13 Peaks Challenge, and what we learned along the way

By Mandi Hart
Published on: August 19, 2021
Treasure chest

“You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.” – Tom Hiddleston

Earlier this year, we climbed the 13 Peaks Challenge around the Western Cape, South Africa. It’s the brainchild, Ryan Sandes. “The 13 Peaks Challenge isn’t a race, it’s about getting out there and exploring our beautiful wilderness areas. It doesn’t matter if you hike or run, take two days or months to complete, the most important thing is you have fun doing it.”

We gathered a motley crew of adventurous trekkers, some we knew, others only through social media, but they became friends on the journey.

13 Peaks during 2021

Peak 1 & 2

And so, late in the summer of 2021, we launched out from Signal Hill and onto Lion’s Head. That first hike, full of expectation and very little awareness of what was to come, saw the sun dawn onto an exquisite summer’s day. But, I pulled my calf muscle halfway up Lion’s Head. It was tender. However, my husband’s encouragement kept me going. Our group of 15 finished the day with smiles all around and me nursing a bruised calf.

Peaks 3, 4, & 5

Thankfully, one of our dear friend’s is a physio who promptly treated my leg and strapped me up with firm instructions on how to keep going strong. Her treatment was a lifesaver and so the next weekend, we ventured up Table Mountain to tag Maclear’s Beacon, GrootKop and Judas Peak.

What no one prepared us for was the treacherous descent into Hout Bay. Picture after 21km on the mountains. With eagles flying around us, freestyle mountain climbers doing their thing and tired bodies, we made it down the mountainside. But, oh the joy after finishing! I still remember polishing off the most delicious burger with Neil and my sister.

Peaks 6 & 7

Klein Leeukop (Little Lion) & Suther Peak were two interesting peaks. I think because the terrain varied so much, from loose gravel to beach sand, to climbing boulders. But, as always, the reward of the view on top of the peak made is so worth it. Cape Town certainly showed off that day.

Peaks 8, 9 & 10

A few weeks after that, a much smaller group tackled Chapman’s Peak and Noordhoek Peak. I must say, these are two of my favourites. The views up there are breathtaking. And the joys of climbing up boulders, go through varying terrain made it exciting. By the way, if you’re interested in doing 13 Peaks, make sure you take your car keys with you and don’t leave them behind in the vehicle at the start, as you might just have to run back down and up again, as three of our teammates experienced.

We finished that day by tagging Muizenberg Peak. Seeing the surfers down at Muizenburg corner made us long for the water.

Peak 11

After a winter’s break, mostly due to rain and schedules, we started our journey again. Led by two talented young trail runners, our crew launched out to snag Constantia Berg.  which for some was around 20km and others wanting to go further (not by choice), about 28km. The route was one of the easiest, as some of it was on a tar road through the mountainous areas.

Peak 12 & 13

Finally, the day dawned and our crew set out to complete the challenge. The last two being the most difficult and easiest for some of our group (go figure). It had been raining and the abundance of waterfalls kept us in awe. Klassenkop was a delight. You have to climb literally through a tree to tag the peak. And then through Newland’s Ravine, up and up till you reach Devil’s Peak. Just when you think you’ve made it, you realize that the beacon is not the first one but the one a little higher up. Devil’s Peak is a tough one to finish. But, as we learned, if you keep on putting one foot in front of the other, you will get there.

I personally loved the descent which was a reprieve on the road from near the Table Mountain Cable car to the finish at Signal Hill. The final 8km along the road was just what I needed. I had time to think, to be grateful and savour the moment.

Hannah (one of the team members) had this to say, “Every mountain climbed symbolised an obstacle overcome in my life. If you can summit Devils peak, Maclears Beacon and the other 11 peaks you can basically do any thing and overcome anything this world throws at you”

Thank you to everyone who joined us for one or more peaks, to the two young men who led our team and helped us not get lost, we are grateful and to those who helped lift us back to the start, to collect vehicles and provided us with much-needed support, we are thankful. So, what’s our next challenge? What’s yours?

Every fresh peak we ascended (and descended) taught us something new.

Ten things I learned while completing the 13 Peaks Challenge:

We traversed over114km and over 6600m in elevation in total. Being able to hike and run through these mountains was an absolute privilege and joy. Here’s what I learned along the way:

  1. When you begin a new journey, you don’t always know what to expect, but start you must. If you dream of doing something, don’t wait until the perfect moment. Get a group together and go for it. You will come away richer and changed.
  2. You are so much stronger than you think. When you are struggling up the mountain or descending a ravine, and you’ve lost your sense of humour, just take one more step, then another step and after a while, you will find you’ve reached your destination.
  3. Pack food you enjoy for the journey. Food that will nourish you and make you smile. Some of our teammates even packed chocolate pudding and coffee. Who would’ve thought?
  4. Good socks & warmth is key. I wore Balega socks on every hike and run. My favourite pair is definitely the Balega’s Support socks, which offer support without having to wear a compression sock, plus zero blisters, chaffing or discomfort. They are simply the best around. Near the end of our Peak Challenge, I wore gloves, and they were a lifesaver. It was a chilly winter’s day, but these gloves helped me regulate my body temperature. Wear the right gear for the right activity. Be wise.
  5. Take time to look at the flowers, the waterfalls, the birds in the bush or eagles in the sky. Don’t push so hard that you miss the surrounding beauty. Savour the moments and take photographs in your mind because afterwards, the moments and memories will make you smile. For in years to come, you might wish to remember days such as these.
  6. “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary. Everyone arrives with things going on in their lives. Time on the trails is great for reflection and processing. I did some of my best deep thinking on this challenge.
  7. Go at your own pace. Some are faster going uphill and others are a speed machine on the downhills. But, in the end, you all get there together. Everyone is somewhere different on the journey. We are all doing our own challenge. Stay your course and keep on smiling.
  8. Never underestimate a mountain or your own courage. When you do a challenge such as 13 Peaks in a team, then the strength of the group, their encouragement, sense of humour and tenacity can carry the others. We are not meant to live this life alone.
  9. When you’re high up on a peak, and all seems well in the world, take the moment in. Breathe deeply and stay present.
  10. Finally, enjoy the sense of accomplishment, celebrate with those you love and take it all in. Don’t rush into the next thing.

“May your dreams be larger than mountains and may you have the courage to scale their summits.” – Harley King

Photo Gallery

     13 peaks finish at Signal Hill17 April Lion's Head 24 April Maclear's Beacon 24 April Grootkop 14 May start of Klein Leeu & Suther Peak Suther Peak 14 May 22 May Noordhoek Peak 22 May Chapmans Peak 22 May Muizenberg Peak 31 July Contantiaberg Peak 14 Aug Devil's Peak. Signal Hill


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