India Venster – A Window over the Mother City

India Venster – A Window over the Mother City

 

Post Updated on 09 July 2018

 

The word ‘venster’ is the translated Afrikaans word for ‘window’. This trail is called India Venster apparently because the ravine in which it is located resembles the geographical map of India.  Another suggestion for the name is the shape of the rock formation which creates a view site (‘window’) over the city below.   We will leave you to decide which you think is more accurate.

 

 

How to get there

The start of the India Venster trail is situated along Tafelberg Road, just to the right of the lower cable station. You will see some stone steps on the right hand side of the building.  You can park anywhere along Tafelberg road, but be sure to get there early as the parking spots fill up quickly.

Here are the GPS co-ordinates for the start of the trail:  S 33⁰ 56.857′   E 018⁰ 24.122′

 

The Speedy Review [tl;dr]

Whenever India Venster is mentioned in passing amongst fellow hikers, there is always someone with a story to tell.  Generally they revolve around danger, high cliffs, narrow ledges, slippery terrain and panoramic views. It really is a beautiful route, and is one of the most direct routes up the mountain.  Be prepared for areas of scrambling, using staples and chains to pull yourself up some rocky ledges.  The route is slightly more challenging for people with shorter legs, but generally, if you are relatively fit, you will not find this trail too difficult.

It starts at an elevation of 341m, with a final altitude of 1050m, an ascent of a little over 700m over the 5.93 km full trail distance.

Although we descended the mountain along Platteklip Gorge, there are many other routes down to Tafelberg Road which you may prefer.  Taking the Cable Car down is also an option, however over summer time, it tends to get very busy and is also fairly pricey for locals. Make sure, no matter which route you pick to descend, that you choose a route that is safe and not too difficult.  We would advise against hiking back down India Venster, as it is advertised as a dangerous route, in reverse.

We would suggest parking a car at the base of Platteklip Gorge or whichever route you choose, to save you the 2km+ extra walk back to the start at the lower cable station (you can thank us later).

Trail Ninometer

 

 

 

Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, as she did not accompany us on this trail. Although dogs are allowed in the Table Mountain National Park, it is not advisable to take your dog up the India Venster for your own safety and that of your dog.

 

 

The Nitty Gritty

We hiked this trail twice before compiling this blog post. The first time was on 08 July 2017 and the second on 18 February 2018. The photos included in this post are from both of these hikes, but the route described in this post relates only to the first occasion. We hiked this route again on 08 July 2018. There is a photo album at the end of this post with photos we took in perfect hiking weather!

On Saturday 08 July 2017, Belinda and I joined a small hiking party who decided to hike the India Venster trail. One of our hiking party, my uncle, had done the route a few times before, many years ago. It would be the first time that Belinda and I had done the route. Unfortunately, as there was a element of ‘scrambling’ involved in the hike, we decided to leave Nina at home.

Now what does ‘scrambling’ mean anyway. I would normally have associated the word with riding a scrambler motorbike.

A quick check online provided a couple of more relevant explanations:

Scrambling is simply climbing an easy rock face or mountain without a rope or other technical climbing gear. Scrambling lies between hiking and technical rock climbing. Perhaps the best way to differentiate it from hiking is that you use your hands for balance and pulling yourself up rocks when you scramble.

Another website puts scrambling into its proper context:

 

Level Difficulty Description
1 Walk A walk, with no use of hands. There might be steep sections
2 Scramble Easy rock scrambling requiring use of hands: a person with little experience will be able to cope.
3 Climb Difficult rock scrambling requiring extensive use of hands. Possibility of other obstacles such as deep rivers; narrow ledges; high ladders which are potentially dangerous, especially under adverse climatic conditions.
4 Rock Climb A technical climb – Only for experienced rock climbers

 

The Weather Conditions

I don’t normally go into detail with the weather conditions in a hiking blog, but in this case, the weather conditions on 08 July 2017 defined the hike itself. When we arrived at the Table Mountain Aerial Cable Way Station in the morning at around 07h45, the summit was covered in a thick layer of fog. The temperature was about 13⁰ C with an expected maximum of 18⁰ C.  We also noticed while en route to Table Mountain that there was a relatively strong breeze blowing, but on stopping in Tafelberg Road, we could see that the cable car was operating as normal. The cable car does not run if the prevailing wind conditions are strong enough to put passengers’ safety at risk. There was no rain forecast for the day, but rain was expected to fall during the evening.

Interestingly, a local guide came over to us and asked us what trail we would be hiking. On hearing that we were doing India Venster, he wanted to know what we thought of the weather. That should have been our first clue that we should have been paying closer attention to the weather. I told him what I knew of the weather forecast and that we were expecting the fog conditions to clear later that morning. He nodded his head and looked up at the mountain, thanked us and left. A second clue…

We started hiking at 08h13. There were four of us in the hiking party. Belinda, my work colleague, my uncle and myself.

At 08h29, we crossed over the contour path, where there was a sign indicating that the India Venster trail continued straight on. We stood and rested there a while and waited for another group who had reached that point already to move on. We had covered a distance of 455 m with a moving time of 12 minutes.

 

 

If you were to turn right on to the contour path, the trail would take you to Kloof Corner and spectacular views of Camps Bay. On any other day that is. The India Venster route is marked by traditional yellow shoe prints and the beginning section of this trail was well marked.

Despite the well marked trail, someone still felt it necessary to take a black koki pen and mark certain rocks with directional arrows showing the way. What would motivate someone to do that? It made absolutely no sense to me. I would later be forced to change my opinion of this amateur rock artist as you will read later on.

At 08h33, we continued on the trail directly behind the signboard. As we walked up along the path, the aerial cable cars passed silently above us. The car heading up from the lower cable station was clearly visible.

The cable car coming from the top of Table Mountain, on the other hand, was cocooned in thick mist.

 

 

At 08h48, we had a glimpse off to the left of the rock formation that gave the trail its name, maybe. There was a narrow trail that led off the main trail, in the direction of the India Venster. The distance covered to that point was 689 m with an elevation of 606 m. The moving time was 22 minutes.

The India Venster is located at the following GPS coordinates:

S 33⁰ 57.122′       E 018⁰ 24.120′

Elevation: 615 m

 

 

We re-joined the main trail again shortly thereafter and headed up the mountain. At this point in the hike, we should have had some spectacular views of the city below us. It was not going to be that kind of hike for us. What we were forced to do was look at what was right in front of us.

At about 09h23, after walking about 1.25km, we reached the section of the trail where we began to climb quite steeply. The elevation was 747 m. The total altitude gain from the start of the hike was 432 m. The total moving time was 41 minutes. The total time hiked to this point was 01h10.

At the 1.5km mark, we reached another reasonably challenging section of the trail involving some scrambling. [Elevation of 790 m. The total altitude gain was 488 m].

 

 

At 09h48, we reached the climbing section of the India Venster trail where staples had been embedded into the rock to assist the hiker to climb the rock face more safely. There was a warning sign on the wall that made it clear that whatever you were about to do, you were doing it at your own risk. The distance covered to that point was 1.65 km with an elevation of 832 m. Our moving time was 52 minutes with a total hiking time of 01h35.

A quick glance around us confirmed that we were still shut off from the rest of the world by a wall of water vapour. Belinda remarked that this made it a little easier to climb up the rock face because she couldn’t see how far up the mountain she was.

We waited at this point for a faster group to climb ahead of us and then we tentatively negotiated our way up the rock face. The conditions were not great with a cold wind starting to gust around us and the rock surface was wet and greasy from the fog hanging over us.

I was the last person to ascend that section and took the opportunity to take photos of the beautiful plant life all around us.

This section started with two staples near the bottom of the rock face with a short section of chain to pull yourself up with on to a ledge. These were followed by another two staples and a short section of chain to pull yourself up on to a second ledge. As long as you give yourself enough time to look around, you will find hand holds and places to put your feet to scale up this rock wall. I really enjoyed this part of the hike, even though the prevailing conditions were not ideal.

Remember to give those members in your party who struggle with heights enough space to do it on their own. Only grab on to them or take their hands if they ask you to. You may think that you are helping them by grabbing on to them to pull them up, but this can often lead to more anxiety and panic as they feel themselves losing control of the situation. You do need a certain amount of upper body strength to get through this section of the trail.

 

 

 

After making it to the top of this climbing section, we could not see where the path led so we chose to move to the right and around the mountain. My uncle, who was leading the party at that stage, immediately warned us that there was a sheer drop to our right and that we must be careful.

We discovered that by going right we had wandered off the trail and had ended up close to the edge of a steep ravine. Someone from another hiking group behind us remarked that the fog looked a big piece of soft, fluffy cotton wool. No one seemed willing to see if there would be a soft landing waiting for them just over the edge.

We turned around and headed back to the staples section and took the path to the left and climbed up through a narrow channel in the rock.

The visibility at this point was down to about 80 meters and my hair was soaking wet from the thick fog and water dripping on me from the rocks above.

In these poor conditions, we all walked past the rock with a rather large arrow scratched into the rock pointing left. Something to remember when you get to the top of this rock formation is that immediately after the staples and chains and have moved channel in the rock, you need to take the path to the left. We took the path to the right and walked on quite far while looking for trail markings and not finding any.

At 10h19, after re-tracing our steps to the point where the two paths split, we saw this rock. The distance covered until that point was 2.28 km with a moving time of 01h07. The elevation was 909 m.

And it was actually the two small arrows drawn with a black koki pen that we saw first. I have to give koki okie his or her dues for marking that rock with two black arrows. It saved us a lot of time and possibly other things too. The trail to the left is depicted in the photo below.

We continued around to the left and up on to a ridge. The path then turned to the left and we walked with the mountain on our left hand side. The visibility continued to be limited as we negotiated our way around the side of the mountain, keeping an eye on the sheer drop off to our right.

 

 

It was at this point that my new camera started beeping at me indicating that the memory card was full. I spent the next few minutes erasing photos of older hikes from the memory card. After that I continued on and joined the other three members of the hiking party who were waiting about two hundred meters further along the path, around a few corners. Belinda asked me why I didn’t respond to them calling out for me. I replied that I genuinely did not hear them at all. It worried me that within a few minutes I had dropped out of sight and earshot of my hiking party on a trail I had never done before. I wasn’t about to repeat that lapse of concentration again.

We continued along what we believed was the path which took us very close to the mountain. The path was wet and slippery and was quite difficult to walk on. Later along the trail, we realised that we were not walking on the path, but found it again soon enough by accident. The two paths were less than 5 meters apart, but the material difference was that the actual path was dry.

At 10h58, we got to the famous sign on the India Venster trail. “This is not an easy way down”. The sign is obviously facing towards the hikers coming from the opposite direction. The distance covered to that point was 3.12 km with an elevation of 987 m.

At 11h08, we reached the India Venster route signboard facing away from us.

After a minute or so, we reached a cross road. Left took us to the Cable Station and right to Platteklip Gorge. While we stood here, I noticed that something was attached to the top of a rock on the left hand side of the trail.

I had a look and on closer inspection saw that it was a commemorative plaque celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mountain Club of S.A. [1891 – 1941]. It also indicated the direction of the Fountain, Platteklip Gorge, Maclears Beacon and Kasteelspoort.

We stopped here to enjoy some snacks. My uncle pulled out a flask of coffee and we all enjoyed a mug of hot coffee. Each hiker that walked passed us looked on with a pained expression and probably thought, “Why did I not think to bring that?”

 

 

At 11h27, we began our descent. We followed the direction plaque for Tafelberg Road which eventually links up with the Platteklip Gorge trail. The going down Platteklip Gorge was interesting. We still had to deal with the thick fog and also very slippery conditions underfoot.

It seems that someone decided that the conditions were not slippery enough and added another natural ingredient into the mix to challenge each hiker to the absolute limit. A banana peel.

Can you really slip on a banana peel, I hear you asking? Check out the finding of Mythbusters on the subject and make up your own mind. In their experiment, this myth was busted. A very controversial finding, if you read the comments.

At 12h10, as we continued to descend Platteklip Gorge, the conditions were much drier and easier to move along. The distance covered to that point was 4.82 km with a moving time of 02h15 and total time of 03h57. The elevation was 677 m. As you can see from the photo below, the thick blanket of fog still hovered over us.

At 12h31, we reached the signpost pointing left toward the Tafelberg Road trail. We turned left there. Distance covered to the signpost was 5.46 km with a moving time of 02h30 and a total hiking time of 04h18. The altitude had dropped to 493 m.

At 12h33, a few metres on from the signpost, we reached another signpost indicating that the Tafelberg Road path turned off to the right.

I could hear the sound of a mountain stream just ahead, so I continued on straight and found a steadily flowing mountain stream running across the path. There is nothing quite like the sound of a stream while out on a hike. It makes everything better.

At 12h46, we came to the end of the hike. There were still loads of people starting up Platteklip Gorge as we were finishing our hike. Some were dressed just in sleeveless t-shirts and shorts. We had a parked vehicle at this location to take us back to the start of the trail where our vehicle was parked.

 

 

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The Stats

The route we walked had a total walking distance of 5.93 km. We walked a semi circular route with vehicles located at each end.

Here are the stats for this route:

Trip Odometer 5.93 km
Total Time 04h32
Moving Time 02h41
Moving Average 2.2 km/h
Overall Average 1.3 km/h
Max Speed 6.9 km/h
Elevation 341 m – 1050 m

I have attached a GPS trip log for the hike, including a side elevation profile.

 

India Venster Track Log

 

Photo Album – Hike on 08 July 2018

 

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Closing Remarks on India Venster

I have not looked so forward to a hike, in recent memory, like I have looked forward to doing this hike. On the day of the hike, the weather did not play along and ended up having a huge impact on the enjoyment factor of this hike.

Due to the heavy fog that stubbornly refused to leave, we were not able to see anything more than 80 meters in any direction. The fog also caused the trail surface itself to become slippery which slowed down our ascent and our descent.

The hike itself was not any more strenuous than Platteklip Gorge, in my humble opinion. The sections that required scrambling did not prove too much of a physical challenge. If you have long enough legs and a head for heights you will be fine. For those with shorter legs, or who are slightly less comfortable with heights, you will need help from your fellow hikers to get through this one. If you keep your head and look for hand holds and places to put your feet, it isn’t difficult.

I can believe that before there were staples and chains, it would have been way more difficult, perhaps even dangerous. That being said, if you lose concentration at any point or do not choose the best way up for you and your own limitations, a fall can have fatal consequences. A fall on to rock does not have to be high to cause serious head and spinal injuries.

What I did learn, in the less than ideal conditions, was the weather that you experience at the lower cable station can be at polar opposites to the weather you experience at or near the top of Table Mountain. It can chill you to the bone in minutes. Your clothing does not just have to keep you warm enough, but it needs to protect you against the wind and damp brought on by heavy fog as well.

Something else that you need to be aware of is that after climbing up the staples and chains, the trail markings are really quite poor. In the heavy fog, we wandered off the trail on three occasions. On one of these occasions, we walked right up to a blind sheer drop off which could have ended badly.

Urgent maintenance work needs to be done to improve the trail markings in that section of the trail. We were actually complaining earlier on the trail about someone who had chosen to draw arrows in black koki pen on the rocks to indicate the direction of the trail. We felt that this was totally unnecessary as the trail markings had been very good. However it was the koki pen graffiti artist that saved us after climbing past the staples and chains. Two well- placed koki pen black arrows on a single rock pointed us in the right direction, which was left. They were both very small arrows though and that is why we missed them the first time. I almost wrote thank you on the same rock, but I didn’t have a black koki pen with me.

Immediately after completing this hike, there was general consensus that we must do the hike again when the weather is better so that we can be able to enjoy the views offered by clear skies. On the second occasion we did this hike, on 08 February 2018, the weather was perfect.

What the bad weather did force us to do, which was actually a good thing, was to look at what was right in front of us and not what we could see off in the distance. The mountain has a wide variety of plant species with beautiful flowers and foliage. I spent a lot of time looking at what was within a meter of the trail and actually got to appreciate things that I would previously have just walked passed without a second glance.

I would highly recommend doing this hike, but only in good weather. Anything less than clear skies and bright sunshine and a gentle breeze and you will be doing yourself and the rest of your hiking party a disservice.

 



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