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All You Need To Know About Climbing Lion’s Head
Picture-perfect views, exquisite flora, full moon night hikes
Are you really a Capetonian if you’ve never stood at the top of the iconic Lion’s Head peak, with its panoramic city views?
On a clear day, you’ll see picture-perfect views of Table Mountain, Camps Bay, The 12 Apostles Mountain Range, Camps Bay and Clifton beaches, Signal Hill, Robben Island, and the city. There are different routes, all with the option to summit, or to circle the mountain without reaching the top, making it suitable for a variety of ages and fitness levels.
MANY ROUTES FOR EVERYONE, FROM BEGINNER TO MODERATE
The hike takes roughly 1.5 to 2.5 hours up and down, depending on your level of fitness and how long you spend up top. The main routes start from the parking area on Signal Hill Road.
The popular clockwise route starts up the Jeep track. It spirals up, offering constantly changing views: Camps Bay, Table Mountain, Twelve Apostles, and the City Bowl. There are benches along the path where you can take a break and admire the view. You’ll pass the green netting-covered area where paragliders launch just before the path narrows into a path with stone steps veering right and uphill. If you prefer to avoid hiking uphill, look out for the sign-posted path veering left which takes you all the way around the mountain in the direction of the kramat without summiting.
If you like a bit of a challenge, stick to the main path which curves around the mountain before reaching a series of ladders and chains to help you scramble to the top. As an alternative to the chains and ladders, you can follow a sign-posted path that skips the climbing: it’s a better choice if you struggle with heights, but there is still a bit of scrambling to get to the top.
At the top, groups of friends take a breather to enjoy the scenery and take photos. The summit has a partially concreted surface so you can walk around and appreciate the 360-degree views. Find a place to sit down, unpack your picnic and enjoy the vibe.
There is a second, less popular route too. From the base, it circles anti-clockwise, passing a kramat that was erected in remembrance of two apartheid-era religious leaders. It then joins the main route to the top, or you can follow it all the way around back to where you started.
AMAZING NEW VEGETATION SINCE THE FIRE
Lion’s Head forms part of Table Mountain National Park, and hosts a stunning array of endemic flora. Keep an eye out for the silver trees, mainly growing on the bottom half of Lion’s Head. The silvery sheen that earned this plant its name comes from the tiny hairs that cover the leaves. This species is unique to the Cape Peninsula. Right on top of the summit you can see Peninsula Sandstone fynbos, an ecosystem which is only found there and at Cape Point.
A lot of vegetation is renosterveld, which translates to “rhino bush”. It is largely made up of a species of grey-hued plant which is a dull grey colour, almost the same colour as a rhino's hide. It grows particularly well after a fire. Lion's Head burnt extensively in January 2019, now there is a proliferation of new growth. Fire stimulates dormant seeds to germinate and the ash left after a fire provides the soil with minerals. Look for other vegetation such as orchids, hyacinths, irises and amaryllis species especially around the base in the spring months.
PLANNING YOUR HIKE AND STAYING SAFE
You don’t need a permit to climb Lion’s Head, and there is no entrance fee. It’s a good idea to stick to popular hiking times, which includes all daylight hours, and at night during the full moon. Dogs are permitted on leashes. Mountain biking is not permitted on Lion’s Head: there is a R500 fine.
There are a few things you should do to stay safe on the hike. Hike in a group, and make sure you take a charged phone and enough water. It’s always a good idea to notify a friend or family member that you’re hiking, and when you expect to be back, especially as reception is spotty in parts of the hike. Save the Table Mountain National Park emergency number, +27(0)86 110 6417. The 24-hour emergency number to report fires is +27(0)861 106 417.
FULL MOON, NIGHT HIKES DATES
Regardless of the season, every full moon, and the nights before and after, Lion’s Head literally lights up with hikers. It’s become a Cape Town institution for hikers to set off in the early evening, reach the summit in time to watch the sunset, and head down by moonlight. During the summer months, the trail is packed, so it’s a fun, social and relatively safe experience. A headlamp is essential, and bring something warm.
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FULL MOON DATES 2020
January 10, 2020
February 9, 2020
March 9, 2020
April 8, 2020
May 7, 2020
June 5, 2020
July 5, 2020
August 3, 2020
September 2, 2020
October 1, 2020
October 31, 2020
November 30, 2020
December 30, 2020
WHAT TO BRING
- Something warm: The walk up might be hot, but once the wind picks up or the sun sets, it can become chilly.
- Sun protection: There’s hardly any shade so make sure to bring your hats, sunglasses and sunblock.
- Hiking shoes: There’s some climbing near the summit, so wear shoes with good grip.
- Water and snacks: There is usually a stall at the base selling coffee and snacks (open Monday–Sunday 6am–9pm).
- Camera: The panoramic views are incredible.
- Flashlight and headlamp: Don’t bank on the moon’s light to get down so bring a flashlight.
Check out this guide to navigating Table Mountain during peak season.
If you’re curious, find out some Table Mountain facts.
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