Table Mountain is one of the most special, unique and diverse mountains on our planet. It sits high above the sprawling city of Cape Town and offers some of the best trad climbing to be found anywhere, in a setting that is unparalleled.
“The Ledge” is the main event when it comes to trad climbing on Table Mountain and indeed in the Cape Peninsula. It is a high mountain crag in a wild setting, packed with fantastic routes, many giving fine sustained and exposed climbing. Even though there are many hard routes here, there are also some real classics that go at a very moderate grade, like the classic Staircase, Africa Crag, Atlantic Crag, Cableway Crag and the incomparable Jacob’s Ladder, to name but a few. The Ledge also sports some of the Peninsula’s great test pieces through the grading system. Timeless examples are Triple Indirect, Touch and Go, Roulette, The Dream, Captain Hook, Mary Poppins and many routes on the Jeopardy Wall on Fountain Ledge, and Oddshouter’s Outing, Africa Lunch, Africa Arête and No Longer at Ease on Africa Ledge. This only scratches the surface as there is a plethora of quality routes at this venue at all grades, from 10 to 32. You have not sampled the best trad on offer in the Peninsula if you haven’t tickled the sandstone delights of The Ledge.
Best time to visit
Although you do get flawless winter’s days in Cape Town – days with not a cloud in the sky, hardly a breath of wind and bright sunshine painting warm golden rays on the rock – these can be few and far apart. Better to plan your climbing up on The Ledge during the warmer and more stable summer months between November and March. Because the walls and crags on The Ledge generally face north and west, shaded climbs can always be found and it is the norm to climb on the shady west walls in the morning, then switch to the other side in the afternoon
Unlike the rest of the country, the southwestern Cape has a Mediterranean climate, which means it experiences hot dry summers and cold wet winters. Although this is predominantly the case, and you can generally rely on the weather when planning a holiday, do not take it as a rule, as the weather patterns around the Peninsula and particularly Table Mountain can be very unpredictable and can change dramatically in a very short time. It is always prudent to check the forecast before venturing out and to keep a lookout for a change in the weather while out on the hill. ‘Reliable’ websites to check out are www.weathersa.co.za, www.yr.no or www.windguru.com
There are two important weather systems that affect the Cape Peninsula. The first is the frontal system, which is brought in by the northwesterly and the southwesterly winds. These cold fronts can vary in size and intensity, bringing lashing rain, snow and very cold wind, particularly in the mountains, lasting anything from a few hours to several days. These normally occur in winter.
The second is the Southeaster, which is a strong wind coming from the southeast. Normally, this wind is accompanied by large banks of cloud that hit Table Mountain on the Kirstenbosch side, and are forced up and over the top of the mountain to come pouring over the front table as the famous Tablecloth. Sometimes these clouds are also laden with rain and this system is then referred to as a Black Southeaster. This wind normally occurs during the summer months, tailing off near the end of summer. But don’t fret, there are many days which are also glorious.
IMAGE: Phlip Olivier solving the tricky Matador, Africa Ledge (25). Tony Lourens
Camping and accommodation
There are not many campsites on the Cape Peninsula, and besides I would not recommend camping in or near the City of Cape Town for security reasons. Way better to book into a backpackers lodge, or a B&B, etc. Better still make friends with some local climbers and crash at their place.
The rock and the climbing
The Ledge is renowned for steep, exposed and committing climbing on excellent, hard sandstone.
The walls are adorned with beautiful cracks, rails and big roofs, making for mostly well-protected climbing, but also sporting some technical run-out face climbing. Although The Ledge can be intimidating at first glance, there are many ‘friendly’ routes of moderate grades as well.
IMAGE: Joe Möhle ropeless on Farewell to Arms (21). Garrreth Bird
For more information on all of the above and detailed descriptions of the climbing get the following guidebooks, which are all available from Mountain Mail Order:
Cape Peninsula Select – A guide to trad climbing in the Cape Peninsula
Visit samountain.co.za/bluemountain for more details about the guidebooks
All text by Tony Lourens.