Ultra-Trail Cape Town's ultra-spectacular playground

Tomorrow will be staged the third running of Ultra-Trail Cape Town (UTCT), when 1 000 extremely privileged trail runners from 40 countries will experience the exhilaration of running up, over, down, around and across South Africa’s most photographed landmark, Table Mountain.

Depending on whether they’re running the 35km, the 65km or the full 100km, some will be slogging further and for longer than others. Many will have already recced their race route in sections or in its entirety, while others will be seeing this special mountain up close and personal for the first time.

But one thing’s for certain: all will feel the grace and power of that great mountain – the mountain that Nelson Mandela once proclaimed “a gift to the Earth”.

This is not a blog about UTCT and what a fantastically organised event it is, nor will it be raving about the event’s achievement of having been announced part of the 2017 Ultra-Trail World Tour. In just two years, the race has put the beautiful city of Cape Town on the global stage of ultra-distance trail running, and it certainly doesn’t need a pre-race blog to reinforce that.

No, this blog post is about the mountain that lies at the heart of this, and several other great Cape Town trail races. It’s a mountain like no other – not for its height, for surely it cannot compare to the giants that loom elsewhere in the world; nor for its hardness of rock, its upper layer consisting of highly erodible sandstone.

                                                                                                                                           photo by Andrew King
Table Mountain is in a league of its own for so many reasons, and it’s no surprise that in 2012 it was proclaimed one of the world’s New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Tomorrow Table Mountain will be the focus for 1 000 trail runners and their friends and family around the world, so this blog post pays tribute to the mountain, in all her glory.

Facts (and some fun fiction) about Table Mountain

FACT:  Table Mountain is far more than just the magnificent flat-topped square-cut monolith it appears to be from Cape Town city centre. Instead the 6-10km table forms the front face of a spine of mountains that winds its way some 50km directly south along the Cape peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope. The Twelve Apostles make up its immediate backbone, with 17 buttresses leering gracefully across the Atlantic Ocean above Camps Bay and Llandudno.

FACT:  More than 500 million years old, Table Mountain is older than the Alps, the Andes, the Rockies and the Himalayas.

FACT:  Table Mountain is the only natural site on the planet to have a constellation named after it. In 1754, French Astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lecaille named the southern constellation Mons Mensae (Latin for “the table mountain”) after the iconic landmark. The name has since been shortened to Mensa.

FICTION:  The famed “tablecloth” that settles on the table top during the south-easterly wind common to the summer months is not a cloud at all, but rather the effect of a smoking duel that’s been raging since the 1600s between a Dutch pirate Van Hunks and the devil.

FACT:  Table Mountain National Park hosts the richest floral kingdom on earth, with more than 1 240 floral species, 60% of which are endemic (they exist nowhere else in the world). The area is recognised globally for its biodiversity and its unique flora and fauna.

FACT:  The original San name for the Table Mountain range is Hoerikwaggo, meaning “mountains of the sea”.

FACT:  Table Mountain National Park has more than 800 000 visitors a year. Since it opened in 1929, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has taken more than 22 million people up the mountain.

FACT:  Table Mountain is visible from as far out to sea as 150km. And yet the Cape Peninsula has more than 600 shipwrecks along its shores.

FACT… or fiction?  Table Mountain is getting higher. The mountain is syncline, which means it was once the bottom of a valley. Part of the great Cape Fold Belt, it was gradually pushed up (and is still being pushed up?) to form the parallel ranges of mountains that run for 800km along the southern and south-western Cape coastline.

And the most obvious fact of all is that Table Mountain forms a majestic one kilometre high backdrop to the most beautiful city on the African continent.

So, to all those readers who’re running Ultra-Trail Cape Town tomorrow – and those of you who will run on our mountain any other time, remember to touch her lightly, she's very old and very special.

And always, take only memories, leave only footprints.

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