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Proteas warned peak can be hell of precipice
Mike Horn. Pic: AP

South African adventurer Mike Horn tells a story about mountain climbing which has a chilling conclusion.

Many climbers get to the summit of the mountain, Horn says.

He knows. He has climbed four of the world's tallest peaks as well as walked to the North Pole and circumnavigated the globe under his own steam. But of the dozens who die in their bid for glory, the majority do it on the descent.

Getting to the top is the easy part, Horn argues. Surviving on top is the real challenge.

Horn's metaphor for sporting success has been annexed by South Africa under coach Gary Kirsten and captain Graeme Smith who used the explorer to help chart a pathway to the top of their mountain this year.

The Proteas have already conquered two peaks - reaching No.1 on the Test rankings and knocking off previous top team England.

Now their challenge is clear - beat Australia and strengthen their hold on the premier position.

While Smith has borrowed from former Australian captain Steve Waugh's motif of "never satisfied" as his team's informal theme, he agreed with Horn's philosophy.

"We would love to create a legacy but you have to take a few steps at a time," Smith said.

"There have been a number of teams in international cricket who have touched the No.1 ranking and we would love to have the opportunity (to stay there). We know Australia is the next stepping stone for us and a big challenge.

"We are not getting too far ahead of ourselves but we believe we have the capabilities to create that (legacy), but you have to earn it and take the right steps."

Holding on as No.1 proved a climb beyond Mickey Arthur's team four years ago, with Australia's current coach later recognising that so much energy and focus was invested in winning the series here that there was nothing left in the motivational tank for the next challenge.

It is why Horn advises athletes to dream beyond team selection.

"When I was young I never dreamed of going to the North Pole or climbing the highest mountain or swimming the Amazon River," he said.

"I dreamed of a full life as an explorer. You are never quite done.

"If your dream is to play cricket for India or South Africa then you shouldn't play because the moment you make your Test debut is the moment your dream ends. What I told the players is that their dreams should only start once they've reached this elite level because that's when they have the opportunity to write their own chapter of history."

Horn had a captive audience when the South African players had a boot camp in the Swiss Alps before the England series.

He casually told them of the time he had to cut off a frost-bitten finger on his way to the North Pole and said it was little different to the issues they would face in getting to the top of their chosen sport.

"That's what I had to do as an explorer, so why can't cricketers do a third of that? Life is about overcoming obstacles. So is cricket," Horn said.