Pretoria - The saying “what goes up must come down” was illustrated in the Drakensberg this past weekend by former public protector Professor Thuli Madonsela and fellow climbers.
Training for their coming Kilimanjaro ascent, they hiked uphill, which is an obvious challenge, but downhill - that’s easy, right? Not at Monk’s Cowl, in particularly rugged terrain, which required full concentration.
Madonsela, 56, is among a group of hikers who will be taking part in this year’s expedition of the Trek4Mandela campaign in August.
It aims to keep indigent girls in school by providing them with basic needs such as sanitary towels.
Through the help of the organisers - the Imbumba Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Caring4Girls - the group has been raising funds ahead of their summit climb, scheduled for Women’s Day.
Two groups of climbers are set to take part. The first group of 17 will leave on July 18, Mandela Day.
During the training at the weekend, the weather was on the group’s side, and with a bag full of determination, dried snacks and plenty of water bottles, it was going to be an interesting 22km nine-hour hike.
Madonsela said trekking up a mountain was a lot like climbing stairs or doing lunges, which strengthens the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
The trail covered all sorts of terrain through diverse environments. It follows a well-defined trail of rock steps, many requiring a high step.
It meanders up a deep gorge, the gradient steep at times. The trail is and uneven and covered with loose stones, choked by forest, a place where slippery rock and a few wooden ladders add spice to the hike. Some parts are off the beaten track - or trail - meaning they are seldom done.
“But travelling downhill is what really leaves your legs sore! To go downhill, your legs need to do a lot of slow, controlled work to stabilise your knees and hips so you don’t fall,” Madonsela said.
And what’s a hike without a fall or two? But like everything else in her life, she took the falls in her stride. And nine hours later, the sense of achievement outweighed the stiff muscles.
She said although she had been putting in the work, and even had a difficult hike in Stellenbosch, she couldn’t get used to the downhill.
“Mentally I am 100% ready. Physically I’m around 60% ready. But I should be 100% by the end of July.”
Asked about her reasons for making the trek this year, she said: “I must borrow from (media personality) Gerry Elsdon - we are climbing this mountain so that young girls can choose the mountains they want to climb.
“At this stage, life chooses the mountains they want to climb. They have to climb a metaphoric mountain just to get pads.”
Madonsela added that for her it was about using the power and privilege she had been blessed with to extend the same opportunity to young girls.
She stressed that it was important to help them embrace their dignity and not let their circumstances define them.