Finding Beauty in the Slog

“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”

No matter how many times I climb it or how many times I remind myself why I really do actually love climbing it, I can never get my head around climbing Platteklip Gorge. I hate it. Passionately. That is, until I’m in the gorge climbing her relentless staircase to the top!

Last weekend Lisa, one of my lovely team mates from Aconcagua, was down from Johannesburg and so we rounded up the Cape Town troops for a mini-Aconcagua reunion on the slopes of Table Mountain. I gave Lisa some nice hikes to choose from and naturally, she picked my nemesis, Platteklip Gorge. I really do try my best to avoid Platteklip at all costs, unless I’m seriously training but this time there was no way around it. It was straight up to the top!

On a perfect winters day, there was only one way to go, straight up to the top!

On a perfect winters day, there was only one way to go, straight up to the top!

The winter sun finally peeking over Devil's Peak in the distance.

The winter sun peeking over Devil’s Peak in the distance.

Taking a breather on the way to the top.

Taking a breather on the way to the top.

Cape Town put on the perfect show, another gorgeous, warm and sunny winter’s morning had us removing layers before too long as we climbed up, with the beautiful city views below to feast on.

With a recently injured neck leading to a general lack of training lately it had me climbing up the big stone steps slowly. But as we climbed, with each passing group of people, I was reminded why I actually do love Platteklip. With the rest of the team surging forward to the top, we took our time, stopping to chat to the people we passed. Even when we are not officially training, people seem to take us seriously and most ask us if we are training for something. We obviously always look the part! It turned out that the first couple who stopped to ask us if we were training for something just happened to be heading up to Everest Base Camp with Ronnie in September this year and were delighted to hear he was in our hiking party just up ahead! After having a lovely chat (and breather) we moved on and up. A short while later a larger hiking group we kept crossing paths with as they stopped for a breather and then we did, asked us the same question, are we training for something. What a wonderful group of people! We stood and chatted for ages with them about climbing mountains, what they had done and what we had done and about our Seven Summit journey. I hadn’t even reached the top yet and the mountain was reminding me, even on the routes I find a horrible slog, why I love the mountain.

There’s a shared camaraderie on the mountain, strangers stop to chat and share parts of their lives before moving along the path in the same direction. People (mostly) greet you back as you say good morning and especially on Platteklip Gorge, the encouragement and the laughs make the slog so worthwhile.

Views from the top of the gorge.

Views from the top of the gorge.

Reaching the top, our group enjoyed a bite to eat before heading back down. Judi and I decided to walk back down the way we came while the rest of the group headed back down the easy way, via the Cable Car.

So awesome to be hiking with some of my Aconcagua team members again.

So awesome to be hiking with some of my Aconcagua team members again.

Beautiful early morning views from the top!

Beautiful early morning views from the top!

Views from the top!

Views from the top.

Nothing is quite as peaceful as standing on top, looking out across the earth. Soul-time for sure!

Nothing is quite as peaceful as standing on top, looking out across the earth. Soul-time for sure!

It was while climbing down that the mountain showed her beauty again. The laughs shared with other hikers slogging their way up, the encouraging words and the smiles of relief when hikers find they are nearly at the top. For those who are further down, we just get creative!

Making our way back down the gorge again.

Making our way back down the gorge again.

The smile on my face now evident, with each step down my heart burst with gratitude that I was now going down and not up like all those passing us! The mountain truly does offer something that only those who climb know.

Back down on the ground, we headed off to Café Paradiso where we enjoyed a lovely, long and lazy lunch while catching up, laughing and just spending time with friends, who just a few months back, were strangers.

~ All Photos By Me ~

I Dared to Dream a Dream

As we began our journey through the rain forests, we caught a glimpse of the prize!

As we began our journey through the rain forests, we caught a glimpse of our ultimate destination!

It was the final push to the top. We all knew we were close now and with every agonising step we dug deeper into our souls to find the strength to keep going.

My legs felt like I had led stuffed into my hiking boots as I tried hard to lift my feet up to take another step but only managing to drag my feet mere millimetres above the grounds surface. If only I could muster up the energy to laugh I would have for there in that moment I was doing the “Kili shuffle” but with each step I knew it was bringing me closer to my dream.

One moment I’m walking and the next moment in my mindless state of following my team-mate in front of me I had failed to notice that he had stopped and almost bumped into him.  We had finally reached Stella Point and crested the steep ridge overlooking the crater. We weren’t there yet. It would take us about 45 minutes to an hour to get there. So close yet still so far…

One of our lead guides who had raced ahead to Stella Point, was there pouring us a warm cup of tea. Along with my team, I sat down at Stella Point for a moments rest as we sipped on our tea. The goal was not yet in sight, but I knew it was close. Soon we were on our way again. The air was really thin and your body and mind are beyond exhausted. Knowing I was near the summit somehow spurred me on. The walk was slow but so much easier with a gentle climb up and nowhere near as steep as before, and the views of the Southern Icefields were out of this world beautiful.

Stunning views of the Southern Icefield glaciers with clouds at the back covering the world below.

Stunning views of the Southern Icefield glaciers with clouds at the back covering the world below.

The final steps to the summit. I was so close now!

The final steps to the summit. I was so close now!

The ice path we walked on narrowed even more and I began tripping over my own feet, stumbling around like I was drunk. The wind was howling and despite the sun rising in the blue sky above, it was still bitterly cold. All of a sudden Donna stopped abruptly in front of me. Again, my head down and not noticing she had stopped I almost bumped into her.  She turned around and looked me straight in the eye. She was crying. She said between the tears “Lara, look over there, up ahead.” I leaned to my right to look around her and for the first time I saw it. There not too far off in the distance was the sign we had longed to see all night. The sign that said “Congratulations” the sign that said you have arrived at the summit of Kilimanjaro. I started crying too and in that moment we hugged each other, both of us crying. I hugged Donna tight and told her “We gonna make it!” As we broke apart, I started laughing. Well, more like chuckling really as that was about all I could manage. I wanted to run but my body could only take one small step at a time. I wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to jump with pure joy. But what the mind wanted, the body was unable to do. Inside I was dancing! As I systematically put one foot in front of the other, taking my final steps to the summit, my mind was filled with giddy displays of images and emotions.  The most predominant presence was Emma, my best friend who had succumbed to complications from Cystic Fibrosis 14 years ago. I thought of all the people who had contributed towards my fundraising for CF in order to help find a cure for this disease and to support those living with it. I thought of my family and friends back home.  I remembered the first night on the mountain, standing in our campsite just above the rain forests when we saw the peak and how far out of reach it looked. Now I was about to stand on top of that peak. I had almost arrived.

As we approach my heart was beating so fast and hard I was sure that everyone on top could hear it. Our fellow team members spotted us coming up and came rushing towards us. Between laughing and crying there was a frenzy of hugs and congratulations going around. The emotions finally spilled over, each one fuelled by so much emotion that we had carried along throughout the night. There was such joy in the air as we congratulated each other.

We had arrived. On the roof of Africa.  The entire continent lay at our feet. The joy spilled over. Finally, we had made it! It was 8:45am on Friday, the 13th July 2012.

Before you reach the summit you imagine all the photos you are going to take and how amazing it’s going to be. Truth is, you stand there and all you want to do it take the required photos and make your way down to Base Camp again. The cold is all-consuming and the exhaustion and lack of air is all too real.

Physically I felt weak by pure exhaustion, while mentally I was ecstatic. Our turn at the sign came quickly and we posed for the obligatory photos. I pulled my banner out of my backpack, the one I had carried on me from Day One. The time had finally come to show the world.  It is really not as glamorous as everyone thinks. The wind was so strong that all my team mates had to help me hold the banner. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  Except for Donna and I, we had all started as strangers and as we climbed we became friends. Friends who will forever share the incredible bond that we formed on that mountain. As the wind gusted we each grabbed a corner or edge of the banner and there in that moment my message to Emma unfolded at the summit along with my Thank You to each one who had helped me raise R20 000 for Cystic Fibrosis.


I Climbed This Mountain For You My Friend!

Until We Meet Again, May God Hold You In The Palm Of His Hand


Last Count U Helped Me Raise R19 641 For Cystic Fibrosis

 All around the message I had written the names of each person who had donated to my charity, The South African Cystic Fibrosis Trust.  Just one donor was missing. The final donation that helped me reach R20 000. Unfortunately, I had received this information too late last night to add it to the sign.

The team with my banner at the summit.

The team with my banner at the summit.


We did it! Donna and I standing on top of Kilimanjaro, summiting together at 08h45 on Friday, 13 July 2012 ~ What a great moment!

After our photos I stepped aside and took a moment to be alone. I had surprisingly remembered something Thomas had said months ago when Donna and I had attended one of his presentations on climbing Kilimanjaro. He said that it’s cold on top and you can’t stop for too long as it will be hard to get moving again due to the cold and fatigue. But he added that’s it’s nice to go and find a place at the summit and just spend a moment acknowledging your achievement.  I stood there alone on the summit for what felt like a very long time. I thought of Emma and felt so close to her in those moments. I knew she would proud of me. I thought of Sean and Barry, our team mates who had turned back the day we left for base camp due to illness. I stood there, watching in awe, the people, the sights and listening to the sounds. The immensity of the open space that lay before me, totally uninhabited and although I was not alone, it was incredibly still. It was liberating and at the same time overwhelming. I look over at the summit sign and read it again


You are now at Uhuru Peak 5895 m A.M.S.L.


African’s Highest Point

World’s highest free-standing mountain.

The emotions washed over me as I stood there taking it all in.  I had reached the top of Kilimanjaro and my body silently screamed in triumph. I stood there knowing that something significant had changed inside of me forever.  All my fears and uncertainties dissipated in that moment, leaving something new and untouched.

The events of the past 24 hours had proven to me that I was wholly alive, and no matter what transpired from there on out, I had truly lived!

“…by bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives.” ~ Jonathan Waterman

So much gratitude goes out to our amazing porters and guides who supported our incredible journey to the top.

So much gratitude goes out to our amazing porters and guides who supported our incredible journey to the top.

Happy 2 year anniversary to my amazing Kilimanjaro team. Thanks for the most incredible memories and for inspiring my dream to grow even bigger.  My Seven Summit journey had begun…!

Kilimanjaro Team, July  2012

Kilimanjaro Team, July 2012

~ I climb these mountains for you Emma, and will keep doing so in your memory until a cure is found. I miss you every single day! ~

As the great mountaineer Alan Arnette says, “Memories are everything, climb on!”

I dared to dream a dream and it was more unbelievably incredible than I could have ever imagined!

This blog piece is an excerpt from the chronicles of my journey to summit Kilimanjaro, where I wrote a day-by-day journal of my experience as I journeyed to the roof top of Africa. Since I wrote it, I have had many new blog followers so if you haven’t yet read the laughs, the tears, the agony and the ecstasy that was my journey, you can click on the link below and it will give you the full story to my days on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, plus all the photos.

The Kilimanjaro Chronicles, A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro.


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