Table Mountain: Abseil Off South Africa's Ubiquitous Landmark

Motherless at 1,066 Meters
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Photo of Cape Town's Table Mountain at sunset.
Dinner for 3.1 million: Cape Town's omni-present landmark  (Walter Knirr, courtesy South African Tourism)

South African slang for drunk is motherless, and the term should be employed when you're on Table Mountain—the view is downright intoxicating. But when you're moments away from undertaking the world's longest commercial abseil (or rappel, as it's known in the United States), the abandonment implicit in the term, coupled with the urge for a little maternal reassurance, takes on an added resonance. Amplify that rush with the exhilaration of putting your trust in the strength of a single, slender rope while dangling above the full expanse of Cape Town and its environs—a series of rocky coves with white-sand beaches and aquamarine waters honeycombing the peninsula; the downtown sector, the aptly named City Bowl; the sprawling suburbs of Cape Flats; and, in the distance, Cape Point jutting like a ragged wedge into the Atlantic—and the sense of displacement becomes downright dizzying.

Table Mountain rises a full 3,299 feet from the coastal plane upon which Cape Town sits, and the sandstone plateau is visible from almost everywhere in the city. Its omni-presence may dilute its grandeur, but don't let that dissuade you from taking a trip to the top. Over 300 hiking paths run up and down Table Mountain, but hiking up can be difficult. The less sure-footed (or those short on time) can take the Aerial Cableway, which carries up to 65 passengers in each of its two cable cars. The floor of each car rotates throughout the three-minute ride from the Lower Cable Station to the top, rewarding everyone with panoramic views of the Western Cape peninsula, including Cape Town, Camps Bay, Clifton, Bantry Bay, and Table Bay further to the north. Once you're on top, the entirety of the peninsula comes into focus, including the Twelve Apostles, a series of 16 stone pinnacles that rise into a dramatic natural skyline to the southwest. In the distance, to the south, the Cape Peninsula National Park stretches all the way to the southwesterly point of the Cape of Good Hope. A massive network of hiking trails covers the entire expanse of Table Mountain's surface, and you can easily spend a full day exploring and drinking in the view. But my schedule permitted only half an hour on top before we taunted gravity and put our faith in physics by undertaking a riveting, utterly motherless descent.

Published: 20 May 2003 | Last Updated: 5 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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