Jay’s walked over 400 miles in the mountains of South Africa, completing the first trek of the entire Rim of Africa Mountain Trail, to help educate South African youth on the Cape Floristic Region and conservation through the story of creating Africa’s first Mega-Trail. More at Rim of Africa Multimedia Trail Journal or follow on Facebook.
Lessons are learned while walking. When we forget previous truths we are sent (up) reminders. And if there were was anything to be learned hiking up this mountain, it was to awaken the inner wild side and “be less sheepish!”
My muscles were sore the last morning of hiking the Agterwitzenberg Passage. We had completed a lot of walking to get here, over tough mountains and terrain, and it was time to face the last hurdle. Luckily, the mountain we were climbing had two rough and ragged roads miraculously cut into its side, making easier paths through the burnt vegetation and rock scrambles. As we climbed, I was humbled by the men and machines that must have toiled to create the roads. Furthermore, I realized that this would be a considerable feat in the USA, let alone in a mountainside of Africa.
But our thankfulness was short lived—to no fault of the roads. I said there were two roads and guess what: we failed to see the intersection of the broken roads and missed a critical turn. Walking up the mountain in a loose line, the realization became apparent to those first in front of the group and we had to wait for the others to join us. The other road was surprisingly high on the opposite mountain side. In between us and the road was a blind rise (pictured below) hiding additional fun like thick bushes, ferns and water crossings.
We were faced with a choice: to retrace our road down to the intersection and then climb the other road, or cut directly across the vegetation trying to keep our elevation until we hit the other side.
“We were like sheep heading up the mountain,” someone commented to the group.
It was obvious why we found ourselves at the wrong side of the valley: walking up any trail, especially something as comforting as a road, provided a false perception of going the correct direction. We had followed the path ahead blindly, tamed in the memory of walking roads back home. Tamed by our society’s “order” over the landscape. Tamed by the inner self that yearns for comfort and ease.
“Then we need to be less sheepish and more wild!”
Everyone in the group agreed. We venture to the mountains to shrug off the civilized self, to color outside the lines, if only for a moment.
When walking off-path in the mountains, it is hard to be tame. Every step must be considered. Rocks, water, snakes or other surprises keep you awake, present. Walking in the wild demands for each walker to check their position in the landscape— do I want to walk higher or lower along this ridge? Where should I cross this stream? Where is the easiest path through this mountainside of burnt proteas? How steep of an ascent do I want to climb?
We made our way head-first into the vegetation, without any signs of shyness or laziness towards the climb ahead. It was steep. The grasses bent easily underfoot, the proteas less so, and the ferns had a way of knotting and entrapping us. But we continued, now alert and battling to the top.
Leaving the road, the faint sounds of industry echoing from a town below faded. All I could hear as I climbed was the wind. Then it was the sound of my breath, heavy with the labor of our ascent.
A rhythm then filled my head, a song of my breath and heartbeat. It was steady and consuming.
Or maybe it was just my focus collapsing inward, dissolving the wide mountain to limit my attention to my body and the patch of earth it touched. There was less stomping on branches, more walking on soft grass. Breathe in, lub-dub, lub-dub, breathe out, lub-dub. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
At the mountain pass the sounds of the wind consumed me again. I lifted my arms in the cool wind and felt my sweat turn cold against my body. Everything returned to sharp focus: the mountain, the open sky with low clouds over mountain peaks, and our next mountain range ahead…. waiting to be tamed.