Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most photographed celebrity, but this grande dame of Cape Town is so much more than just a fun, photogenic pile of rocks and sand.
For instance, did you know that it’s one of the oldest mountains on the planet? It’s six times older than the Himalayas and five times older than the Rockies. To put this in perspective, Mount Everest in the Himalayas is 60 million years old. That makes Table Mountain about 360 million years old.
After you’ve taken the five-minute ride to the summit of this sleeping giant, in one of Cape Town Aerial Cableway’s rotating cable cars, it’s important to know what you’re standing on.
The mountain sits at the end of a range that runs like a spine from north to south through the Cape Peninsula. It is composed of a number of distinct rock layers. You can learn more about the mountain’s geology simply by wandering the footpaths and reading the many informative plaques.
Its base is composed of heavily folded, Late Precambrian Malmesbury shale under the main section of the mountain, with Cape Granite securing the base on the Western Side beneath Lion’s Head.
Above the strong base layer lies a thin line of micaceous basal shale. This weathers easily and is therefore not as distinctly visible as the other rock formations.
The mesa crowning the mountain is formed from Ordovician quartzitic sandstone. Commonly called Table Mountain Sandstone (TMS), this rock withstands erosion very well and is characterized by craggy cliff faces.
If you’re a history buff, grab a cup of coffee or a quick bite to eat at the Table Mountain Café, as you contemplate how the mountain came into being and how it’s changed over the ages.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, Table Mountain was at sea level and the softer, surrounding area had not yet been eroded away. During one of the region’s ice ages, ice sheets compressed the top soft layers of sandstone to form the mountain’s flat top.
Later, when the world’s continents split and drifted apart, pressure built up in the earth’s crust. Magma rising from the earth’s core stopped before it reached the surface and cooled underground to become hard granite. It was this strong supporting the base that caused layers of rock to rise instead of folding under pressure.
It has taken millions of years of relentless pounding by the sun, wind, ice, water and fire for Table Mountain to achieve the rugged cliffs, ravines and curiously shaped rocks which today give this famous face all its character and beauty.
But, of course, it will only take you a few minutes in a cable car to reach the summit and let it all soak in.