Posts Tagged ‘Running’

Overnight Hiking on Table Mountain, South Africa – Oct 2012

The idyllically located Overseers Cottage boasts unrivalled views over the Peninsula and False Bay

After six months of training, October was supposed to be a hardcore trail running month with media invitations to take part in three big races. The Chappies Challenge (http://www.energyevents.co.za/) was a 21km warm up for the main events: the inaugural Retto Edition of the 42km Otter African Trail Run (http://theotter.co.za/) along the mountainous coastline of the Tsitsikamma National Park followed by the epic 250km Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (http://www.extrememarathons.com/). Unfortunately, acute patellar tendonitis in my left knee – courtesy of all the beach running in last month’s Wild Coast Wildrun – forced me to withdraw from all three events and instead embark on a six-week rehab and strengthening programme at the Sports Science Institute in Newlands.

To pull out of the Otter and KAEM was absolutely gutting, but at least the doc encouraged me to do lots of walking and hiking as part of the recovery process.  This provided the catalyst for a month of regular table mountain hiking excursions with one particular weekend of multi-day hiking standing out above the rest…

Friday the 19th of October saw our group of 11 friends hire out the 12-bed Orangekloof Tented Camp (http://www.sanparks.org/gallery/index.php/parks/table_mountain/ht_orange_kloof/).  Located barely a hop, skip and a jump from Constantia Neck, this eco-friendly and thoughtfully-designed bush camp is one of the four Hoerikwaggo trail’s camps scattered across the mountain chain. All camps offer bathrooms with hot water showers, comfortable beds, fireplaces, fully equipped communal kitchens and self-catering dining areas. Guests need only provide their own bedding, towels and food.

Spring flowers bloom on Table Mountain

Orange Kloof Tented camp lies tucked away within an ancient restricted-access Afromontane forest that was until recently closed to the public. The result is an old-worldly forest and tranquil setting that combine to ensure a superbly relaxing wilderness getaway right in the very heart of Cape Town!

After a rather damp Friday night braai, Saturday dawned bright and clear with deep blue skies overhead as we set off to tackle the hike up the restricted Disa River Gorge. Despite having grown up in neighbouring Hout Bay and nearby Llandudno, this was the first time any of us had ventured up this magical mountain trail.  The scenic route traces the river into a steep sided gorge all the way to the base of Hely-Hutchinson dam wall and then continues across to above Kirstenbosch before arriving at the idyllic Overseers Hut perched on the edge of the Mountain.

The beautifully furnished and ultra-comfortable Overseers Cottage provided an incredible opportunity to enjoy a night atop one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  Accommodating up to 16 people, it was a real privilege for us to settle into this stylishly renovated old stone cottage. Comfy couches, a big fireplace, gas-heated hot showers and big soft beds with crisp linens ensured we slept like babies even as thick mist enveloped the mountain outside.

Sleeping high above the city proved a truly memorable and highly recommended experience.  To find out more about hiking trails and overnight accommodation on Table Mountain, click on the following link:  http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Explore-SA-Table-Mountain1.pdf

Katherine and I will be headed to Botswana next month on an incredible sounding 8-night &Beyond itinerary to experience Chobe Under Canvas and Nxabega Okavango Camp – two of the finest luxury tented camps in all of northern Botswana.  More on this exciting assignment in next month’s blog update…

Lake Kariba and Wild Coast Wildrun, Zimbabwe & South Africa – Sept 2012

Day 1 of the 114km Wild Coast Wildrun along the Transkei seashore (Photo courtesy of Nick Muzik)

After four weeks exploring some of the remotest and least visited corners of Namibia and Zambia, it was time to head across the border to Zimbabwe. It had been ten years since my last visit and I was shocked to see how far Zimbabwe had regressed during its ‘lost decade’.

However, thankfully, there were a couple of things that remained largely unchanged… Vic Falls was one of them. The town of Victoria Falls is to Zim what Hong Kong is to China: an economic powerhouse and enclave of prosperity in a country beset by challenges.  The local people were the other.  I can unreservedly say that Zimbabweans remain amongst the very nicest and most genuinely friendly people in all of Africa; and it was a real privilege to explore their beautiful country again. Zim might be a pale shadow of its former glory days, but I still thoroughly enjoyed being back and interacting with its wonderful people.

The quintessential African sunset over Lake Kariba

After some quality R&R in Vic Falls and neighbouring Zambezi National Park, we set off to investigate a defunct safari lodge concession on Elephant Island in Lake Kariba. Sadly, the camp structures were in disrepair and much of the wildlife appeared to have been poached and eaten by hungry villagers in the tribal areas we visited, but the giant inland sea of Kariba remained just as impressive as I remembered it.

After just a week back in the office, I jumped on a plane and flew to East London to take part in the Wild Coast Wildrun courtesy of adidas (http://www.adidas.co.za/).   My ART teammates Duncan Gutsche and Michael Arbuthnot joined me to tackle the long trail across windswept beaches, tidal estuaries and rolling grassy hills as we sampled the highs and lows of the 2012 Wildrun firsthand.

The Wild Coast Wildrun is arguably South Africa’s premier multi-day trail running event and over the course of three unforgettable days, we joined 77 other fortunate competitors as we ran, rambled and rolled our way north along South Africa’s most remote and captivating stretch of wilderness coastline.

After nearly 13 hours and 114 km on our feet, we hauled ourselves over the finish line at Hole in the Wall exhausted but elated.  Race Director, Owen Middleton, summed up this year’s race experience and its hardships brilliantly in his excellent blog posting: http://www.wildrun.co.za/2012/09/wildcoast-wildrun-2012-–-wild-conditions-hamper-race-record-attempts/.

The desolate windswept beaches on Wild Coast Wildrun (Picture courtesy of Nick Muzik Photography)

With a fearsome reputation for gusty and unpredictable weather, the ocean-ravaged Wild Coast is both insanely beautiful and unforgivingly brutal.

Starting at the Great Kei River, roughly 80 km north of East London, the Wild Coast Wildrun traces the former Transkei coastline northwards all the way to Hole in the Wall: one of our country’s most picturesque and iconic natural wonders. The Wildrun route is unmarked bar the start and finish of each stage, and runners need only stick close to the seashore keeping the ocean on their right to attain the finish line each day. For most people winning is the furthest thing from their mind; they come instead to immerse themselves in some of the most incredible coastal scenery and rugged running terrain to be found anywhere on our planet. Entries open on 17 January 2013 at midday; go to http://www.wildrun.co.za for further details.

Coming up next month is Africa’s greatest trail run: the 42km Otter African Trail Run.  Check out http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Explore-SA-Otter-African-Trail-Run.pdf for more on the first-ever west to east running of the Grail of Trail.

ART teammates Michael Arbuthnot, Steve Cunliffe and Duncan Gutsche at Hole-in-the-Wall

Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Washington DC, America – July 2012

Minnesota Twins vs Kansas City Royals at Target Stadium

July has become a ‘pilgrimage’ month of sorts for Katherine and me as we take our annual summer sojourn to the USA to visit the in-laws and escape the rainy winter weather in Cape Town.  This year our 3.5 week holiday was dominated not only by a very welcome procession of long summer days and blazing sunshine, but also by an action-packed itinerary of weddings celebrations and holiday festivities that saw me overindulging on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I had put on 5kg and could no longer button my pants that the feeding frenzy finally subsided!

The minute we landed in the Twin Cities on Saturday afternoon, we were whisked away to a Chicago Concert in Red Wing followed by an epic Sunday ball game when the Minnesota Twins finally found some form to defeat the Kansas City Royals in an exciting 11-9 contest. And I have to say that this was the most entertaining baseball game I’ve ever attended.

Medal winners in the Inwood 4th of July 5km road race

Next up was a road trip down to Inwood, Iowa, for my first ever genuine ‘small town mid-west’ 4th of July celebration. The Americans pull out all the stops for this festive holiday. We started off with a 5km road race; followed by a fire truck dominated parade down the main street; chilli dogs and tavern sandwiches for the picnic lunch; an extended family burger barbeque and volleyball; and, finally, the derby and fireworks. It was an Independence Day extravaganza that I will never forget!

After an entertaining couple of days in Iowa, we retraced our steps back north into the state of ten thousand lakes for Katherine’s sister, Laura’s, wedding.  It was an elegant and classy affair at the Forepaugh’s restaurant in Saint Paul.

Next up was a five-day bike trip on the Elroy-Sparta (www.elroy-sparta-trail.com), La Crosse River and 400 trails across the state of Wisconsin: dairy capital of America and home of the ‘cheese heads’. The predominantly flat bike trails follow old decommissioned railway lines through the woods and include three long tunnels hewn from the rock over a century ago! It was cushy cycling at its very best with comfortable BnB’s to look forward to in the evening, a tasty home-cooked breakfast every morning before we hit the trail, typical mid-west hospitality and enough micro-breweries to ensure we carbo-loaded like champions before each leg of the cycle trip.

After a relaxing final week back in Minnesota, it was time to fly to Washington DC for one final wedding. We joined Bonnie (a school friend of Katherine’s) and Joe at the Fairmont Hotel to celebrate their marriage and I even managed to squeeze a couple of lunchtime beers in with an old school friend of my own, Johan De Bruijn, at a cool Georgetown pub.  It was festive finale to 3.5 weeks of non-stop action and entertainment … Now I just need a ‘real holiday’ to recover from my USA vacation!

The winter edition of Wild magazine hit the shelves this month with my Swazi Sojourn cover story on the Big Game Parks of Swaziland. The Reilly family have done some remarkable work to save Swaziland’s wildlife and natural heritage from the brink of extinction.  Check out: http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Wild-Big-Game-Parks-Swaziland-Final.pdf

Wedding season in the USA

In Wilderness with Wild and Tracking in the Lowveld, South Africa – June 2012

Ebb and Flow Rest Camp in the Wilderness Section of Garden Route National Park

The month got off to a cracking start when Katherine joined me for an action-packed Wild magazine assignment to explore the hugely diverse Wilderness Section of Garden Route National Park (www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/) on the Cape South Coast.  An activity extravaganza of hiking, running, canoeing, birding – and even some flying – dominated our active, outdoorsy itinerary during a memorable four-day stay at the Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp on the banks of the picturesque Touw River.

While we had great fun hiking all the local Kingfisher Walking Trails within the park, paddling the Serpentine and Touw rivers trumped the trailing as we glided effortlessly across the water  amidst a dazzling array of avian entertainment.

Soaring above Wilderness in a 'para-trike'

However, nothing could hold a candle to the grand finale: an epic 75 minute flight with Fly Time Paragliding (www.flytimeparagliding.com) over the lakes, beaches and indigenous coastal forest of the Wilderness area. Flying in the Garden Route’s only tandem ‘para-trike’ (a type of motorised paraglider) ensured an unrivalled bird’s eye view of the intriguing and varied terrain of this tract of coastal wilderness nestled between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua Mountains. With fabulous early June weather to boot, it proved a highly enjoyable assignment and an outstanding ‘long weekend away’ destination.

A week later, my lovely wife pulled out all the stops to ensure I celebrated edging closer to 40 than 30 in fine style.  Running the Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge (www.fishermanschallenge.co.za) with my ART team-mates in the morning was followed by  Test rugby and drinks at our Three Anchor Bay apartment before moving on to a birthday bash to remember at Pigalle Restaurant (www.pigallerestaurants.co.za/capetown/) in Green Point.  The wine flowed freely, the food was excellent and the live band got everyone fired up on the dance floor of Cape Town’s most diverse and truly New South Africa party venue.

A final magazine assignment for the month of June took me up to Thornybush Game Reserve to interview tracking guru Louis Liebenberg for an article to be published in the October 2012 issue of Africa Geographic.  Based at Royal Malewane (www.royalmalewane.com) for the second time this year, I caught up with old friends and colleagues at the lodge while simultaneously gathering material and researching the story.  I was privileged to accompany some of the Lowveld’s finest trackers as they interacted with trainees and aspirants while tracking down rhino and lion on foot.

Finally – on the subject of recently published articles – it was a busy month for me with features on Namibia’s Sossusvlei and South Africa’s Mokala National Park coming out in the trade and travel magazine Explore South Africa, along with some additional publicity for the Lesotho Wildrun trail running event (which I participated in back in March).  For those who are interested, check out the links below to view PDFs of these entertaining stories:

Running The Old Fisherman's Trail Challenge with ART teammate Duncan Gutsche

Hermanus, Plett and the Wildrun, Lesotho – April 2012

Perched high atop the Hermanus cliffs, overlooking Voelklip Beach and accommodating guests in the utmost luxury, the opulent Birkenhead House (www.birkenheadhouse.com) gazes out onto the whale watching paradise of Walker Bay. Katherine and I belatedly accepted an extremely generous wedding gift and spent three nights soaking up the luxurious, pampered splendour of Birkenhead House. After completing the Two Oceans Trail Run (www.twooceansmarathon.org.za/events/trail-run/general) on Friday morning, we savoured the delicious food, fine red wine and cosy atmosphere of this irresistible seaside lodge for the remainder of the wet Easter weekend. Situated barely an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Cape Town, Birkenhead House proved an idyllic spot to celebrate the second anniversary of our Franschhoek wedding festivities.

The Lesotho Wildrun (www.lesothowildrun.co.za) is an amazing 112km stage-race through the pristine, undulating landscapes of a remote mountain kingdom that lies right in South Africa’s backyard. An epic three-day wilderness journey takes runners through the magnificent and truly wild Ketane Ha Mothibi and Thaba Putsoa mountain ranges in the very heart of Lesotho. With the generous support of sponsor Adidas (www.adidas.co.za/running/), the folks at Wildrunner (www.wildrunner.co.za) pulled out all the stops to make sure everyone enjoyed an incredible, ‘never to be forgotten’ trail running experience.

I fell into step with the similarly paced Stephen Kriel (a seventh generation butcher from Darling) and Guy Jennings (an advertising executive from Joburg) to form a well-matched running trio that became known as ‘Team SSG’ by the race crew. Our triumvirate officially crossed the final finish line a couple of hours behind the overall winners in 17 hours 20 minutes and 27 seconds, but finishing times fade into relative insignificance when compared to the incredible mountain scenery, intriguing Basotho culture and camaraderie of newfound friends. These factors combined to ensure the Lesotho Wildrun was a truly memorable experience for everyone privileged enough to participate in this unique event. And whether you see yourself as a king of the mountains or a more social 33-hour finisher, this tough race has an appeal to trail runners of all ages, stages and abilities. Yes you need to be fit, but this is – above all – a rewarding wilderness journey with likeminded people: a life experience that you’ll find yourself savouring long after the race is done.

Our good friends from India, Bryony and Matt Greenwell, brought their six-month-old daughter Alice on her inaugural visit to South Africa. It was great to have them to stay for a few nights in Cape Town, but the highlight of our time together was undoubtedly the five-day long weekend we spent up the Garden Route. Located only a few kilometres from the bustling seaside resort of Plettenberg Bay, The Waves (www.thewavesatplettenbergbay.com) is situated right on the long white-sand expanse of picturesque Keurboomstrand. The luxuriously appointed contemporary villa, located a stone’s throw from the sea, was an incredible place to be based.  Generously loaned to us by Bryony’s former boss, we revelled in the villa’s comfort, Enrico’s seafood lunches, nightly braais and daily dolphin visits that dominated our stay at Keurboomstrand.

There is also some great news to share regarding the Zambian conservation initiative I’m working on … the Sisheke Conservation Project (www.sisheke.com) website went live this week, so take a moment to check out this link for an overview of what currently appears to be Africa’s most exciting and dynamic conservation and sustainable development venture, taking place within the KAZA TFCA.

Big Game Parks, Swaziland – March 2012

The highlight of March was definitely my assignment to cover the three reserves of Big Game Parks (www.biggameparks.org) in Swaziland for Wild magazine (www.wildcard.co.za/wild_magazine.htm). Mike Richardson and his team organised an action-packed itinerary for my weeklong whirlwind tour of Mlilwane, Hlane and Mkaya game reserves. With game drives, mountain biking, horseback safaris and exciting encounters with rhinos on foot, these wildlife parks offer the active nature lover a wide variety of opportunities to really immerse themselves in the bush.

The Unitrans Unite Against Poaching (www.uniteagainstpoaching.co.za) initiative kindly provided me with a very smart Audi Q7 for my Gauteng road trip to Swaziland. Unitrans is doing a commendable job raising funds for South Africa’s underfunded, underequipped and outgunned field rangers as they try to turn the tide in the latest Rhino War. Our beleaguered rhinos and their guardians need all the help they can get if they are going to successfully stem the needless slaughter. The statistics are horrific with 171 rhinos already lost in South Africa by mid-April of this year. These prehistoric-looking animals are being slaughtered in their hundreds to supply a seemingly insatiable demand for the curative power of rhino horn in Asia. Rhino poachers are primarily targeting the Kruger National Park where 103 rhinos have been killed during 2012 alone. Sadly, the future for rhinos looks extremely bleak right now.

Two other highlights during March included the scenically spectacular Cape of Good Hope Hiking Trail (www.tablemountainhikes.co.za/parks/table_mountain/tourism/overnight_hikes.php), which we walked with family visiting from abroad. The overnight hiking trail took us on a spectacular circuit as we trekked around Cape Point. We happened to be there on the Argus Cycle Tour weekend and this ensured we had the entire nature reserve pretty much to ourselves on the Sunday. It was a very unique and special experience to be standing at the Point without another soul in sight.

With Katherine returning from a work trip to America at the end of March, we finished off the month in style by taking a weekend jaunt with friends to enjoy a couple of nights stay in sleepy Churchhaven (www.sa-venues.com/attractionswc/churchhaven.php). The Western Cape’s best-kept secret is a real gem of a spot hidden deep inside the tranquil West Coast National park and it proved the perfect place to kick back and relax in the company of eland, kudu, ostriches and even the usually elusive caracal put in a surprise appearance one morning!

April sees Katherine jet off to Arusha in Tanzania with work and I’m headed to Lesotho to compete in the three-day 120km Lesotho Wildrun event. We will also be celebrating our SA wedding anniversary with three nights at the spectacular Birkenhead House in Hermanus, and taking a long weekend trip to Plettenberg Bay with friends visiting from India. There is plenty to look forward to during the month ahead…

The Sisheke Conservation Project, South Africa – Feb 2012

Six weeks into my new job at Javelin Capital Limited, I feel like I’m finally starting to strike the right balance between my work on the dynamic Sisheke Conservation Project (SCP) and my ongoing photojournalism assignments.

My magazine contributions for this month were dominated by multiple commissions from Explore South Africa (www.capemedia.co.za/explore-south-africa); I supplied the Cape Town-based trade and travel magazine with three stories for their March-May 2012 issue, covering Mokala National Park, Table Mountain hiking trails and canoeing the Orange River.  Thankfully, with only a couple of 4×4 articles and an Indian adventure sport feature lined up for March, the coming month is looking considerably more manageable and balanced.

Things are looking good with the SCP initiative in southwest Zambia and I’m now feeling much more settled in my new role than this time last month!  While Javelin steams ahead with progressing this exciting conservation initiative, the Peace Parks Foundation (www.peaceparks.org) and Mwandi Office of the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s ahead of the signing of the final Memorandum of Agreement between the parties.  With the ball squarely on their side of the court and not wanting to simply sit back and mark time, we decided to forge ahead with the new Project website this month.  I can report that – as of the end of Feb – we have reached the stage where the vast majority of content has been generated, images chosen, designs agreed upon and the site construction begun.  We are eagerly awaiting www.sisheke.com going live sometime during March.

I’m happy to say that while it was a hectically busy month on the work front, February certainly wasn’t all work and no play.  Katherine and I have found Cape Town and its idyllic lifestyle a perfect fit for us and we’re enjoying an active, outdoorsy and action-packed time rediscovering the many attractions of my hometown.  In keeping with the spirit of a leap year (the year when a woman can take the initiative and propose to a man!), Katherine organised a Valentine’s Day surprise this year.  I arrived home from work and was immediately whisked off by my lovely wife and up Table Mountain – via the very impressive Aerial Cableway (www.tablemountain.net).  On top we enjoyed a delicious picnic, sundowner beers and watched a magnificent sunset, before taking the revolving cable car back down to the ‘fairyland’ lights of Cape Town below.  What an awesome way to spend a Tuesday in our beautiful city!

Our Cape Town crowd of friends is dominated by some hardcore athletes, fitness fanatics and a large group of casual runners, so we too have embraced an active lifestyle.  The Sea Point Promenade (right in front of our apartment) is an incredible resource for keeping us sane, not to mention getting us fit.  As a result I ran my first-ever road marathon on Sunday 19th February.  The Cape Peninsula Marathon (www.topevents.co.za/index.php?sectionID=157) was a great experience and my race time of 3h26 definitely exceeded my expectations.  I did find, however, that the road took its toll on my weak knees and leg muscles, so my plan is to stick to half-marathons and trail running in the future.  So the Milkwood Half-Marathon (www.energyevents.co.za/events_detail.php?id=576&type=current) on Sunday 4th March will be the next exciting challenge.

March is shaping up to be another cracking month with running, overnight hiking, a trip with friends to Churchhaven, and lots of live rugby and cricket to keep me suitably entertained in amongst all the writing and interesting Sisheke Conservation Project work.

Cape Town, Saint Francis & the Festive Season, South Africa – Dec 2011

December has been a month of new beginnings.  The 1st of December saw Katherine and I officially move into our new Bonne Esperance apartment on Beach Road in Three Anchor Bay.  The place has two balconies, two Weber braais and ocean views to die for.  With the Sea Point Promenade located a mere stone’s throw from our front door, a daily regime of morning runs and afternoon walks in our lovely new neighbourhood is sure to keep us fighting fit.

The new beginnings extended right through until the penultimate day of the month when my sister Sue married her long-time boyfriend of eleven years. The wedding ceremony took place in the Brooke Chapel at Bishops and was followed by a festive reception at the excellent Suikerbossie Restaurant (www.suikerbossie.co.za) in Hout Bay where, after concluding my duties as MC,  I wholeheartedly embraced the revelry.

The wedding also proved the catalyst for getting all the siblings and their partners back to South Africa for Christmas ahead of the wedding.  We kicked off proceedings with an enjoyable week catching up on the canals in St Francis (www.infostfrancisbay.com) before returning to Cape Town for Christmas in Llandudno.  This was followed by a family get together at Cathbert Country Inn (www.cathbert.co.za) in Franschhoek where we had some time to get to know our new in-laws a lot better.  And I must say that it’s great to be related to the Brown family and have Tom as my newest brother-in-law.

We concluded the month and saw in the New Year in grand style at the idyllically-located Tintswalo Atlantic boutique hotel (www.tintswalo.com) below Chapman’s Peak. I for one felt pretty bad that we were gate crashing the second night of the newly weds ‘mini-moon’, but the bride and groom were as gracious as ever.  It turned out to be a thoroughly spectacular and very special night.

The first half of December was dominated by deadlines and a pretty hectic writing schedule as I strove to try and get as many of my commissions completed ahead of the ‘silly season’ craziness.  I succeeded with the vast majority of my projects, but January will no doubt have its own share of excitement on the magazine stories front and with starting a new job … But that’s another story that I’ll save to share with you next month!

Cape Town and the Otter Trail Run, South Africa – September 2011

After an incredible 9.5 years living abroad, I arrived in Cape Town on Thursday the 8th of September ready to embark on the next exciting chapter in Katherine and my life together. The first couple of weeks back home were dominated by admin, buying a car, researching apartments and where we want to live, meeting with my magazine editors and, of course, catching up with friends and family.

After a couple of weeks of writing magazine stories, proofing articles and fine-tuning the itinerary for next month’s Northern Cape and Namibian sojourn, the month concluded in fine style when I travelled up the Garden Route on a much-anticipated assignment to compete in and cover the gruelling Otter Trail Run (www.theotter.co.za). Dubbed the Grail of Trail, this brutal 42km full trail marathon weaves its way along the very same route of the legendary Otter Trail – South Africa’s most iconic and spectacular hiking trail – as it traverses the rugged coastline and fords the rivers of the majestic Tsitsikamma National Park.

On the morning of Friday September 30th, two hundred endurance athletes and one pretender (me) gathered in the inky blackness below a star-studded sky at Storms River mouth for the Otter Run: undoubtedly one of the hardest and simultaneously most incredible events I’ve ever competed in. Nervous tension mingled with an electric atmosphere in the cool morning air ahead of first light. As dawn broke on a picture-perfect day, we set off running through indigenous coastal forests, into deep ravines, over imposing mountains and across the fynbos-clad slopes of the Garden Route National Park, before overcoming one final obstacle – a precariously unstable floating bridge – to finally finish at De Vasselot campsite in Nature’s Valley.

Returning from his epic victory in the gruelling Leadville 100 mile ultra marathon in America, Ryan Sandes, the soft-spoken trail runner extraordinaire, dominated what was arguably the greatest trail running field ever assembled on South African soil to clinch first place in Africa’s premier off-road running event to clinch the coveted Grail. Shaving an impressive seven minutes off André Gie’s record, Sandes finished in a blistering 4h40m.  I staggered over the line two-and-a-half hours later in around 110th place, but, thankfully, well within the eight hour cut-off time.

October is looking like it should be a good month with spring in the air, Katherine returning from Kenya and an exciting magazine assignment to the Northern Cape and Namibia on the horizon. Here’s holding thumbs that the Springboks can play out their boots at the Rugby World Cup and turn a good October into a month to remember … Go bokke!

The Karnali River, Bardia NP and Everest, Nepal – May 2011

Like a fine red wine Nepal just gets better and better the longer we spend savouring this impressive country!  It is certainly proving to be an incredible and varied little Himalayan kingdom and the prefect playground for a couple of outdoor lovers and adventure sport aficionados.

After a gruelling two-day bus ride west, we reached the end of the road at Sauli Bazaar on the banks of Nepal’s biggest river – The Karnali.  We were part of a ten-man crew (including two ladies!) for a week-long river trip with Equator Expeditions (http://www.equatorexpeditionsnepal.com/).  It turned out to be a fun group and we had endless laughs on the raft as we skirted some big rapids and camped on sandy beaches next to the river.  Sleeping around a campfire under the star-studded heavens was a definite highlight for both of us.

The expedition ended at Chisopani on the boundary of Royal Bardia National Park and after a week on the river the comfort that awaited us at Tiger Tops’ Karnali Lodge was just what the doctor had ordered.  We soaked up the luxury, devoured great food and thrived off the quality wildlife experiences.  I was desperate to catch a glimpse of my first Indian one-horned rhino, so to end up having numerous close up sightings of five different rhinos feeding and swimming was very very special indeed.  Crouching in a bush watching a seven month old calf suckling from its mother while I was on a walking safari was the ultimate high of our wildlife-viewing extravaganza.  We topped the safari off with two tiger sighting – a young female with a hog deer kill and a handsome male escaping the pre-monsoon heat by sleeping in a pool of water.  What a great place Bardia turned out to be!

After a couple of days recuperating in Kathmandu we boarded a plane for Lukla and the start of our two-week Everest trek.  We chose a circuitous route to base camp via the sacred emerald green lakes of the Gokyo valley and over the Cho La pass to Gorakshep and Everest Base Camp. The weather gods smiled on us and we were treated to some idyllic weather for the epic Himalayan views from the summits of Gokyo Ri (5357m) and Kala Pattar (5545m).  Sitting on the top of these rocky vantage points gave us ringside seats to a jaw-dropping wraparound vista that defied belief … a host of snow-covered 8,000m+ peaks (Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, etc) rubbed shoulders and seemed almost close enough to touch.  These scenes of raw beauty exuded an overwhelming sense of mother nature’s awesome power.

After living in India for three years and enjoying nine weeks adventuring through Nepal, the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon (http://www.everestmarathon.com/) proved the genuine grand finale to our time in Asia.  It was with a combination of great excitement and a little trepidation that I approached the start of the race.  The 29th dawned grey and cold.  Mist swirled through Everest base camp (5360m) and thick grey clouds hung ominously overhead.  When I cracked the ice off my tent zips, I was greeted by a white world of snow and ice.  When the start gun fired at 7am the temperature was well below freezing and the unrelenting snow refused to let up until we were 16km into the race!  The start took place inside the infamous Khumbu Icefall and after jumping a small crevasse we ran over the frozen rocks and ice of the glacial moraine for 8km while my lungs continuously screamed for more oxygen.  My plan was simple – and borne of necessity – run everything that is flat or downhill but walk/climb the hills.  As we slowly descended towards the half-way mark at Dingboche the conditions improved and I found it a little easier to breathe.  Reaching the half-way stage in 3h10, I truly believed a six-hour finish was on the cards, but two viciously steep hills between the 32 and 37 kilometre marks killed that idea and in the end I was more than happy to finish in 6h34, which put me in a respectable 6th position out of 68 international participants.

With the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal wowing us in so many ways, the final chapter in our Asian sojourn has proved to be an absolute cracker!

The adventures for June appear to be somewhat tamer … our next stop is London to visit my sisters and then it’s onto Iceland and USA.  The journey continues and we’re loving the ride…

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