Travel Photo Essay: A Sunny Midday Spring Hike up Lion’s Head

Last Sunday I went for just my second Lion’s Head hike since I’ve been living and studying in Cape Town.

Since my first hike in late October 2014 (when my brother, his girlfriend and myself went for a beautiful, brisk and completely unforgettable sunset hike. See the following link to read my post on that particular hike:http://tamlynamberwanderlust.com/?p=454), I’ve been dying to go up again.

Obviously, this meant waiting for a good day with gorgeous weather (check) and plucking up the courage to go for a solitary hike (double check).

Sunday proved to be just that, so I hurried off to the Civic Centre where I caught the MyCiti bus up to Kloof Nek, I ended up taking the Civic Centre-Camps Bay 107 Route there and back but the 106 Route apparently also stops there. (The buses were fuller than usual what with the Kfm Gun Run on the go and also, with many families eagerly heading for Table Mountain)

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That was a really easy and affordable way to reach my final destination and although I contemplated joining the other Table Mountain hikers (next time, I’ve decided I’m trying the Platteklip Gorge Hike πŸ˜€ ), I stuck with Lion’s because it was more familiar to me.

At the Kloof Nek stop, I crossed the road and walked about 100-150 m up the road (just be careful of passing cars and motorbikes, there are a few twists in the road and a lot of overhanging vegetation. If you’re driving, there’s ample parking close to the hike starting point (though it’s generally always pretty full in my experience) and you can even drive onto Signal Hill – once known as ‘Leeuwen Staart‘ or Lion’s Tail – afterwards, as it’s well worth seeing if you have the time. πŸ™‚

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After a short time, you’ll come across the Visitors’ Centre – I haven’t checked it out but it looks well-run and is surely useful.

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Some of the flowers I saw along the hike, mainly on this pathway. Right: Pincushion and a geranium below. On the top left, is the keurboom, which is part of the pea tree family.

Just past there, on my left-hand side
of the road, I noticed a footpath leading upwards and decided to try it out. I’m really glad I did because it was beautiful and I loved the Cape spring flowers and views of the sprawling city, nearby Table Mountain and of course, the proudly looming Lion’s Head.

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The ‘secret path’, with its lovely wooden walkways and sandy pole steps, was seriously stunning and so lush (I kept waiting for a snake to slither out across my path actually) and for people with dogs, it’s an especially nice way to get up or down from Lion’s Head, as it links with the main hiking route after a few hundred metres.

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Pincushion Proteas with Lion’s Head behind.
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Start of the ‘parking lot’.

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‘Keurboom’ (Virgilia oroboides), which I adore, partially concealing Table Mountain.

As you make your way along the path, the views and surrounding foliage only improve. I especially loved the flowering pink keurbooms (pictured above) that lined the pathway! πŸ™‚

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Lower Table Mountain with Kloof Nek Road curling to the right.
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Main parking area where most hikers start from. On a sunny day, especially on weekends, it’s choc-a-block.

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After my charming little detour, it was time to start the hike proper. The first few hundred metres are certainly the steepest of the dirt sections in my opinion and it’s quite a shock to the system when you’re exposed to the elements as you bravely hike upwards.

I always kind of think I’m quite a fit and active person until I hike Lion’s Head and then that theory is quickly laid to bed – but it’s a great workout (especially the odd-2km hike up) for your arms and legs, even if your sore joints don’t quite thank you for it the next day. πŸ˜›

Be careful of joggers hurtling downhill and more pressing hikers, who are on a mission to get up and down as fast as possible. For the rest of the hikers, they’re a mix of couples, groups of friends and even some elderly people or young families with small kids (though the infant strapped behind his mum has to be a record… I was a bit horrified that she risked that actually).

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Camps Bay and Twelve Apostles spread out before your eyes the higher you get.

IMG_20151011_153549I really love the views of Camps Bay and the Twelve Apostles that slowly spread out into view as you climb higher.

Around this area, when the exotic-looking Silver Trees start and just after the first pole steps, there’s a paragliding launch site; it was pretty awesome to see the red-and-white paragliders sailing down towards Camps Bay on my return trip.

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There’s a separate path that branches off somewhere around this point (as well as the first of the rock faces, which provide some much needed shade throughout the day). I saw a few people coming back on this path but I’m honestly not sure where it leads to, so I’d like to follow it sometime to find out.

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It gets a bit rockier for a time but the rock steps are fun to climb… well, mostly. πŸ™‚

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When you round the curve at this point, you are blessed with stunning views of Bantry Bay, Sea Point and even Robben Island in the distance. (You can see it quite well from the 669m summit though so be sure to check it out)

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One of my favourite shots of Lion’s Head from below.

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I’m not big on public selfies but it was a last resort as I hiked up, given that there weren’t many people around… I just loved the ocean views in the background! πŸ™‚

(I hiked up on my own, which was perfectly safe on a busy Sunday morning but, as a woman, I would be more wary doing so very early in the morning or late at night, though I’ve seen rangers patrolling the route in the past.)

After that, you get great views of Sea Point, Robben Island (again) and eventually, Signal Hill too. I also really love the boulders, various flowers and ice plants, which line the pathway on both sides at this point. (I ‘wasted’ a lot of time in that area, especially coming down, taking photos of the flora and the oceanic and/or city views below.)

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One of the many dogs, which joined its owners on the hike. I saw all kinds of breeds and sizes and much to my surprise, most of them managed the full route entirely on their own.

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IMG_20151011_153818I love the rock faces that start after that as you wind your way upwards. At this point, you’re just under the midway mark but as some joggers joked when one woman asked how much of the hike was left and then rounded the next corner: “She’s about 40% done… but what she doesn’t know is that the worst parts are still to come.” Cruel it may sound but they were perfectly right in saying that… πŸ˜›

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For some bizarre reason, on both occasions that I’ve hiked up now, I always get faintly giddy at this point, which isn’t great because you do have to climb some considerable boulders and even use the first chain/iron staple aid for the first time. Coming down, however, was relatively easy and I jumped from boulder to boulder because I got tired of sliding down the rocks on my backside. πŸ˜›

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Though I’ve hiked in jeans and rather worn-down takkies (many people use proper rock climbing shoes) both times, most people hike in shorts when it’s really warm out. Next time, I’m going to follow suit because your legs don’t get scratched and it’s much cooler that way. (On my way down, a guy passed me and said, “You’re brave to hike in jeans,” which I cringed and laughed at but actually, I was more foolish than brave…)

A lot of the guys hike topless, whilst some girls hike in bikini tops… I’m not sure I’ll break out my bikini top next time I hike Lion’s but a strappy or (preferably) short-sleeved tee is advisable and sunscreen is a must! I didn’t burn (barring on the back of my arms, which was weird…) because I had generously applied sunscreen before I started but I did end up with a terrific headache after spending so much solid time in the sun… Although I’m not a fan of peak caps or hats, they are important when you hike in hot summer or spring weather, even in the late afternoon.

A bit further on, you reach a crossroad… If you head left, the route is far less intimidating (as far as climbing and giddying heights below go leastways) but it takes a bit longer and is apparently steeper.

However, if you head right, you will have to use the iron chains, ladders and staples to climb up and at times, it does get a bit hair-raising. I personally kind of hate that section and every time I hike the route (last time we came down that way, but this time, I opted to climb up… I’m not sure which makes me more nervous even now) I swear to myself (because yes, I have a slight fear of heights…) that I’ll never take that path again and yet, I do so anyway because the challenge and the adrenaline rush that comes with it (as well as knowing I’ve conquered one of my truest fears) make me feel faintly kick-ass for a few moments afterwards.

When I went up, a lot of people were resting on the ledges, trying to gather strength for the last big climb. I trudged on but my legs were getting shaky at times and I was really worried that I’d slip or do something careless. Fortunately, there were a few guys waiting atop the trickier sections to offer a helping hand and, although I managed to get up on my own, it made me feel much safer and somewhat reassured.

People are pretty patient and wait for you, no matter how slow you go and it’s very much a ‘give-and-take’, which I love. We all have our own agenda and reasons for hiking the route but there’s a strong sense of togetherness. For anyone who says that we Capetonians are selfish and only in it for ourselves, I suggest you hike this route because maybe then, you’ll end up changing your mind about that…

I took a rucksack (for water, sunscreen, camera and other personal effects) and although I held my large smartphone in my hand most of the way up (and down), from here till the silver tree ‘forest’, I safely packed my phone away as I needed to free up both hands and didn’t wish to take foolish risks… as such, my photo coverage experienced a slight break. (Make sure you aren’t too weighed down though, as this doesn’t aid you at all.)

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Be careful of the smooth roots, which can be slippery, and stumps that obstruct the path at times.
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Patience is a virtue and a common courtesy for this section. Wait your turn and gather your strength for the ‘last’ upward climb.

The route gets a bit easier for a few moments but then, the steepness and the boulders begin anew again. I went back down by sliding off the boulders or gingerly seeking out footholds in between them but going up, I gracelessly used my arms and legs to pull and propel my body upwards.

I was a bit tired and sweaty by this time but I knew I was almost there so I plunged on without stopping for a rest or to steady myself. I’m glad that I scaled the final section – just before you reach the summit where the crowds gather to soak in the atmosphere, take photos and even drink or smoke as they rest atop Lion’s Head – with two guys climbing before and behind me, because they seemed to be watching out for me and again, especially when you’re a bit shaky and drained, it’s best not to hike up alone, if purely for safety’s sake.

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Summit reached: Mission complete.

Once you reach the summit, take time to rest, drink some water and take in the 360-degree, breathtaking views that surround you. It’s quite something. There are certain markers and boulders, which people always pose next to or on top of for photos so keep an eye out for those too.

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I also saw a tame, beautifully marked rock pigeon and a few lizards sunning themselves on the rocky ledges so if you’re interested in a little wildlife photography, keep your camera handy for that purpose too. πŸ™‚

I moved around, settling on boulders here and then there and, even though it was pretty crowded, I managed to find more than a few great, empty spots to sit at or take pictures from.

I was quite proud of myself for taking photos almost the whole way up and still managing to do the route in under 50 minutes this time. The average is about an hour but some people do it in less time but it’s best to pace yourself according to your level of fitness and overall physical and mental feeling at the time.

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The views are pretty mesmerising. My favourites were undoubtedly the sights of the coastline and Table Mountain, with the city stretched out below it… Up on Lion’s, you really do feel on top of the world.

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You can stand on the edge of the ledges and boulders but just be careful if you do… it’s quite a drop.

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Iceplants and fynbos bushes frame Robben Island in the distance.

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If you’re in a group, pair or even on your own, don’t be shy about politely asking someone to take a photo or two of you so that you leave the summit with more than selfies. πŸ™‚

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After killing about half an hour up there, I was ready to head down so I could grab a few more photos and get out of the sun. I took my leisurely time on my return journey, though even if you ‘hustle’, it is relatively easy (barring a few sections) and quick to descend to the base.

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I followed the left path this time as it provided more safe photo opportunities and there were fewer crowds so I knew I wouldn’t be hindering anyone with my frequent pauses.

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I loved the lichen and ‘peephole’ that this boulder offered.

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I don’t know who stacked these rocks but I loved the symbolism of them somehow.

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Spot the paragliders.

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You can vaguely see the Table Mountain Cableway in the distance.

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Once I got down around 13:15 p.m., I walked back along the parking area (be careful of the cars and make sure you’re visible to them as far as possible), which afforded me some of my favourite photos and I made my way back to the MyCiti bus stop (it’s just as you exit).

I really loved every minute (yes, even the scary moments) of my solitary hike and honestly, I can’t wait to go up again sometime.

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Every time I explore Cape Town and its more ‘natural’ highlights, I realise just how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful city.

I hope you get to experience Lion’s Head for yourself sometime… because even when you wake up with aching joints the next day, you can’t help but realise how much good it has done for your mind, body and soul. πŸ™‚

Happy hiking!

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