I love Cape Town. Sure I haven’t traveled or explored as many places as other people, but I have seen a few interesting places. On all those visits I have never found a destination I would rather want to call my home than Cape Town. Driving into town from either the N1 or N2 I can’t help, but look onto the preserved natural beauty of Table Mountain and imagine living in the glory days of exploration, the Livingston days up to the first Landy Defender days. What I wouldn’t give to have lived in those times when Lion and Kwagga still roamed the mountain and its surrounding hills freely.
Traversing through the Valley of the Red Gods, the Eco Vally and finally reaching India Venster one can easily be transported back to the days when baboon and Dassies could be expected around nearly every corner. I reckon India Venster would have been a different ball game all together with baboon and Dassies waiting to startle you around the next bend. They jump off rocks and ledges to survive, you will fall off rocks and probably die or at least sustain life changing injuries. Yes India Venster has claimed lives, annually, still it is one of the most beautiful and spectacular trails you will ever complete.
Shortly after joining Platteklip Gorge you take a sharp left. Not for intimidation, but as a true and justified warning you will be able to establish that you are indeed on India Venster by running into the first of two warning signs. “Very dangerous route…” do not take this warning likely as India Venster will offer up a fair challenge. Expect difficult scrambles and plenty of exposure. Nether the less do not be put off completing the trail and pushing on as the reward is well worth the effort.
The trail starts off easy with a slow yet steady descent towards the Atlantic in the direction of Camps bay before veering right towards Lions Head. Shortly after the first right bend you will be confronted with the second and last warning. A sign about 14 feet high, rusted dark brown plate steel on a round pole. The words have been cut out so that the blue sky serve as the backdrop in making the words appear “This is not an easy way down”
Shortly after the sign the words become evident as the trail starts to offer up the occasional scramble before running extremely close to the edge of the cliff offering up some exceptional exposure.
The trail is exiting as massive 30 to 50 foot exposures found to your left and nothing but mountain on your right. About 20 minutes into the trail you start hitting more scrambles to the right before coming to a segment which can easily be mistaken for a dead end. This is not the case as the trail actually starts to head down the cliff face. When hiking India Venster it is important to stay composed and to identify and stick to the trail. When in doubt track back and look for the red dusty and pebbled path.
The first segment of scrambling finishes off dramatically by offering up a near rock climbing experience with an exposure of about 15 feet. It’s a fairly simple two level scramble which will require some thought as to grip placing and strategy down. Following the scramble the trail continues to the front face of the mountain steadily curving to the right. The trail moves in to a slow ascent before opening up and revealing the face. I remembered the first time I hiked India Venster, rounding that bend and being in complete awe of where I found myself. You are literally right under the Cable Way no more than 200 meters from the upper Cable Station. This position seems impossible to reach without ropes and safety when viewing the face of the mountain from the Lower Cable station or anywhere from below the mountain. As if the big Man himself could not have designed it better the trail rolls into a pedestal on the front of the mountain making for a spectacular and my favorite place in Cape Town to have nice sit down lunch.
I plan my hikes on India Venster so that I can stop and have lunch on this outcrop. The view, pictured, is awe inspiring offering up pristine views over the whole of Table Bay and as far up as the Swartland. The view from this particular point is better than the view seen from the viewing deck near the top Cable Station. Sure the view from the Cable car may be the same, but then your surrounded by sweaty tourists and at this point you can enjoy it and most probably have it to yourself for as long as you want.
It’s a good decision to have a fuel stop here, not just for the view, but for the energy as some hard terrain lays ahead and a few spectacular scrambles. At the next “dead end” you have to be on the look out for the golden boot print painted on a boulder. The toe of the boot will point in the direction of the trail and yes it does point down to between the boulders. A good 20 meter scramble through large rocks call for some planning before just going for it.
From this point onward the danger is evident as exposure increases dramatically. Case in point the first chain and steel grip section. Note that these chains and steel grips were not there a few years ago and made for a very scary descent. Be very careful and plan your next move before moving your centre of gravity. Always remember to have no less than three contact points with the climbing face, thus only one mover at a time.
The exposure section is epic yet short and once you’ve finished you cannot help, but experience some sense of relief. The trail then continues to the left before breaking to the right and then sharply to the left again. It’s still dangerous as by this point your legs are throbbing and the anticipation of reaching the bottom is ever palpable especially with the view of the lower cable station coming closer and closer. The terrain is still tricky with large double hight boulder steps and loose gravel to negotiate. The trail weaves like this for one kilometer before joining up with the bottom contour path and a straight short step path directly to the lower Cable Station parking lot.
I treasure Table Mountain and SanParks for keeping it the way it is, but a water fountain below that map board would be the most brilliant thing ever. I love this mountain and this three part hike is the most fun one, two or how many people can have on the mountain. I have seen some great stuff, lived trough some hairy moments and had some awe inspiring experiences and I hope that this three piece post will inspire you to get out there and find your Table Mountain in your own back yard. If you decide to explore it, you will find it, so seize it and love it and may you have Goodhikes