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Free Range Humans: Breaking Barriers For The Mountaineering Community

Between 10and5 has partnered with Corona to celebrate South Africans who are living their lives “outside the cage”. These Free Range Humans have ditched the slog of their day to day to explore a life beyond the bounds of convention. No longer burdened by the weariness and overwhelm of the modern rat race, our South African adventurers have sought an alternative way of living.

Katlego Letheo started NPO Afrika Freedom Climbers and discovered the joy of disconnecting from her comfort zone in order to reconnect with nature and a greater purpose. In this Q&A, we hear about her ability to live an uncomplicated and fulfilling life through mountain climbing. Letheo doubles-up as an IT Auditor, but is currently working towards raising funds to summit Mt Everest as well as breaking down barriers to the greater outdoors and diversify the South African mountaineering community.

Tell us a bit about you, your life and how you got to where you are.

I am a mountaineer who masquerades as a freelance IT Auditor to make a living.  My beautiful journey to mountain tops started some 15 years ago on little hill called Lions Head in Cape Town. It took a few years of studying how professional mountaineers make it and figuring out how to participate at the highest level without external funding.

What does being a Free-Range Human mean to you?

This is a simple question but somewhat complex to answer. To me, in the simplest form, is ensuring that we are kind to our ecosystems as we all have a responsibility to preserve earth for future generations. So, I do what I can in my personal capacity, and I try to not punish myself about the areas that I cannot change. I think the green lifestyle is not about perfection. For an example, I’ve started my own vegetable garden at home, I dry my laundry outside, I avoid single use plastics and I try to walk instead of driving whenever possible, but I still eat meat and I still fly a lot to get to the beautiful destinations that I love to explore…

Where did you start out on a career path?

I moved to London when I completed my undergraduate degree and while there, I was a temp at a global accounting firm and that got me into my first career as an IT Auditor. I later moved back to South Africa, more specifically, Cape Town, where I was introduced to mountains and that’s how I ended up starting a non-profit company, Afrika Freedom Climbers (AFC). AFC embarks on various initiatives to promote and increase African women’s participation in mountaineering sport. Some of the expeditions that we embark on are two months long and a full time career usually offers a 30 day vacation at best – so I freelance so I can pursue my passion for mountains while I earn a living.

What triggered you to want to pursue this lifestyle?

I know that living in Cape Town triggered my interest in mountains. But it’s hard for me to identify any one thing that triggered my current lifestyle in its entirety. I grew up in a tiny village at the bottom of Pilanesberg hills. I’ve always been fascinated by languages, cultures and travel. My first big international trip was to New York when I was 20 and I lived in several countries for a few years before moving to Cape Town some 15 years ago. While I only stayed in Cape Town for a couple of years, it remains one of my favourite cities because it offers a perfect combination of city life with access to the ocean and mountains.

How has your life changed since this move off beaten path?

The off beaten path has given me the balance that I so desperately needed in my life. I feel fulfilled knowing that I can change people’s lives by simply introducing them to the outdoors. Mountains have also introduced me to some of the most amazing people who are incidentally high achievers. So, my life is richer, lighter and happier on this path.

What advice would you offer to people who are stuck in a routine, or feeling stagnant in their lives in general?

Big and bold moves are not overrated. So, change that job, move to that City, climb that mountain!

How do you think being close to nature benefits humans? Besides the obvious fresh air, space and in your case mountains, do you think there’s something urban dwellers are missing?

Without a doubt nature is the best reset button for humans. The process of resetting through nature is so subliminal that even if you don’t pursue nature at the scale that I do with mountains, being surrounded by any of the elements is beneficial. Unfortunately, urban dwellers are not the only ones missing out on this privilege. Even villages and township dwellers require intentional efforts to plant trees and have accessible recreational parks in their communities. We occupy three homes as humans: our bodies, our minds, and the earth – all of which are co-dependent.

Share with us your favourite part of your life.

The simplicity of it. If I ever feel off-balance, I’ll go hug a tree or walk around with my bare feet and I’m happy again – and it is truly that simple.

Do you want to “disconnect to reconnect” and live your best life “outside the cage”? Do you dream of an alternative life, no longer weighed down by your 9-5 job? Corona is giving away R350,000 to one lucky winner to live their ideal life in nature.

If you think you could be South Africa’s next Free-Range Human, submit your story here and stand the chance of winning Corona’s Free Range Fund. Because a life outside, is a life worth living.

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