I run, dance, and eat healthy for a lot of reasons. One of the most important is that all those activities help me feel strong and capable. I have a good understanding of what my body can do, what my strengths and limitations are. I have pushed my body to be as close to its peak potential in several aspects as my time and resources allow.
Being in South Africa was a good reminder of how much that adds to my life. Particularly when climbing mountains.
Table Mountain is a beautiful and impressive peak that sits on the southern side of Cape Town. Approximately 1 km above sea level, it’s a popular hiking destination for both tourists and locals, providing breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding countryside and ocean.
Cape Town and Table Mountain from Robben Island
Beautiful view from Table Mountain during hike
I had my first opportunity to hike up Table Mountain a couple of days into our stay in Cape Town. A group of 15 or so dancers from the dance camp I was attending were going on a planned hike in the morning, led by a couple of locals. Our guides estimated it would take us 2-3 hours to complete the ascent.
The hike turned out to be a lot more grueling and demanding than people anticipated. There were long stretches spent climbing endless natural stairways, meandering up the mountain. There were smooth rock formations we hiked over and around, and narrow passages with steep drop offs. As we got higher, there were many sections where we had to scramble up nearly vertical rock faces, using our hands and feet.
A pic of the group early in the hike when we were all still relatively energetic
As the hike went into the second hour, you could see the fatigue and exhaustion setting in for a lot of people. By the third hour, there were not a few tears and frustrating moments for several people. As we approached the fourth hour, the sun now at its peak in the sky, there was a sullen silence as people wondered if they would ever get to the top.
By contrast, I was having a blast going up the mountain. Going up the natural steps felt good, engaging my leg and butt muscles. Hiking around the rock formations was super fun, leaping from boulder to boulder.
But my favorite part was climbing up the vertical sections using my arms and legs. Some people in our group spent time analyzing a steep section, trying to figure out how to get up it. I just took a quick look at it and started climbing, using whatever seemed like the most obvious foot and hand holds. As I got higher, I would problem solve along the way, trying one side of a rock until I faced resistance, then trying a different path, until I got to the top of that section. It felt really good.
In retrospect, I realized I was using a lot of the strengths and abilities I have been working on over the past few years. Regular running has built up my overall stamina and leg muscles. Eating right has made me trimmer and more energetic.
Dancing — particularly the urban dances — has enhanced my overall flexibility and body awareness.
B-boying and lofting have given me strong upper body strength and balance. I know how to use my arms and core to support my entire body.
It felt like everything I had done had prepared me to hike up that mountain comfortably. It felt great.
Feeling physically exerted but not exhausted meant that I could appreciate what an awesome hike it was. At each rest stop I didn’t need to collapse into a gasping heap like some others. I could take in the beautiful vistas and enjoy the moment. Hiking along the way, I could appreciate the local flora and fauna, even meeting this cute Dassie along the way.
Being prepared for the hike also meant that I could help other people around me who were struggling. For some of the more difficult sections, I observed people trying to ascend burdened with the bags or backpacks they had brought with them. I was able to carry someone’s bag for a stretch, giving them a break and helping them get through the hike.
If I was using 100% of my energy to get through the hike, I wouldn’t have any extra to help anyone else. It’s much harder to be a generous person when you are just trying to get by. That applies to physical resources as much as financial ones.
In short, being physically prepared meant that I could be fully present and aware during the hike.
Which was also helpful because the next time I went up the mountain I was leading the hike.
Several days later, my friend Hanah really wanted to hike up Table Mountain, since she had missed the first hike because of an illness. So I led us on the same hike to the top. Because I was able to be present and aware the first time, going up a second time felt familiar and do-able.
Honestly, we did get lost and stuck at a particularly hard ascent a couple of times. But being physically prepared meant that I could help us problem solve and find a way around whatever problem we encountered.
It feels great knowing that all the health stuff I’ve been doing over the past couple years can help me conquer challenges like Table Mountain. And it’s got me excited about something I had long thought I was incapable of doing — rock climbing. Next chance I get, I’m going to a gym to do some wall climbing. I can’t wait.
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