Towards the end of 2022, a group of CN&CO friends and partners set off on an expedition, led by CN&CO’s Blake Dyason, to tackle the famous 13 peaks in the Table Mountain vicinity. The peaks are:

  1. Signal Hill
  2. Lion’s Head
  3. Maclear’s Beacon
  4. Grootkop
  5. Judas’ Peak
  6. Klein Leeu Kop
  7. Suther Peak
  8. Chapman’s Peak
  9. Noordhoek Peak
  10. Muizenberg Peak
  11. Constantiaberg
  12. Klassenkop
  13. Devil’s Peak

Here’s a summary of the four-day trek by participant and elite athlete, Justin Pearse of EasyEquities:

If a goal isn’t challenging, is it worth attempting?

I think when most ponder that question, they concede probably not.

Life is littered with catchphrases from the hardcore school of motivation, that all hint that that’s the popular view:

“Go big or go home”.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

Extending ourselves beyond a state of comfort and even failing in pursuit of something worthwhile is where we learn the most. That’s a very popular refrain you hear frequently in modern self-help literature, but I think most people don’t need to be told this. It’s wired into our DNA. We know it inherently.

Tackle something difficult with focus, dedication and an “I can learn something from this even if I fail’ attitude and anything is possible. Put simply – there are no losers, just winners and learners.

That’s why endurance events of the running / cycling variety have such massive appeal to me. As the breadth and scale of my accomplishments increase, I wonder whether the next seemingly impossible challenge is possible. And so, I plot and I plan, adjust my training to suit the challenge ahead, make sacrifices, train hard, kak off and suddenly I’m crossing a finish line with a swell of pride in my heart and often teary eyes at the realisation of another goal and the dedication it took to achieve.

No matter how hard it was, it always seems easier in the recollection and after a few days of telling friends and family – ‘never again’ – I reset and start to wonder what else is possible.

And so it was when presented with the opportunity to tackle the 13 Peaks Challenge.

Formulated by legendary local trail running phenom Ryan Sandes as a long training run in preparation for one of his 100 mile races, he roped in his unsuspecting mate Kane Reilly for a half-day jaunt. 108 kilometres, 7,000 metres of ascent and 19 hours later, they completed their ‘training run’ with Kane allegedly having had to call his girlfriend at lunch time to tell her he would be back much later than initially thought.

The duo eventually mapped out the run, shared it socially and trail runners and hikers jumped at the opportunity to attempt the route. It has always been an intentionally informal challenge with no race day, no trail markings, no water points. Just man or woman against nature, at a time of their choosing.

The route can be attempted in any time period, with the only proviso being that participants continue from the precise point they’d exited the previous day.

13 Peaks had been on my bucket list for years. But, with navigation skills that are questionable at best and some complex logistics challenges in terms of ensuring adequate nutrition and water as well as transport to and from the route , I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance.

So what an absolute spoil it would be for me that our attempt would be made while ‘guinea-pigging’ a fantastic new four-day format, devised by Faces Africa, who manage the Otter Trail Run.

Our crew, comprising a few fellow Purplistas (the name we give to employees of the Purple Group, best known for our world-class investment platform EasyEquities), two better-halves and my brother. We would stay at the Noordhoek Village Hotel (the most central location in relation to the peaks). We would be shuttled to the starting point each day, tackle the designated number of peaks decided on by our excellent guide and Cape Town Mountain guru, CN&CO’s Blake Dyason, and then bus home to R&R before starting again the next day.

While there was no major finishing-time pressure involved and we were doing it over multiple days with sleep and rest periods in between, I was under no illusions as to the physical challenge that the adventure posed. My closer analysis, a simple division of total distance and ascent metrics into quarters, established a daily average 27 km with just shy of 2,000 metres of ascent. Based on previous experience, that wasn’t too far off the equivalent of the Otter Trail run each day for four days in succession. YOWZERS. Not a cakewalk at all.

As my training at the time was inadequate to cater for the repetitive multi-day nature the challenge posed, I switched to a comprehensive 12-week programme devised for Faces by Toni McCann specifically for 13 Peaks and upped the dedication to the task at hand.

And so, I arrived at Noordhoek well prepared, incredibly excited and with high expectations for what I hoped would be a tough but magical four days. So to have my very best expectations exceeded by a big margin, still has me grinning from ear to ear and reminiscing about the tough but incredibly fun and rewarding days spent on those spectacularly beautiful mountains.

A large contributing factor to the level of enjoyment experienced was the hard work and attention to detail of the Faces team. From the amazing Sealand goodie bags that greeted us in our rooms, to the tasty nutritious breakfasts and delicious coffee each morning and the incredible daily lunch packs with each item seal wrapped in plastic – making them easy to pack and a great salve for my OCD – they didn’t miss a trick.

The Noordhoek Village Hotel was an inspired choice with a sprawling layout that includes a variety of quality restaurants that provided the excitement of a different setting and meal choice every night, but importantly, delicious food too.

And the staff of the hotel were excellent. I’m not sure if Faces had instructed them to take extra-special care of us, or whether it was just the culture of the hotel itself, but we were treated like royalty with Cassandra deserving a special mention as she was all smiles every morning at 05h00 while serving us breakfast and rallying around to help us ready ourselves for the day ahead.

The transport each day was fantastic, and where possible, the bus met us at key points to deliver much needed cold water and probably the best Coca-Colas I’ve ever tasted with ice-cold beers for day-end celebrations.

And how was the physical challenge itself? MAGICAL.

While the breath-taking beauty of the Cape Town mountains and the incredible logistical help described above were big contributing factors, my ultimate reckoning is that it was the people that made the whole experience so damn special.

It’s under conditions of extreme challenge, discomfort, and duress that egos and facades are often broken down, enabling one to see the true character of others and allowing for the formation / improvement of relationships as a result. That’s why corporate team building days are a dime a dozen. They try and pack challenging scenarios into shorter timespans to coax colleagues into working together to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.

Well, think of 13 Peaks as an endurance team building event on steroids where the experience isn’t contrived or forced to fit into a single short day / afternoon out of the office. Consider then that I was already very fond of all my teammates, and you have a stellar recipe for a magical experience.

Our CEO, Charles Savage, has always spoken proudly of the fact that it’s the people and the culture that have made EasyEquities what it is today – and seldom has that been highlighted to me more starkly than it was over the course of those four days. There was not one (even minor) complaint. Everyone operated with a willingness to help and look beyond their personal comfort for the benefit of the team and each tired step was taken with a happy can-do attitude and sense of humour that made even the toughest parts of the experience seem imminently achievable.

At times that humour and free flowing banter had us literally weeping with laughter at shared experiences that still crack me up today. A nod to our Chief Engagement Officer’s oft expressed refrain that we Purplistas “take what we do seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously”.

Two examples that highlight this beautifully, both interestingly with Brad Leather as the pivotal character, were:

  • Positioning Brad, pre-event as an elite trail-runner who could compete with Ryan Sandes. Now Brad is no slouch, hitting Masters age-group podiums in successive years at Otter, but Ryan is one of the world’s very-best with an Otter time a good two hours better than Brad’s. So the very notion of it is ludicrous. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but rather organically, between the various crew members, we told Ryan in our WhatsApp group that Brad was coming in hot and would be vying for his record. Ryan immediately picked up on the banter, and on introduction to the WhatsApp group his first post said “I am looking forward to it!

I am very slow at the moment so I think Brad will win 🤣”

And Ryan and the crew continued with this type of juvenile banter in almost every communication. Probably the biggest laugh came at the end of Ryan’s formal dinner talk. After describing some of his harrowing adventures in the Drakensberg and Nepal, Bradley asked rather seriously “Which of your adventures scared you most?”. To which Ryan replied without pause “I’m probably most scared about racing you at Otter this year Brad”. Brilliant.

  • The creation of our own homegrown “Where’s Wally” character “The Meerkat”. After noticing his little head peeking out from the corners of one / two photos, Brad was dubbed the meerkat and much hilarity ensued as we tried to creatively position his wee noggin in as many future pics as we could.

The last, but probably most important cog in the wheel, was our uber-guide Blake. Extremely knowledgeable and professional while always patient and caring in the extreme and ensuring all under his stewardship were safe and happy.

And so it was that I got to spend five magical days with the 13 Peaks crew and form deeper bonds and share incredible experiences that will last well into the future.

The Otter Trail Run, for which EasyEquities is the headline sponsor, has proved a similarly magical experience over the last two years. I believe again that’s because of that magic formula of a tough event shared with special folk (in an even larger Otter crew). And I’m convinced that were it not for the unique and special culture we had within the Purple Group, neither event would have been nearly as fun or memorable.

Interestingly, it has been very evident to me that the Faces personnel we’ve met during our 13 Peaks and Otter endeavours appear to have a similarly professional but fun and close-knit culture, which is probably testament to why the partnership works so well. Stacey deserves special mention as the star who ran point on the Faces side and pulled the whole experience together. As a result, I consider all of them friends rather than business partners.

So as I kick off 2023, I am massively inspired for what tough challenges (in both my work and sports lives) lie ahead, and more importantly, what I’ll learn from them.

To add to that inspiration, I’m reading Ross Edgley’s ‘The Art of Resilience’. It’s an excellent account of his 157-day, 1,780mile swim around Great Britain, together with musings on how he overcame a raft of obstacles that help him formulate his Stoic Sports Science philosophy. It’s an awesome read.

But you don’t need a book for inspiration. As I said earlier, we all know inherently that we won’t learn anything, nor grow, when we we’re sitting idly and comfortably on our ass.

So, sign up for a new course, lace up your running shoes, join a gym or pick any seemingly impossible goal that excites you today and get after it. You never know what you’ll learn or where it’ll take you.