Cape Times

A mountain’s lesson in humility

- Kevin Ritchie

THERE are many things you learn on the mountain. I learnt that I didn’t pack properly. One pair of socks for a twoday hike is several pairs too few. One pair of shorts, when you’ve just lost your footing in an ice-cold stream, is one pair too few – especially when they dry with a wonderful tea stain across your backside.

Or you can carry too much water. Enough to inspire a Capetonian to mug you, but too much to carry up the hill, so much that someone else has to carry your bag and almost blow their energy in the process.

I learnt that while Coca-Cola might be the bane of stressed mothers with hyperactiv­e kids, it’s mother’s milk for fat, unfit, 50-year-olds. I also learnt that five people can share a can of it – and get enough of a sugar rush for the next hill.

I learnt many other lessons on the mountain too, but most of all I learnt to be myself in the company of others, to think about others before myself. To enjoy the journey and forget about the destinatio­n.

It’s a key part of the preparatio­n for the Trek4Mande­la. In five months’ time, the mountain won’t be in the central Drakensber­g but in northern Tanzania, Africa’s highest point; the 5 895m Kilimanjar­o. There won’t be any time for selfishnes­s, not when there’s the issue of altitude to contend with.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a chief executive, a high-level public servant or an ex-newspaper editor – on the mountain we are all equal, says Trek4Mande­la founder Richard Mabaso.

It’s not easy, this climbing stuff, but then it’s not supposed to be, says his fellow-founder, South African Everest legend Sibusiso Vilane.

“Grit and determinat­ion don’t come when it’s easy,” he says, “you have to push yourself and train hard.”

Vilane is full of encouragem­ent, and he’s humble before we start. He’s telling us what lies in wait, not the hike; 22km across and up through the Champagne Valley in the unspeakabl­y beautiful Monk’s Valley Nature Reserve in the central Drakensber­g and then across the face of Cathkin Peak, before exiting hundreds of metres above the Sphinx and out, but rather Kili itself.

He’s an expert; this year will be the 23rd time he has got to the top.

“It’s a leg-stretcher,” says head guide Sibusiso Dlamini about the Drakensber­g hike we are about to do. “It’s shaping up for the next one; it’s moderate, not very strenuous.”

“Thank you for letting us train with you,” says Vilane. He’s taking two Trek4Mande­la alumni with him to Everest’s base camp in six weeks’ time. “We value the time and training you give us. Your one is far bigger at 5.8, our base camp is only 5.3.” Indeed. It might be true… I still think Everest is a lot tougher.

As my thighs quake through the rain forest, the exertion is made all the more worth it by the incredible sights that play out. The forest is a revelation. The long, hard climb afterwards makes my vision blur, but the vista at 2 100m afterwards more than makes up for it.

As I lie back and pant like a dog, I’m humbled as my mind spools back on the testimony session the night before in the briefing room at The Nest (resort).

The aspirant climbers stand up, introduce themselves and share with the rest of us why they’re doing this – often at great personal sacrifice in terms of time, physical training and money, both paying and fund-raising.

Some are doing it for the bucket list tick of climbing Kili, but all are doing it to make a difference to girls who would otherwise miss school for several days each month and imperil their ability of eventually matriculat­ing, and perhaps breaking the spiral of poverty.

Almost to an individual, their stories are inspiratio­nal, heartfelt; from the gogos trying this for the first time to the larger-than-life Duracell bunny figure of Neo Matsunyane, the life and soul of the party, fitter than everyone put together, haring up hill and down dale.

“Each one of you is supporting 100 girls for a year just by being here,” Mabaso tells us. “If you think Kili was exciting, wait until you go to the school you have nominated and you see the excitement, listen to the girls and hear their dreams.”

In the end that’s what it’s all about, changing perception­s, getting people talking, taking us out of our comfort zones.

As Kili hopeful Mags Natasen asks straight out: “Shouldn’t sanitary pads be accessible in restrooms across the country, just like condoms?”

It’s a question that goes to

‘Grit and determinat­ion don’t come when it’s easy. You have to push yourself and train hard’

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