The highest point on table mountain is Maclear’s Beacon. Despite its flat summit, Table Mountain does have a high point. Not exactly a peak or lofty spire, but a humble mound bulging 20 meters above the summit plateau. Marking the spot is a 3-meter-high cairn known as Maclear’s Beacon.
With most of the summit plateau located at around 1065 meters (3500 ft), the terrain around Maclear’s Beacon ticks up to 1086 m (not including the cairn), making it the highest point on Table Mountain as well as on the Cape Peninsula. Its location near the eastern edge of the ‘Table’ – about 45 minutes’ walk from the upper cable station – means that few visitors ever set foot there.
Who was Thomas Maclear?
In 1834, Scottish astronomer Sir Thomas Maclear (1794 – 1879) accepted the position of Royal Astronomer at the Cape. In 1844, as part of his measurement of the Meridian Arc (the curvature of the earth), he supervised the construction of a rock beacon marking the highest point on Table Mountain. It formed part of three major survey points and was painted lamp-black to make it more visible.
The oversized cairn came to be known as The Pile. In subsequent years, it toppled into a shapeless heap, but was restored in 1979 (using the original stones) to commemorate the centenary of Maclear’s death. It also became a National Monument. Nearby is a brass toposcope as well as the Mountain Club of South Africa Memorial Dial commemorating nine members who died in the First World War.
Is visiting the highest point worth it?
Despite the unremarkable topography around Maclear’s Beacon, the area offers exceptional views not seen from the upper cable station. The view across the tabletop reveals the lie of the summit and gives one an appreciation of how flat Table Mountain really is.
At the highest point, a secret viewpoint awaits a short distance in a northeasterly direction, bringing you to the eastern edge. Unremarkable from Maclear’s Beacon and therefore overlooked by the vast majority of hikers, it perches you over the southern suburbs of Cape Town and brings into view the lush and august eastern flank of the mountain.
Do I need a guide to hike Maclear’s Beacon?
Yes Another reason to make use of a knowledgeable guide when hiking Table Mountain: assurance that you won’t be missing out on hidden viewpoints. Maclear’s Beacon serves as a fitting climax to hiking Table Mountain. Most routes on the mountain can be altered or extended to include this superb vantage point. Views aside, it symbolizes a sense of achievement – a point of reference to your efforts at scaling the mountain. Then there is the spiritual dimension of beacons, as the following passage from the 1938 Journal of the Mountain Club reminds us:
“If weather and other circumstances permit, time must be spent at a beacon. The outstanding days are those when we have eaten, and lazed, and sunbathed at the beacon itself for two or three hours. A vivid memory is associated with three and a half hours spent on a high summit on a calm, silent, perfect day. The summit beacon is a special place with a special atmosphere, and to understand that atmosphere we must be still and take time to receive what the mountains have to give us. There, in a special way, our beings become saturated with what has so often been described as the Spirit of the Mountains.”