Let me start with a few disclaimers. I am generally fit. I am generally hot, meaning I don't get cold easily. I am a fast, impatient walker, but a slow, patient hiker. I am generally positive, with a never quit spirit. In fact, quitting is the last thing on my mind when faced with difficulty.
For me, the journey matters more than the goal. As a result, I generally don't worry about how long it takes to reach the target. As Ntate Sibusiso Vilane likes saying: focus on your next step.
With these statements in mind, read my story and as soon as you want to pass harsh judgement, remember what I said above. It was tough!
The weather forecast indicated that it was going to be very cold when I checked it the night before. I put on my long johns, long warm hiking pants, vest, fleece jacket, etc. So, I went to pick up my guide, Lungelo, in the cold and dark morning at 6am and then, boom! He is wearing shorts, two light t-shirts and a light jacket on top. I offer him long pants and a thicker jacket, which he politely turns down and indicates that it's not cold and that it will be warm in no time. I already feel bad for over-dressing, but then ...
We started off aiming for Sterkon peak. We got to the gate and were told that a big fire was on that side of the mountain. Change of plans, let's rather do Steinberg, he says, which we reached in no time. As we were heading towards Hlathikhulu Nek to the junction which will take us back to the gate, the Gatberg (Intunjambili) made an appearance and called my name. I politely asked a question you never ask any guide: "How long will it take us to reach that hole?"
Lungelo said something about two hours at our pace, maybe three. By then, I had already made up my mind that I wanted to reach that peak. It was then that I thought of dedicating the summit to Ntate Johnny Clegg. I was going to miss his memorial service due to this hike in preparation for my Kilimanjaro climb in a week's time anyway. “Yes. Done!” I tell myself.
Whenever someone asks you if you are sure, you must think and rethink what they are asking you. Lungelo indicated that we had already walked a long distance and the hike up to the hole would be taxing. I had been determined to do this climb ever since I saw the hole two years ago.
Somewhere along the way, it got so tough I wanted to quit. I could see the fire approaching and tried to use that as an excuse to go back. Lungelo said not to worry as it was still far from us. Far? How far is far when I could hear the sound made by the fire? Maybe I was imagining the sound as I just wanted to get off the mountain due to the grueling hike. By my estimation it was 100 metres away. I clearly lost my maths for a second as Lungelo said it was over half a kilometre away. Wait a minute, did I tell you that at some point I felt like I had damaged my ankle? My back was killing me. The backpack was also feeling heavier and heavier with every step taken. All these were signs that I was exhausted.
By the time we reached the fifth little summit point, I could hardly feel my legs. My guide was just excellent at this point. He was using tactics which I always use when I'm helping others who are struggling up a mountain: we are almost there, he said. It's around the corner. We are still doing fine for time – our target was to reach the target by 12h30. Then came the clincher: the target is five minutes away. I was no longer checking the time. We were still walking what felt like an hour later. Then he said: “Give me the camera. You'll see the hole in five seconds.”
I couldn't believe the beauty and the exhilarating feeling I had. I screamed: “This was for you, Johnny! We did it! We did it!”
We could finally have lunch, right inside Gatberg. I forgot to mention that the first time I saw this hole, I was with Siyabonga Sithole. Tebogo, Fani and I vowed to come for it one day. Then I told Tlotlego Pule who also spotted it when he was last on the Berg. “I'm here now boys! I made it!”
My guide asked that we not have a long break, 15 to 20 minutes max, as we needed to descend. Oh mannnn! Do we have to? Isn't there a zipline or a cable car to take us down? I can't! I can't! The last 40 or so steps to the hole were particularly tough. We were walking so close to the cliff. At some point, Lungelo caught a pic of me wearing a very nervous smile hugging the mountain.
We started our walk down, which took forever! I could feel every ascent and descent in my knees. Seeing my pain, he asked if I wanted a short cut which was tough or the long way round which was more gentle. Make the call, I said. I was hoping he would choose the long, gentle route, but he chose the short tough one. I could see the little hill in front of us which we had to tackle. Oh man! By the way, the so-called short route didn't feel short at all. So, it made me wonder. Lungelo said he wanted to show me a different and beautiful route. Beautiful it certainly was! Both flora and fauna made me forget my pain, only for a moment. We got to see baboons, buck, millipedes. Sadly, we also saw a lot of little creatures that didn't survive the fire. We met firefighters along the way who looked exhausted from their firefighting. We gave them whatever we had in our bags to sustain them.
Finally made it to the parking lot! I'm ready to tackle my next major challenge: Kilimanjaro. We do all this to support #Caring4Girls and help #KeeptheGirlChildinSchool. I was so grateful to Audi SA for their support – we could travel in comfort again.
Thanks to Lungelo for being such a patient guide. He was brilliant! He is taking his father's company to the next level. His father, Ntate Sibusiso, passed on a couple years ago from ill-health. A very patient guide he was. It is good to see his legacy continue through his brilliant son.
Ke a leboga.