Years ago living in South Africa, a friend of mine came to visit. At that time, both of us were young, fit, and strong. We decided to spend a few days hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu, Natal. Having hiked this range a number of times I chose the beautiful Amphitheatre in the Northern Drakensberg area. It is considered by many to be one of the finest cliff faces in the world. The top of the Amphitheatre is a flat three mile long terrace. The cliffs at its edge rise 6,000 feet from the bottom mountainous floor to the top of its precipice. The Tugela Falls is the second highest waterfall in the world. It is magnificent, and simply one of the few great hidden treasures of the world.
From the Sentinel Car Park, we traversed the narrow paths and rugged terrain of the escarpment. Traveling the Western buttress we reached the base of the Sentinel. We took the one-hundred foot chain ladder up the rock face towards God’s grandstand, the Amphitheatre, in record time!
Coming up and over the ridge, nature’s symphony began. There it was, the Sentinel Massif. On this flat surface, during an extremely clear day, all of the colossal angulating hills and mountains of Natal visually lay before us. The view appeared clear and unimpeded for miles. At the edge of the cliff, a picturesque canvas of wonder exploded with vivid color and detail. We stood just fifty feet from the very edge. A shallow three foot wide stream flowed past us to the edge of the cliff cascading six thousand feet below. In the midst of breathtaking beauty, perspective was lost as I fiddled with the newest of digital camera of the day.
My friend wanted to get closer to the edge. Asking, he pointed downward into the stream, “Is it slippery?” Distracted with the camera with a shrug of my shoulders, I replied, “Doesn’t look like it.” Raised in Minnesota, lake familiarity is somewhat of a personal specialty. No green moss indicated a non-slippery creek’s bottom environment. Later, I learned that algae in high altitude up on top of the mountains are not necessarily green. As Guy stepped into the stream trying to cross over toward more favorable ground catastrophe presented itself.
With his first step, he slipped on the slippery creek’s bottom and fell hard on his bottom into the stream. Instinctively grabbing him, I fell in on top of him. And, then both of us began sliding down the cold fast flowing stream together. Just as we reached the very edge, Guy managed to catch an edge with his right hand. With legs straddling our descent, we managed to stop our plunging downward slide. As our bodies rested at the cliff’s edge, Guy’s feet dangled a foot over the edge in thin air. I hung on him for dear life like a backpack. I could feel both our hearts beating. We were quite literally twelve inches from a six thousand foot death. That day teaches valuable lessons about life and living:
So concerned and overtaken with the goal of getting to the top on that beautiful day, we took zero notice of anything else. In our quest we failed to recognize the dangers before us. We almost lost our lives.
On the surface of the Amphitheater, a kaleidoscope of amazing things existed for us to see. A troop of baboons with their little ones played within a picture’s view of us. Above us a Montane Bone Bird soared. Amazing plant life carpeted the mountain floor. African men from Lesotho passed traveling back to their homelands miles away in the mountains.
Our only focus was only to get to the edge of the mountain. Get to the bluff. Get to the top. Get to the edge. Don’t look left or right. Just get to the end, the goal, and the conquest. Do it in record time as fast as we can.
So fixated on our one singular farsighted goal, we noticed little else around us on our trip to the edge. On the way back, we took time to ponder and enjoy. Life, sweet precious life existed all around us, both ours and the mountain's.
Just My Thoughts,
From my book: Just Get Me Through This Day!
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.