When the clouds start rolling over Table Mountain, slowly creating the “Table Cloth”, you might hear some locals mutter “Van Hunks up to his nonsense again”.
The fabled tale is that once upon a time, Jan van Hunks, a sea captain, ended up having a smoke off with the Devil – without realising just who he was challenging. They smoked and smoked until the smoke became so thick, it covered the mountain. There are two versions of how the story ends: one claims the Van Hunks threw a strop and the Devil made them both disappear to smoke in purgatory for eternity.
The other is that Van Hunks beat the old goat. But this little smoke off claims credit for both the Table Cloth of clouds and the name of the peak that flanks the more imposing Table Mountain.
One of the other explanations for how Devil’s Peak got its name is that it was a mistranslation over the years – from Duifiespiek (Dove’s Peak) to what it is known as now.
Whatever the reason, the mountain’s name is enough to lead you to believe that it is as ominous as it sounds as a hike. And that’s before you even read the route descriptions and warnings. But as it turns out, it is a perfectly pleasant meander with 360-degree views from almost all summit points – Table Mountain, eat your heart out.
It is certainly less monotonous than Nature’s Stair Master, more commonly known as Platteklip, and to an extent – much easier, too. Platteklip, despite its reputation as being an easy ascent to the Table Mountain summit, is actually not easy at all. Well, it is easy in the sense that you are not going to be scrambling up open cliff faces. And, provided you are in reasonable health and have a good level of perseverance, you will almost certainly make it to the top of Platteklip.
But the same is true for Devil’s Peak, too. The difference is that there is none of the step after step after another step and then more steps and then just steps and why don’t I just climb the stairs at home all day kinds of feelings of dread en route to the top.
Maybe it’s because this is being written on the same day of our first Devil’s Peak summit, but this hike could very well elbow its way into the top three favourites of “in and around” Table Mountain hikes.
It’s not that we had been avoiding Devil’s Peak directly. And it’s not that we were scared – as we discovered during our bash up Nursery Buttress, that word does not exist in our hiking vocabulary. It’s just that we weren’t sure what to expect.
Everything about the Devil’s Peak hiking route is so inconsistent. Information on how long it takes to hike up Devil’s Peak range from two to three hours, the whole day, you can go up but never come down again because you will be taken captive by dassie bandits who will braai you and share the spoils with the giant akkedis.
From the starting point on Tafelberg Road to the summit, it took us just over two hours. We were helped by delightfully misty conditions, a welcome reprieve from the relentless South African sun. On a dry day, the terrain can be a bit slippery underfoot, particularly towards the summit where the rocky paths morph into the beach-like sand you find on the top of the mountain range.
Despite our usually dismal timing, the mist started to clear just as we reached the top. From all angles, it was like an old school Windows screensaver turning on and off with the city below and the sprawling Camps Bay beach playing peekaboo.
The mountain never loses its magic, but there is something extra magical about completing a route for the first time. It was like being a kid in a candy store.
At one of the summit points, a woman seemed both thrilled and exasperated that she made it on that specific day, having battled to the top this time. Obviously this prompted me to share some unsolicited life lessons gained through hiking: the next time she feels bereft of self-belief, remember today – well done.
Traverse across some more rocks looking for the dassie bandits or in the hopes of turning into a mythical mountain goat, we got sucked into a time warp talking to a delightfully pleasant and thoroughly interesting fellow hiker (hello if you are reading this).
The way down, as is often the case, involved getting completely lost for a while, despite having a map. Deciding our refusal to trust map with a GPS telling us where to go was not enough, we also refused to believe a group of hikers who clearly knew what they were doing and told us where to go. Nothing to do with me being as stubborn as the mountain goat I’ll never be, everything to do with the way the landscape had opened up and now looked unrecognisable after Van Hunks and the Devil had upped sticks and stubbed out stompies after the day’s smoking.
Devil’s Peak hiking route: Overview and good to know
Quick note: Pictures to follow after editing and after the hike fatigue has been slept off a bit. Cover photo: @thomasbennie
Parking: There are several ways to approach this route, but for this one, we’ll focus on the “official” start point – as marked by the SAN Parks sign – at the front face of Table Mountain. That’s past the lower cable car and past the start of Platteklip. Park close to it if you are starting here. Your legs will thank you later.
Estimated time and gear needed: The route from here is about 5.75km there and back. Trail or hiking shoes with good grip recommended. At least 2l of water and lots of sunscreen – especially in summer. Pack a windbreaker or something to cover up, too. The weather on the mountain has a mind of its own.
Route description: For the zig-zag to the top, follow the tarred Tafelberg Road until you reach the sign that errr, says Devil’s Peak. The summit is at 1001m. Keep going on the steps until
At the lower contour path, the route splits in three directions. There is a sign marking this, indicating The Blockhouse, Platteklip and Devil’s Peak. Take Devil’s Peak. Well, unless you’ve changed your mind. Then don’t.
You will reach several of these silver plaques indicating the route on your journey to the top. There are no distance markers and no yellow footprints, so do keep an eye out to make sure you stay on track.
There are also some more obvious green and yellow route signs, one of which will indicate The Saddle, Oppelskop and the Contour Path. Follow the route up The Saddle. That’s the bit that connects Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain and probably where Van Hunks used to puff on his pipe.
Once you reach the top clearings, don’t be fooled by the first cairn you spot – there are three beacons on the top – but there can be only one true summit.
Short-leg-o-meter rating: Acceptable step heights for the vertically challenged.