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Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Carstensz, Vinson, Denali, Everest.
Most people aren't familiar with all the names of the highest mountains on the seven continents, but, for an elite group of climbers and close friends, these mountains represent their greatest aspirations and deepest fears.
In Rocks and Hard Places, mountaineer and motivational speaker Alex Harris documents his journey to climb each of the Seven Summits - a quest that leads him on a path of discovery that is as much spiritual and emotional, as it is physical.
The combination of breathtaking photographs and an honest account of the risks taken, sacrifices made and adventures encountered, makes this a classic tale of man testing himself against nature and the elements.
'No matter where we looked, the world seemed to curve away. It was incredible and lonely, but it was right. We had been given just a few moments in that special place, but it was enough.
It gave us a view of the world we had never seen and a view of ourselves we had always suspected.'
Alex Harris was born in Lisbon, Portugal, on 8 June 1971. Within weeks of his birth his mother had returned to South Africa, to the relatively flat city of Johannesburg. He hoped to experience high altitudes with a career in the South African Air Force, but soon realized that his adventurous spirit didn't suit the military.
After joining the Mountain Club of South Africa in 1992, he started to fulfil his desire to climb remote peaks in faraway places. In 1996, with a string of first South African ascents under his belt, Alex became the youngest person ever, at the age of 25, to lead an expedition to Mount Everest.
In 1998 he became the first South African to have climbed on all seven continents, further fuelling his dream of being the first South African to climb the elusive Seven Summits.
MAP OF THE SEVEN SUMMITS
I can't remember exactly when I first thought about climbing Kilimanjaro. I know it was some time in that first year after school when no-one really knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Most of my friends had gone to university and said they were certain about their chosen careers. But I didn't believe them. If they were only half as confused as I was, then they didn't have a clue.
I was bobbing around like a fish in a tank waiting to be fed. So it could have been one of any number of things that inspired me - a picture or even a television programme - I can't really say. But I remember that climbing Kilimanjaro was something I really wanted to do. Deep down inside me this thing was growing out of control. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I just had to climb Africa's highest mountain.
But I knew diddly squat about climbing mountains. I had only recently joined the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA). I knew what a rope was and could just manage to pronounce 'karabiner'. Knowledge about exactly how all these pieces of equipment worked together would come with time. For now it didn't matter. My mind was made up. I was going to climb Kilimanjaro and that was that.
So, how does a young guy fresh out of school go about climbing one of the world's largest free-standing volcanoes? Well, when you're young and ignorant you tend not to think about things that really are quite important. What I did realize was that this was something I shouldn't do alone.
Robin Walshaw was one of those guys who seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. He had a couple of months to muck around before he committed four years of his life to discovering everything a person might want to know about computers.
He was bright but definitely not a geek and you could still bend his arm to do something fun, adventurous or crazy. 'What did you say?' Robin asked incredulously. 'Kilimanjaro,' I replied. 'You mean that great big volcano in Kenya?' 'Well actually it's in Tanzania but yeah, that's the one.'
We were pushing our bicycles along a busy street just after sunset. I can't remember exactly what it was, but we had just finished doing something harebrained that had left one of our bikes immobile. This happened a lot of the time, leaving both of us moping along and one of us in pain. And it was always my fault, or so Robin had everyone believe.
Robin was a stubborn bloke filled with that fiery English patriotism that can be so frustrating to others. He was born in Yorkshire and his family had moved to South Africa when he was still a child. Deep down he loved Africa but he couldn't help letting you know just how great the British Empire was.
On occasion, his large head would fill up with that fiery Anglo blood and glow royally. There were times when I could've sworn I caught a glimpse of the Union Jack emblazoned on his forehead and I would want to bop him one. But generally, we got on very well.
Robin looked at me for the first time along this section of the road. 'What do we know about climbing anyway?' he asked. 'What a stupid question,' I thought. 'What's your point?' I replied. 'Well isn't it 6 000 metres high, or something?'
'It's less than that. It's about 5 800 or 5 900 metres.'
This kind of talk annoyed the hell out or me. But, then again, Robin and I often frustrated each other. 'Look, it's a volcano. You don't need to use ropes or anything. It's just a bit high.'
But that was that. A seed had been sown and I couldn't ignore it. Robin spent weeks deliberating before finally confessing that his parents thought it was a foolish idea. Of course it was. Yes, he knew it would be fun but his parents had said 'no'.
Remember, we had recently finished school, so our parents still took it upon themselves to make sure we didn't do anything foolish. I guess mine were more lenient than Robin's. D-day arrived and no amount of arm-twisting could persuade Robin to join me. A part of me felt sad because he really wanted to go and I knew how much run it would be if he did.
'Next time!' I said. Man, how prophetic that would turn out to be. Back in 1989, South Africans weren't allowed anywhere near Tanzania. Rumours abounded about how some young South African had been caught on one or the Tanzanian islands. Last anyone knew he was rotting away in a tin jail in the middle of nowhere. Poor kid.
Yup, the politics were pretty screwed up back then. But when you're young and naive you don't understand all that complicated stuff. All I knew was that I couldn't get into Tanzania and that it was a big problem. But I was smart - or at least Mom had been.
Shortly before I was born, my mother had thought it prudent to let the momentous occasion of my entry into the world happen somewhere else - Portugal, to be specific. Somewhere back in her lineage, her family had produced wine in a valley in Portugal. How thoughtful of them. So, I had a Portuguese passport.
This would later get me into more trouble than I could possibly imagine. But, for now, I had it sussed. I would just trot along with my two passports and, when the time came, I would proudly display my foreign pass-port. Boy, would those border guards be impressed!
Africa is a big place. In fact, there are a great number of valleys between my home, in a small suburb of Johannesburg, and the plains that suffer under the weight of Kilimanjaro. My plan was simple. I would fly to Malawi, known as the Warm Heart of Africa, and then take a bus up to the Tanzanian border. Once across the border, I would use local transport to Moshi, a small town at the foot of Kili. I would then organize the porters I needed and climb the mountain. Once down, I would simply reverse the trip, perhaps even taking the time to swim in Lake Malawi on the way back. The plan seemed perfect. What could go wrong?
As for gear, that base was also covered. Someone had once told me that Kilimanjaro was quite cold. They seemed to know what they were talking about, so I packed a jersey. My mom thought it would be colder, so I packed another. 'But you've never even been there!
How would you know how cold it's going to be?' I protested. 'Just take it,' she said. 'I've got enough clothes. How am I supposed to carry all this stuff anyway?' 'Oh for crying out loud, will you just take the jersey?' 'Okay, okay! Jeepers, it's not you who has to lug all this stuff up there, you know.' 'I'm sure you will be fine.'
Yeah, so was I. Except that my bag had now grown from the size of a small kit bag, to the size of one of those backbreaking bags you see the Special Forces carrying around in war movies. Seriously, how was I going to carry all this stuff? Someone had told me 'they' liked clothes 'up there'. Perfect. I'd just give away all my spare T-shirts as I made my way through Africa. Three hours in a planeandiwasin Lilongwe, the commercial capital of Malawi.
But I wasn't too keen to see the sights. I was a young man on a mission and wanted to get going. However, I did have to spend a night in a youth hostel, which I soon discovered was a very good thing.
I had a five am bus booked for the next day, so thought I would eat a small snack and then hit the sack. I walked down to the hostel's small lounge and sat down opposite a Chinese guy. Well, I guess he could also have been from Hong Kong, Singapore or Taiwan. However he was definitely from the East, way East. He seemed older than me, but was still a reasonably young lad.
'Howzit going!' I stretched out my hand. 'Good, good.' We shook hands.
'You go diving in the lake?' he asked. This was the part of the conversation I was really looking forward to.