When Andrew Patterson found himself retrenched in 2017, he stopped and took stock of his life, opted against finding a new corporate job, and decided to climb Cape Town's Table Mountain every day of 2018.
Patterson has exactly one month to go, and has not missed a day. That's 334 hikes up the 3,558-foot iconic mountain since Jan. 1, sometimes barefoot, sometimes in driving wind and rain, often in searing heat. For context, the mountain is 700 feet higher than Uluru in Australia, the same height as Mount Snowdon in Wales, or three stacked Empire State buildings.
But why? Is it to become the first person to climb this mountain, one of the world's Seven Natural Wonders, every day for a year? A little. But mostly, almost entirely, it's for his 365Ubuntu Climbs charity.
The public can donate and climb with him, and the money (over R350,000, or $26,000, to date) goes to Habitat for Humanity, the Sunflower Fund (South Africa's bone marrow donation registry) and One Heart, which raises funds via mountain biking and trail running to buy school books for underprivileged children.
"Such a simple idea touched on everything important to me. It would provide me with a platform that enabled me to show how powerful we are when we stand together for something," Patterson, aka Mountain Drew to his friends, tells ESPN.
"By committing to climbing Table Mountain every day, I invited people to donate R1 for every climb I complete (R30 a month or R365 for the year) and thereby showing how quickly this adds up even when it's a small amount. That's a coffee in some cafes.
"It also enabled me to include people that have donated to join on the climbs and be part of this project and own a number -- like climb 300 [which ESPN climbed with him].
"This is why 'Ubuntu' is part of the name. It's an African word that means humanity towards one another -- compassion. And so 365Ubuntu Climbs' name -- and objectives -- were in place."
Have there been days where you've been two seconds from not climbing? I think every time my alarm's gone off since May I've felt that way. But with experience behind me, I know that the climb is going to be incredible in its own way. Truth is, the hardest part about this is just getting out of bed.
What's been toughest about this, physically? Not getting a day's rest. I see huge changes in my physical performance when I do an early climb one day and a late afternoon the next day. Trouble is, that means two climbs in 12 hours at some point, to get back into the morning routine.
Which route is your favourite? Platteklip is the route I do every day -- this is because it's the "easiest" and most accessible for people of all ages and fitness levels to join. I gave myself other routes as an option on the milestones like 50/100/150 to do. Those have been India Venster (50), Left Face Mystery B (111), Right Face Arrow Face (221) and India again, instead of Kloof corner (304). It was too misty and dangerous to attempt. I'll be doing Ledges on climb 350, weather dependent.
Have you ever felt in danger, given the rise in crime on the mountain? Never. SANParks and the police patrol the road and it's too busy for criminals. Climbing Table Mountain, and not respecting that it's a mountain, is far more dangerous to tourists and would-be climbers. Especially in the heat. I'm often using my spare bottle to refill climbers' tiny 500ml bottles when the temperatures reach 34 degrees and people run out of water.
Why do you do some hikes barefoot? I always wondered if you could climb up barefoot as I've read plenty articles on the benefits of being barefoot in nature. I saw a man go past me barefoot and so, there was my answer. I was originally only going to do one climb per month [barefoot] but by the time I did my second in February I couldn't wait a whole month again, so from then I've done two each month. In August our weather was far too cold and wet and so it's the only month I've done none. It's an incredibly well-made path and it's been a joy to see people being inspired to try it themselves. Challenging perspectives.
What's been your worst hike? Jan. 26. When our South Easter blows, it forms a "tablecloth" on Table Mountain. I've subsequently learned that the bigger the tablecloth, the stronger the wind. This day the clouds made it all the way down to the road where I start the climb. The wind speed was about 70km/h that day with the gusts reaching 100km/h. It's relentless. It was a new way of being super focused and present in every step. Close second was spending 8 hours just climbing up the mountain on day 312.
How has your climbing time increased as you've gone along? What was it to start, and what is it now? I've been joined [by guests] 160 times so I can't give a truly accurate view. The climbs are determined by the people who join and their pace -- no one is ever left behind. Just like anything else in life, I have good days and I have bad days too. I still surprise myself every now and again with a faster time but this is a marathon, not a sprint. That thinking has kept me injury free all year and it's also why I never stated I'd push to do a specific time all year. When I'm on my own, it can be 90 minutes to 3 hours.
What's been your best/most memorable hike? A number of times I've been the only person on top of the mountain -- which in a world of 7 billion people felt really special. And when I watch others pushing their own physical capabilities to get to the top -- like my mom and my sister; my cousin; and a man who was told he'd never walk again. Seeing the human spirit in action is phenomenal.
How did you choose the charities you did? I've been involved with the Sunflower Fund for six years now, raising money and awareness with my cycling in the world's largest timed cycle race, The Cape Town Cycle Tour. Habitat for Humanity I contacted five years ago after Nelson Mandela's death and felt a deep sadness we were not doing enough. I got our company to sponsor the building of two homes before I left. One Heart was because I met the owner at a charity gala, and what she does with education and helping teach children to read ties in with my belief to do the best today to make a better future tomorrow.
What's the plan for when this year is finished? Any new challenges planned? Sleep! But in all seriousness, I'm collecting so much information this year that I want to share it. I will continue to do talks and write a book so others can apply the principles I've learned into whatever challenges they face in life. Having completed something that has never been done before [assuming nothing goes awry in December - ed.] also gives me a platform to keep this momentum going and continue to assist the three organisations. I've been invited to join a challenge in 2020 which involves circumnavigating the Tropic of Capricorn ... stay tuned.