By Justin Hawthorne
Snowfall on Table Mountain in Cape Town is not unheard of – well, it may happen once or twice in the winter months (June – August) and more often than not it’s merely a flurry or occurs in the foulest conditions when we’re tucked up in bed and nobody is up on the iconic chunk of quartzitic sandstone. Needless to say, the snow at 1086m elevation typically doesn’t last long – barring the good year (last ‘significant’ snowfall was in August 2013) and either dissipates upon landfall or may just about survive the day.
On an icy cold July day back in 2017 I was on Table Mountain the day after a big system which was probable to have dropped a little snow on the summit. The mountain was saturated, with the odd pile of hail on the upper slopes, however no signs of snow were visible upon my arrival on the summit. There was intermittent cloud through the late morning and around midday there was a sudden drop in temperature – the fingertips felt it alright! And just like that tiny snowflakes began landing on my jacket sleeves – the excitement! I had stopped for a bite to eat and a cup of something hot and steaming from my flask so there was a split in whether to finish the replenishment or pick the camera up. Okay, not that big a decision!
Here is a minute of that experience I got on video.
I swiveled the camera dial onto camera mode and hit record, forgetting to check any settings which I would have changed quickly had I been thinking straight (I could have shot this in 4K…). The experience was surreal, standing at the rim of the mountain as the city basked in mid-winter sunshine, Lion’s Head and the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway cruising along as they formed the backdrop. I had snowflakes flitting on by and my nose and hands screamed for warmth! I couldn’t believe my luck – the timing!
While I was experiencing the snow falling at my fingertips others on the India Venster route also had a brief flurry, and other hikers atop Devil’s Peak had a little snow-falling up there too. Table Mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park which is itself part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas which is primarily made up of species within the rich Fynbos Biome – the vegetation occurring on the summit in the Table Mountain Group Sandstone soils. The climate is Mediteranean type with cold,wet winters and hot, dry summers – where snow occurs a handful of occasions during winter on our bigger peaks. Good examples being Matroosberg outside Ceres, Sneeuberg in the Cederberg or Somerset-Sneeukop in the Boland among man, many other mountain summits in the Cape Fold Mountains.
Snow Hunting Advice:
- Go prepared. As one should for any mountain excursion, but more so in this situation with snow as the temperatures on the summit push close to 0 Degrees Celsius.
- Don’t head out when the weather is still foul. Allow the worst to have past.
- Ensure you’ve told someone your plans and expected time of arrival off the mountain.
- Take your emergency gear and a charged cellphone, programmed with emergency numbers (WSAR – Wilderness Search and Rescue: 021 937 0300 / wsar.org.za ).
- Go with a club or someone who knows the mountain well and ideally carry a GPS device as when in snow conditions the trail can be totally obscured and visibility of surrounding area diminished.
- For the best experience, hire a local mountain guide and discuss your desired objectives – your guide will choose an appropriate route according to your ability and the weather conditions.