Three Peaks

Runners approaching the Knife Edge

I’m not a particularly competitive runner, although I might sometimes chase a faster time on routes or events that I do regularly. It’s just not often that I’m up for it.

But when the opportunity does arise I’m all for it. Last Sunday was the UCT (that be The University of Cape Town for out of towners) GSB (Graduate School of Business) Three Peaks Challenge. This is an annual event organised by the current MBA class and run by many of them. It is also not to be confused with the other, more difficult, Three Peaks Challenge (3 November)

This one involves Cape Town’s three peaks starting at UCT and going up Mowbray Ridge, over the Knife Edge to Devil’s Peak, down to the saddle and up the infamous Ledges to Maclear’s Beacon, down PK (Platteklip), finally ending on top of Lion’s Head. A not unchallenging and rather fun route.

The run was once reserved for GSB students but they have recently opened it up to the general public. Last year I entered for the first time and ran it with a friend, Petro. I led her a merry dance in the mist, getting lost on the upper slopes of Devil’s Peak and getting caught in the pack on the way up Ledges. Despite this Petro still landed up being first woman home. We had run together most of the way with Petro dropping me on Lion’s Head and finishing a few minutes ahead of me. I finished in 4.35, quite high up the field. The nice thing about this event is that a lot of non regular runners take part, making us mid packers feel good about ourselves as we finish higher up the field than normal.

This year, having reccied the route I was hoping to comfortably beat that time, even dreaming of a sub 4 hour. The weather on the day was spectacular, clear skies and a threatening sun early on. Once again Petro and I set off together – Petro dragging me up the hills and me gaining ground and position on the downs. Having safely negotiated Ledges, thanks to the help of the Mountain Club man and his ropes, we headed for Maclears. On our approach to the highest point on TM (Table Mountain) we heard the voice of Michael “the CEO” Ohlsson, there to meet us and offer some encouragement and company. We raced down PK, me literally bouncing off the rocks on a regular basis, Michael hurling abuse from behind.

But after refreshing at the stream near the bottom of PK and Petro having caught up, my competitive streak set in. As we neared the PK seconding table we could see a small group just ahead of us. At this point I turned to Petro saying, “Petro, you are the reigning women’s champion and in second place, there is the woman currently in first place – go get her.” At which stage Petro turned to me, gave me one of those death stares only women can give and went after her, my words “eye of the tiger Petro eye of the tiger” left trailing in her wake.

So while Petro took care of my competitive streak I meekly coasted to the finish taking some serious strain in the now pretty warm weather.

Petro eventually finished 2nd woman, three minutes behind eventual winner Angela, but it was a fine effort nevertheless. I beat last year’s time by 10 minutes; a long way off the four hour mark but a decent finish.

At the post event braai some spot prizes were given out. I managed to answer a simple question quickest and walked off with an Ipod the size of a blister on my big toe. Yip, I too can be competitive.

First women, Angela (Left) & Petro on Lion's Head

 

Mike Lundy. Best Walks in the Cape PeninsulaMike Lundy has being hiking and indeed writing about hiking for longer than most people have been walking. The fact that he continues to update his books and has maintained a love for the mountains, so evident in his many publications, is testimony to his fitness and dedication to the mountains that he so often frequents.

Mike’s Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula was the book that first got me interested in the mountains and I hiked many of these routes for the very first time using these guides  His hikes are well chosen, well described and  his books contain a wealth of useful information and some great pics.

From the Book:

A bestseller for 21 years, Mike Lundy’s Best Walks in the Cape Peninsula remains one of the most popular books on hiking in Cape Town.

Each of the 30 walks in this guide has been carefully chosen because of a particular point of interest, be it a waterfall, cave, indigenous forest, shipwreck or spectacular viewpoint. This classic selection of routes ranges from challenging climbs to the top of Table Mountain to leisurely strolls among the fynbos (and everything else in-between). Practical advice on mountain safety, local weather conditions and how to deal with snakes ensure that the hiker is given a clear idea of what to expect.

For this eighth edition, all route descriptions and maps have been brought up to date and photographs have been added for lively interest.

Each route  includes:

  • Easy-to-follow direction
  • Accurate route map
  • Average hiking time
  • GPS coordinates for start and finish  points
  • Grading that covers  difficulty and exposure
  • Notes on the availability of water
  • Advice on whether dogs can be taken along
  • Fascinating information on historical sites,  plants, trees and birds  en route

The GPS tracks for each walk can be downloaded from www.gpstravelmaps.com/bestwalks.php

Avid hiker Mike Lundy has written several books and more than 200 magazine and newspaper articles on  walking and has presented weekly radio reports on  hiking. He has  received a merit services  award fromthe Hiking  Federation of Southern Africa for his exceptional contribution to the hiking
community.

Mkhambathi Nature Reserve Scott Ramsay

Mkhambathi Nature Reserve (Eastern Cape) Scott Ramsay

Scott Ramsay spent a year doing what most outdoor lovers can only dream about and travelled to 31 of South Africa’s most special nature reserves and national parks. His objective was to photograph South Africa’s last remaining wild places and along the way he interviewed rangers, community leaders, environmental and cultural activists, ecologists, scientists, researchers, travellers and school children. Ramsay completed this journey on 30 June 2012.Ramsay’s adventure was motivated by conservation. While working for Getaway magazine, Southern Africa’s biggest and oldest adventure-travel magazine, he visited many of Africa’s great wilderness areas.

“It confirmed for me what I had always suspected that these are our continent’s greatest assets, and they – along with our people – are our most valuable contribution to the world. The protection and expansion of Africa’s wild places is of utmost importance,” he explains.
On this journey, recently completed, Ramsay photographed wilderness areas and documented the people, places and wildlife.

“If someone can see for themselves how special a wild place can be – whether it’s lying underneath blazing stars in the Kgalagadi, or walking through fields of millions of Namaqua daisies, or walking with Zulu rangers among rhino in Imfolozi, or discovering millennia-old rock art in the Drakensberg or Cederberg, or standing atop Mapungubwe Hill on the Limpopo River, or jumping off waterfalls in Mkambati on the Wild Coast…if they can see for themselves, then these places have a better chance of being conserved, and the local communities can enjoy their benefits,” he says.

Ramsay will share his experiences with us in two talks in October – one in Cape Town and one in Jo’burg at the Cape Union Mart Adventure Centres at Canal Walk and Eastgate respectively. The talsk are free of charge but booking is essential as seating is limited. Visit www.capeunionmart.co.za/events to reserve your place. Drinks and snacks are served afterwards and there’s discounted shopping on the night.

  • · Wednesday, 3 October 2012. Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Canal Walk. Cape Town. 18h30 – 20h00
  • · Thursday, 18 October 2012. Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Eastgate. Johannesburg. 18h30 – 20h00

For more information on Scott Ramsay and his ‘Year in the Wild’ project,  visit www.yearinthewild.com and www.capeunionmart.co.za

Trail Runner's Guide

Trail Runner's Guide

It wasn’t that long ago that you could list the various trail runs around the country on one hand – o.k. maybe two and a couple of toes but there were very few. The last seven or so years have seen an explosion of trail running shoes hitting South Africa’s treasure trove of mountain paths and coastline and a host of organised events to go with. From 5km fun runs to a range of hardcore ultras up to 100km and beyond for the multi-day events.

Now the first guide book to these organised trail runs has hit the shelves. Its 220 pages of 100+ trail runs across the country. And even with this comprehensive guide many runs still didn’t make the cut. It must have been a tough job for adventure photographer and writer, Jacques Marais to pick and choose the runs to include. So tough he excluded some of my favourites.

That aside he has done a pretty good job with the guide and a quick flick through will get any local trail runner checking their calendar and budget to see which runs he can make. It covers the entire country and has given me some serious trail envy. Of course many runs I already knew about, but many I did not, and have added them to my trail bucket list, which was long enough before the book came out.

A full colour offering, Marais has included plenty of information on each run with comments from well known trail runners to give a personal perspective to each run. There are 50 runs covered in detail with distance, maps & directions to the start, route profile, terrain, event description, expert views and accommodation suggestions – everything you need to know to get your trail feet to these events. There is also a section of 50 runs with less info – but just enough to get you interested, and at the end a general calendar allowing you to choose a month and see what is happening at a glance.

Gripes
Marais is a brilliant photographer and there are many great pics in the book but I somehow got the feeling he left out much of his best work when selecting pics for this guide.

He left out the Three Peaks Challenge, my favourite event, even if it involves a large section of tar in-between scaling Cape Town’s three peaks, (Puffer also has a large tar section). He also left out The Bat Run, an iconic night trail run in Cape Town which has been around a lot longer than most. This is not as commercial as many others and one of the few established night runs on the calendar.

Trail Envy.
The Mnweni marathon has gone to the top of my list, a low key but stunning looking event in the Drakensberg Mountains.

Overall an entirely useful and colourful book for any trail runner who enjoys the organised events. Or even those who don’t but want a look at what trails there are to run in SA. There are plenty.

For sale in book shops around the country. Published by Map Studio

A little while back I received an email asking if I wanted to assist with a trail running excerpt for the Expresso Show, a local lifestyle show on morning TV on SABC3.

Now with a face made for radio and a voice for mime I was reluctant at first. I really wasn’t into going into the studio to talk about trail running. But once it was explained that this would be an outdoor shoot with Lisa Raleigh, the fitness expert, I thought why not? It’s not everyday I get asked to be on TV in any capacity and I thought it might be fun.

So on a chilly but sunny Wednesday afternoon I gathered a few hardy trail runners together at the bottom of Lion’s Head. Lisa arrived with a rather unfit cameraman, soundman and a Sanparks rep in tow and we went to the top of Lion’s Head, shooting as we went. It was fun and the excerpt produced was pretty cool in the end.

Have a look.

I attended the second (FEAT) Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks event, which was held in Cape Town in 2011, and loved it. Entertaining and FEATinspiring in equal measure these Ted talks for the outdoor adventurer were a tonic for outdoor lovers and couch potatoes alike. My only complaint is that difficulty in securing a suitable Cape Town venue at a suitable time has meant that organiser Lisa de Speville has not being able to bring the event to Cape Town again.

So Jozi dwellers get all the fun. The next event will be held on Thursday, 4 October 2012 at the Alexander Theatre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. If you are a Jozi local or visiting Egoli at the time go check it out – nine speakers with seven minutes to describe some pretty amazing adventures.

Read my review of the Cape Town event here.

The good news is the talks will all be uploaded to the web after the event sometime – that is some consolation for us Capetonians – and the mountain and sea of course.

Latest news from FEAT

Bookings for FEAT tickets officially open on Monday, 6 August, but as a FEAT newsletter follower you get early notification so that you get the pick of the best seats in the house at the early-bird rate of R150.00 per ticket. There is not yet a link to tickets on the FEAT website, nothing on Facebook or Twitter. You’ve got a couple of days notice in advance of everyone else to book your tickets and you can do so from NOW. AND, you also get the first peek at the speaker line up.

Go sign up and get more info on www.featsa.co.za

Those interested in a bit of adventure, the outdoors and nature will have an opportunity to attend three presentations hosted by Cape Union Mart at their Adventure Centre in Canal Walk, Cape Town, in June and August.

The topics covered will be slackpacking, multi-day hikes and black eagles.

The presentation on slackpacking, held in partnership with Getaway Magazine, looks at this increasingly popular mode of hiking. Slackpackers travel light, carrying only water, lunch and a camera as their gear is shuttled ahead to the overnight stop. They end the day’s hike – often guided – with a hot shower, chilled drinks, a good meal and a warm bed. In this one-hour talk Nick Bennett discusses South African slackpacking trails and guides you through how to prepare and what to pack. He’ll highlight the Donkey Trail, which starts near Calitzdorp and meanders over the Swartberg Mountains.

Multi-day hikes like the Otter Trail and Fish River Canyon are well known and much loved. There are also others, like the Rim of Africa, which will be discussed in this one-hour presentation by Nick Bennett. Developed in the same vein as North America’s Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails, Spain’s Camino de Santiago and South America’s Sendero de Chile, the Rim of Africa is a 650 kilometre length of mountain paths between the Cederberg and the Garden Route’s Outeniqua Mountains. Bennett will discuss how to prepare for multi-day hiking as well as suitable gear for different regions and seasons.

The Black Eagle Project (BEP) was initiated in 2011 and the research is undertaken by post-graduate student Megan Murgatroyd (UCT). Her study focuses on the effects of land use on the diet and hunting habits of the Black Eagle (Aquila verreauxii; formerly known as Verreaux’s Eagle) in the Cederberg Mountains and the Sandveld. The Cederberg is a region that remains relatively pristine while the Sandveld has undergone extensive land conversion for agriculture.

In this fascinating presentation, Murgatroyd will introduce the Black Eagles – their diet, hunting behaviour, breeding cycle and how she monitors nests. She’ll also fill you in on her findings thus far and the breeding status between the start of the project and the current breeding season.

All presentations are free but seating is limited so it is essential to reserve your place. This can be done through the Events page on the Cape Union Mart website – www.capeunionmart.co.za/events. Presentations start at 6.15pm for 6.30pm and will be one hour in duration. Drinks and snacks are served after the presentation and attendees can take advantage of on-the-night discounts in store.

Presentation summary

  • Slackpacking: Thursday, 28 June @ 6.15pm for 6.30pm.
  • Multi-day hikes: Thursday, 2 August @ 6.15pm for 6.30pm.
  • Black Eagle Project:  Wednesday, 22 August @ 6.15pm for 6.30pm.

All presentations take place at Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Canal Walk, Cape Town.

One aspect of trail running I love is its simplicity and the fact that’s its relatively inexpensive as sports go. Once you have your basic running gear your most expensive item is your shoes. I don’t have any huge requirements when it comes to shoes – I am no major techie on the ins and outs of trail runners – but I know what I need.

Comfort
Your shoes are often your most loyal, and only, companion for hours on end. You kinda of never notice them – until you do – and then it’s not good, comfort is vital. These days you can buy a new pair of trail shoes and run 5 plus hours straight off without so much as a hint of a blister.

Grip
When descending Platteklip in misty and wet conditions on sandy and wet rocks – nothing really sticks too much but you do need to be able to rely on your shoes’ grip, especially when descending at pace…or so I’m told.

Hardiness
I need my shoes to be hardy. I’m no twinkle toes and I’m running on rough often rocky terrain. I need shoes that can take that kind of shit – not shy away at the first sign of a loose pebble and fall apart like a girl scout who can’t sell cookies. Hardy – get out there, get dirty but keep it together. Which brings me to lifespan.

Longevity
How long should a pair of shoes last? Well how long is a piece of string? It also depends on how many pairs of shoes you own and how much you run. I like my trail runners to last me a year, I only use one pair at a time and I hike in them as well. I budget on them to last me a year and less than that I get a bit pissed – o.k. 9-12 months but no less than nine. I do run regularly but not that much.

Brands
I have no brand loyalty. I haven’t yet found a brand to stick to and I have tried many. I enjoy the fact that more and more brands are targeting trail specific shoes and that there is plenty of choice. I wore Salomons a few years back; very comfy, good drainage and I like the draw string laces but the ankle support was not good and I found my ankles frequently going. I moved onto a pair of Montrails; hardyish and o.k. comfort wise but the sole started pealing at about 8 months. So for R50 bucks I had them glued and I got another 6 months out of them.

Salomon Crossmax

Salomon Crossmax - 9 months. RIP

I had a pair of New Balance thrown in there somewhere but this pair couldn’t hack the trails at all so had to be relegated to beachfront strolls only. I then went back to Salomon with their very good Crossmax – very good in all departments but they only lasted nine months.

Desperate for shoes I saw a pair of Hi tech Infinities still on sale at Cape Union Mart. At R500 bucks it seemed good value – but after a month the shoe was falling apart – I swapped them for a new pair and the same thing happened. That’s not a trail shoe that’s a slipper.

Saucony Xodus 3.0

Saucony Xodus 3.0

Luckily, at about the same time a brand appears to have found me. I won a lucky draw competition on Saucony’s Facebook page and within two days a new pair of Saucony Xodus 3.0s arrived at my door. The fit was perfect – lucky as I had never tried them on before. They are very comfortable, and the thick sole has good grip and is looking as solid as ever. Time will tell as to its longevity but I am loving this understated shoe. She’s no looker but she is a goer. That’s no disrespect to Saucony – I don’t really like lumo and brightly coloured shoes – I like these!

Running up and down Cape Town’s three peaks (Devils Peak, Table Mountain and Lions Head) isn’t most people’s idea of fun – but it is mine. This is kind of strange as I usedto hate running. Well hate is a strong word; I just didn’t like it much. I loved hiking though and found once I got into it that I could hike pretty fast up some fairly steep mountains. Then I saw an article in the paper about the Three Peaks Challenge which caught my interest, but after reading that they start in town near to Greenmarket Square and return to the Square after each peak, I laughed to myself, thought “fucking crazy” and lost interest.

The following year, 2002, the Three Peaks reared its beautiful three heads again and a friend, a Celtics runner at the time, told me to phone fellow Celtics runner Gavin Snell, the organiser of the event. As sceptical as I was I soon found myself chatting to Gavin who told me about the event, showed me some pics and hauled out his shoebox of memorabilia including the hand carved trophies of the Three Peaks that every finisher gets. The trophies are made by Don Hartley, founder and co-organiser of the event. All well and good I said but I don’t run. Don’t worry said Gavin you’ll be fine. Far from convinced I decided to give it a bash and entered.

Three Peaks Challenge 2011I started doing some running, completed my first half marathon in the process, and on the first Saturday in November, 2002 I found myself lined up in Long Street at 5am with a bunch of other nutters. About 8 ½ hours later I completed my first challenge, had the best time and was hooked – not just on the Three Peaks but on trail running in general.

November 2011, nine years later, I have completed my 10th Challenge. Those years have seen me become a seasoned trail runner who now loves running and has his own shoebox of Three Peaks memories. I have watched the local trail running scene explode into a main stream sport with many roadies finally seeing the light and now stretching their legs regularly if not exclusively on the mountains. Where once there were a handful of trail events there is now one almost every week.

While the trail running scene has changed I’m glad to say the Three Peaks Challenge has not. The organisers are the same, the atmosphere is the same, and the entry fee kept affordable, unlike many events which charge almost 3x that amount for far less, and you still receive a hand carved Three Peaks trophy if you finish. More importantly I still love this event. I have roped in many an unsuspecting runner who landed up running next to me at some run or another, burning their ears with tales of this special event – some of them completed their 5th challenge this year. The one difference is that nine years ago you could phone Gavin the night before and get an entry – that is no longer possible.

Thanks Gavin, who has not only organised all 15 events to date –read the history of the event here –  but has run every one as well –  and thanks Don for starting this event in 1997, 100 years after it was first completed. Looking forward to no 11.

The Hout Bay Triple Trouble has been trouble for me since its second running in 2006, but now, having recently completed my third, I can safely say its right up there as one of my favourite runs on the trail calendar – despite the tar sections between each peak.

Started by Eric Tollner in 2005 as a training run for the more established Three Peaks Challenge, it has developed into a very special, albeit low key, event. The run starts at the Chapman’s Peak Hotel in Hout Bay and takes in Suther Peak, Judas Peak, via Llandadno Ravine, and Chapman’s Peak, returning to the hotel after each peak. The field is small, 30 runners, and friendly, with just a few speedsters chasing records and the win. The rest of us like to take our time (often more through necessity than choice), smell the flowers, enjoy the views and camaraderie and revel in a day out on the spectacular Hout Bay mountains.

Hout Bay TripleTrouble 2011

Doug & Mike on Chapman's Peak

My troubles started at my first attempt in 2006. I somehow managed to get lost descending Judas Peak in the mist, wandered about the top for an hour looking for the path down before finding my own, not very safe descent and traversing back to Llandadno Ravine. After my not so kosher experience I declined the 3rd peak leaving me with unfinished business which I planned to put right the next year. 2007 arrived and I entered early. But the year was a hectic one, with numerous moves and the birth of my son, and came Triple Trouble time, I was pretty exhausted the night before. I woke up at 4am, confirmed what I already knew and sent a text message to Eric, bailing before even putting on my running shoes. I managed to get there to take some pics on the third peak and once again vowed to be back the next year.

2008 and I was the first to enter, but then realised it clashed with my holiday plans so was first out as well. My holiday plans changed and I again landed up on Chappies taking pics.

2009 and finally I got to experience the triple in all its glory. The morning started with a scooter ride from Sea Point to the start with a large orange moon hanging lazily over the glassy sea, the day was already perfect and it was only 5.30am.

After my experience in 2006 I was determined not to get lost this year, but it didn’t take me long. After tagging Suther Peak, I led Brenda, my running partner for the day, down the garden path and landed up with a fabulous viewpoint but sheer drops everywhere. We backtracked and made our way safely down, finding ourselves at the back of the field but in no hurry.

The second peak was stunning; fynbos as far as the eye can see, clear skies with views to everywhere and Mediterranean-like turquoise seas below. The South Easter that had howled the week prior to the run had cleaned up the air and sea for the day.

We finished at the tail end of the field – hot and happy after 10 hours + of beautiful weather and stunning mountains – finally I was on the board.

2010 saw me run the entire route with Michael and Douglas, and various others along the way. With cooler weather and stronger legs we finished in just over 7 ½ hours. Almost 3 hours behind the winner, a certain Ryan Sandes, who seemed to cruise the route but still broke the record finishing in a fast 4.48 and some change.

This year was similar – cool weather and Michael and Douglas again keeping me entertained as we as toured Hout Bay the way very few people ever do. The colourful flowers on the first peak, again the fynbos on the second and whales in the bay on the third made for another memorable trip. While we weren’t racing we realised at the top of Chappies that if we motored we might just break 7 hours. When we hit the tar for the 4km downhill dash to the cold beers – it was still on. But as we neared the finish – about 500m near – Michael started to cramp and stopped to get himself right. Douglas and I had a brief discussion, wait and risk not reaching our sub 7-hour target – or leave Mike, finish under 7 hours and face his wrath. We chose “glory” over sentiment and finished in 6.58.10. Mike, to his credit, finished a minute later also breaking the 7 hour mark and not letting us forget for a minute that we ditched him 500m from home after running together the entire day. Sorry Mike!

At the front of the field Rupert Becker proved you don’t need sponsors and financial incentives to break records (although that would be nice) – just enormous talent and a great attitude – he shaved 1.14 off Ryan’s time – smiling all the way to the finish.

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