Travel Review – Lion’s Head (Sunset) Hike

The Lion’s Head hike is yet another awesome hiking trail in the glorious Cape Town surrounds. Given that it is only a few minutes’ drive away from the CBD and some of the surrounding Cape Town suburbs, it’s the ideal hiking trail for Capetonians and visitors alike.

The main route, otherwise known as the ‘Spiral Route’ (well-named!) should take you between one to one & 1/2 hours if you go at a leisurely pace. The route is about 2 km either way and, although you can head up at any time of day (or during summer, even nights for the ‘full moon hikes’), it’s probably best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the worst of the sun’s heat and rays. Besides, tackling it just before or near to sunset is what most people choose to do – and quite rightly so!

My companions and I arrived at the Lion’s Head parking lot at around 17:45 pm and we tackled the first stretch, which is a very steep upward climb even if you do it slowly (be careful going up or down – the ground is quite gravelly and many people come hurtling down the mountainside towards or past you, so go about things carefully and avoid bumping into anyone), at rather a brisk pace. As such, I was gasping like a fish out of water once we reached the top section of that stretch (there are benches perfectly situated for you to admire the amazing views of the city itself, Table Mountain, Signal Hill and even the distant harbour.), which is where you can find one of the two paragliding launch sites (Contact Windmaster Paragliding on + 27 (073) 152 6093 or www.paraglidingsa.com), but if you go a bit more slowly, it’s really not too bad and, apart from one or two other spots where you have to navigate over rocks and (note: these are narrow in places so tread with caution) around cliff ledges using steel ‘staples’ (or hand-grips) and ladders, that’s about as hard as the hike is likely to be. Another bonus is that this hike is free and there are a few routes to explore.

Age and fitness come into play somewhat less on this hike, as I passed quite a few young, middle-aged and elderly people (many of whom, myself included, are not all fit, whether we look it or not) and apparently the hike is child-friendly but I would advise against taking very young children up to the summit. Personally, I think that children ages 10 and up would fare best but even they would need assistance and careful supervision.

Once you get beyond the paragliding site and just after the ‘jeep track’, you will enter the Silver Tree forest (there is a separate path close to here which leads to Lion’s Rump. I’d like to go back and try that route someday) and encounter the first ‘pole-steps’.

This next section is relatively easy and there are some great spots to stop and catch your breath while you take in the spectacular views of the Lion’s Head distantly looming above you and leave Table Mountain behind you somewhat. It is also from this point onwards that you get your first glimpse of the distant beaches of Camps Bay & Clifton, as well as some pretty stunning ocean views.

After that, you soon round the corner and find yourself with the most glorious, almost bird’s eye view of Sea Point, Green Point and even Robben Island. (Look out for the ships out at sea or just off-shore) Apparently on this side there is a well-known climbing area known as the ‘Lion’s Head Granite’. From there onwards, the path becomes a bit narrower in places , as you encounter more rocks and boulders along the way. Here, the path curls around & you’re afforded stunning views of nearby Signal Hill (another popular viewing & paragliding spot), as well as the harbour and majestic Table Mountain.

However, very soon you encounter your first steel ladder and things get pretty tight road-wise, so go slowly and make sure you grip the path/rocks well. Soon after you’ll encounter a chain hand ‘rope’ and must use it to negotiate your way around the traverse. Keep heading left until you reach the rather famous steel ladder. It is here that you must opt to take the more precarious route via the chains & staples suspended from and embedded in the rockface or, alternatively, continue left on the slightly longer but ‘safer’ option.

(Going up, we went left because we were all a bit tired and dizzy but we came down that route and I think I was the only one who got a bit panicky inside when it came to tackling the chains and staples in the fading light but even I, with my usually well-hidden fear of heights, was perfectly okay with the route and managed to get down safely, slippery takkie soles and all.)

This route wasn’t much longer and it was (faintly) less challenging. The paths join up again when you near the second Stone Pine (today three still exist as route markers – they are originally from the Meditteranean) or Umbrella tree. Be careful here too, the tree’s roots have been smoothed away slightly and make the path slippery in places as a result.

After you have passed this point, you are onto the final stretch: the Summit Ridge. Caution is advised here too, as there is another steel ladder and some exposed sections. I quite frequently climbed up on my knees (and coming down, I used my rear-end… it just seems less frightening that way when you’re tired and scared of falling off) to help mount the boulders but mostly you just need to grip carefully with your hands and feet and use them in tandem to get up or down this section.

Be patient and, if you’re tired or uncertain of where to go next, allow others to pass.Most of the climbers were very considerate and thoughtful and quite frankly, it just makes the hike more enjoyable for all concerned when it’s done that way.

Once you reach the summit, your breath (if you’ve regained it at all) is sure to be stolen from you once again as you reach the top and are afforded the most amazing 360° degree – and best possible – views of the surrounding mountains, ocean and indeed, the Mother City herself far below. We managed to do the hike in precisely an hour, which meant we had a few spare minutes before the setting sun began its ‘acceleration’ process.

If you’re there close to sunset, be sure to get some photos on the summit (670 m) and secure yourself a good spot to drink some water, take in the surrounds (yes, the hike is worth every breathless moment or sore joint you’ll experience both during and afterwards… trust me on that.) and wait for the red sun to dip below the horizon.

Some people bring wine or beer to toast as sundowners, which is fine as long as you do so in moderation and stay sober… I wouldn’t advise doing this hike anything but 100% sober and alert.

Then, when the moment has passed or you’ve soaked up your fill of the beauty, carefully begin your descent. The light tends to fade fairly quickly after this time but it was more than light enough for us to see our way back down and to even tackle the ‘harder’ route.

Be sure to take a rucksack for your possessions (avoid climbing up or down whilst holding things, you will need both hands in places, I assure you) and take some water or a snack with you.Comfortable, good hiking shoes are also a must and it may help to make sure you have a torch or otherwise an in-built light from one of your devices just in case the darkness hits you thick and fast.

Be safe and enjoy it… It’s something you’ll remember for a long time to come. 🙂

Below are some snaps I took on the hike:

image One of the flower varieties that adorn the mountainside. image

A view of the Camps Bay side of Cape Town. image

Inching closer: Lion’s Head.The city below.

The twinkling lights are a most beautiful sight in the fading light. image

Waiting for the sunset: You won’t want to do this hike on your lonesome. It’s best to share the unforgettable beauty with your loved ones and friends. (Above and below: Two of the rocky outcrops to choose for the best views.)

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Let me know your thoughts or suggestions! I'd love to hear from you.