Updated: Jan 4, 2021
Mountain climbing is particularly challenging for me. I am not an ultra-fit person nor do I climb mountains for a hobby. However, whenever we take a break out of our city life, we head to the Soutpansberg, in the Limpopo area and there are plenty mountains there that have to be climbed!
My partner was kind to me when we started off our holiday with little, gentle hikes up small hillsides. On the first day I was on a high, being back in a natural environment that I love, that even the rather daunting walk up the mountain road did not bother me. We explored the beautiful terrain of the hillsides, full of blooming wildflowers and patches of indigenous forests. Troops of baboons were barking in the distant and we watched crowned eagles circling, up above us, as they caught the thermals. My soul was doing little dances of joy as it began to become centred and grounded again in an environment that restores it every time.
Then we decided it was time to tackle one of the more difficult trails that, according to the map we had been given, would take about six hours to complete. We could see that it would go up and down some mountains, through some gorges and over some hills. We were both feeling fit and strong, having eased our bodies in with the gentler hikes in the past few days.
We woke up to a warm, sunny day with a cool breeze blowing. We found the start of the trail, marked by a painted yellow footprint on a large boulder. It meandered through forests, across grasslands and up some small hills. The views were magnificent and we were enjoying ourselves. Then we found ourselves at the bottom of a mountain, large, flat slopes of boulders going upwards and no more yellow footprints to guide us. Staring upwards, we could not believe that this was the trail. Our choice was to turn back or to climb straight up. Somehow, we convinced ourselves that it couldn’t be that hard and surely, we will find the trail again quite soon.
The first 100m of scrambling up virtually vertical boulders were fine. I was still in the adventurous spirit of discovering new terrain. The next 100m got a bit more tedious especially as we were now, not only pulling ourselves up, rock by rock, but we were also having to crouch over as we made our way through thick, thorny brambles. I was taking a bit of strain by now – and getting frustrated. This wasn’t fun anymore!
Methodically, I put one foot in front of the other, hauling my body up with every step. I was taking deep breaths through my stomach and imagining what it must be like to be a klipspringer, bounding effortlessly from one rock to the next. Every time I dared to look behind me, I stared downwards to a drop that I wasn’t keen to fall down! Admittedly, the views were still magnificent as we looked over Africa for miles.
Looking upwards was worse though because it did not seem like we were ever going to get to the top of this mountain. So, after about 400m of climbing, I had enough. I sat down, and stared out over the view of forests and valleys below me and thought to myself, “I cannot do this anymore”. I don’t quit easily but I was tired, frustrated with my body seemingly giving up on me and mad that I had to have such a hard experience while I was on holiday!
Then, I bowed my head and prayed. As I prayed, I realised that what I was experiencing was just another journey. We often see pictures of people climbing up mountains and quotes that tell us that, with every struggle, we come through them, one way or another. Stronger and better people.
What I was experiencing was a physical journey that resembled so many of my emotional and mental journeys. In a way, I was being reminded of all my struggles, and how, step-by-step, I had conquered those struggles and found a sense of achievement at the “top of those mountains”. I was reminded of all those who helped me up those mountains. I was reminded of how often I did pray during those times and an answer always came.
And, while I was sitting on this mountain, praying, I happened to look up and, in the distance, I could see an eagle slowly soaring upwards. As I watched, I saw another join him and then, right before my eyes, three Black Eagles, one a juvenile, circled gracefully, round and round. What a gift I was being given. Once again, I was being reminded that I am never alone, that I do have the strength and that there is such beauty in this world, even if I was exhausted and worn out at that moment. As I watched these beautiful eagles soar higher and higher, I knew then that I would make it to the top of this mountain.
I gave thanks to whoever was listening to my prayers, my heart swelling with the beauty of all that was around me and pushed on upwards. Before I knew it, I was on top of the mountain. Not only had I felt I had achieved something great but also that I had witnessed a truly magical moment as those eagles soared in front of me. Once again, I am reminded that I never give up, no matter how difficult a situation may be. There’s a gift in every struggle. We just need to find it.