Deputy Editor, Tyson Jopson found that the first rule of hiking should be finding hikers you can trust. Which kind of hiker are you?
‘Why do we climb mountains?’ If you’re one of the authors of this month’s hiking features (Rwenzoris, page 82; Langeberg, page 46; Golden Gate, page 66), the answer lies somewhere between solitude and conquest.
If you’re the eminent mountaineer George Mallory, the answer is one you’ve likely heard before. ‘Because it’s there,’ he famously said to a New York Times journalist in 1923, shortly before he disappeared trying to summit Everest. Simple, eloquent and, frankly, a bit pithy for a man who reportedly read passages of Keats to fellow climbers as motivation. I can’t think of anything more unbearable. In fact, I suspect it had something to do with his disappearance; I think his climbing partner simply couldn’t stand his waffling enumerations any longer and shoved him into an abyss.
Anyway, the question of why we climb mountains has been dealt with ad nauseam. So much so that it’s taken our eyes off another important question: ‘Why do other people climb mountains?’
See, mountains are glorious but also treacherous and often your only help is from people around you. In my seven years of climbing mountains for Getaway I’ve discovered that, broadly speaking, you’re likely to meet seven types of people who climb them for seven different reasons.
Now look, I don’t like to stereotype. I know that you are all very special snowflakes; complex individuals with such specific interests that there’s just no way you’re part of the same lot who fell for the craft beer revolution, or did the Macarena, or owned a lava lamp. But this is about survival. And to survive, you need to know who you can, and cannot, trust.
1. The family of tourists
I know this is strictly not one person, but it operates as a unit and will thus react as one. But it is too distracted and fraught with internal dilemmas – herding its younger units away from ledges, negotiating terms with its teenage ones or grunting at its elders’ lack of pace – to even notice your emergency. You’re better off trying to signal the attention of a rock.
2. The kitchen sinker
This person brings everything. It’s only a half-day doddle up the Magaliesberg, but they’ve got a picnic blanket, a basket of cheeses, cutlery for six and two books because they’re not sure what mood they’ll be in at the top. They rarely make it to the top. If you get down quick enough there might still be some leftover cheese in the parking lot.
Also read: 5 hiking trails near Johannesburg
3. The selfie-taker
Don’t go near these people. They’re there for fame and will back themselves off a ledge for a good pic if that’s what it takes. And they will take you with them.
4. The athleisure strider
You’ll find these specimens around foothills and low-altitude forests (Cape Town’s Constantia is a prime location). They’re identifiable by their neon plumage and faithful adherence to brand names ‘because the products were developed to work together’. The only help you’ll get from them is the location of a good bargain.
5. The still-drunk student
When they charged their glass ‘to climbing Laaaan’s Head!’ the previous night, everyone thought they were joking. Yet there they are, halfway up the chain ladders, wearing jeans and Sambuca-stained elbows. It won’t be long before they sober up and realise this was a bad idea. You need to give them water. You are their help.
Also read: Photoblog: hiking Lion’s Head at sunset
6. The trail runner
Whoosh. ‘What was that?’ You can’t get help from something you can’t even see.
7. The mountain goat
‘This is the one!’ you think. They’ve got a belt that can hold three water bottles, a topographical map tucked into their two-piece hiking pants and the glint of someone who knows their way around a buttress. You’re wrong. They may know an escape route but it’s unnavigable for regular humans. Follow them and you’ll probably end up as a smudge on some scenery.
So who can you rely on? I don’t know. Your best bet is to approach a hike the way you would an interview for a band of bank robbers: trust nobody. Especially if you’re the type of person who likes to recite poetry.
Also read: 10 African hiking trails
See more in October issue of Getaway magazine.
The best guide to weekending in Golden Gate; how to go shark diving (without a cage); exploring the high peaks of the Rwenzoris and heritage homestays with delicious food in Kerala.