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The profile of Table Mountain is South Africa's most recognisable landmark. It is pictured above in glorious asciivision, as seen from the most popular postcard spot, across Table bay, on the beach of the inventively named Tableview area.

On the left is Devil's peak, in the middle, the front table of the mountain. On the right is Lion's head, with Signal Hill in front of it. At the foot of the mountain is the central business district of Cape Town, and in front of that the harbour and Table bay.

In Afrikaans it is called Tafelberg

Geography and geology

It's not hard to see how the mountain gets the name. The mountain is made of horizontal layers of sandstone, eroded by wind and water. Some granite outcrops occur on the peninsula, for instance on the lower slopes of Lion's head, and there's shale down below, which you can see at the water's edge, but most of the peninsula is made from a stratum known as TMS: Table Mountain Sandstone.

The mountain's highest point at Maclear's beacon is 1086 metres (3 563 feet) above sea level. It is named for a stone-cairn beacon built there in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for trigonometrical survey. Maclear's beacon is not much of a peak - it is the highest hill on the plateau, that's all. The most popular spot for falling off and dying is Carell's ledge, which is a sheer drop at the top middle of the view above, not far from Maclear's beacon.

Devil's peak is 1000 meters (3 281 feet) tall, and Lion's Head is 669 meters (2 195 feet) above sea level. For comparison, Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom, stands 1 344 meters (4 406 feet), just 258 meters (846 feet) taller than Table Mountain.

Plants and animals

The vegetation of the mountain is the unique cape fynbos. The most common animal on the mountain is the dassie, or rock hyrax, a critter like a bunnie-sized brown guinea pig. They especially cluster near the upper cable station, near the sources of junk food. You'll find baboons and a few escaped himalayan thars, and some snakes and tortoises. The lions and leopards were all shot out centuries ago.

Getting up

The cable car will take you up to the top right corner of the front table. If you're new in town and not up for a steep hike, try it, it's a great view from up there.

There are many ways to the top on foot, but remember when hiking:

  • Take a hat and suncream, especially if you are not used to the South African sun.
  • Take water. The streams on the mountain are drinkable, if stained deep brown by vegetation. However they may be dry in summer.
  • Do not start fires outside of the demarcated fireplaces. There are too many bush-fires in summer.
  • Take a warm garment even if you don't think you'll need one. The weather can change rapidly, and you could find yourself inside a cloud. It can be cold and damp with a lot of wind chill up there. If there is any posiblity of bad weather, take a waterproof garment. The top of table mountain is about the only place on the Cape Peninsula that gets frost on cold winter nights.
  • Take a map, and if possible someone who knows the way.
  • Tell someone where you are going, don't hike alone, don't stray from the path in the dark or mist. There are a few cliffs and dead-end ravines that could be fatal.
  • You might get mobile phone reception on parts of the mountain (especially when overlooking the urban areas that surround it), but don't count on it.

People on the mountain

The first person documented to climb the mountain was Antonio de Saldanha, in 1503. Dams were built on top of the mountain to supply Cape Town in the 1800s. Cape Town needs much more water than that these days, so it comes from much further away.

The mountain is now a national park, to protect the plant and animal life.

The city of Cape Town now wraps itself around Table mountain. Navigation in Cape Town starts with Step one: Where is the mountain? Once you have worked out how far away it is, and from what angle you are looking at it, you know in which area you are. Those raised in Cape Town will make claims like "I can get a milisecond glance of table mountain during TV programs/commercia​ls/CNN and know exactly where in Cape Town the footage is taken". Believe them.

Navigation in urban environments where the mountain is not in sight can be difficult and unsettling to a native Capetonian.

The cable car was renovated in the 1990's, to increase capacity.

Other places with the same name

There also appears to be a place called Table mountain in California, in a forest, with a an astronomical observatory operated by JPL on it.
TMF is located near the town of Wrightwood, CA, in the Angeles National Forest operating on a memorandum of understanding with the United States Forest Service, approximately 1.5 hours drive from the main JPL lab in Pasadena.
There is also a Table Mountain Animal Center, "the largest shelter serving west Denver."

And a Table Mountain, Washington, and a "Table Mountain Inn" in Golden, near Denver, Colorado. Good name for mesa, I guess.


Sources: Britannica DVD, the interweb, memory.

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