ZS/WC-043 – Maclear’s Beacon

by vk3arr

Week 2 of the holiday saw us down in Cape Town. More precisely, we stayed near one of Dad’s cousins in Simonstown, to the south of Cape Town. This is a beautiful little town, and home to the Simonstown Naval Base. We stayed at the Quayside, with a great view over False Bay, and able to hear the bosun’s calls from the Naval base.

The initial plan had called for us to climb Table Mountain (via the cable car) on the Wednesday, but a screwed up hotel booking (my fault) turned out a little better. Instead, we went up on Tuesday. The weather wasn’t looking fantastic on Monday, but was slightly better on Tuesday. Wednesday had been chosen due to the almost faultless weather forecast. In any case, Tuesday was what had to happen due to my screw up.

As an aside, a person visiting South Africa for SOTA purposes could do worse than base themselves in Simonstown. Almost all of the bluffs along the main road back to Muizenberg and Cape Town are SOTA peaks, and most, if not all are accessible and part of Table Mountain National Park.

Arriving at Table Mountain, you can get free parking on Tafelberg Road, where a car guard will look after your car for a nominal donation (most people seem to carry spare change solely for this purpose). We took a free electric shuttle up to the cable car lower station, and bought tickets there. It was highly recommended by family that we prepurchase tickets, particularly if it was good weather. We decided it was OK weather, and being a weekday, took the chance. We had no problems.

At this time, the mountain was covered in cloud, so the gentleman in the ticket booth was trying hard to avoid disappointment for us by suggesting we wait. He had no idea the view was not what I was interested in!

There is a story told with great mirth within my family about my last trip to Table Mountain (1986). Aged 5 or so, my mother decided that she was not thrilled with the concept of me standing up to see out the windows of the cable car. Thus, I had spent an entire trip up Table Mountain staring at a wall. Now, however, I am in my 30s, and piddly restrictions and mild acrophobia are no match. I had been waiting for this moment for a while! I got to see a view out of the cable car!

View towards Atlantic

View towards Atlantic

Cape Town

Cape Town

Lower Cable Car station

Lower Cable Car station

View towards Devil's Peak

View towards Devil’s Peak

The modern cable cars have a rotating floor, enabling all members of the public crammed within to get an unobstructed view of the city and mountain while the car ascends. I must admit, the turning is slightly nauseating, and by the end of the trip, I was willing to give my mother a leave pass on the matter of whether I should have been able to stand at age 5 or not. It is a long way down, and my acrophobia is mild, not non-existant.

At the top, we were in cloud. A brief stop to see some of the local wildlife, before I asked directions to the Beacon.

A Dassie

A Dassie

I left my father at the cafe. This was intentional for two reasons: one, I wasn’t sure about how he’d go with some of the track (and experience showed I was right on that), and two, I’ve made one contact across 3 attempted activations with him present. Ergo, he is a bad luck charm, and must be kept away from my SOTA activities.

The walk to Maclear’s Beacon starts off paved, before reaching Platteklip Gorge, where there is a fairly steep drop and climb back up. While not difficult, it is awkward, and a man that had two knee replacements wasn’t going to have made it past this point anyway. Whatever residual guilt I may have had dissipated, and I continued on.

The path is about 30-40 minutes long, and moves onto rock and the occasional boardwalk once past the gorge. It is well marked with yellow feet painted on the rocks, and the odd sign at track junctions. I took a note of the Platteklip Gorge descent as this was my safety net had the weather closed in and the cable car closed.

The weather was still a concern. There was a breeze blowing, but the summit plateau was still enclosed in cloud as I walked. The occasional clearing made itself known, allowing a brief view down towards the south back to Muizenberg and Simonstown, but for the most part, I walked in cloud.

Paved track near the Upper Cable station.

Paved track near the Upper Cable station.

Marker at the junction with Platteklip Gorge

Marker at the junction with Platteklip Gorge

The track

The track

The random cloud clearing.

The random cloud clearing.

Cloudy panorama, about halfway along the track

Cloudy panorama, about halfway along the track

As I neared the beacon, there is one last section of scrambling up (again, nothing major), before the final run into the summit. By this stage, the cloud was clearing extremely well, and the beacon made itself known. And, here I was, on the busiest mountain in Africa, completely alone.

Lo, the beacon approaches!

Lo, the beacon approaches!

Topograph

Topograph

Maclear's Beacon plaque

Maclear’s Beacon plaque

View South

View South

South view

South view

Looking South

Looking South

View south, cloud moving in

View south, cloud moving in

My initial attempts at setting up the Buddistick using a rock to attach the clamp was less than successful, and although I could hear Frank ZS1CM clearly, he was having trouble hearing me. I decided instead to utilise a sign that had collapsed to hold the antenna in place and more importantly in the clear, and was able to get back to Frank and complete my first SOTA QSO in ZS, making that 12 associations and 5 continents activated. My first thoughts after that was that it clearly was my Dad’s fault I hadn’t made contacts in the past.

40m yielded three contacts, including a weak contact up into Namibia with Peter V51PJ. I moved up to 20m, where Sid and Adele were waiting for me. I had emailed Sid and Adele before I arrived, having seen them on the SOTA_Australia mailing list for their visit to VK4 earlier in the year. They were extremely helpful to me, and helped rustle up contacts. As a bonus, they were on a summit in KwaZulu-Natal, allowing me to qualify the summit with an S2S!

I stayed on 20m for a bit more, working a few more stations, before switching to 30m to complete a better contact with Peter V51PJ again – 40m being just a bit too short for a good contact earlier. Back onto 20m, I worked into Gauteng (Johannesburg), and decided I’d been there long enough, and the wind was picking up.

Maclear's Beacon shack

Maclear’s Beacon shack

SOTA peaks galore

SOTA peaks galore

Cape Town from the top

Cape Town from the top

In the whole time I was at the beacon, I was alone. No one else bothered me at all! Thanks must also go to Frank ZS1CM who followed me from band-to-band to keep folks updated on where I was moving and when. I had clear line of sight to his house, obviously.

The Up Car going past us

The Up Car going past us.

Lion's Head (SOTA peak) from Cable Car

Lion’s Head (SOTA peak) and Robben Island from Cable Car

Yes, I was hoping she dropped her phone

Yes, I was hoping she dropped her phone

We descended again in sunshine, taking in the view, before heading back to Simonstown.

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