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  • Writer's pictureJo

Climbing mountains

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Recently I found myself at the top of Table Mountain, looking down on one of the most beautiful places in the world. A place so magical that it’s been declared one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. A place I used to call home.

To be honest, I don’t really know how I got up there. As many of you know, I’m not great at small spaces (like lifts), I’m not the best at dealing with feeling trapped (like in aeroplanes) and I’m scared of heights (endless list for this one). Add all my phobias together and it adds up to the most fear-provoking experience possible – going up a cable car to the top of Cape Town’s famous mountain.

Shove me in a rollercoaster – no problem. Put me in a harness and belay me as I climb a steep incline (I’m looking up, not down) – bring it. Put me in a stressful situation and make me defend myself – I got it. But put me in a small space and add some height, like a cable car, and I don’t know how to cope.

I must admit, it was my idea to go there (I’m an idiot like that). I expected there to be a long queue to get up – there usually is – or a weather warning that would forbid our passage. But by some miracle (urgh, really?) on this particular afternoon, there were a mere four people ahead of us in line and the sky was clear. I had no time to psyche myself up. And I had no time to convince my group that we had better things to do than stand in a queue to go up a ‘stupid’ mountain.

As we grabbed our tickets and snaked up to the top of the slope to get onto the cable car, I began to shiver. My heart rate climbed with every step. The girls were excitedly chatting about the wonderful day we’d had and I was robotically putting one foot in front of the other curious about how I was going to react to the panic ahead. Would I throw up? Pass out? Freak out?

I shot my bestie my look of desperation in the hope she’d turn us around. She knows me well. She gets it. But instead of calling us all to head back, she bent down and chatted to her young daughter who then came running up to me and grabbed my hand. “Don’t be scared Jo,” said my bestie’s five-year-old “I’m going to hold your hand the whole time, so you’ll be ok.” My heart melted. For the sake of her kindness, I had to get over it. I had to show her that when you extend a helping hand to others, it makes all the difference.

My palms were sweating around her sticky, curled fingers. I wanted to run. As I looked down at my little companion she gave me her best brave smile. Her eyes assured me, ‘you can do this’. I was in awe of the compassion and understanding she extended me. I took a deep breath, steadied myself and smiled back. I couldn’t let her down.

And I did it. I still don’t know how. I have little memory of the trip up. What I do remember is telling myself it wasn’t that high and that the journey only took seconds – both completely untrue. As we strolled along the top and gazed down at the beautiful city below we came across two climbers. They’d come up the steepest side of the mountain and it had taken them hours to get there. They were insane.

As I wondered how on earth they’d managed to get to their position, I took a moment to appreciate that distance and time, while measurable entities are both a matter of perspective. To them, a day of hard climbing connected to the rock by little more than thin metal wedged into gaps and holding their ropes, was worth every second, every inch. They climbed with two goals – to get to the top and to watch the sunset.

We stayed for the sunset too – partly because said climbers convinced our five-year-old companion to refuse to leave, and partly because we couldn’t force ourselves away for the orange-fire sky and the magnificent view. That is, until the emergency siren sounded and we joined hundreds of people dash to escape the changing winds.

I’m pretty chuffed that I’m learning to conquer a bunch of my fears with the help of my friends and family. A lot of it is about perspective. At the top of the mountain I realised a few things… I realised that the truest truth sometimes comes from a place of little experience and a lot of heart. I realised that even the tiniest of helping hands can make all the difference. And I realised that when the adventure is worthwhile, you can push through your greatest fears.

Go climb mountains.          

First published on 1 May 2017, on Used with permission.

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