That Time I Almost Died Climbing Lions Head

That Time I Almost Died Climbing Lions Head 1

Lions Head is a sight. With its alluring position high above Cape Town it offers spectacular views of both Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles as well as Camps bay and the city itself. This incredible vantage point is yours to be had free of charge – all you have to do is climb. Simple enough, or so I was lead to believe by every Capetonian that said it was a must do at sunset. Climbing Lions Head was no simple task for me.

Here’s why:

Shape Up

Somewhere between back surgery and enjoying the high life I got way out of shape. Way. Before my recent trip I was on my back for a few months then went straight to fine dining on safaris and elegant wine pairings on the most luxurious train in the world. There was also a moth spent eating deep-fried-America-sized portions thrown in between. So it was no surprise I arrived in Cape Town busting at the seams. The healthy lifestyle found in the city was a big factor in why I decided to live in Cape Town. I was going to eat salads and ostrich (the leanest/tastiest bird in Africa) and hike a lot. Climbing Lions Head was my first test. Actually climbing Table Mountain was supposed to be first but I was supposed to go at 6:30 AM after my 1st rugby experience so that didn’t happen.

Climbing Lions Head – Looks easy enough?


While staying at Once in Cape Town I took advantage of a guided hike of Lions Head with one of their staff members. This free service, amongst others, offered by the hostel is a nice touch when staying there. I was a bit concerned about the shape I was in but Filipe, a Chilean studying English in Cape Town assured me, like so many others, that it was and easy climb. This put me at ease me but not as much as seeing the others climbing Lions Head with us – a rail thin Chinese girl and a rather large German girl. Perfect. There’s no way I would hold these two up.

Oh Shaun. Chubby, naïve Shaun.

Easy as She Goes

We arrived at the trail head to find a manicured and easy grade path. As we walked up I was thinking climbing Lions Head was child’s play. I was used to the Grouse Grind in Vancouver, a grueling staircase in comparison, so climbing Lions Head proved to be a breeze. Then we reached the scramble.

Climbing Lions Head – easy path up

Mountain Goat

As we continued winding our way up climbing Lions Head the trail started to narrow out. It became a single path with an aggressive drop on the left. Vancouver’s Grouse Grind it was not. Climbing Lions Head to this point was easy going. Now I was at a fork – a longer but less aggressive route or straight up. Filipe continued on the steep way without hesitation. The girls advised him they were taking the longer/easier route. Sensing my intimidation Filipe said we could take the long route. I said I was OK but just concerned about coming down in the dark through the series of footholds and chains.

Climbing Lions Head – Scramble time.

Climbing Lions Head to the tippy-top

Good to be On Top

Going up wasn’t so bad. The scramble is fun but again, not something I would want to do going down and in the dark. The last incline paid off as I took in one of the most jaw-dropping views in Cape Town

King of Cape Town

Filipe on the edge.
Camps Bay and the 12 Apostles

Long way down

After a few photo ops and a sunset that was compromised by low clouds we made the trek down. Somewhere along the way we missed the turn and ended up going down the more challenging route. The girls were not impressed. Secretly (or not so) neither was I. The girls went first and although a little hesitant, had no issues. I continued on at what felt like a snails pace. This did not help my confidence, nor did the queue that was forming due to my slow pace. Slow and steady doesn’t fall of mountains people.

Climbing Lions Head – Heading down before dark

At What Cost

The steep decline was the least of my problems. The windy trail down in the dark proved to be tough on my knees and back. Again, neglect has not been good to me, nor was the fact that the large German girl and skinny Chinese girl were bounding down like Goddamn springbok’s. Still, the challenge was rewarding and the view from climbing Lions Head is undeniably awesome. Definitely lives up to the hype the locals create, but be warned it is not as easy going as you will be lead to believe – at least for me.

I couldn’t walk the next day, but what a view.

Climbing Lions Head Good to Know

How long: It took me 45 minutes at a steady but slow pace.
Tips: Head lamps for the climb down! Also, its no picnic. Dress and pack accordingly.
Trail location: See map!

What say you?
Thoughts on the Climbing Lions Head in Cape Town?
Let’s hear it!

For more reviews from Africa and beyond see HERE.

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Although I was provided a discount at One in Cape Town while I lived in Cape Town,
the opinions, experience and post climbing Lions Head pain are my own.

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16 replies on “That Time I Almost Died Climbing Lions Head”
  1. Avatarsays: Harold Stein

    Good read Shaun. Often these types of hikes are downplayed and unsuspecting tourists get caught out of place. Be a little more prepared than flip flops people!

    1. I hear ya Harold. The Grouse Grind in Vancouver is notorious for that. I always see tourists in jeans sweating and wonder what they were thinking.

  2. Avatarsays: Lyndsay Malone

    So I’m reading a few of your posts in preparation for a few days in Cape Town, love this post!! Couldn’t help but chuckle (sorry!) and the fact you’ve survived has made me put it on the to do list! Think I’ll opt for a daytime hike though! If you have any other recommendations of guides for it please let me know.

  3. Avatarsays: Estee

    Haha totally agree with this post! Capetonians make this sound like the easiest hike ever! I wanted to do it in jeans the first time it sounded so chilled. It gets much easier the more you do it though.

    My advice would be to go super early in the more to avoid the traffic (like 5:30am in summer). The mountain gets packed! Also never hike alone or in the mist, it’s just not worth it. As amazing as this hike it, there are frequent accidents so it’s always best to be cautious and respect the mountain 🙂

  4. Avatarsays: Bee “Bee Du Jour” Du Jour

    great you made the trip! i know the trip down can be a bit hard on the knees too. to think some people do this every weekend! I do think your fitness level will affect how this hike will go for you. cool pictures!

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