Knife’s Edge – Table Mountain Tight Rope Walk
Knife’s Edge – Table Mountain Tight Rope Walk
On Sunday 16 September 2018, four of us decided to tackle what we thought was a relatively challenging hike where our tolerance for heights would be challenged, just briefly, as we navigated our way across the Knife’s Edge. What we experienced was a hike that was much more challenging than we expected and that demanded every bit of the collective fitness and mental resolve we could muster. I had been off for about a month recovering from an illness I picked up just after completing The Kraken in August 2018 so this was my first hike since then. For most of us, this was a bucket list hike that we had been wanting to do for quite some time. We just were never able to get anyone who had done the route before to take us.
How to get there
The Knife’s Edge hiking trail can be attempted from various locations on and around Table Mountain. You can include it in a hike up Devil’s Peak from Tafelberg Road or start from the Newlands Forestry Station. We chose to take the most direct route up and began the hike from the Rhodes Memorial parking lot directly below the King’s Block House.
The Speedy Review
This elusive hike is one we have been wanting to do for a long time now. It certainly did not disappoint, and provided a mixture of both technical difficulties, extreme heights and beautiful views. I would not attempt this route if you have a fear of heights and if you don’t like scrambling, because the route has its fair share of both. Despite this, there is a huge sense of achievement when you reach the summit of Devil’s Peak via Knife’s Edge. Make sure you have enough food and water with you, as the route is tough and can be strenuous. It has become our new favourite route up the mountain.
Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because this hiking trail is not suitable for dogs due to frequent scrambling sections and shear drop offs and she felt quite left out.
The Nitty Gritty
We started from the Rhodes Memorial parking lot utilising the trail that faces directly on to the King’s Blockhouse. There is another trail that faces in the direction of Newlands Forest which is a slightly longer way around, but joins up later with the same trail. We headed off at about 07h15. The trail started with a mild climb that cut across two gravel jeep tracks. We crossed over the second jeep track at 07h32 with a hiking distance of 400 m [elevation 273 m]. As we crossed over the second jeep tract, we ascended a wooden pole stair case that became gradually steeper as we got closer to the King’s Block House.
At 07h43, we came to a t-junction in the trail and turned right. The distance covered to that point was 800 m [elevation 354 m]. Five minutes later we went through the turnstile (900 m) and followed the jeep track on our left (closer to the mountain) for about 50 metres and turned left again up a slightly hidden and steep wooden pole staircase. Some of the stairs are in a state of disrepair so be careful you don’t slip. This is the most direct route to the King’s Block House instead of continuing on straight ahead and following the gravel jeep track around to the left. We reached the King’s Block House at about 08h00.
We followed the path to the right of the Block House. Almost immediately, the path split left and right and we turned right. About 20 m later the path split again left or continue straight. We turned left there and walked past a small cement water reservoir on our left. That trail took us directly up the mountain towards the Fire Lookout Station high above us.
At 08h05, we reached a point where the trail split left and right and we went right. The distance to that point was 1.3 km [elevation 482m). At 08h10. we reached the first scrambling section of the trail. We were at an elevation of 500 m and it had taken us about 55 minutes, in total, to get there.
If you are reading a hiking blog for the first time, you may not know what the term ‘scrambling’ means. A quick check online would provide you with a couple of explanations:
Scrambling is simply climbing an easy rock face or mountain without a rope or other technical climbing gear. Scrambling lies between the activity called hiking and technical rock climbing. Perhaps the best way to differentiate it from hiking is that with scrambling you use your hands for balance and to pull yourself up rocks when you scramble.
Another website puts scrambling into its proper context:
|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|
After completing the first scrambling section, the path continued up or left. We turned left and continued around to the left of the buttress ahead of us. At about 08h15, we reached the second scrambling section after a distance of 1.4 km (elevation 531 m). Again after that scrambling section the path went off to the left [558 m].
At 08h30, we reached the Fire Lookout Station after covering a distance of about 1.7 km (639 m) and a total hiking time of 01h10m. Very disappointingly, the Fire Lookout Station is in a shocking state of disrepair. There is a bed frame and mattress in it, but it is hard to imagine that is still fit for the purpose it was built for. Local graffiti artists have gone to town inside it which just adds to the look of neglect. From far below, this little structure looks intriguing. Up close, it’s an eye sore and in desperate need of some tender loving care. Not surprisingly, we didn’t stick around for long. At about 08h40, we reached a large flat rock area which would be a good spot to have a snack break (689 m). We didn’t stop there for a snack and regretted it later when we all started to get hungry with nowhere suitable to stop and graze.
At about 08h50, we came to a split in the path going left and right. We chose to go left toward’s Devil’s Peak. The distance at that point was 2.1 km [elevation 748 m). The total hiking time was 01h30m.
At 09h10, we reached the start of Knife’s Edge after a distance of 2.5 km. The section of Knife’s Edge, with a sheer drop off to the left, is only about 30 m in length. My advice to you is, if you think you may experience height issues, stick to the right of Knife’s Edge where it has a rocky tapered edge that doesn’t look nearly as extreme as the 200 – 300m sheer drop off on the left. There are sections on the right of Knife’s Edge where you will need to get down on your bum and slide down to a rock about 1.5 – 2m below, so you still need to be careful when taking the ‘safer’ option. Rather try and assist you hiking buddies through this section than going it alone. At was at that point that the batteries in my Garmin Etrex died and I realised that the spare batteries were lying on the TV cabinet. That meant that I was not able to record any elevation readings and had to rely on Strava alone for distance and time calculations. It took about 10 minutes for all of us to cross to the other side of Knife’s Edge.
While we were crossing, a trail runner came shooting past us and skipped over Knife’s Edge like a flat peddle across a tranquil pond. While we tracked his progress up the other side, we spotted a Himalayan Tahr poking its head out from behind a rock. It was the first time Belinda and I has seen one of these mythical creatures. For ages, we had harboured serious doubts that they actually existed. It was too far away for me to take a photo of it so you are going to have to take my word for it until you see one for yourself.
After making it across Knife’s Edge there are two path options to follow. There was a distinct path veering off to the left and there was a less noticeable path off to the right. We first went left, but found that scrambling section too dangerous. We decided to backtrack a short distance and followed the path to the right and found the short scramble up that way much easier. You still need to be sure of your handholds for that section because there are some wet and slippery sections. A good tip to follow over that section is to take one step up the first section on the left hand side and then move across to the right in a straight line and then go straight up. This will make more sense when you are there with the rock face in front of you.
At 09h38, we had come around and over the top of the ridge and descended on the other side. The path was quite overgrown at that point and we had to negotiate our way over a section of scattered boulders. We lost the path at one point but picked it up again as we headed straight toward Devil’s Peak.
The path then veered off to the left and around the buttress ahead of us. Keep a lookout for several cairns placed on the trail to confirm that you are on the right track. Like most rock cairns placed on an uphill route you will most probably only see them when you are at the same height as them or above. Belinda did her best to raise the profile of at least 3 of these cairns that will hopefully make it easier for you to see them from below. Immediately after these 3 cairns, the trail was very steep and difficult to navigate as there were loose stones and mud on the path and we had to squeeze through narrow openings in the tall vegetation. A good tip to help you through that section of the trail is to grab hold of the thin, but sturdy tree trunks next to the path to help to steady you as you climb. Try not to grab on to the branches or the leaves as you might damage them in the process.
At 10h00, we followed the path around as it hugged the side of the mountain. The path was narrow and positioned right on the edge with a steep drop off to the left. This will be another section of the trail that you would struggle with if you have height issues. At about 10h20, we reached another scrambling section that took us up towards Devils’ Peak after a distance of 3.2 km with a total hiking time of 03h00m. This was turning out to be quite a technically difficult hike with some challenging scrambling sections and narrow paths. We were averaging just over a kilometre an hour at that point which should give you an indication of just how challenging the route was. As we continued hiking, it was fast becoming Belinda’s and my most exhilarating hike on Table Mountain to date. After the scrambling section, the trail moved around to the left and after a short distance we were climbing again up a steep, muddy path. At the top of that section, the path split again and we went left. After a short distance the trail split again and we went right towards the back of Devil’s Peak.
At 10h28, we reached to summit of Devil’s Peak. It had taken us about 03h15m to cover the distance of 3.3 km. We enjoyed a well deserved brunch break at the lower trig beacon as the summit trig beacon was decorated with the less exhausted bodies of fellow hikers that had got there before us using the more traditional route.
At about 11h00, we departed Devil’s Peak and headed down the more traditional route toward the Saddle. We then continued on until we reached the silver trail plaque that directed us to the left and Newlands Ravine. That was at about 11h40. It had taken us about 40 minutes to reach that point from the summit of Devil’s Peak. The total hiking distance so far on the day was 4.3 km (Strava) and the time taken was 04h20. This was significantly slower than our usual hiking pace of 2.5 – 2.8 km per hour. Once again confirmation of the technical difficulty of this route.
At 11h55, we reached the top of Newlands Ravine. The distance covered was 4.8 km (04h35m). We descended immediately without wasting too much time. We reached the hexagonal picnic table located on the Contour Path about 50 minutes later and enjoyed a quick snack break. The hiking distance of the Newland’s Ravine section is about 1.2 km which put the total hiking distance thus far at 6.0 km. A total hiking time of 05h25m.
At 12h35, we headed off again, along the Contour Path, towards the King’s Block House. At about 13h05, we crossed a stream and took the opportunity to replace the remainder of the luke warm liquid in our water bottles with ice cold, fresh mountain water [7.2 km].
At about 13h25, we reached the turnstile again [8.3 km]. Instead of going through the turnstile, we turned right and followed the path back down to the Rhodes Memorial parking area. We completed the hike at about 13h45. Without the benefit of a working GPS, I could only record minimum stats for the hike. The total hiking distance was 9.3 km (Strava) with a total time of 06h30m.
The hiking stats for the entire route were as follows:
|Trip Odometer||9.3 km|
|Elevation Gain||1091 m|
Watch the Relive video below to get a good idea of the route and the elevation profile of this hike.