Text and photographs: GG van Rooyen
I didn’t want to look up. It was too depressing.
We climbed and climbed and climbed, but it didn’t feel as though we were getting any closer to the top. Like the end of a rainbow, the summit taunted us. The higher we climbed, the farther it retreated, remaining agonisingly out of reach.
My legs ached. The camera equipment on my back weighed a ton. The thin air made it hard to breathe. I decided to take it slowly, focus on the rocks right in front of me, and forget about the summit. I also vowed that I would visit the gym more often once we got back to Johannesburg.
We were scrambling up a steep gully between the Sentinel Hiking Trail and the top of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre. This gully, we were told, would give us the quickest access to the top of the plateau. And once on top, we would apparently be met by some of the most awe-inspiring scenery that South Africa has to offer.
I reminded myself that the amazing view would make the climb worthwhile, and redoubled my efforts. I scrambled up the loose stones. I felt I was making progress, but I didn’t dare peek upwards. Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Repeat action. Focus.
When my lungs started to beg desperately for oxygen, I stopped to rest. Hesitantly, I glanced at the summit.
We were making progress!
The top of the gully was slowly growing larger. Feeling that I deserved a break, I sat down and drank some water. Dewald Theron, my travelling companion, sat down next to me. We didn’t speak. The difficult act of breathing required all our attention.
It was our guide, interrupting our precious break. She was a few metres below us, bringing up the rear. For safety reasons no one was allowed to climb behind her.
“How? far?” I managed to ask.
“You’re close. Ten minutes’ climb.”
We started climbing again.
Above us, close to the top, two Swedish girls who were part of our hiking group, bounded up the gully like mountain goats. Climbing the slopes of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre seemed to be about as challenging for them as strolling through a garden.
It was very discouraging to the rest of us.