Mountain ‘deadlier than Everest’
IT'S one of the world's most majestic natural wonders but it's also one of the most deadly, often claiming more lives each year than Mount Everest.
Almost one million tourists flock to Table Mountain, at the foot of Cape Town on the southern coast of South Africa, each year. But not all of them make it down alive.
The flat-topped mountain stands at 1085m tall and is often blanketed by a layer of clouds pouring off the top like an other-worldly waterfall, referred to by locals as "the tablecloth".
On a clear day, vibrant wildflowers colour the summit as native critters known as 'rock badgers' daringly scurry along the edges. The World Heritage Site surface offers 360 degree city and sea views as far as the eye can see. In one direction, the ocean laps the bustling city's shores as the notorious Robben Island sits pretty in the distance. In another, the national park's vast mountain ranges stretch towards the heart of Africa, lined by the unrivalled hiking trails which wind through them. It's quite simply, breathtaking.
But like many sites in South Africa, looks can be deceiving.
The official South African National Parks website warns: "Please be aware that more people die on Table Mountain than Mount Everest".
In some years, the death toll on Table Mountain has exceeded that of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak which is also home to the world's highest graveyard.
According to a Mountain Club of South Africa spokesman, even experienced hikers have been unlucky on the iconic peak.
"It's very easy to underestimate how big it is and it's not a simple mountain at all," he said.
"We end up with 10 to 20 fatalities on it a year."
South African tour guide Ian Pletzer told news.com.au that he had lost track of how many lives Table Mountain had claimed in recent years.
"A lot more lives are lost on this mountain than they are by great white sharks," he said.
"Most of them die from a range of things like accidental falls when taking selfies or taking the wrong route, dehydration when becoming lost or from a sudden change in weather or suicides."
Murder victims have also been found on the mountain.
A comparison of fatality figures for Table Mountain and Everest shows that in 2010 and 2011 seven people died on Table Mountain compared with four on Everest. However in 2012, Everest claimed 10 lives compared with only four on Table Mountain. Some of Table Mountain's most deadly years were 2006 and 2009 when 20 and 15 people were killed, respectively. Everest had its highest death toll in recent years when a Nepal earthquake caused an avalanche and claimed 22 lives at base camp in 2015.
According to the South Africa Mountain Accidents Database, at least 131 people have died on Table Mountain since 1980. One of its deadliest years saw 15 people killed in 2009. Several people have been killed on the mountain this year. Among them was high-ranking UN official Charlotte Nikoi.
Ms Nikoi, 50, was in Cape Town to celebrate her 22nd wedding anniversary with her husband Chris and their youngest daughter when she disappeared on Table Mountain on March 21 this year.
The New York-based Unicef director had decided to turn back less than an hour into the ascent.
It was a public holiday so the path was busy and appeared safe, her family reported. But she never returned and her body was found on the mountain in "non suspicious" circumstances 10 days later.
In 2010, an American family in town for the World Cup was hit by tragedy after their 14-year-old son plunged to his death from Table Mountain.
The teenager and his 10-year-old brother were hiking down the mountain with their parents when the boy fell about 10 metres to the base of one of the wooden ladders on the route.
Experts say most of the deaths on Table Mountain can be attributed to a "lack of preparation" for its changing weather conditions and terrain. Mr Pletzer said some hikers failed to take basic precautions such as warm clothes, charged phone and a route map.
"There have also been some deaths where people were trying to take selfies and fell," he said.
"It's just the kind of place where you have to be very careful because it can be extremely dangerous.
"Table Mountain is not to be underestimated."