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Skeleton Gorge (Cape Town)

Travelnitch Hikes: Table Mountain, South Africa
Image by Graeme Churchard, CC on Flickr

table mountain hike

If you love hiking, have no fear of heights, and are looking for a trip off-the-beaten-path, Skeleton Gorge will not disappoint. I have traveled to many far-reaching places around the world, stayed in luxurious resorts, and slept in Bedouin tents. Without a doubt, one of my favorite experiences was hiking this trail up Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape Town is a city unlike any other in the world. It is a thriving metropolis set against the southernmost coast of Africa, surrounded by wild nature. The city is outlined in beautiful white sand beaches and lush forests. Iconic Table Mountain stands majestically over the city, marked by some of the most impressive hiking our world has to offer.

Starting in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in the early morning, my friend and I took a moment to enjoy the abundant greenery and flowers before beginning our climb. We stopped by the visitor’s center to collect a map and make sure our route was clear. Water bottles filled and a backpack overflowing with snacks, we headed down the winding path to the foot of the mountain. An hour and a half later we reached Skeleton Gorge.

table mountain hike
Image courtesy of AllTrails

Warning: This trail is rated as hard and is not recommended for our little explorers.

Image by @amitshiba
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This part of the hike is characterized by a series of climbing segments, guiding you up a rather slippery waterfall. By far the most exciting portion of the hike, we enjoyed the challenge, climbing wooden ladders that helped us scale some of the steeper spots. There were moments I held my breath, looking down at the rocky trail beneath me, but our only option was to keep moving. Climbing the waterfall it felt like we were in a tropical rainforest, surrounded by canopy trees, moss-covered rocks, and draping vines. The water was cold but refreshing and the smell of green vegetation all around us was aromatic.

Reaching the top of the gorge we emerged from the trees, rewarded with breathtaking views of the city below. The sun was shining and the wind blew up against my face as I looked down at the impressive climb we had just completed. Satisfied, we took our snacks out of our backpack and feasted on granola bars, fruit, and nuts.

At this point, the weather began to change, as it frequently does at this elevation. Our cloudless sunny day was suddenly transformed by rolling dark clouds and thick fog. The fog was so dense that it became difficult to see further than a few feet. On this unfamiliar rocky terrain, the path quickly became hard to follow.

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Not exactly sure of how to find our way, we pulled out our phones and, fortunately, had cell phone reception to guide us back. After 30 minutes of uncertainty, we felt relieved to come across Maclear’s Beacon—a large and very hard to miss mound of stones. Built in 1844 by astronomer Thomas Maclear, Maclear’s Beacon confirmed the curvature of the Earth data that existed at the time. Still used by cartographers today, it has become a local tourist attraction.

table mountain hike
By Barry Ne – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Completely confident that we were back on track, we practically skipped our way through the remainder of the hike until we reached the top of the gondola, which hosts restrooms, a warm and cozy restaurant, and several lookout points. Serving traditional South African food, western food, and a large variety of snacks, we had more than enough to choose from to create the perfect post-hike celebration. We enjoyed a hot bowl of soup, fresh bread, and a pile of candy as our reward for another hike well done.

We finished our time at the top with a photoshoot to document our achievements. By this point in the afternoon, the clouds began to part and the sun was able to peek through, illuminating the sides of the mountain and the city below. After mingling with some friendly fellow travelers, we were finally ready for our ride down the mountain. So we bought our tickets, eagerly boarded the gondola and enjoyed a smooth trip down, returning to our Airbnb for a very, very long and satisfying nap.

table mountain hike

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