The dream team of Greg Avierinos (OCR athlete) Ryno Griesel (ultra trail runner ) and Ruan van der Merwe (adventure racer) set out at 4am on Wednesday, 23 August. They had a very specific goal – to summit the nine highest peaks of South Africa in the fastest known time.
The 9 Peaks Challenge has been around for longer than most people realise. It has been attempted by numerous teams and individuals since the Republic of South Africa went from four to nine provinces in 1994.
The non-stop endurance challenge encompassed a daunting 3000km of driving (only athletes may drive), 130km of mountain running and self navigating over harsh terrain, and 7000m of elevation gain. A journey most certainly reserved for athletes with a true sense of grit!
What were they up against? A previous record of 4 days, 15 hours, 58 minutes.
It was great delight to announce that Ryno, Greg and Ruan have completely obliterated that record with a new FKT of 2 days and 16 hours. They not only succeeded in breaking the record by 47 hours 58 minutes, but have also succeeded in claiming each individual FKT along the way.
Nine peaks at a glance
Iron Crown (Limpopo) – 2126m
FKT: 24 minutes, 10 seconds
De Berg (Mpumalanga) – 2331m
FKT: 41 minutes, 19 seconds
Toringkop (Gauteng) – 1913m
FKT: 4 minutes, 23 seconds
Nooitgedacht-west (North-West) – 1806m
FKT: 17 minutes, 45 seconds
Namahadi (Free State) – 3275m
FKT: 5 hours, 11 minutes, 45 seconds
Mafadi (Kwazulu-Natal) – 3451m
FKT: 9 hours, 35 minutes, 10 seconds
Kwaduma (Eastern Cape) – 3019m
FKT: 6 hours, 52 minutes, 58 seconds
Murch Point (Northern Cape) – 2156m
FKT: 55 minutes, 14 seconds
Seweweekspoort Peak (Western Cape) – 2325m
FKT: 1 hour, 57 minutes
The peak conquering journey
It all started on Iron Crown in Limpopo. At 2126m high, this was a relatively quick summit for the team. They completely obliterated the previous FKT by 10 minutes.
The message was clear – they weren’t just going to beat each FKT, they were going to raise the bar. De Berg in Mpumalanga was next, which was a slightly higher peak at 2331m. Doing a sub-5-minute pace, the trio set off on what is hopefully their last tar road of the challenge. The previous FKT of 1 hour 4 minutes was smashed in a time of 41 minutes and 18 seconds.
Third summit was Nooitgedacht, North West. This peak of 1816m is in the Magaliesberg Mountain Range which is shared with Gauteng.
And just like that, and a third of the challenge had been completed!
Toringkop was checked off the list next. With a short running distance of only 900m (yes, that’s it), the old FKT stood at 6 minutes and 15 seconds. Looking to keep up the intense pace, the team managed to pull of 4 minutes 23 seconds! With no serious injuries or setbacks, they were well on their way to conquering the previous 9 Peaks Challenge record.
Things got real in the big mountains
Meet the Free State’s Namahadi. Based at the northern tip of the mighty Drakensberg, it sits at 3274m with a 23.4km running distance!
Unfortunately, Greg twisted his ankle on this one. But the previous record of 7 hours 30 minutes was conquered non-the-less. A new FKT of 5 hours 11 minutes 50 seconds was established.
“No amount of cold weather, freezing winds or injuries was ever going to stop this tremendous trio,” said a determined Team Nevarest.
Drum roll please… and now for the peak of all peaks.
Mafadi is not only the highest point in KZN but is one of the highest points in South Africa at 3274m. The team certainly felt confident before this one because after Ryno’s unforgettable Grand Traverse journey with Ryan Sandes in 2014, “apparently he knew a thing or two about the Drakensberg.”
The plan was to complete a two day hike in eight hours after minimal sleep and five other summits, and beat the previous FKT by half.
Temperatures were predicted to be as low as -8deg C. Everyone knew it would be cold, but no one expected to find fresh, white powdery snow on the more technical sections of the route!
The trio planned to take Corner Pass, a very steep and technical gully. “The pass was covered in fresh snow which made it incredibly hard to run or even climb on your feet alone. At times we would slide and loose all ground gained,” explained Ryno.
The journey was being described to be more of an adventure race than a trail run. But the good news is that Mafadi peak was conquered in a new FKT of 9 hours 35 minutes 10 seconds.
Onto the next one.
Eastern Cape’s Kwaduma was their third summit above 3000m in a row! Greg, an obstacle course racer, was giving his all to keep the pace of two ultra distance trail runners.
He admitted to “feeling the uphills a little more than the other two” and admiring their “refined power walking technique.” He also discovered that the route was 7km longer than what was plotted! But surprise surprise, another FKT was conquered in under 7 hours.
It ended with a view
The team started showing some small signs of fatigue as they set out for the final two peaks. They resorted to short driving rotations of 90 minutes to ensure optimal safety. which Ryno described to take more teamwork than running!
After taking on monster peaks during the brisk evenings and early mornings, they were relieved to summit during daylight for a change and managed a very fast FKT of 53 minutes and 14 seconds!
The 9 Peaks Challenge ended on Seweweekspoort, Western Cape. The view from the summit was described to be incredible and one of the best on their journey. At 2325m, and with an FKT of 1 hour 57 minutes, the boys finally manged to catch their breath. And in the best possible place to do so.
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Written by Carli-Ann Furno and Nevarest media team.