Low impact weekend: Hiking Skeleton Gorge

In this series of blog posts I will share low impact ideas and activities to enjoy on the weekend in my home city of Cape Town. They’re fun things to do when the sun is out, but they’re also activities that give the earth a break from mid-week commutes and over-packaged lunches.

The first is my favourite hike in Cape Town: Skeleton Gorge. It’s one of the two main arteries up Table Mountain, but not as revered as Platteklip Gorge, which snails up the “front” and takes you to the official Top of Table Mountain, where the cable way stops and the restaurant and viewpoints are.

Skeleton Gorge is less trampled, and although you can reach the same Top of Table Mountain by adding an extra 45 minutes to your hike, the sights at the top of the Skeleton are way more interesting. To me, anyway.

The hike can either start in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens or Cecilia Forest. Kirstenbosch charges entrance fee, but you have luxuries like coffee, food and bathrooms at your disposal before and after the hike. Cecilia Forest is free, and you don’t have to wait for the gardens to open before you start hiking, but adds 2km to the route and takes away the amenities that are often quite welcome pre- or post-hike.

Since you’re ascending Table Mountain, you have to be prepared for some strain, especially if you’re of below average fitness. The trail from Kirstenbosch is about 6.5km long and climbs about 930m – so there’s a lot of climbing. That being said, here are all the reasons why you should do it regardless of your fitness level.

Most of it’s in the shade. Considering you’re ascending a mighty mountain, this is a rarity. The gorge is overgrown, shady, and damp for most of the year. The shade truly knows how to alleviate the strain. The dampness has encouraged moss to grow in certain sections, so everything is green, cool and lovely.

You’ll climb up a waterfall
. The start of the path is like a forested staircase, but soon you reach the wet bits where the path and the
stream merge. This is what makes hiking fun. Looking up you’ll see only a series of jagged, black rocks. Finding a path is your own responsibility and it’s fun to spider your way up.

You’ll scramble up some awesome wooden ladders. When the path gets too steep, there are ladders to climb. They’re old and well trodden, but they’re sturdy. Climbing them gives a new and exciting dimension to the hike.

The surroundings make stopping mandatory. You might enjoy the hike even more if you’re not so fit, because it’ll force you to stop regularly and take in the surroundings. They’re green, moody, and beautiful.

There’s a beach at the top. It’s hard to believe if you haven’t been, but there really is a white, sandy beach at the top of Skeleton Gorge. The jagged dead trees protruding from it adds an eerie feel, like you’re on a different planet.

There is also a reservoir. The beach opens up onto a massive  reservoir. The shallow water is a sultry brown which bleeds into a deep blue. The water is surrounded by rocks perfect for perching and tucking into a sandwich and oranges, and while this part is exposed to the sun, you have to get your tan in somewhere.

You don’t have to take the steep way down. If you’re nervous about heading back down the waterfall and the ladders, you can take a turnoff near the top and head back down Nursery Ravine, which will also bring you to Kirstenbosch (follow the signs, you’ll have to backtrack a bit at the end), but sans the jungle crawl.

It’s low impact if you make it. If you eat a chocolate, just remember to pick up the wrapper. No one is going to hike up after your litter. Your lungs will be happy for the exercise, but also happy for the clean air far away from the city emissions.

Finding the hike from Kirstenbosch is easy, just head up any footpath toward the mountain and follow the signs. Entrance fee at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens: R60 (October 2016). The gardens open at 08:00.

For a more detailed route description of Skeleton Gorge from Cecilia Forest with Nursery Ravine as the descend, visit Uncover the Cape.

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