The Drakensberg Grand Traverse is the mother of all Drakensberg hikes. From Sentinel car park in the north to Bushman's Nek Border Post in the south it's roughly 220 kilometres. A trek that takes a strong hiker anywhere between six to 10 days to complete due to steep and rocky terrain. Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel are planning to run it in less than three days. To rightfully claim the title and break the previous record of 60 hours, 29 minutes and 30 seconds, they have to travel on foot, carrying all of their own gear without receiving any form of support along the way. It's just them against the mountain elements, and the clock. You'll be able to track them in real time because they are equipped with a YB Tracker!
Hikers have been traversing across the 'entire' Drakensberg for decades, but in February 1999, brothers Gavin and Laurie Raubenheimer completed the route in 4 days, 9 hours, 39 minutes (105h39m) and laid down the recognised challenge. This record has been topped 3 times since, as challengers evolved their attack strategy from traditional hiking to speed hiking and then on to adventure racing. This attempt is the first (known) venture with a pure running focus. Most recently Ryno Griesel and Cobus van Zyl set the record of 60h 29m 30s in April 2010. They attacked the route with an adventure racing strategy - power hiked at a steady pace without stopping, and jogged where the terrain allowed. Their only breaks were a four hour sleep near Champagne Castle and another three hour sleep after Thabana Ntlenyana. With favourable weather they managed to complete the route in a faster time than Andrew Porter did on his solo attempt the previous year.
The weather will be the runners number one concern. From experience and research March is the time with the least likelihood of snowfalls or rainstorms, however it is notorious for mist and heavy cloud along the escarpment edge. This could lead to them becoming lost and the rescue helicopter not being able to reach them in an emergency situation.
So who are the runners that are taking on this epic challenge?
Ryan Sandes is one of the most successful ultra trail racers in the world, having won endurance mountain events on every continent. In 2008 Ryan won both the Gobi Desert and Sahara stage races, followed by a first place in the Atacama Desert marathon in Chile in 2009 and the Last Desert event in Antarctica at the end of 2010. In 2011 he turned his focus away from stage racing to take on some of the major one-day events and his results have been spectacular, winning, among others, the iconic Leadville 100-miler in the States and setting a new record at the Salomon Skyrun in 2012.
His partner in crime is Ryno Griesel who has an adventure racing background, but is not a professional runner. So passionate is he about the mountains though, that in late 2013 he hung up his business suit and became a 'full time shoe salesman' as he calls it, for mountain apparel brand, Salomon. Ryno has climbed various mountains in Africa, Europe and Nepal and currently holds the record for the Hobbit100km mountain run (back to back wins in 2012/13).
Ryno currently co-holds the record for the DGT with Cobus Van Zyl at 60hr, 29min, 30 seconds (April 2010). Griesel is in charge of navigation, logistical planning and keeping the attempt within the rules and mountain ethics of the challenge - something both he and Sandes feel very strongly about.