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Table Mountain: The Flat Topped Mountain With Unusual Sandstone Crust

Fri, Dec 4, 2009

South Africa

Table Mountain is uniquely flat topped and forms a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town. The mountain is given extreme importance as it is featured in the flag of Cape Town because of its distinct characteristic of being flat topped. The mountain is a major tourist attraction, cableway or hiking to the top you can use any of the either way to get into top. The mountain is a significant part of the Table Mountain National park.

Where it is located

Table Mountain occupies the northern end of Sandstone Mountain which forms the spine of the peninsula. Table Mountain, however, stands in the middle of Cape Town, defining the downtown area.

Things you must know about the mountain

The Table Mountain is a level plateau of somewhere 3km from side to side, enclosed by steep cliffs. With Devil’s Peak in the east and Lion’s head in the west, the mountain forms mind blowing backdrop to the city of Cape Town. Its Table Harbor together with Signal Hill is enough to mesmerize you for a lifetime.

During the year 1865 Sir Thomas Maclear built Maclear’s Beacon a stone cairn for trigonometrical survey and is on the eastern end of the mountain which also happens to be the highest point of the mountain. It situated at 1,086m above sea level and about 19m higher than the cable station of the western end of the plateau. Antonio de Saldanha was the first person to record ascent to the mountain in 1503 and the route he chose is still followed to reach the summit.

Orographic clouds often covers the flat top of the mountain which are formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain’s slope into colder air and where the  condensation of moisture  takes place forming so called “table cloth” of  cloud. There an old saying which says whenever there is a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks, the table cloth is seen.

The upper crust of the mountain consists of Ordovician quartizic sandstone, which is more popular as Table Mountain sandstone and it is highly resistant to erosion and forms characteristic deep grey crags.  Micaceous basal shale lies below the sandstone layer, which weathers quite rapidly and therefore cannot be seen easily. Precambrian Malmesbury shale, heavily molded and altered, intruded by Cape Granite forms the strong basement of the mountain with strongly withstands weathering, significant outcrops of the Cape Granite can be seen from the Lon’s Head western side.

Fires are common on the mountain and most recent fire came in January 2006, it destroyed large amount of vegetation and took away life of a tourist.

The mountain is home to indigenous rodent-like creature called the Rock Hyrax or ‘dassie’ that is the closest living relative to modern elephants.

From the pages of past

Khoikhoi were its inhabitants and they named the mountain as Hoeri kwaggo which means Sea Mountain. There are evidences of pre-historic people who lived here more than 600,000 years ago. There are evidences of Middle Stone Age inhabitants dating around 200,000 to 40,000 years ago in the peninsula and fossils from around 8000 BC shows that the people of that had developed bows and arrows to hunt by that time.

San or Bushmen hunter-gatherers were dependent on the seashore for their food which resulted in the Dutch naming, Strandlopers. About 2000 years ago Khoikhoi migrated from the north and displaced the San, they brought with them herd of cattle and sheep. The Khoikhioi were dominated tribe of the region until the Europeans got into the place.

Antonio de Saldanha, the first European to conquer mighty mountain in 1503, named it Table Mountain and there is a great cross which Portugese navigator carved in the rock of the Lion’s Head.

In 1796, the year of British Occupation of the Cape, Major General Sir James Craig gave the orders to build three blockhouses on the Table Mountain: the King’s blockhouse, Duke of York blockhouse which was later renamed as Queen’s blockhouse and the Prince of Wales blockhouse. Except the King’s blockhouse which is easily accessible from the Rhodes Memorial other two blockhouses are in ruins today.

From 1896 to 1907, five dams, the Woodhead, Hely-Hutchinson, De Villers, Alexandria and Victoria reservoirs were opened on the Back Table to cater Cape Town,s water needs.

In the 1990s the mountain became part of the new Cape Peninsula National Park which was renamed as Table Mountain National Park in 1998.

Activities that you must do

Hiking – Hiking on the Table Mountain is the most popular activity among visitors and local people, you can choose from the range of trails of varying difficulty level. Direct ascents from the city side are few because steep cliffs surround the summit

Rock climbing – Rock climbing on Table Mountain is extremely popular and can be called the favorite past time of the people. The climbing routes are well documented and of varying degrees of difficulty up the many faces of the mountain, so you always have the option of reaching the summit with the choice of level of difficulty. Bolting is not allowed here, only traditional climbing can be done. Commercial groups who come to this place are offered abseiling from the upper cable station.

Caving – Table Mountain unlike other important mountains of the world have large cave systems that have developed in stanstone. Wynberg Caves have the biggest system, located on the Back Table, close to the Jeep Track and in ridges which overlooks Orange Kloof and Hout Bay.

How you can reach the place

You can board a flight for Cape Town which has an international airport.

There are rail services available to the Cape Town Station and if you want to go by roadways then there are public bus services available or you can hire a car from Johannesburg (N1), Overberg & Garden route (N2), West Coast or Namibia (N7).

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