I’m a camp counselor; I’ve done a fair amount of hiking in my time…so I didn’t think twice when I filled my Nalgene with water, packed an apple, and headed out with four friends for what was sure to be a lovely morning on Stellenbosch mountain.
After an hour of hiking up the steepest incline I have ever encountered, I looked out above the city of Stellenbosch and took a deep breath of my favorite mountain air. I also cursed the Garden Route, where the most I physically exerted myself was to walk from the vans to the dinner table. Okay, this hike was hard, but totally worth it. I started congratulating everyone and suggested we hang out at the top for a while before our descent. Their looks of amusement had me confused until they started pulling out their sandwiches, talking about the crackers, chocolate and thermos’ of hot water they were saving for the top. I missed the memo that this would be an all-day affair. Stellenbosch Mountain is a tricky little sucker, with more false peaks than anyone could try to predict. And we were going all the way to the top.
Being sure that the top is in sight and putting everything into that climb, only to be greeted by the sight of yet another “peak" was like being a mouse running on a wheel with a piece of mouth-watering cheese dangling in front of your nose, just out of reach. We felt that after the second, third, fourth false peak. Each “top” was even more breathtaking than the last, each one a perfectly suitable stopping point. But we kept climbing until finally we saw the next marker. We all agreed that no matter what was after the pole atop that next peak, it would be our “top.” This was going into our fourth hour of nothing but steep incline, and we were all huffing and puffing.
Fortunately, that next ascent was not only our top, but the top, and it was more spectacular than my limited vocabulary can describe. We were above planes, right at the cloud line. We could see not only all of Stellenbosch, but nearby townships, Strand Beach, and even Table Mountain in Cape Town. My camera was still dead from the Garden Route (curse you, Garden Route), but Chris and Annie got some phenomenal photos that I will post later.
It is now April 12th and two months from tomorrow I will be leaving this incredible country to go back to the States. Each month I’ve been here has brought new people, new experiences, new challenges, new peaks. But I’m still climbing, and it is still a while until I’ll reach the top. If the mountain taught me anything, it’s that the best is still to come.