Hiking IS dangerous!

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“Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain… Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall — it’s great when you stop”- Chris Darwin

I find myself romantisizing hiking a lot, and I’ve realized that while mountaineers always stress safety, we never really talk about the very real dangers of hiking, especially at high levels where the summits are higher and the trails are longer. Simply put, (mostly)extreme hiking is lethal. Injuries are 100% guaranteed, and death isn’t such a reach. Personally, I’ve never died, but I have a few battle scars and a pending knee injury diagnosis.

I have gotten lost in a forest and spent hours wrestling with fynbos and really dark thoughts at the same time. I’m already a compulsive worrier, and unfortunately my physique does not afford me the luxury of feeling truly safe anywhere. I also get paranoid about all elements of the woods; deadly animals, shifting rocks, poison ivy, landslides, trees that come to life, you name it! It’s a bit difficult to reconcile my deep appreciation for the mountains to help me cope with some of my anxieties about “real life”, and my fear of being in the woods.

The safest thing you can do is not go hiking alone incase you get injured or need help for whatever reason. Wearing reflective clothes, and knowing how to flag down help also increases your chances of survival. Extreme hikers are often not the most rational people who are disturbingly excited by exposed cliffs and ledges, but they’re super sensitive to the safety of others, so don’t be afraid to say when you don’t feel safe and they’ll gladly take the safer route or slow down. Altruism 101!

Mountain etiquette stresses the three crucial W’s; warmth, water, waste. Warmth and water have saved many lives, and they are often taken for granted. I don’t really let the weather dictate my hiking. As long as I can see where I’m going, I don’t care if it’s pouring or hot. All that really matters is bringing enough water and warm/rainproof clothes and sun protection.

It is recommended that you drink 1L of water for every two hours of hiking. However, I prefer hydrating with Game (an isotonic powdered sporting drink great for absorption of vitamins, minerals, salts and carbohydrates lost during physical exertion) because it cuts down bathroom breaks significantly. Avoiding salty snacks that make you thirsty is another way to retain fluids for longer.

Most people dress for the weather at the base of the mountain, not taking into account that pressure decreases with elevation, making it seem like there’s less oxygen, so it’s cooler the higher up you go. Also, the heat generated while in motion might create the illusion that you are warm… until you stop! The decrease in atmospheric pressure also makes it difficult to breathe.

The last ‘W’ stands for waste, and simply means take your shit off the mountain, Bruv! This does not mean literal shit (you’re welcome to take a dump in the mountains provided you bury it properly), rather trash. I’m sure this is the one universal policy applicable on all the mountains of the worlds, Leave No Trace (LNT). As a policy, LNT extends beyond just taking down the garbage you went up with and Hiking South Africa has quite cool guidelines!

I think being realistic enough to bring a charged cellphone and a first-aid kit is not anticipating tragedy, rather preparing for any unexpected unfortunate situations. I try to prepare hydrating solutions for longer hikes, but Game is always life. And any other aides (e.g asthma pumps, sunscreen, cap, buff, etc). Lastly, I never compromise on warmth because I’ve had frostbite and it was not fun, but also because I grew up in the African Alps where people are always all covered up.

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It’s A Safe Space….

DSC_0623.JPG“Nature is one of the most underutilized treasures in life. It has the power to unburden hearts and reconnect to that inner place of peace.” -Janice Anderson

Often when I say I feel safest out in the mountains than when I’m in the city, many people diagnose me with all kinds of personality disorders. Apart from providing the clichéd “connection to nature” and genuine tranquility, the mountains are free of humans and their weird vibes.

I have heard of incidents on trails, but not many robbers seem to be willing to climb for 4/5 hours to rob hikers at the risk of only finding Jungle energy bars and sachets of Game. In any case, very few people I know take true valuables on hikes because the whole point is to disconnect from our busy gadgets-driven lives.

Besides being literally safe from the practical physical sense, the mountains provide an emotional shield from life’s overwhelming curveballs. I prefer hiking alone (NOT RECOMMENDED!) most of the times because I can have earnest frank conversations with myself and try to make sense of whatever space I might be in without external opinions.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a banter-filled mission with a cool group, I have made some incredible friendships with people I met on trails and in them I have a lifetime adventure squad that’s always down to drop everything and chase horizons.

Most of my hiking has been through a uni sporting club, and there is a drinking culture associated with varsity sporting. I mean, varsity is a 4-year drinking game! However, besides the odd sundowner hike and good ol’ Old Brown Sherry (O.B.S) on overnight trails, there is never any liquor on hikes. We really don’t drink that much, it’s a dangerous sport, people. Rocks are dangerous!

Why I Hike So Much.

DSC_0691.JPG“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” – John Muir

“So why do you do it?” is the one question thousands of mountaineers have had to answer at some point in their lives. I honestly don’t mind this question, and I love it because it gives me a chance to blab about all the cool trails I’ve done.

There is another variation of this question, though, which I hate: “why do you torture yourself?”. To which I always try to politely reply: “I love it! No torture here”. I understand that this comes from a place of misunderstanding, especially from people of color who view hiking as a “white people’s hobby” and not necessarily a sport.

While this question is intrusive, it is not illegitimate. The discourse from which it arises certainly isn’t. White cisgender heterosexual males have always been the poster kids for hiking and the outdoors. Just look at any Hi-Tec advert or a First Ascent poster!

Any sporting element of mountaineering is inundated with white male athletes and it is not difficult to guess why; extreme sports are expensive to commit to, and the flow of wealth in South Africa mainly follows racial privileges. Hence, more white males (and females) can afford adventures that the majority of the population (POC) cannot.

So I guess I understand the underlying question I’m actually being asked: “what are you, the daughter of a black working-class woman, doing chasing peaks in foreign lands?”. I’d charge my fist into the air and cry “FREEDOM!”, but it’s really simple, reaching the summit of every mountain I climb is like coming home and I don’t know if I want to put a price on that. Jokes! I’m stubborn and I like things.

Okay bye!

Welcome!

DSC_0039.JPG“Kid, you’ll move mountains” – Dr Seuss

I have always wanted to start a blog to document all my mountaineering missions, but I didn’t know where to start. I still don’t, but I’m less of a coward now, and I guess the natural thing to do is to first write about how I got into hiking and why I like it so much.

So first of all, I didn’t “get” into hiking, I was kind of born into it. Both my parents were born and raised in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, so I have mountaineering in my blood! Growing up in the mountainous Eastern Free State, there was never a shortage of mountain stoke. Whether it was hiking up to find firewood with my brother, or sneaking off to play in the natural water slides in the springs in the mountain, I have always been fortunate enough to have had unpoliced access to the mountains.

The village I grew up in is nestled in multiple valleys along the SA-Lesotho bordering part of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range. Also, it didn’t help that I was born into a family of globetrotters who absolutely love the outdoors.

So a little bit about myself:

My name is Amanda Mokoena, I am a masters student at the University of Cape Town(UCT), South Africa, and I am a keen hiker passing off as an academic. I have been a member of the UCT Mountain and Ski Club for the past two years and have been missioning in the Western Cape for a while now. I moved here in 2014 and have done almost all the peaks in the Cape Town area, and have missioned further into the WP. I was born in Johannesburg and still have a home there, even though I kind of live in QwaQwa in the Free State.

Back home (both JHB and FS), I drag my siblings on small missions whenever I get bored and have a lot of fun! I don’t know if they’d agree. I have decided to document my mountaineering missions to share my journey towards finding my place in the hiking community as a black female, and how to survive a 5-day trail with an afro!

I will not be posting frequently because THESIS!, but I will definitely be following a structure so it’s all easy and fun to engage with. I AM a political entity just by being, and will not attempt to escape that in my posts. So if talking about racial and class segregation in extreme sports isn’t your thing, this is where I leave you!

Thanks so much for reading and please come back😭