A minor wrench had been thrown in our Cape Town itinerary when we learned our scheduled shark dive would have to be cancelled. Apparently the Great Whites, the seven gill cow sharks and other species all mysteriously vanished from False Bay three weeks prior and had yet to return en masse. We were to patiently await word from Simon’s Town about whether the boat would head out at all before we left for Kruger National Park the next week.
We had precious few days remaining in the Western Cape, and we were determined to make the most of them. The previous night, giddy on Pinotage, we had thrown around the idea of abseiling Table Mountain if we found some free time over the weekend. As it turned out, we now had an entire day at our disposal, so in a moment of “carpe diem!” we decided today was the day we conquer the world’s highest commercial abseil.
The only caveat was the “Table Cloth” had rolled over the mountain just that morning, which often halts all operations on the mountain. Always the optimist, Rufio made a call to Abseil Africa, the sole abseiling operator on Table Mountain. We were informed that the guides had gone up that morning and given the all clear, so long as we could get there before the weather took a turn for the worse.
Without deliberation we took off for the mountain and purchased our cable car tickets for a quick lift. The steep ride to the top offered a 360-degree glimpse of the City Bowl 1,000 meters below.
We were greeted at the top by the guides, who were expecting us after our call. We were promptly handed waiver forms with a promise to explain the process in detail after we signed. I’m pretty sure the guide was sensing Rufio’s anxiety from the barrage of questions streaming from his mouth. I, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber. I had planned to do something exhilarating today and nothing was going to stand in my way. I boldly signed my life away and handed over our credit card, so Rufio had no choice but to follow my lead. We were given a brief demonstration and in no time were attached to safety leads on our first trek downward.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the ledge that I felt the first pangs of fear. Then they strapped me the harness and suggest I lean back over the ledge, throw up my hands and give the “Cape Town wave” for a photo op. I very nervously let go of the rope, and from that moment on felt nothing but sheer and utter panic.
Rufio had apparently accepted his fate at this point, because he very nonchalantly let go of the rope and cared more about getting his Auburn logo in the frame than our lives.
Pictures taken, they told us to get going. We started at the same time, but very quickly Rufio was far ahead of me on his controlled 112 meter plummet. His hands easily pushed the rope forward, while my death grip on the rope impeded its momentum through the harness. He even attempted a jump or two, while I mostly just hyperventilated. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever done, skydiving included. I think the slow rate of descent and knowing that I was the one mostly in control of my own fate made this the most epic head-game I have ever played. I don’t think the eerie, ominous cloud cover helped either.
Whatever I was feeling made no difference, I couldn’t turn back, so I creeped down the vertical slab of rock one shaky footstep at a time. Rufio yelled up words of encouragement in between bouts of “I can’t believe you made me do this”. At the very least he wasn’t totally calm and collected either.
Halfway down he told me he could see someone at the bottom, though my vantage was still impeded by the clouds. I heard him ask, “What? Jump?”, and again my heart sank. I couldn’t see, but from the shrieks I came to understand that there was no more rock face. Just falling. Another 50 meters of falling down the side of a mountain. When I finally reached the jumping-off point my hands were so cramped I could barely control the rope anymore. I paused for a moment to regain some feeling before accepting whatever my fate was to be. I gave one last mighty push off the rock face and began the free-fall. I was no longer enveloped by the clouds and I was spinning a bit, so I could see some lovely 180-degree views of the City Bowl.
The view, coupled with the realization that anything that happened now was entirely out of my control, helped me to relax a bit. I think I even mustered a giggle about the absurdity of this sport. Who ever thought this was a good idea?!? Rufio and I could now exchange some pleasantries of sorts, and I regained hope once I could see the little man at the bottom holding my line.
When our feet hit solid ground we kissed the earth and exhaustedly agreed to never do that again. We were simultaneously shaken and exhilarated. With the adrenaline pumping through our veins we started on the 30 minute hike back UP the mountain to gather our belongings.
Information for your Sojourn
Absolutely no experience is necessary. The guides will give you a demonstration at the top, as well as detailed safety information. Even children can abseil!
The team at Abseil Africa is wonderful. From our initial phone call to the actual abseil, everyone we interacted with was helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. They even offered words of encouragement the whole time we were in earshot to help calm our nerves on the way down.
Abseil Africa operates every day 10:00-3:00, weather permitting. The price is R750 during low season. You can purchase your cable lift ticket, with return, in advance here.
Though you can walk-up, there may be crowds on clear, sunny days. It’s best to make a reservation ahead of time.
Note that even if you have a reservation, check the weather forecast before you go. If things are starting to look dicey, call the operation to see what the guides are saying.
The hike back to the top is easy underfoot, but it is steep in places. Wear comfortable hiking shoes, and have a light jacket in case the winds pick up.
I may have exaggerated a bit – I would definitely abseil again. It was terrifying, but also really exhilarating!
Would you abseil Table Mountain? Leave a comment!