Lifestyle 29.3.2014 07:00 am

Peak fitness

Vaughan de la Harpe and Sean Disney have both completed the explorer’s “Grand Slam” – climbing the seven highest peaks in the world as well as reaching the North and South Poles (and published a book Poles Apart: With Some Pointy Bits In Between about their experiences).

For most people, taking the steep walk up Kilimanjaro or making it two thirds of the way up the Matterhorn while on a skiing holiday in Zermatt would be enough to prove a point to themselves. What is the imperative for De la Harpe and Disney, who are clearly operating on a different scale?

“It’s my own psychological make-up,” says De la Harpe.

“I like to set an objective, meet it and then set the next one. I’m like that with everything, but climbing mountains just got out of hand. First it was one, then it was the seven summits, then the poles. But it’s about achieving and moving on – I don’t dwell on it.”

Disney’s situation is different.

“I’m a mountain guide, so I do seven expeditions a year as part of my job,” he says.

“There’s never a good time to write a book, but Vaughan and I came up with the idea together. We wanted to write something different – in which we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s stories about the amazing characters we met and the experiences we had.”

Vaughan de la Harpe (left) and  Sean Disney at a fundraising event  for Kruger Park wild dogs. Picture: Mike Tippett.

Vaughan de la Harpe (left) and Sean Disney at a fundraising event for Kruger Park wild dogs. Picture: Mike Tippett.

What are the dynamics like when returning from such adventures and having to deal with “normal” people and the banalities of business meetings?

“Mountains are real,” muses De la Harpe.

“You’re not worried about superficial things; only yourself and your environment, your health and what pain you are feeling. It’s a sort of primeval state, so when you come back there’s a bit of play-acting required for a while.”

“It’s a bit like being a soldier in a war zone,” says Disney.

“You live two different lives. There are a lot of people who can’t understand what we do, but I know that when I step on a plane I click into expedition mode.”

The next objective for the pair is to climb the seven highest volcanoes in the world. That sounds more dangerous, but is it?

“They’re still mountains,” Disney shrugs.

“They’re all active, with sulphurous vents and so on, but there’s no boiling lava – that’s on the lower ones, in Hawaii and places like that.”

“I get the feeling the whole thing will never end,” says De la Harpe, “as we’ll just have completed this challenge and someone” – he gestures to Disney with his head – “will decide that we now need to climb the seven highest peaks.”

Only 35 people have ever completed the “Grand Slam”. They’re all extreme athletes and record-breakers, but there has been little or no fanfare about their achievements.

“We met Mike Horn (SA-born explorer, now resident in Switzerland) in Antarctica. He said that South Africa doesn’t celebrate its adventurers,” says De la Harpe.

“He was invited to Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential inauguration and he sells books by the thousands.”

“I think awareness of the value of exploring needs to happen from an education and development angle,” says Disney.

“It’s important to show kids what they’re capable of.”

To comment you need to be signed in to Facebook. Please do not comment by saying anything prejudiced.
We reserve the right to remove offensive comments.

today in print