Skeleton Gorge – Hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

November 29, 2015.J.J. Mancini.3 Likes.0 Comments

Cape Town has some of the most accessible, beautiful and unique hikes we’ve ever done. Our Skeleton Gorge, McClears Beacon, Table Mountain hike is no exception. In fact, this is hands down one of the best hikes we’ve ever done. Sara and I went on this hike with a good friend, Dustin Denning. You’ll see him in many of the photos.

The hike starts at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (which is a bummer if you don’t have an annual pass like we do, since you have to pay the entry fee of R55 to get to the entrance of the hike). After meandering briefly through the gardens, we started the arduous hike. It was a steady step-up-incline for the next 2 hours, with little reprieve. Yet the sites were well worth it. One of the things I liked most about this hike is that there were many different elements as you climbed.

During the first portion of the hike we walked up a waterfall. We also had to careen up a few ladders to get to the waterfall. During the wet season, this area is impassable as the water fills the gorge. Don’t go during a heavy rain or if it recently rained on Table Mountain.

Up until this point we had been hiking through thick forest and vegetation. But once we hiked up the waterfall, the trees gave way to a stunning panorama of the southern suburbs of Cape Town: Newlands, Bishops Court, Claremont, Constantia, and, in the distance, the cape flats. We had the mountain at our backs and got to take in the landscape before us all while encircled by fynbos. Add in a dash of exhaustion and the subtle pangs of hunger, and this makes for an idyllic outdoors moment. But little did we know the hike was far from finished.

Little did we know we were hardly done.J.J. Mancini

At this point, we were technically on top of Table Mountain, about 2 hours in. But we wanted to go to the highest point in all of the Table Mountain complex, to Maclears Beacon. Even though we felt like we were “on top” we realized that there was still a lot of “up” left to go. We had that unique experience in hiking where you look up and see a high point, then hike to it, only to find that there was another high point beyond that high point. That happened about 4 times. We were deep in the fynbos where we found wild King Proteas in bloom (the nation flower of South Africa). This is one of the few places on earth where you can find them. The King Protea is a wonderfully large flower; in full bloom it dwarfs my outstretched hand.

We continued to climb. We reached the saddle before Maclear’s Beacon. At this point, except for the pinnacle ahead, there is nothing higher than us. Which means two things. First that there is nothing to stop the wind, but second, there was also nothing to stop the clouds. This was an incredible experience: seeing clouds whip by and watching Sara and Dustin get pummeled by clouds and wisps of moisture. The steady wind of over 30 mph made it so that we could only stay here for so long. Watch the video below. The audio is mostly wind noise but enjoy watching the clouds as they sweep by.

We reached the high point of Maclear’s Beacon. Keep in mind this is not a Colorado fourteener, so there really is not an obvious high point except for the fact that it is marked by a large pile of rocks (that is more than just a pile of rocks.) From here, we continued to hike on relatively flat ground gradually descending for 2 more miles to the Table Mountain Arial Cableway. This section of the hike is fantastic as views of Cape Town constantly abound.

Here we got slightly off the trail somehow and started to follow a small animal trail to a little watering hole/pond. We cut across the fynbos and were able to make it back onto the trail. When we got to the edge of the mountain the winds were so intense that we could not hear anything except the sound of rushing wind. Yet just a few feet back from the edge there was little wind. This lead to a fun game. I took a reed (from the Restios growing near by), and flung it over the edge. Once the wind got a hold of it, the reed would quickly turn 180 degrees from whence it came and fly far overhead behind us. This is where the game came in, we tried to throw a reed over the edge and then tried to catch it. Needless to say it was very difficult and at times was dangerous as the reeds acted like arrows flying at us at extreme speeds.

That game was really fun! Although in hindsight I don’t think the Table Mountain Nature Reserve would appreciate us playing that game as a couple of reeds had to be sacrificed for our entertainment.

On the last leg of our hike we made it to the Table Mountain Arial Cableway where we were smart and planned to take the cable car down. This maked the hike more expensive as its R125 per person for a one-way ticket down, but it beats hiking it…. believe me, we know how hard of a hike down it is. We took a couple of pictures at the tram station, got the view over camps bay and enjoyed the clouds as we sat down and drank coffee/tea. Dustin had a brilliant idea and gave Jesse (a good friend of ours) a call to see if he wanted to join us for dinner. Jesse said “Sure!”, then Dustin asked, “Then can you pick us up from Table Mountain Tram before we go to dinner and then drop us off back at Kirstenbosch so we can get our cars?” And of course, he did. Otherwise it would have been an ~R170 Uber ride that would have made this an even more expensive hike!

Sara, Dustin, Jesse and I went to one of our favorite places to eat in Cape Town, the Eastern Food Baazar. We enjoyed a shwarma and peshwari naan with each other which was the cherry-on-top of a wonderful day!

Skeleton Gorge – Hike Stats (GPX)

If you would like to do this hike, you can download and follow our GPX trail. You can also see our stats. I was an unfit wimp for the first 3 hours of the hike so eventhough it took us 5 hours, I think a more fit and and less distracted crew could make it much shorter. Keep in mind this was a point A to point B hike. So you will need to find a way to get back to point A where you started.

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