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Heels for hiking boots

Updated: Jan 27

Immersed in a fresh, albeit freezing cold rock pool a few Thursday mornings back, under the Intunja Mountain where we had camped for the first night of three - I was absorbed in awe of where I was in the world, immersed in the ridiculously magnificent Drakensberg mountains in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.

I was on leave for a few days. 

The dense mist had lifted and soaring in front of me, as I splashed reality onto my face, was the Dragons Back, Monks Cowl, Cathkin Peak, Sterkhorn and Champagne Castle.

The names say it all.

Among them is a path to Lesotho called Grays Pass.

We climbed it on the Friday.

I sit here already over a month later, sipping a cortado while prepping marketing plans, reports and contracts thinking I’ve been in some kind of high altitude dream. 

Did I really do it?

What does it mean?

When am I going to “share” it?

How am I going to tell the tale?

Do I even want to? 

… or do I want to hold onto the memory just a bit longer, close my eyes and place myself in the wonder of it all. (Even the camping!)

Can I even remember? Since being back at my desk, has been at pace. 

Intunja Mountain - Monks Cowl, Drakensberg

Climbing mountains takes presence. The skill is in the depth required to respect what that means. And as no mountain is the same, preparation and skill, knowledge of self and a profound respect for nature are priority. Out there the pecking order lies firmly in the hands of mother nature and let’s be honest, your kit!

My other half and I had made a conscious decision before embarking on our time away that we would use our phones for navigation, googling answers to trivial questions and on our 4 day hike, to put our phones on airplane mode, only using them for the purpose of taking photographs. Setting the boundary to avoid death-by-distraction, we immersed ourselves in the attraction of the extraordinary scenery and savoured our time off together in what we were doing - hiking. 

Switching “off” I often find quite challenging. Not the phone per se, but truly disconnecting mind, detaching from the day-to-day thoughts and challenges almost has to happen by force, architecting a mindful way to actively NOT think about my to-do list or problems that need solving. 

This practice takes more and more time to adjust to as the years seem to go quicker, time is stretched for the volume and tempo we take on and the stress is compounded. I find the most meaningful and yet monumental moments in our lives, seemingly, are the most fleeting - brushed over in ever-populated, full and detailed “stuff” we seem to be busy with. 

Technology and always being “on” is complex, layered and habitual. I realise I have to grasp these off moments intentionally, intently and selfishly to make sure I can own them and get what I need out of them: restoration, personal reconciliation and time out to chill. Time off in the mountains is forced solitude. It has value in the peace and space it trades, for me any way. A means to attain a state of well-being and reconcile purpose. 

Intunja is Zulu for the “Eye of the Needle”. For some reason this extraordinary and yet small mountain, in comparison to the one I actually climbed, resonated with me. While walking away from Intunja and towards the cliffs intently listening for water and hiking through long grass up the valley, I pondered over when last I even threaded a needle…(?) More aptly how challenging it is to focus, be present, channel our energy and push through to thread the needle of our lives… It was a profound metaphor for my creative mind.

The colour threads that sew our stories together…

The types of stitches criss-crossing people and places… moments in time. 

Was going up that gorge last month over the pass, the eye of my needle and the next part of the journey in the tapestry of my life? 

Curiously and inquisitively I had to look up what the “eye of the needle” means: 

It is said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. Since camels were heavily loaded with goods and riders, they would need to be un-loaded in order to pass through the Eye of the Needle or the gateway. Therefore, the analogy is that a rich man would have to similarly unload his material possessions in order to enter heaven.

So now I’m definitely onto something… The lighter the pack the easier the load - which is fundamentally the strategy in hiking, routes, protecting your knees and most certainly how to climb the 3rd highest peak in Africa. 

It would appear I have ditched by heels for hiking boots since living in Plettenberg Bay, but is it heaven yet? 

The gorge - top of Gray Pass. 

What has my attention, is what we do to pack light? The message in the moment for me is letting go of what we don’t need to give energy to. Carving self-actualised boundaries, setting personal goals, learning to ask for what we need and deciding what is acceptable and not of both ourselves and others. It takes practice. Daily. 

I was hiking along the edge of the mountain, barely able to look at the view with the sheer drop off giving me a sense of mild vertigo. It was the only time on the mountain I was anxious on the thin path. Below there was little to stop the momentum if the wind blew me off course or my vertigo wrestled me over. I stopped to take a photo to distract my mind, if even for a few shaky seconds to still my nerve. Suddenly I heard this thud, the sound of a rock hit a rock and by the time I turned to figure out what is was, the rock, the size of a soccer ball, literally flew past me and bounced off the edge. Say no more. Safe was the distraction. (The irony in the value of that photo.)

While continuing to hike and regulate my heart rate as we climbed to the level of thermals that vultures soar at, I realised how comfortable I was. My legs strong, my pack light, clothes and kit all efficient. My choices felt right. 

What came to mind for a brief moment was that training and preparation for this mountain has taken 5 years.

Consistently I have hiked every week. I have escaped to hike. I have hiked to heal. I have walked beaches, roads and trails. I have set goals and achieved them. It's a means to meditate, to think, to breathe and perhaps to live. 

... and while that rock could have changed lots of things. It didn’t.

What it did do is remind me of how instantly we are here and how we do need to just follow our hearts to lead us to the places we believe we can see. 

Heaven - we only know belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams? 

So decide where you are heading, pack light to walk the distance to see the view and capture the moments wholeheartedly on the way. 

Maybe after all, those moments are the eye of the needle. 

The choice is in the colour we thread. 

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