The aches and pains of the ADDO 100 miler were hardly gone when a rumour started doing the rounds about another 100-mile trail run for 2016. And so, we soon found out that the Cederberg Traverse organisers were planning an inaugural Cederberg 100 miler in October. And rumour had it that the cut-off would be somewhere between 48 and 54hours. So, I just had to enter this to redeem my disappointment at ADDO. I had to pull out at 150km and almost 32hrs with a calf muscle that had been in excruciating pain from the 110k mark and swollen horribly. Anyway, we set up the customary Whatsapp group for those interested in the Cederberg 100miler and started chatting. A 48-54hr cut-off! If I recall correctly my first comment was “48-54hrs – Trevor must either be very generous or sadistic”. This after the ADDO cut-off was 37hrs. Anything more seemed very generous but when the race eventually came it was abundantly clear why.
I decided there and then that I would put a lot more training and effort into my preparation for the Cederberg 100 miler. I don’t want an injury to scupper this one. I wondered how many entries there would be, how tough the course would be. Judging by ADDO I reckoned there would be 30 to 40 entries. An so the months went by and the training intensified. And thanks to Coach Neville some serious training in August and September with a few 60k and 40k back to back solo runs, a Skyrun training camp, a few 160km training weeks – new territory for me and double what I would do for Comrades. If this training does not pull me through nothing will.
Anyway, it was about 2-3weeks from race day and we found out that there were 9 entries for the 100-mile event. 9! Is there something someone knows that I don’t? It is going to be lonely in those mountains! Andy, Brad, Dean and myself fly in and meet each other in Cape Town on Thursday morning, we travel up to the Cederberg together.
I have never been to the Cederberg, never seen these mountains so as we travel up the dirt road into the Cederberg the nerves start taking hold – this is going to be much tougher than ADDO, these mountains are more rugged, steep and high. We bump into Trevor end Pete in the heart of the Cederberg at the shop at Dwarsrivier to buy some drinks for the Saturday night braai. Beer has run out so some wine and then eventually we find beer at Kromrivier – where the road ends. So, we set with drinks for Saturday night. I reckon 35hrs would be sufficient to slay this race as I am in better shape than I was at ADDO, 35hrs with no sleep would take us from 6am Friday morning to about 5pm on Saturday – perfect!
Arrive at Sandddrif, our base and race HQ. Registration and race briefing, two bag drops allowed, one at 66k mark and the other at 120k. We must carry a map! GPS route loaded on the SUUNTO and everything ready. Trevor wants to know whether any of us have made commitments with one another for the race (there are eventually only 6 of us starting the epic adventure!). No commitments – we will see how things pan out.
Supper and off to bed. Up at 4am, check all in order – kit check at 5am and we line up for the photo at 5h45. Sunrise at about 6am and we watch the sunlight light up the cliffs above the Wolfberg Cracks -stunning sunrise. 6am and off we go – all 6 of us!
Start to CP1 (Driehoek), 0km- 15km:
We start with the climb up to the Wolfberg Cracks immediately – a 600m odd vertical ascent in the first 2km with some boulder hopping into the first crack and onto the ridge of the Wolfberg. Slow going but it is still cool. Andy and I together at this stage while Brad and Andre are long gone – giving each other a ding dong battle no doubt.
Quite rugged terrain but good running – approaching the Wolfberg Arch – amazing natural structure! The rock formations look freaky – like something from a science fiction movie. Stop for some photos and off towards Gabriel’s Pass. Technical terrain and turn left down Gabriel’s Pass through a clump of Cedar trees towards CP1 in the valley. Slowly getting warm now. Marshalls have some water available – quick stop and continue to CP2. Trail still clear under foot so no navigational issues.
CP1 Driehoek to CP2 (abandoned hikers hut) 15km- 27km:
Some running along a gravel road and right back cross a river up the mountain towards Tafelberg. This is also a proper climb of 500 vertical metres onto a very wet contour jeep track, then flat for about a mile and then some slow poison with a gradual 200m vertical gain over about 2,5km. Fill up with some water in the mountain streams, pristine and clear water. It is getting hot! Still feeling strong but am worried about the weight of my pack. It just feels too heavy, guessing it is about 6-8kg depending on water levels. It is okay for now but I know that from 24hrs in it is going to hurt the shoulders. We pass Sneeukop which is strewn with white boulders and down off the path to an abandoned hikers hut which is being used as CP2. Marshalls offer some coke, water and jungle oats bars and off we go. Andy reminding me not to get stuck with “checkpoint dawdle” We have been joined by Karen who is looking strong.
CP2 – CP3 Heuningvlei Hut 27km – 43km:
Shortly after leaving CP2 we drop down into a valley, what an amazing place. “Mordor” Andy calls it, looking a bit like the place from Lord of the Rings. Big old Cedar trees which must be centuries old and an amazing stream lined with grass/reeds way taller than we are. This place is called Engelsmanskloof and rumour has it there is a ghost of a British soldier in the kloof. He was apparently beheaded by a cannon ball in the Boer War. Stunning place and so the landscape mesmerises for the next 6km until we round Skerpioenberg, we left the 100km route a few km back and this route has clearly not been used for many years. It is hardly visible so we rely heavily on the GPS track. It is piping hot and the sun is blazing down. Zero cell reception in these mountains so not quite sure why we are carrying cell phones….The weather forecast seems to have been correct. According to SUUNTO Movescount profile the temperature is 35.1C as we go up a valley (Skerpioenspoort) then down Boontjieskloof on the other side. It is a mere 300m vertical climb but over a shortish distance and it is quite technical and a scramble. The heat is making me nauseous and it is becoming a real slog getting up this valley. Fighting nausea all the way but keeping it to myself and trying to ignore it. We are almost 40km in and still have 120-130km to go. We summit and drop somewhat down but not much and head in a north-westerly direction towards Boontjieskloof hut. It is hot and slog and I am struggling to keep it together in the heat and wind, which is picking up and coming directly from the front. We stop at a dodgy stream to refresh and I
feel terrible, muscle stiffening up and nausea. Can barely scoop water while fighting the nausea. Try some water and electrolytes but to no avail. Then some raw honey and that seems to do the trick! Starting to feel better – we move on and the path is sandy just to add to the fun. We move along the “donkey paths” in the sand for quite some distance and reach Boontjiekloof hut (CP3) which is unmanned. This was a slow slog due to the heat, wind and sand.
CP3 (unmanned Boontjieskloof hut) – CP4 (Heuningvlei “town”) 43km – 53km
We leave Boontjiekloof hut and head towards Heuningvlei, wind picking up and some strange looking low cloud over the mountains in the west making us wonder whether a weather system is on the way. Slog on to what I thought was a town but instead appears to be a remote settlement of about 6 or 7 houses and a small primary school. Snake spoor over the road just before entering town. We quickly move through to a “lodge” on the periphery of town and here we meet up with the marshals at CP4. And they have Coke! But it has been waiting for us on the table the whole day and it is also 30C. Some fruit, and warm energy drink mix. Restock with water and move on. We had reached CP4 when we were hoping to already be at CP5 (before sunset) but that was not to be with the heat.
CP4 to CP5 (Pakhuis Pass) 53km-66km
From here we follow a gravel road through the mountains which serves as the main access road to Heuningvlei town. And it can only be traversed with a 4×4 given its poor state and the topography. As we climb back into the mountains the baboons bark at us and there is a strange T Rex like rock formation. If only I could should Josh and Oli that! Dust and night falls and we stop to put on our headlamps. Not very talkative at this stage just working hard to get to CP5 where we will have a medical check and can restock our backpacks (bag drop 1 of 2). We arrive at CP5 which is closer to 69km than 66km at about 8pm. Medical check and compulsory 30min stop. They have some warm drink, potatoes and so on. These are welcome and so is the forced stop. Brundle le Brun all amped to help and what a pleasure. The stop is what we need to lift the spirits and get cracking on to get through the night. Shortly before we leave Robyn arrives. Andy and I leave and Robyn and Karen stay behind for a bit longer.
CP5 to CP6 (Heuningvlei hut) 66km-91km
It has cooled down nicely (to about 27C) and I am looking forward to some night running. The next stretch is going to be a tester. On abandoned hiker paths probably abandoned 20-30years ago through thick bush with some decent climbs. And 25km between checkpoints may not seem far but at night in this terrain it is very far. We run out from CP5 and I feel like a new person. New socks and fresh shirt makes a huge difference. We run well for most of the evening up to midnight fighting our way through overgrown bushes with leaves that are bristles that end in very fine spikey thorns. Pricking the arms and legs and breaking off and falling in between the backpack and back at times pricking like mad. I pick up a branch and try to ward off the bush while moving through but with limited success. We traverse around Groenberg through the night and reach the lowest point on the
course (about 275m asl) where we cross a river and start our ascent up Krakadouwpoort. This is a monster ascent of over 800m vertical which we hit about 19hrs into the run at 1am in the morning. It is at the start of this ascent that the real sports start. We cross the river and start ascending and the GPS track takes us back across the river. At night, you have no option but the trust the GPS track because you simply can’t orientate yourself visually in any effective way. The paths are in disuse and overgrown and mostly not discernible as a path. We head across the river and get stuck in thick bush and reeds. Back and forth over and into thick bush, fighting our way through the bush but zero sign of any path, and area which can hardly be traversed at all. This is becoming frustrating. This is surely not possible! Something is wrong. We expend tremendous energy and effort in this area for almost an hour. We eventually haul out the map we were asked to carry and try and read that. It faintly appears as if we should not cross the river (in contrast to the GPS route) but rather say on the southern side while we ascend. So, we do that and after a while the GPS track aligns with the map. We stop for battery change on Andy’s headlamp and rest for a while. Probably about 2h30. Andy sits straight up on a rock with his head resting in his arms while I lie flat on my back. Chatting with Andy and getting no reaction out of him I realise he has fallen asleep. I am also close to falling asleep, totally hammered but only half way. So, we get up and move on like 2 drunkards falling asleep on our feet, up the monstrous climb. We move on relentlessly and it feels like forever before we reach the top of this climb. In the east, it is starting to slowly light up with dawn on its way. Having reached the top and daylight coming soon the energy levels pick up and we have some good running to CP6. Comrades plus a few km done and another 70-75km or so to go!! Night time temperature was around 20C and quite pleasant. We reach CP6 at about 5h30, and there is a figure under a space blanket – it is Bradley and he is not looking good, not able to keep anything down he has decided to call it. We stock up and leave at about 6am at sunrise! What a stunning sunrise! At least the marshals have satellite phones and can sort-of track our movements from CP to CP. Other than that, no GPS tracking of athletes or cell reception. Andy is luckily a master at navigation and the night has been mentally taxing traversing long abandoned hiking routes through thorny overgrowth and getting lost at the base of Kradadouw valley. Some serious bushwhacking. So, you leave a CP and then check in at the next, up to 10hrs in between and no one knows where you are.
CP6 to CP7 (Algeria) 91km -120km
Now for a very long 30km stretch to Algeria, the second compulsory stop, 2nd bag drop medical check and cheese burger! We leave CP6 and some good running, again along some sandy path and backtracking on some of the pathways we traversed the previous day in the heat. At least it is cool now and we need to capitalise on the cool morning before the heat gets to us again. So, we move along well up towards Groot Koupoort and start ascending again, steep and about 400m vertical. 100km done just before we summit! Incredible view from the top both in a north easterly and south westerly direction. Baboons barking relentlessly at us from the cliffs above. Now we must get down this valley between Crevasse Peak and Koupoort Peak and it is steep with zero path! This is a proper scramble and we constantly trying to find a path. Perhaps we should follow the contour which seems to have a path but we will cliff-out if we do, so it is straight down! Scrambling down a drop of 500m vertical to a tree filled valley and then straight back up the next climb. From far there seems to be a hiker’s path but as we get there it is another abandoned path which has become a drainage line, little path to speak of. I thought I saw a building in the valley from above but as we get closer I realise it was probably a boulder. This valley is deserted and has been for many many years. This is where you should come hide- away if you want no one to ever find you. This climb is not that big (100m up) but as we dropped down the valley from Crevasse peak we could see our next monster climb in the next valley – this was becoming demoralising and mentally taxing! Virtually nothing flat on this 30k stretch. We are moving perpendicularly relative to the orientation of the mountains, up over into a valley and repeat and repeat. And the heat was building, getting hot again. As we start dropping down into the next valley, the temperature is already 31C and climbing. The drop into the valley (Bo Boskloof) is about 500m to a substantial river (Sandrivier). This place is also deserted, no sign of humans! We restock on water and move on, up a monster climb of 500m and the temperature is now 33,4C. Up the north face in the heat and over the summit at Warmhoekkop (no doubt where this place got its name!). This is slow going, hot and relentless climbs! I was wondering whether Trevor was trying to emulate the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee and trying to achieve a 100% DNF. At this rate, how are we ever going to finish? These climbs, heat, bushwhacking! As we drop into the valley we can see 1 or 2 100km runners in the distance along the slope on the other side (on the north face of Teekop). Civilisation! At last!
We drop down into the valley and see some footprints on the path, someone has recently been here. Andy and I meet up with some of his acquaintances about 7-8km from Algeria on the 100km path, which we have now joined. They stick with us to Algeria but it is slow going, hot, tired and sore. Feet are killing me! We follow a good contour path past Teekop, Langkop, Gatdeurkop and down to the river at Algeria camp. There is a lot of action here! And we are well received. Buggered we sit down for the medical check and some pain medication (“pink smarties”) for the feet. Also, some ice packs for the feet! and are offered drinks and cheeseburgers. I wolf down 2 cheeseburgers and cup of hot chocolate (of all things)! It is about 4pm Saturday and we have been going for 34hrs straight. 120km and about 6000m of vertical gain to here. On approaching Algeria, serious thoughts of bailing crossed my mind and then Andy gave me a verbal kick in the arse – “Peter, if you bail you know you have 2 100miler DNFs, it’s not going to be easy to come back from that!” That’s all I needed, no way this is going to be a DNF. So much for our Saturday evening braai! According to my planning I should have been past Maltese cross by now with less than 10km to go. But no! Get ready for another night on the mountains, some serious mental re-adjustment. So much for 35hrs!
We are offered a tent to change in and to rest. So, we try to sleep for an hour and we climb into sleeping bags. 30minute compulsory stop anyway. Marshalls under instruction to wake us in an hour. I try to sleep but can’t. Here I lie thinking about Trevor’s pre-race information email in which he said that at Algeria “you may need a hug”. Now I know why and tend to agree! But the rest, meds and the food lifted the spirits and when we got up Andy and I were ready to take on the last marathon! The support and assistance from the Energy Events crew at Algeria was amazing – they made it impossible for us to even contemplate bailing here!
CP7 – CP8 (Riempie se gat) 120km-140km:
Only a marathon to go! Back into the remoteness and abandoned trails! But we have been promised that there is less bushwhacking from here on. We eventually leave Algeria almost 2 hours after arriving and the 2 ladies arrived as we departed. Gee whiz – I can’t believe that they are still going! Leaving Algeria directly into the next monster climb of 750m vertical and we take the wrong path immediately, so we backtrack and add about 1km to our race. Up onto Zuurvleiberg, Smalberg and it is getting dark and cold. Colder than Friday night and there are low ominous clouds covering some of the peaks. Night time visibility much poorer than Friday night when the moon at least lit the landscape. Tonight, the clouds are blocking the moonlight. Then we drop down out of civilisation again, into a valley next to a river (Suurvlak valley), these mountains are amazing, you hear the streams most of the time, some nice running here. But dark – much darker than Friday night. 37 to 38hrs, 127kms into the run and the fatigue is setting in. Falling asleep on my feet. We decide to take a 10minute powernap in an area sheltered from wind. Set the alarm for 11min (1min to fall asleep and 10 to sleep). I don’t need 1min to fall asleep. As my head hits the backpack “pillow” I am instantaneously asleep. Then before deep sleep sets in the alarm goes off, we get up immediately and get moving without delay. Does this help – I don’t know but if it staves off 2 of the 3 stages of fatigue I will be happy. In past races like Skyrun and ADDO I have learnt that there are 3 stages. Stage 1: fall asleep on your feet, Stage 2: start hallucinating, Stage 3: time slows to a blur. Stage 1 and 2 are okay but Stage 3 is unbearable! Been hit by stage 1 a few times already in this run and started touching on stage 2 but not seriously though. None of stage 3 yet! A lot colder tonight than last night, shivering getting up from the nap. Then a sharp left up the hill into Agterkruis Valley alongside the Hexrivier. Several decent sized baboon spiders out hunting in the path. This is a long haul up the valley of about 15km. Path much better than pre-Algeria but we hit one or two rivers crossing that present serious challenges to cross. Fighting our way over dead trees, through bush (virtually bush diving ad kicking our way through bush!) and reeds over rocks and water literally making the path as we go. The smell of Buchu is nauseating by now and “Panga” comes to mind – if only we had a panga! I suspect these crossings were in Dans se kloof and Duiwelsgatkloof. Andy stops in his tracks and says something, at first I do not hear then I hear “Leopard!” Shining his lamp ahead there are two eyes, clearly a large cat and it is simply staring back at us, not intimidated by the light. I pick up a stone and throw it. This cat is not intimidated by stones and moves just off the path to the bush! So, what do we do? Asks Andy. I reckon we should just continue and hope for the best. Just don’t make eye contact if you see it. So, Andy picks up a rock and we move on. Awake for the moment! No incident and the slog continues…run where possible and power hike the uphill’s! Getting to CP8 (Riempie se gat) seems forever! We are met about 1km from there by one of the CP staff who accompanies us there. It is beyond midnight and cold. Checkpoint staff friendly and helpful! Spend a few minutes and get moving again.
CP8 – end 140km-165km:
Now for one of the toughest climbs in the run, at 140km we start the 900m ascent up Sneeuberg over a distance of about 7km. It is a proper slog up this mountain. Tired, sore, cold but making progress. Andy is ahead of me and he is falling asleep on his feet. Falling over, from side to side, kicking rocks and looking like a drunkard again. Another quick 10minute nap sheltered alongside a boulder but shivering when we wake up. Amazing how quick the body loses heat when you stop. Last of, I think, 3 10minute power naps. As we gain altitude the weather is looking worse and worse with the cloud cover dropping low and misty colder conditions setting in. The summit just seems to never come as we skirt around the side of Platkop going up towards Sneeuberg. Eventually we reach the top at dawn in the cloudy/mistiness/drizzle. Visibility not great but we keep moving. Having reached the top and dawn breaking it comes with some new energy! Also – we don’t have too far to go anymore, only about 13-15km. We skirt around Sneeuberg from the south to the north and move towards the Maltese Cross, cloud and mist starting lift now. Legs finished and feet sore and blistered. Don’t want to take the shoes off in fear of what I may see but I can feel the toenails are a problem and a big toe nail has come totally loose. I will deal with that after the race. Andy encourages me to take in some cards and water and “masticate” properly because we need to run! Masticate?! – the lack of sleep must be making him dig deep! “Chew” in my language I think but too tired to humour the choice of words!
We drop down from Sneeuberg through the veld towards the 100km route, which we re-join a few hundred meters from Maltese Cross. As we approach the photographer is in the tent, sheltered from the wind and cold and Andy whistles from a distance to get his attention. He had packed up and jumps out with a few colourful words, sets up the equipment and takes a snapshot of us each with the cross as a backdrop. From here it is homebound! Back on proper hiking route we drop down from Maltese Cross to the car park about 2-3km away and from here it is gravel road to the end. My feet are killing me. If only I had one of those pink “smarties” now! We run along the gravel road towards Sanddrif with even slight uphill’s presenting a challenge at this stage. We have been going for 50 odd hours, more than 2 days and 2 nights. We have seen our third sunrise in a row.
As we get closer to the end we are both quiet – I suspect Andy is thinking what I am but neither of us is saying it. “Are we going to race each other over the last few km?” Eventually Andy is the one that asks and I have been thinking about it for the best part of an hour already. “We have done virtually the whole race together (barring the first 2km) and pulled each other along, I think we should finish together”. So it will be. Thank goodness! If we were to race each other I would be game and I would give it everything but I also know I would fall over at the end and struggle to get back up!
The closer we get the quicker we run and it is painful….my feet! We pass through the vineyards, back onto the gravel road then off through the veld down towards Sanddrif, into Sanddrif and to the end. The finish banner has deflated! We finish together. What a feeling! 51h07 according to my SUUNTO. I think the time keeper only realised later that we had finished so the official time is logged as 51h13. The first thing we have – a Boggom en Voertsek !! and Pete offers a plate of breakfast! It must still sink in but wow! Cederberg 100miler 2016: 9 entrants, 6 starters, 4 finishers
The trip back home was interesting with swollen feet that were on fire! Painful blisters and 6 nasty blue toenails, one of which had even become dislodged! Stabbing pains in the feet and severe fatigue. Forces of nature working against one another- falling asleep and waking up from stabbing pains in the feet. That lasted 2-3 days with lots of ice treatment, pain meds and legs in the air to get the feet and ankle swelling under control. Will I do it again – probably, benefit would be that I now know what this race is about! It is not Skyrun, ADDO or any other. It is unique with unique challenges. It can break you easily if you allow it.
So what was our potential time on this event?
– 15 minutes photos at the Arch (worth every minute!)
– 15 minute Pakhuis dawdle?
– 60 minutes finding Krakadouw pass messing around in the bush
– 15-30 minutes Heuningvlei CP
– 30 minutes at Algeria repacking and twiddling? The rest of the time was essential and must be viewed as trail time
– 30 minutes at the dead tree fall
– 30 minutes smashing through the reeds (off route I suspect)
Best case – 3 ½ hours!! (at what cost? Cant say)
Then comes the next question, how much time was used being TOO conservative? Will we ever know? Finally, if the stretch past Cleft Buttress was actually a path could we – 2 hours? So, 5 ½ hours faster? 46 hours …….. ? Perhaps
Some new lessons learnt:
Carbs are king in the heat! But don’t forget protein and fats.
Raw honey helps for nausea!
Take a variety of flavours of electrolytes!
Dark places (in the mind) are encountered in the daylight too, not only night
New socks = new feet! Just re-enforced this lesson which Saffy always hammers on at Skyrun
A short rest after many hours of slogging revitalises the spirit to continue!
Race organisers can be sadistic!
Bush-whacking saps the physical and mental energy and consumes hours
There is a place in SA you can hide from the cops and they will never ever ever find you!
Some interesting stats/comparisons:
Cederberg Traverse 100 mile trail run:
Vertical elevation gain: 8049m
Time to complete: 51h07
Skyrun 100km, about 4500m
ADDO 161km, about 5640m
Cederberg 100km, about 3800m
Western States 100miler: 5500m
Leadville 100miler: 4756m
UTMB 166km: 9600m Grand Raid de la Réunion, La diagonale des fous (The Madmen’s Diagonal) 162km: 9643m
HURT100 (Hawaii) 100miles: 7470m The Bear 100 100miles: 6701m
Barkley marathons 100miler: 16 500m (30yr history, only 17 finishes by 14 different runners)