The cool crisp air of the African morning mixed with a light fog and the faint growl of lions in the distance greeted me as I stepped outside of the large thatched hut. Zebra and wildebeest crowded the mist covered watering hole quenching their thirst, always looking this way and that, scanning… watching for hidden predators in the tall grasses. Another powerful yet lonely roar of the lions sent the animals hastening for the welcoming cover of the near tree-line, while only the stubborn hartebeest remained.
On my walk towards the open aired dining area where we shared our meals in camp I could see the red african sun beginning to make its way above the trees, the sunlight already filtering through the the tall thick branches of the marula trees. At the same time I cautiously picked my way through the low-cut grass making sure not to tread on the resting puff adder or cobra that might be basking in the now growing warmth of the sun.
Following breakfast which consisted of a filling and delicious meal of rusks and rooibos tea we were ready to begin our anticipated journey into the bush. After loading the battered land-cruiser which had numerous scars from its many years as a safari vehicle, including a dent from a angry rhino; we opened the low gate that provided only minimal protection against animals not determined enough to jump or charge though. As we cruised down the thin winding roads that cut like a river among the tall grass plains, thick leafy forests, rolling hills and sharp thickets, we spotted animal after animal proving the long held belief that africa is truly the best place to see big game. The trailing melody of the birds rose high above the engine’s low growl while we furthered the distance between ourselves and our temporary home in the African bush.
Rounding a corner into the savanna, a group of ostriches raced across the plains, perceiving the 4×4 as a threat, breaking their cover and running while at the same time, yet another group of zebra held their heads up wearily assessing the threat of danger for themselves. We were advancing closer and closer to our koppie preparing anxiously for the impending assent. This would be the first time we left the land-cruiser, the first time we stepped out unprotected, and the first time we truly stepped out into the wilds of Africa.
The cleats of my shoes dug deep into the blood red African soil leaving a spoor that this part of the reserve had scarcely seen before; the spoor of humans. As my two brothers, my dad, our guide Gary and I picked out the last of the items we would need for our climb we turned to face the once distant koppie that now loomed over us like a giant. There were no signs of humans let alone a marked trail other than an old elephant path that was created for no other reason than their own curiosity to see what was at the top.
We began our march towards the peak clashing trough the sticky webs of the golden orb spider, and past the sharp painful spikes produced by the sickle-bush and acacia; always on the look for the hunting leopard or confrontational rhino. The steep upward trek was hard, sloping from tall vegetation consisting of grass and thorn trees to an increasingly vertical amount of sheer rock causing the sweat to cascade off of us as if in a sauna. The twisting path grew harder and harder to follow and after a while we had to abandon the elephant trail to gain any vertical distance. From our guide’s backpack came a long piece of metal that was our only protection, as well as the only reason we made it any further through the bush. The thick machete blade was sharp and cut true, slashing and hacking past the wall of grass that stood before us. Finally, we reached the section that became almost solid rock and had to scramble across the faces with not much more than the traction of our hands and shoes, jumping and stretching across the larger sections of hard dense rock formed from years upon years of erosion metamorphosing since the beginning of time.
Our last incline proved to be the most difficult, having to climb up and over a large boulder topped by an old withered tree. When we completed this last strenuous obstacle, after over an hour of climbing, hacking through the bush, and tracking a course, we were at the top. When I gazed out across the plains I beheld a view nothing short of spectacular. Many miles away stood the once war torn nation of Mozambique my view of it shielded only by the ridge known as the Drakensburg mountains. My clear view was unparalleled to almost any I have ever seen. I were on top of the world with the fresh clean air of the wild filling my lungs while the rolling hills poured out before us upon a sight that cannot be described by words alone. Not even the large herds of elephants could be seen from the height that we had now reached, and the tiny twisting road that connected like a web across the earth seemed now insignificant.
My Journey to the summit was not only a journey to a top of a mountain. It was not just a fun activity to occupy my need to explore. It is a memory that still tugs at my heart today, yearning to be back in Africa, back with the animals, and back in the shadow of the Drakensburgs. A constant desire to be back on top of the koppie that we climbed, with the wind blowing on my face and the warm rays of the sun beating across across my back as the lion once again gives his lonely trailing roar that when I hear, will always, remind me of Africa.