• Sandra Caganoff

Reaching new highs



A few fabulous friends gifted me with a mountain climb in the Drakensburg for my 60th birthday. I said yes immediately, thank you, what a brilliant gift, and got out my hiking boots.

I loved the getting ready, organising, would we have enough food, how many pairs of thermal underwear should we each wear (none, is the answer), do we need two beanies or three, and will we make the chain ladders.

I kind of put the chain ladders out of my mind, knowing there was an alternative. THE GULLY. But once you have seen THE GULLY, you know it is not an alternative. It’s a gully of jagged rocks at an almost 80% incline and unless you have great knees, are young and agile, don’t mind crawling and don't bruise easily, it’s near impossible.

You may not fall off the edge, like you can fall off a ten storey chain ladder, but whoa, it looked hard as anything and no way I could've done that.

I don’t think any of us could've done that.


Which is how our group came to Day 3 of the climb, at the bottom of the ladders, thinking OKAY. We got this. The ladders are scary. There are two of them, 50 rungs and 100 rungs, although you can only see one from the bottom. They’re both attached to a near 90% vertical rock face, they are steep and they are high.

If you fall, you’re in trouble.


We sat at the bottom for a while, ate apples and chocolate, cheese and egg sandwiches for energy, giggled nervously haha why are we doing this, put our sticks in our backpacks and our backpacks on our backs, and set off, one at a time.

When it was my turn I took a deep breath, then another, and began.

I did not look up and I did not look down.

I looked, almost with ferocity, straight ahead of me and at the rock face only. I held tightly on to the rungs and kept three limbs on them at all times, I did not think about falling, I did not think about the wind or the cold or those jagged edges. I just focused one billion percent with an intensity that I have not felt for years.

And I absolutely loved the feeling.

Once I was a bit more comfortable, oh you’ve done one ladder you've done them all, oops I couldn't quite fit my boot on that rung, help yikes no problem I’ll skip it and reach the next one, such a breeze, I did think about the friend behind me, and the ones above me, hoping they were okay.

It’s mind-blowingly beautiful but it is risky.


At the top I felt a rush that I imagine is like heroin. Holy sweet mother of goodness. It was not that I was on top of a mountain with the whole world around, all yellow and gold and glistening in the winter sunlight, it was not the gurgling stream and the endless space and views, or the Tugela waterfalls which are the second highest in THE WORLD.

It was the feeling of focus that I had. Of utter commitment. Because if I did not commit, I did not make it.

My friends gifted me with the memory of focus. And the determination to get my focus back again. It is something I have lost over the years and I miss it.


So thank you.


This is to climbing. To friends. To attentiveness.


And to always being in the moment.


Sarah, Active Escapes - tours@active-escapes.co.za

Dennis, guide extraordinaire - 078 171 7945.


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