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  • Writer's pictureMax Smart

13 Peaks | My thoughts and the lessons I learnt

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

13 Peaks is a challenge set by Ryan Sandes, a South African ultra-distance trail runner. In this challenge you summit 13 mountain peaks in the Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town. You cover over 100km by running and power hiking, with a combined 6000m vertical elevation. One of my best mates, Josh Grieveson, and I finished this challenge in five days, covering an average of around 25km with 1100m elevation each day.

Here's the route, showing the elevation:

While taking on this challenge I learnt many lessons and related them to life.

I have listed some noteworthy insights below.

1) In climbing mountains and summiting peaks, there are things called false peaks. You see them when you are climbing as “the top of the mountain”. But once you get on top of the false peak you realise that this is not in fact the end, there is still a higher peak, the real peak. While we were climbing Suther Peak (aka Suffer Peak), I spoke to Josh and related this to daily life: we set goals and work hard to get there, but once we finish and succeed, we look up and realise we must do more. We are capable of more. There is always something better ahead, higher up, if we just aim higher.

2) Another thing that struck me was that the harder the climb, the sweeter it is when you get to the top. An easy win equals little reward. A hard win equals a greater reward.

3) At the end of the day, you are not really battling the mountains or the leg-destroying climbs, you are battling yourself. You are capable of doing really tough things, it is totally possible. You just have to keep fighting the pain and the fatigue, not the mountain, or gravity; but only your own mind.

4) I came to the conclusion that not everyone could do what we had done. Only a certain amount of people with enough grit or fitness take on stuff like this. It is almost as if this challenge is “locked” for many others. Once again I related this to life and how in order to experience some things you need to have built yourself up, trained yourself and not always have chosen the easy path. Dig deep and you can find tons of grit.

5) Even if you think you are wrecked, you can still find it in yourself to sprint down a mountain. On the last day of 13 Peaks, coming down Devil's Peak, I was completely destroyed. I'd just twisted both my ankles and had fallen down a few rocky steps. I could barely slow-walk down the mountain, but we really needed to get to Signal Hill, our final peak. So, Josh let me go in front of him and said that he would chase me down the mountain, and he did! We sprinted down rocky steps with crazy speed and precision and then proceeded to run all the way to Signal Hill. My legs were cramping and locking up and my running shoe had ripped in half, making the last descent even tougher. But we did it ,and it was worth it.

6) If you fall, don't stall. When running trails, if you twist an ankle or fall, the best thing to do is to get right up and keep on running. Just as in daily life, if you have a downfall or make a mistake, you must keep pushing forward and not let that mistake hold you back mentally.

7) Winds are only favorable if you know where you are going, or want to go. I related this to choosing your opportunities in life, if you see an opportunity come up that could help you get closer to your dream, and there is an opposing opportunity at the same time that won't achieve this, then you should choose the opportunity that will push you closer to your goal or destination.

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