Mountains of Hope

Two women athletes are strapping their babies to their backs and setting off on a unique trek of the Cape Peninsula in aid of abandoned kids. And they want you to come too.

There is something fine, no-nonsense and eternal about a woman slinging her baby on her back and doing what needs to be done – as mothers have without fanfare down through the ages, since hunter-gatherer times.

Few twenty-first century women exemplify this better than world-class mountain climber, adventurer, motivational speaker and – in her newest role – mother, South African-born Rachel Kelsey Colenso.

Starting late September/early October, Rachel (39) and daughter Rosemary (14 months), accompanied by Charlotte Noble (42), a previous Comrades winner and Everest expedition doctor, and her daughter Anna (10 months), are trekking the length of the Cape Peninsula to raise funds for Door of Hope, a charity that provides homes for abandoned babies.

People from all walks of life will be joining them on different sections of the hike – and you can too.

If you think you can keep up, that is. Rachel is the sort of person one hopes having a kid will slow down and stop making the rest of us feel like such very ordinary mortals. To mention just a couple of items on her absurdly impressive resumé: she is one of only four women ever to have passed the selection test for the UK Special Forces, and made international headlines when she and husband Jeremy Colenso survived an electrical storm during an extreme alpine climb in Italy. She has participated in numerous expeditions, climbing competitions and eco-challenges – many for charitable causes.

But it is only of her most recent challenge – becoming a parent – that Rachel speaks with any kind of awe. “Giving birth was the most terrifying of all! With everything else, I had to go through gruelling tests to become skilled. But I didn’t feel I had the skills for this: you have your baby, then they just tell you to go home and get on with it!”

Giving kids the best start
Her experience of new parenthood was one of the reasons Rachel felt drawn to Door of Hope as a cause worth championing. “Having a new baby is so overwhelming, and I really feel for mothers going through it who don’t have support like I did. Also, this is a charity that deals with such a fundamental need: giving children the best start, which is nothing less than a way to look after our future, and to look after the planet.”

Door of Hope, which has three branches in Johannesburg, is known for the “hole in the wall” concept, where mothers unable to take care of their babies and afraid to contact the authorities place them anonymously through a hole in the wall into a “baby bin”, which has a sensor that alerts carers in the main building.

The planned hike, ”Mountains of Hope”, aims to raise funds to buy milk for these children. So far the project has brought in over R60 000 from sponsors; the minimum goal is R100 000, which will provide formula for 34 babies for over nine months.

"Having a child is the new adventure"
Although Rachel agrees having Rosemary has been “massively life-changing”, it has hardly put her off her stride. She didn’t plan any major expeditions during her pregnancy, but she continued climbing right up until three weeks before giving birth. “I wore loose jerseys, and I don’t think anyone I gave climbing instruction to even noticed I was pregnant for the first five months.”

“Having a child is the new adventure,” says Rachel, “and of course my focus has shifted: onto nurturing her development.” For Rosemary’s parents, being out in nature is integral to this.

“I’m doing less climbing at the moment and more walks and scrambles with Rosemary in the backpack,” says Rachel. She points out that there’s only a limited period that one can actually carry a child before she gets too big, and it’s a period parents should take full advantage of. “It’s a really good workout; it helps get that desire for extreme exercise out of your system, and it’s time you can spend with your family and educate your child about nature.”

The hike
“Mountains of Hope” runs through to late November/early December, and covers about 140 km of varying terrain. The route has been divided into 25 sections, to be hiked on consecutive days. All you need to join in and complete one of the sections is a donation to the cause (starting at R25 for individuals), and “enthusiasm and some fitness”.

You can choose the level of route difficulty you’d prefer, and whether you’d like to participate as a team or individual. Certain teams and sections of the hike will be corporate-sponsored. For more information on taking part or making a donation, call Rachel on 0722 636 029, or email

For more info:

- Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24, September 2008

UPDATE:The well-attended Mountains of Hope finale took place on 21 December 2008, on Lion's Head. The expedition exceeded its goal of R100 000. - Olivia Rose-Innes, December 2008

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