This post is part of The Art of Living series from Bacon and the Art of Living. Chapter 99, where this is posted, is an addendum to the book. In the “Art of Living section, I write about family and the many great experiences we had as part of “the art of living.” Most of these experiences make it into the main body of the work.
New Year 2014, Eben and Minette decided to hike up Table Mountain to watch the last light of 2014, make it across to Maclears Beacon, hang around to watch the arrival of midnight in Cape Town and wait for the first light of 2015. All this in the company of the creatures, rocks, and plants of the most amazing location anywhere on earth.
It sounds as if we planned it, but we did not. It was a fleeting thought earlier in the week and then it just happened. We got to my place at around 4:00 p.m., exhausted from work. I booked a taxi and we both fell asleep. When the taxi driver rang that he is outside, none of us were in the mood for celebrating new year and definitely not for a hike. The taxi driver phoned again and we decided, “what the hell, lets go.”
The taxi dropped us at Platteklip Gorge from where we made the trek up to the top.
We made it to the top just in time to see the sunset over 2014. We hiked to the cable station to buy provisions for the night.
When the sunset, everybody around us applauded. We got coffee, more water and started off for Maclear’s immediately. We took a few more pics of the last light of 2014. Arriving at Maclears, the highest point on Table Mountain, we climbed to the top of the beacon.
The pile of rocks was built by Sir Thomas Maclear. Some sources list its building as 1865 (tablemountain.net) and some as 1844 when it was built by William Mann under supervision of Sir Thomas (gatewayguides.co.za). He used this as the point from where he made his observations that assisted in re-calculating the curvature of the earth. (tablemountain.net)
Thomas, a medical doctor who was also a keen astronomer, was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Astronomers and served as Her Majesty’s Astronomer and Director at the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope from 1833 to 1870. (tablemountain.net)
“One of his most important tasks was to remeasure the Abbot Nicolas de Lacaille’s Cape Arc of Meridian. Due to the influence of the magnetic field of the mountains around the Cape on his instruments, Lacaille’s measurements in the mid-18th century had indicated that the Earth would be pear-shaped; the British Admiralty, however, wanted this enigma solved and Maclear set to work in the 1830s already.” (tablemountain.net)
“The beacon was built on the highest point of Table Mountain, 1 086 meters above sea level, in 1865 as a triangulation station to assist in measuring the curvature of the Earth. The highest point on the mountain is 19 meters higher than the Upper Cable Station and on the furthest side of the cable station. The beacon is still used by cartographers. Thomas was knighted in 1860 for his achievements in astronomy. He died in 1879 in Mowbray, Cape Town.” (tablemountain.net)
Sir Thomas was a close friend and supporter of David Livingston. He closely followed Livingston’s adventures. Livingston sent him observations which he then reduced to longitude and latitude. He was busy with calculations such as these, sent to him by Livingston when he lost his eyesight two or three years before his 80’th birthday. (The Times, 1877: 10)
It was amazing sitting on a pile of rock that he was part of setting up and to welcome the new year on this site was extra special.
Minette and I made ourselves at home on a flat-ish rock. We startled a klipspringer and her calf when we made our way to the flatish-rock where we were going to wait out the arrival of 2015.
A single firefly visited us as we settled in on our rock. Later that morning, as the constellations moved slowly across the sky above us, a single mosquito found the only two people on the mountain that night.
At 12:00 we watched the fireworks in Milnerton, the V&O Waterfront and across Cape Town.
At 4:00 we started making out way back to the beacon.
Eben took a pic of the Smuts memorial. “General Jan Smuts walked
to this summit so often that the route he took from Kirstenbosch Garden to
the summit is called Smuts’ Track. He was a commando leader in the Second
Boer War, led the SA forces against the Germans in South West Africa,
commanded the British forces in East Africa during WWII, helped to create
the Royal Air Force, and served in Winston Churchill’s Imperial War Cabinet.
He is also the only person to have signed the peace treaties ending both
world wars. He helped establish the League of Nations, urged the formation
of the United Nations and wrote the preamble to the charter of the UN. He
was also Prime Minister of South Africa.”
On a Smut’s plaque is a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that reads, “The elements…are so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world this was a man”.
Back at the beacon, we searched for a cross that was probably made in the rocks close to the beacon by Maclear’s men.
It was “show time.” First light of 2015 was moments away. I was chanting, “come out sun. we are waiting for you! you are not funny! It is time to show yourself!” Slowly but surely first light of 2015 started to appear.
Then it was there! In all its glory!
A friend that I met at the same spot in April 2013, Christopher Spottiswoode, arrived just in time for the magic of the arrival of 2015.
Christopher, a legend in his own right, gave us a few valuable pointers if we would want to repeat our experience of that night. He gave us the background on the klipspringertjies we saw. We then marveled at the moment and made our way back to Platteklip Gorge for the hike down.
En-route we bumped into the klipspringers and made our way past some spectacular examples of the stress on the earth’s crust that existed many new years ago.
Then it was down into a breathtaking site of Cape Town.
Back home we slept all day, waking up only to eat, to look at our pictures and remiss about the most amazing new year’s experience of our lives.
Can’t wait for 2016’s arrival and to see how we can top this experience!
Eben and Minette
The Times (London, Greater London, England). 29 November 1877.
Click to access Table%20Mountain%20Guide.pdf
Photos by Eben