.]] The main feature of Table Mountain is a level plateau approximately Шаблон:Convert from side to side, surrounded by steep cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and by Lion's Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town and its Table Bay harbour, and together with Signal Hill form the natural amphitheatre of the City Bowl.
The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is marked by Maclear's Beacon, a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for trigonometrical survey. It is Шаблон:Convert above sea level, about Шаблон:Convert higher than the cable station at the western end of the plateau.
The cliffs of the main plateau are split by Platteklip Gorge ("Flat Stone Gorge"), which provides an easy and direct ascent to the summit and was the route taken by António de Saldanha on the first recorded ascent of the mountain in 1503.
The flat top of the mountain is often covered by orographic clouds, formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain's slopes into colder air, where the moisture condenses to form the so-called "table cloth" of cloud. Legend attributes this phenomenon to a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. When the table cloth is seen, it symbolizes the contest.
Table Mountain is at the northern end of a sandstone mountain range that forms the spine of the Cape Peninsula. To the south of the main plateau is a lower part of the range called the Back Table. On the Atlantic coast of the peninsula, the range is known as the Twelve Apostles. The range continues southwards to Cape Point.
Image over SRTM Elevation. North is on the left of the image, and Table Mountain is in the foreground at the northern end of the peninsula.]] The upper part of the mountain mesa consists of Ordovician quartzitic sandstone, commonly referred to as Table Mountain Sandstone (TMS), which is highly resistant to erosion and forms characteristic steep grey crags. Below the sandstone is a layer of micaceous basal shale, which weathers quite readily and is therefore not readily visible. The basement consists of heavily folded and altered late precambrian Malmesbury shale, which has been intruded by Cape Granite. The basement rocks are not nearly as resistant to weathering as the TMS but significant outcrops of the Cape Granite are visible on the western side of Lion's Head.]]
The main vegetation of the mountain is the unique and rich Cape fynbos, which forms part of the Cape Floral Region protected areas. These protected areas are a World Heritage Site, and an estimated 2,200 species of plants are found on the mountain alone. Amongst these species are many kinds of proteas. Remnant patches of indigenous forest persist in a few of the wetter ravines but not on the more exposed face above the city, where conditions are too dry and harsh for forests. The mountain has also suffered serious invasions of alien plants for well over a century, with perhaps the worst invader being the cluster pine. Considerable efforts have been made to eliminate these alien plants.
The most common animal on the mountain is the dassie, or rock hyrax. They especially cluster around the upper cable station, near areas where tourists may discard or (illegally) supply food. There are also porcupines, mongooses, snakes and tortoises. The last lion in the area was shot circa 1802. Leopards persisted on the mountain until perhaps the 1920s but are now extinct locally. Two smaller, secretive, nocturnal carnivores, the rooikat (caracal) and the vaalboskat (also called the vaalkat or African Wild Cat) were once common on the mountain. The rooikat continues to be seen on rare occasions by mountaineers but the status of the vaalboskat is uncertain.
Himalayan tahrs, fugitive descendants of tahrs that escaped from Groote Schuur zoo in 1936, used to be common on the less accessible upper parts of the mountain. As an exotic species, they were almost eradicated through a culling programme initiated by the South African National Parks to make way for the reintroduction of indigenous klipspringers. Until recently there were also small numbers of fallow deer of European origin and sambar deer from southeast Asia. These were mainly in the Rhodes Memorial area but during the 1960s they could be found as far afield as Signal Hill. The animals may by now have been eliminated or relocated.
's ship HMS Resolution
by William Hodges (1772)]]
The original name given to the mountain by the first Khoi inhabitants was Hoeri 'kwaggo ("sea mountain").
Prehistoric people first left evidence here more than 600,000 years ago. Evidence tools of these Early Stone Age hunter-gatherers were found in a depression near the Cape of Good Hope. The Middle Stone Age inhabitants (dating from 200,000 to 40,000 years ago) also left evidence of their life on the Peninsula. Fossils from around 8000 BC indicate that by that period the inhabitants of the region had developed bows and arrows which they used to hunt.
San (or Bushmen) hunter-gatherers relied on the seashore for most of their food. This resulted in the Dutch naming, Strandlopers (beach combers). About 2000 years ago the Khoikhoi migrated from the north, displacing the San, bringing with them their herds of cattle and sheep. It was the Khoikhoi who were the dominant tribe when the Europeans sailed into Table Bay.
António de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it 'Table Mountain'. The great cross that the Portuguese navigator carved in the rock of Lion's Head is still traceable.
In 1796, during the British occupation of the Cape, Major-General Sir James Craig ordered three blockhouses to be build on Table Mountain: the King's blockhouse, Duke of York blockhouse (later renamed Queen's blockhouse) and the Prince of Wales blockhouse. Two of these are in ruins today, but the King's blockhouse is still in good condition. and easily accessible from the Rhodes Memorial.
Between 1896 and 1907, five dams, the Woodhead, Hely-Hutchinson, De Villiers, Alexandria and Victoria reservoirs, were opened on the Back Table to supply Cape Town's water needs. A ropeway ascending from Camps Bay via Kasteelspoort ravine was used to ferry materials and manpower (the anchor points at the old top station can still be seen). There is a well-preserved steam locomotive from this period housed in the Waterworks Museum at the top of the mountain near the Hely-Hutchinson dam. It had been used to haul materials for the dam across the flat top of the mountain. Cape Town's water requirements have since far outpaced the capacity of the dams and they are no longer an important part of the water supply.
The mountain became part of the new Cape Peninsula National Park in the 1990s. The park was renamed to the Table Mountain National Park in 1998.
Fires are common on the mountain. The most recent major fire came in January 2006, destroying large amounts of vegetation and resulting in the death of a tourist. A charge of arson and culpable homicide was laid against a British man who was suspected of starting the blaze.
The Table Mountain Cableway takes passengers from the lower cable station on Tafelberg Road, about 302 m above sea level, to the plateau at the top of the mountain. The upper cable station offers views overlooking Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north, and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south.
Construction of the cableway was first started in 1926, and the cableway was officially opened in 1929. In 1997, the cableway was extensively upgraded, and new cars were introduced carrying 65 instead of 25 passengers. The new cars give a faster journey to the summit, and rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent, giving a panoramic view over the city.
The top cable station offers viewpoints, curio shops, a restaurant and walking trails of various lengths.
Hiking on Table Mountain is popular amongst locals and tourists, and a number of trails of varying difficulty are available. Because of the steep cliffs around the summit, direct ascents from the city side are limited. Platteklip Gorge, a prominent gorge up the centre of the main table, is a popular and straightforward direct ascent to the summit. Par for the course is about 2.5 hours but is done between 1-3 hours depending on ones fitness level.
Longer routes to the summit go via the Back Table, a lower area of Table Mountain to the South of the main plateau. From the Southern Suburbs side, the Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge routes start at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The route via Skeleton Gorge to Maclears Beacon is known as Smuts Track in memory of Jan Smuts, who was a keen hiker. The Bridle Path, or Jeep Track, makes a more gradual ascent from Constantia Nek along the road used to service the dams on Back Table. There are many other paths in popular walking areas on the lower slopes of the mountain accessed from Constantia Nek, Cecilia Forest, Kirstenbosch, Newlands Forest and Rhodes Memorial.
On the Atlantic side, the most popular ascent is Kasteelspoort, a gorge overlooking Camps Bay, while the Pipe Track is a level route popular with walkers.
The Hoerikwaggo Trails are four hiking trails on Table Mountain ranging from two to six days, operated by South African National Parks. The original inhabitants of Cape Town, the Khoekhoen and San tribes called Table Mountain Hoerikwaggo – "sea mountain". The four Table Mountain hiking trails are called the People's Trail, Table Mountain Trail, Orangekloof Hiking Trail and Top to Tip Trail.
Rock climbing on Table Mountain is a very popular pastime. There are well-documented climbing routes of varying degrees of difficulty up the many faces of the mountain. The main climbs are located on cliffs below the upper cable station. No bolting can be done here and only traditional climbing is allowed. Commercial groups also offer abseiling from the upper cable station.
Most of the world's important caves occur in limestone but Table Mountain is unusual in having several large cave systems that have developed in sandstone. The biggest systems are the Wynberg Caves, located on the Back Table, not far from the Jeep Track, in ridges overlooking Orange Kloof and Hout Bay.
Table Mountain is the only terrestrial feature to give its name to a constellation — Mensa, meaning The Table. The constellation is seen in the Southern Hemisphere, below Orion, around midnight in mid-July. It was named by the French astronomer Nicolas de Lacaille during his stay at the Cape in the mid eighteenth century.