At 00h00 on Monday, 24 March 2014, trailblazers Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel embarked on the ultimate Drakensberg adventure – the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. The two battled the elements and intense fatigue to break the existing record by an incredible 18 hours to complete the traverse in 41 hours and 49 minutes on 25 March 2014.
Spanning parts of the Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces of South Africa, as well as the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the unmarked route has broken many an adventurers heart with only 3 official records set since the route was first run 15 years ago. The previous Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) record, of 60 hours 29 mins, was set by Griesel and Cobus van Zyl.
A tired, but remarkably upbeat, Ryan Sandes was elated at completing the attempt and achieving a new record. “This attempt started as a seed more than 2 years ago…to have finished it now feels quite surreal. We felt good from the start & knew if the weather held, we would have a great chance of breaking the record. However, until you cross the line, you can’t be too sure. There were a few anxious moments when I tweaked my ankle 2 hours into the attempt & I was worried that it might mean the end so soon. Running through the night was challenging at some of the more technical parts, but it really helped to have Ryno there. He knows the mountain like the back of his hand & it was reassuring to have someone so experienced with me.”
Griesel was equally complimentary of his teammate. “Ryan has got to be the best runner in the world when it comes to these conditions. Running the DGT, as opposed to speed hiking, takes a greater toll on your body than I realised. I became dehydrated during the first day and had a couple of tough hours, but Ryan pushed us through it and kept me going.” When asked how he was feeling, Griesel summed it up in one word: ‘Privileged’. “It was such an incredible experience to see this dream of ours realised after years of planning and to enjoy so much support from friends, family & strangers from around the world.”
In order for the attempt to be official Sandes and Griesel had to start and the Sentinel Car Park and end at the Bushman’s Neck Border Post. As there is no set route for the DGT, one can choose any route to do so as long as one passes eight checkpoints along the way including The Chain Ladders, the Mont-aux-Sources summit at 3282m and the highest of the all the summits (and the highest point in Southern Africa) Thabana Ntlenyana Summit at 3482m.
Both of the athletes cited the sunrise from this summit as something that would stay with them forever. As Griesel said, “The sunrise this morning from Thabana was a special moment and we both stopped for a few seconds to appreciate the view. It was both inspiring & humbling to greet the day from such a vantage point.”
Part of the equipment the athletes carried was a mobile tracking system that tracked their movements across the mountains. This data was fed into an interactive website – http://www.redbull.co.za/draktraverse – that tracked distance, time against previous record and conditions live. The site attracted more than 20 000 visitors from all over the world over the course of the event and users were able to show their support for the athletes by sharing live data from the site.
With his DGT record in the bag, Sandes now has his sights set on Ultra Trial Mount Fuji in April, before he comes back to South Africa to participate in the Wings for Life World Run in Franschhoek in May.
- Post by Kelly Burke