had been easy to this point. Now, faced with the wall of rock, came what would be the hardest part of the hike.

Below: looks like a dead end, right?

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Below: scrambling up rocks.

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And then we get to the part where I started off this post: the sheer rock wall, the rungs, and the chain. See the photo below? (it’s not mine – I wasn’t pulling out my camera on a 3 foot ledge). There are a few rungs and they help you – but they’ll only ‘help’ you in getting to a level where there are cracks and juts in the rock that you can grab on to to get higher. The rungs are in no way a ladder. This is when Riian and Mike showed their expertise: showing us where to step, where to hold, and how to hoist yourself up to the next level. For about 50 feet of rock, they guided us, step-by-step and handhold-by-handhold, up the rockface.

grips and chains on india-venster, Table Mountain

Above photo: Source

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Below: Ledge, with gorgeous views below

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Below: Looking down at what we had just climbed.

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Having conquered the rocks (which although only about 50 feet took about 30 minutes) we arrived at the resting area in the photo below. That’s when Riian told us about the rungs we had just climbed: they’d been put in place just a few years ago after 6 hikers had died in the same section in the span of less than a year.  It’s easily the hardest section of the India Venster route. He tells us of people he’s brought up, from 5 year olds to a 79 year old lady, who’ve climbed it. He also told us a few stories of young, fit guys – with big booming voices and firm handshakes – who would have tears coming out of their eyes when faced with climbing the rocks. So you never know how different people will react.

Below: resting after having conquered the rocks. 

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It might look from seeing the rock face in the photos above that more climbing was required. No, from this point on the route would follow a path around the side and to the back of the mountain. It would actually be the easiest – and most visually impressive – portion of the hike.

Below: skirting around the side of the mountain, Lion’s Head now on the right and views of Camps Bay down below. 

 

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Below: Looking straight down at Camps Bay

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Below: looking across at the Twelve Apostles that line the Atlantic coast.

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Below: Looking up at the cable car and the upper cable station.

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Below: the path that skirts the side of the mountain

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Photos below: more views of Camps Bay, the Twelve Apostles, and Lion’s Head. 

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Below: the hike is full of places where you’ll be hiking within feet of the edge of the mountain. If you’re someone who stumbles a lot it’s not an activity for you…

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We arrived at the summit by 10 am. As Riian says, it’s kind of weird: you climb for 4 hours in peace and quiet, enjoying the tranquil nature and beauty…then suddenly you take that last step onto the Table top and you see Japanese tourists in bright pastel colours and fat kids sucking on ice cream cones. And they look at you like you’ve just appeared from outer space.

Below: views and some group photos to prove that we had made it up to the top

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So did I get over my fear of ‘scrambling over sheer drops’?  No. But doing something that scares you gives you a sense of accomplishment. I walked around feeling pretty good the rest of the day. Did I enjoy the hike? I loved it and have already contacted Riian about doing another. There are so many different hikes around Table Mountain, all with different vistas and sights along the way. Cape Town is hiking heaven and I think you have to do at least one hike up the mountain when here.

For more: check out Hike Table Mountain’s site.

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So, would you hike Table Mountain?

 

Screw that. I’m taking the Cable Car up. Click here on that.

Feel like Paragliding while in Cape Town? Check this out.

 

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Comments

  1. We definitely would do the hike! Do you have to join a group or can you hike independently as well? We would prefer that.
    Natascha (Westwards) recently posted…Some thoughts about travelling in Lithuania for two weeksMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, you could definitely do the hike independently…the trail is well demarcated. A guide is helpful though on the more dangerous parts – and Spanky doesn’t allow me to go hiking on my own :)

  2. Seriously, I got a little light headed and shaky in the knees just reading this! Even so, I would love to do it. Bummed we missed out on this experience in Cape Town!
    Sarah (Jetsetting Fools) recently posted…Inspiration: Making a living as a cafe ownerMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yeah, I had a look at your Cape Town posts – sounds like most of your activities centered around wine, beer, and eating :). I’m just teasing…
      Well, you have to leave something for next time, right Sarah? Hiking and Paragliding…

  3. I could barely read this or look at the pictures ;-) . No…thank you!!!! You are one brave soul!!! I will watch from the sidelines.
    Kemkem recently posted…San Antonio Winery, L.A – A treat for all wine lovers!My Profile

  4. Dee (Dee's Butterfly Garden) says:

    You, my friend, are brave and adventurous!! I don’t think I would attempt that harrowing hike!! The photos and views are absolutely breathtaking! I love the wild flowers along the way, that patch of yellow flowers is so beautiful! Love the post!!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Dee. I didn’t mention it anywhere – but for me all the pretty flowers as you get closer to the top were a highlight. Purples, reds, oranges, yellows…so beautiful.

  5. Tremendous photos (and some hairy ones too…) Where does hiking stop, and mountain climbing begin ? Hikes ! Yikes !!!
    Think I would be a lot safer – and a lot more comfortable – down at Café Caprice in Camps Bay (with Spanky and Kemkem .- and accompanying martinis.??.) looking up at you ‘scrambling’ up top, than being where you were, looking down …

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I would have figured you’d be up for a hike like that Tony. Would you do it?
      Just makes the drinks afterwards more enjoyable…

      • Maybe, just maybe – but would start with an easier ‘introduction’ like the trail up from Kirstenbosch !!! It must hv been a really wonderful experience – and as you say the beers (?) afterwards must hv been really enjoyable – all 5 or 6 of them…

  6. I have only recently discovered that I enjoy hiking up a mountain after I went up Snowdon Mt. In North Wales, my very first mountain hike and I loved it. I have recently also done Pen-Y-fan in South Wales. Hiking up Table Mountain is on my list, I loved your photos and good on you for facing your fears.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you so much Gilda! Wales huh? Your comment made me google Wales and there’s some pretty geography. I don’t know much about it except that I had my English teacher from there when I was a little kid (His name was Tommy Thomas which everyone seemed to find funny).
      Table Mountain is spectacular. I’m sure I’ll have a couple more hikes before leaving :)

  7. What an accomplishment! I could never do it and in fact will probably have nightmares about it tonight. :) What fabulous views though. I gather Spanky did not accompany you?
    Travels and Tipples recently posted…The Most Wonderful Time Of The YearMy Profile

  8. Oh wow that is something! Definitely the best views and photos of all that you’ve posted about the Table Mountain. The route was really amazing too – must have been exciting! Now I really envy you and I must try to do it! I experienced a very similar hike with chains and metal steps in the Tatra Mountains. It was June and it was extremely hot but in the upper parts there was still a lot of snow. It was one of the most frightening experiences as you could slip and fall down off the mountain ledge easily with no chances of surviving. But in the end, I loved it, the views were unforgettable!
    I have a question – do you have to do it with a guide or can you just hike yourself?

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Tom – yes, you can do on your own, the trails are well demarcated. But a guide is a good idea for the tougher ones.
      Tatra mountains quite rugged I hear. Would love do some hiking there. But no cable car down, right ?

      • You might be right, a guide could be a good idea for the more difficult routes.
        Well, there is a cable car from Zakopane to Kasprowy Wierch peak (1950 meters above the sea level). From there, you can continue hiking to other peaks or go down to the beautiful valley full of clear, transparent lakes. I wouldn’t recommend the cable car though. It’s overpriced and hiking is really pleasant (you can choose easy trails too). I’ve just posted a post about Zakopane so you might have a look.

  9. Amazing view. It’s really impressive! Sounds like great day out :)

  10. So, is there a Grade A hike up the mountain? :-) Think that’s what we’d prefer. But what amazing views and a great accomplishment! Good for you for doing this hike! We love hiking, so it’s great to hear that Cape Town is “hiking heaven.” We are really hoping to return to South Africa in the not too distant future…
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Seeking Bliss in Bali: Hotel Tugu BaliMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Janice,
      The Platteklip Gorge hike is the easiest and most direct – 2hrs from the lower cable car station. If you look at the sign I’ve got up top you’ll see it is the recommended route. I’m planning on doing it on my own sometime in January, you don’t need a guide.

  11. Well done on your hike up! Looks like a good one. When we hiked up Table Mountain we went up Skeleton Gorge, it was a strenuous hike up but there really wasn’t any shear drops until you were near the top and heading for the cable car. If you have time I would highly recommend this hike up. http://www.travelwithkevinandruth.com/2014/03/on-top-of-table-mountain.html
    Travel with Kevin and Ruth recently posted…Our top 10 campsites of 2015!My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Nice post and more gorgeous views. As mentioned on my post, there are so many trails up (someone mentioned 130 to me) that you can hike the mountain over and over again with a different experience. We went to Kirstenbosch so we saw the forest rising along the side of Table Mountain on that side…but on the other side, where we did the India Venster hike, it was basically straight climbing without any cover (that’s why you have to do it really early – once the sun turns the corner around Devil’s Peak it gets very hot).

  12. Hi Frank! I just did the India Venster hike. Reading your posts about South Africa was really helpful so I’d like to thank you! I was quite scared after I saw the photos and also after I nearly died hiking the Tatra mountains. I thought of doing the trail on my own but just to make sure, I went to the information centre and the lady there scared the c**p out of me saying that this trail is only for professional climbers and you must have a guide. So I took the guide you recommended. At first, I thought it was a waste of money because the beginning was so simple. But the rock wall was quite an experience! I loved it, I wasn’t scared at all, maybe because of that terrifying experience in Tatra mountains, however it was a great challenge. Also, the trail wasn’t marked properly so I’m happy I took the guide in the end. It was an amazing hike! Did you see those little cute animals on top of the table mountain? They pose for photos, it’s so cool! They are called dassies.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hey Tom! Your comment made my day, I’m so glad you did the hike and that you enjoyed it. The views are amazing, right? Did you do it with Riian? I hope you mentioned you know me :) I’m jealous because I wish I was there right now doing it all over again…I really miss Cape Town. How are you enjoying it overall? DON’T miss doing the Lion’s Head hike, very easy but the views are phenomenal.
      Yes, we saw the dassies all over the place.
      I hope you are enjoying South Africa and I really look forward to reading your posts when you get back! :)
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    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Back to your comment – yes, it was the only 1 or 3 hikes I did in Cape Town that I really recommend you have a guide. First of all, it really helps if you freak out because of the rungs. He’ll show you how to maneuver your way up. But secondly, as you say, you may get lost with all the different trails up there.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Is Bratislava worth a day trip from Vienna?My Profile

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