Meet Jess Tyrrell, founder of Matric Enwild – a wilderness experience for matriculants, geared at helping them get to know themselves better and transition from school into the next phase of lives.
We caught up with Jess to learn more about this influential lady and her love for the Cederberg.
HSA: Name, age, city / town where you live?
JT: Jess Tyrrell, 36, living in Cape Town (the Deepest South)
HSA: Where and when did you start hiking?
JT: I grew up outdoors. I’m hugely grateful to my parents that we spent every available moment exploring wild places. I can’t remember not hiking, although then I just called it walking. I still do actually.
HSA: Who introduced you to hiking?
JT: My parents did. They are both explorers at heart. My mother lived in a tiny rural village in Zululand as a physio, and my father spent a year living in Antarctica as the expedition doctor. And these were just the beginnings in their early 20’s! They continued with their adventures and my brother and I slotted into this way of life.
HSA: Your favourite hike / hiking area(s)?
JT: I work as an ‘Eco-therapist’ taking young people into wilderness areas both internationally and close to home, so I’ve had the opportunity to hike in some pretty incredible places, but for me, it’s the Cederberg that’s right up there. It’s the most magical area in South Africa. There is something about its orange-red rocks, they feel warm and welcoming, and there is a quality of quiet that is hard to describe. It’s because of this that I was inspired to create an experience for matriculants as they finish school and get them out to the Cederberg. It’s called the Matric Enwild and we go into the mountains for a week to walk and explore, as a metaphor for “walking into the unknown” next chapter of their lives. It’s an opportunity for them to mark the end of a huge part of their lives, it allows them some space and quiet to reflect on their achievement as well as the big questions of “who am I and where am I going”. It’s set up to be a wonderfully diverse group of young people, so they get to meet peers from very different backgrounds, from all over SA, and it’s inspiring to be a part of the conversations that happen thanks to this diversity. Through spending time outdoors these kids come to know and appreciate themselves, get to see their own strengths and abilities, share their stories of school and questions about life, realize where their drinking water comes from, discover the magic of fireflies in camp and basically get inspired about life. One Matric girl I heard say on the first night sleeping out, “I never knew the stars were this beautiful”.
HSA: What does hiking mean to you?
JT: This story of this young girl’s discovery of stars is what hiking means to me. Re-enchantment.
HSA: Describe your best hiking achievement / most memorable hike.
JT: The first Matric Enwild in 2015. These kids were so inspired by what they found in the mountains, in themselves and in meeting others that many have gone on to creating their own hikes and introducing others to the outdoors. It had a ripple effect and will hopefully continue to encourage stewardship of the natural world. The experience moved me profoundly and I’m committed to making this happen every year for those leaving school.
HSA: Who is your favourite hiking buddy and why?
JT: Anyone who hikes. Outdoor people all have things in common, which is always enjoyable and often leads to funny things happening.
HSA: Your favourite piece of hiking clothing?
JT: Down jacket.
HSA: Your favourite piece of hiking gear?
JT: My Yellow Water Bottle (yes it deserves the capitals). Everyone who has walked with me knows that bottle.
HSA: Your favourite hiking / inspirational quote?
JT: Think outside. No box required.
HSA: What is your dream hike / adventure?
JT: Walking the length of the Kuiseb River (southern Namibia), from its source to the sea.
HSA: What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you while hiking?
JT: It was devoid of any humour at the time but now I can laugh: getting stranded in Northern Damaraland without water for 26 hours.
HSA: What is the trickiest position you’ve been in while hiking (and what did you do)?
JT: Same – getting stranded in Northern Damaraland without water for 26 hours, no signal, no radio, 48° Celcius and a long, long walk away from help. Two bull elephants who were not thrilled that we were hogging the only shade during the day kept a close eye on us that night, as did a large male lion. I set up a night watch when I realized we would never get help until the next day. I covered piles of coals from the big fire with sand to make heated beds in order for people to stay warm in sub-zero Namib desert mid-winter. Save-the-Rhino guys found us the next day, and we got to hear why my backup guide had never pitched up. It was an epic that changed my relationship with water forever.
HSA: What is the best tip you can give to newbie hikers?
JT: Always, always, take water.
And a space blanket.
And a torch + a warm jacket. Even if you happen to set off on a 48° day.
HSA: What’s the worst / best thing you’ve seen on a trail?
JT: Worst thing for me is vandalized rock art.
The best thing is finding rock art, spotting stone tools, real darkness and clear night skies.
If you’d like to get involved in Matric Enwild, either by applying or by donating, check out http://matricenwild.co.za/