India Venster Trail
Table Mountain has three main climbing areas that are accessible from the lower cable station. The first two areas can be seen from the lower station and are the two obvious buttresses that are visible up and to the left. The main climbing area that is home to the quality routes is situated on the final 100m or so of rock cliffs that support the upper cable way station on the north-east side (“Africa Ledge”) overlooking the city and also the west side (“Fountain Ledge”) that graces one with the most spectacular views of the Atlantic seaboard and sunsets that get sucked into the ocean.
The trail gets is name from the shape of the ravine that is situated between the two large rock buttresses already mentioned - it is shaped like the Indian subcontinent. The “Venster” (window in the Afrikaans language) is attributed to a view point framed by rocks on the trail although it is no mean feat to actually identify it. Local die-hards will usually fight off old age by trudging up the India Venster route to get to the primary climbing ledge fondly known to locals as “The Ledge. This is the quickest and most efficient way of getting there but is by no means trivial for the un-initiated and inexperienced. Many seemingly competent individuals have been seduced by gravity and have met an unfortunate end (including paralysis and death). So it is wise to familiarize oneself with the route and preferably find a companion au fait with it.
The hike starts about 50m to the right of the ticket office where the bus parking ends and takes some formal steps to get going. The steps are often concealed by the buses parked there. The trail is well built here and finds its way to a very well constructed stepped section that is situated directly under the cable of the cable-way. This continues to the contour path for about 10 or 15 minutes.
On meeting the contour path there is a sign that designates the trail and also subtly warns one of its dangers. From time to time the trail has been marked by painted yellow foot-prints and blue dots. From here the trail starts up to the left but almost immediately veers right (west) and gradually ascends the gully on the west (right) side of the right side buttress (also known as Venster buttress) mentioned earlier. After 20 minutes or so one actually finds oneself almost directly on top of this buttress and although there is no shade there is often a cooling breeze here and this is a good time to take stock and enjoy the view.
The trail is partly visible as it ascends and contours to the left (east) below the rock amphitheatre and the cables of the cableway to a point that almost reaches the sky-line visible higher and about 500m away way to the left (SE). The trail is well worn and if one should deviate from it then it should be obvious to retrace one’s steps or merely look back and see where you digressed from it.
2nd ½ of trail. The Google earth photo, unfortunately does not do justice to the detail and the angle of the trail from the level of the start of the scramble up to the ledge
As one approaches the east/left side of this amphitheatre, the trail abruptly becomes steeper and one is faced with relatively easy scrambling that should not ever result in difficulty. Again the passing of many thousands of people has caused the trail to be well worn and if it is not obvious then turn back and look again. There is no diversion, here or anywhere, that does not result in the trail becoming tenuous. Continue up this section for about 50m in vertical height and find the trail that goes left and to the sky line. (Do not continue up onto the broken scree of rocks above that clearly goes nowhere.)
The dangerous part starts now. There is a 15 to 20m scramble that has claimed many victims but anyone that is practiced with any level of scrambling and 3 point climbing should find it easy. The scramble is well worn and some of the holds are rounded as a result; but the climbing is positive and the friction of the rock is excellent. It is not particularly steep and not very intimidating and this is, perhaps, why so many accidents occur here. As one reaches the skyline the scramble is back and behind one up to the right in a series of stepped right facing corners and chimney cracks that total about 15m in vertical height. One then enters a deep shady gully with easier scrambling until one tops out onto the buttress above. At this stage the upper cableway station is about 400m above and slightly to the right.
The trail now wanders easily up and to the right to the next buttress (keep an eye open for the yellow footprints) and one traverses to the left (SE) of this on level ground till the trail ascends steeply again up and to the right directly below the Cable car station and 100m from the top. This is “The Ledge” and any trained climber’s eye will recognize this as such.
On this side, facing NE – called Africa Ledge – there are two tiers with the upper tier boasting very steep and overhanging buttresses with grey rock. And the dominant features are rails, overhangs and dramatic arêtes.
The trail splits and takes one left about 100m to the “Lily pond” where there is perennial water; or, right and around the corner to Fountain Ledge that faces west and the Atlantic Seaboard and ocean. About 100m or so to the left is an overhang where one can cool off and compose oneself in the shade. This is colloquially known as the “Tea cave” where much posturing, psyching up, procrastination and tea drinking occurs. This is the centre of this little climbing universe and should you find any old geezers drinking tea there, you are likely to be heartily welcomed (which means that you are going to be dissed and insulted.) If anyone is nice and kind to you, it probably means that they disapprove of you and you should move on.
Ignore their manners, get over yourself, drink their tea, eat their biscuits and give as good as you get. They will give you invaluable information of the conditions and the routes and, if nothing else, make your day memorable.