A Real Cliff Hanger
Let’s start at the top of Table Mountain. The real reason to make your way up this sandstone monstrosity is to go down it, and there’s only one respectable way to do that: backwards, off a cliff, attached to a single sturdy rope.
Table Mountain in Cape Town, on the southernmost peninsula of South Africa, is home to the world’s highest commercial abseiling experience. Abseiling (or rappelling, as it’s more commonly known in the U.S.) is the controlled descent from a mountain by rope. Expert climbers use the technique to safely navigate steep or otherwise dangerous terrain. For the rest of us, it offers a stupefying (though relatively safe) ride down a jagged, vertical rock face. With professional guides in charge, all you have to do is get through your safety briefing, wear the proper equipment, attach to a rope-and-anchor system, and step off a cliff’s edge straight into thin air.
Hands down, Cape Town is South Africa’s most exhilarating city. It offers top-notch hotels, dining, arts, culture, and shopping, plus a celebrated wine region (www.southafrica.net/sat/content/en/us/wine) less than an hour’s drive away. There’s also a broad range of outdoor pursuits available in and around Table Mountain National Park (www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain). The star of the show is the ubiquitous Table Mountain, reaching more than 1,000m (3,500 ft.) above sea level and dominating the area’s landscape. The flat-topped massif is sandwiched between two other mountains called Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, as well as a small hill called Signal Hill, that together cradle the city until it juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Standing atop its vast horizontal plateau, reaching more than 3km (2 miles) across, you’ll be wowed by the unparalleled views of a vast national park, deep blue sea, and bustling cosmopolitan life far below. Just be sure to check the weather before heading up; a cloudy “tablecloth” draped over the mountain can prevent good sightseeing-and sometimes even halt abseiling trips.
Assuming the sky looks clear enough, you can ascend Table Mountain by hiking or riding the popular Table Mountain Aerial Cableway (www.tablemountain.net), which runs every 10 minutes or so. If you want to travel on your own, check out Frommer’s South Africa travel guide for details on the best paths to take; there are more than 300 trails to choose from and frequent rain can quickly create hazardous conditions in some areas. To reach the mountain’s highest point, you’ll want to continue past Platteklip Gorge—a direct route to the summit that takes about 21⁄2 hours—for another 19m (62 ft.) to Maclear’s Beacon. After that, take some time to catch your breath and get your bearings—not to mention your balance. You’ll need it for what comes next.
As you peer over the staggeringly high 112m (367 ft.) drop, your heart pounds so hard and fast that you think it might break through your chest. Your instincts scream at you to turn around and make a run for the cable car. But don’t do it—even if your harness, gloves, and helmet do little to calm your nerves. When you finally step off the mountain and rappel into sheer space, feet bouncing off the rocky vertical wall in front of you, the rush is head-to-toe intoxicating. As you slowly realize you’re secure and an overwhelming silence fills your ears, the mountaintop begins sliding from view and you experience a weightless sensation unlike any other. You start to feel surprisingly comfortable dangling on a rope, breathing the fresh mountain air, far above the crowded city streets. Finally, it sinks in: You’re on top of the world—or Cape Town’s part of it anyway.
To extend your high, add kloofing to your itinerary. This combo of cliff jumping and scrambling down river gorges culminates with another rappel down a shorter waterfall. By the end of it, you’ll be an abseiling pro, not to mention a cooler, more refreshed one. —JS
Cape Town Tourism, 107 Clocktower, V&A Waterfront ( 27/21-405-4500; www.tourismcapetown.co.za).
Tour: Abseil Africa, Long St. ( 27/21-424-4760; www.abseilafrica.co.za).
When to Go: Oct–May
Cape Town Airport.
$$ Derwent House, 14 Derwent Rd. ( 27/21-422-2763; www.derwenthouse.co.za). $–$$ Hotel Protea Fire and Ice, New Church and Victoria sts. ( 27/21-488-2555; www.proteahotels.com/protea-hotel-fire-and-ice.html).